The Future of Bank Branches = Digital + Experience + Trust
If you are at the forefront of merging business and technology and bringing new solutions to the financial services market, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. These days, there are so many new ideas, insights and thought provoking questions coming to you each day as part of client discussions, industry news feeds and peer debates. So when I was asked to share my thoughts on a recent blog “Is there a Future for Bank Branches” by Forrester analyst Auke Douwe Veenstra, the answer is yes, I have quite a lot to say.
Clearly, the banking industry is at an economic turning point. The hot topics on social media, mobile transactions and advanced analytics seem to have left the darker days of the “Great Recession” and “Occupy” in the rearview mirror. On top of every transformational project that banking organizations are taking on to generate new revenues and manage costs, there is a more forward-looking digital agenda to overhaul their traditional banking communication and distribution channels. Many of our clients have started looking into innovative ways to connect and engage with their customers and leverage emerging technologies to improve, accelerate and optimize core business activities to help them rebuild profitability and client relationships.
No doubt, digital banking, online transactions, next-generation ATM, video teller and mobile payments will continue to grow. They will grow with a renewed emphasis on creating great customer experience across multiple interaction channels and harnessing the insights gained from those transactions to deliver even better products and services.
Will the adoption of this new technology wave save retail bank branches from extinction? Yes, it will make it more efficient and more customer friendly. In addition, for reasons pointed out by Auke, we still have to occasionally do it face-to-face and we still want to have a human conversation when it comes to important financial decisions.
But the future of retail branches is bleak if the banks only focus on the use of technology, for the immediate needs of day to day customer transactions. The plain message delivered by Virgin Group CEO Richard Brandson at last week’s BAI Retail Delivery conference couldn’t be more profoundly true. To be truly customer-focused and differentiate your bank, these branch offices will have to shed the cold and sterile techno-centric image and become a place that’s welcoming and reassuring. They will need to become a place where people want to come, spend time and enjoy a community atmosphere, a community that is secure and informative, guided on their very personal financial matters.
Living through the 90’s and seeing the internet take the banks out of the bricks and mortar buildings, and seeing today’s Smartphone bringing banking capabilities to wherever a customer is can be intimidating. I believe we are at the dawn of the new digital era, an era where the branches will have a much bigger role to play in bringing the customers back to the banks. The new branches equipped with their digital enabled efficiencies, will serve as an integral part of this new social interchange, a place where bankers can build valuable customer relationships, and once again make banking a trusted and personal experience.
When pursuing the best channel strategy and the best customer experience, technology is not the solution. What we want is to build toward something that’s bigger or better. What we want is the transformation of branches to be leading this rapidly changing industry. It will be an interesting thing to watch when Sir Richard Branson is “banking on it”!