Branching Out

Banks and building society branches start to embrace a digital future

There is a lot happening at the moment in the world of branch transformation, as banks and building societies look to re-energise these assets for better use in the modern world.

The branch of the future: interactive and touch screen

Apart from removing rows of counters and replacing them with automated machines, very little on the high street has changed over the years, until quite recently.  Now, almost spontaneously, experimental branch-of-the-future concept stores have started to appear.  Touch screen tables, interactive experiences, 24 hour deposit machines and futuristic furnishings are the enticements being made available by banks and building societies to customers of the future… but have they got it right?  Are these actually what customers want to see?  Sure, it feels more inviting to walk into something akin to a modern office building or hotel, but does this make banking any easier?  It doesn’t feel like it.  So, the question is, what do customers actually want from a new generation of branches?

Branch banking vs. digital online services

It doesn’t really matter how you dress a branch, the amount of time a customer is likely to spend in one is roughly the same.  Having introduced basic online digital services, banks and building societies have removed the need to visit the branch for the most basic of tasks, such as getting a balance, paying a card bill, and find out if a cheque has been posted.  Some banks have gone further and allowed much more to be done digitally, but there are limitations, especially as online security is such an important consideration.

Combining the digital experience with personal service

No matter how far a bank or building society decides go with a silo digital channel, there is always going to be a disconnection – branches and digital channels will remain separate experiences.  Customers can manage a lot of financial activity with the bank and building society online, and can go into a branch to do the same, and more.  The provision of digital services have certainly given customers more control over when and where they manage finances, but it still leaves a lot that has to be done in a branch.  With the easy stuff now digital, what customers are left with that still requires a trip to a branch is all the harder stuff.  The problem is, at any one time, a customer is still considered as having a digital engagement, or a branch one.  What customers really want is to be able to have both, at the same time.

Customer demands: speed and engagement

The customer of the digital age wants to engage frequently with their finances.  They want to tap, slide, and shake their digital banking apps, they want to update, transfer and download from their online service, and they want to pop in and out of the branch to do what has to be done face to face, all as quickly as possible.  When they go to their digital channel, in a few taps and clicks the provider knows who they are, and lets them get on with the task.  Customers want the same quick access experience at the branch.  They also want to cross over between the two, to go in and out of the branch as easily, with no delays and no re-identification.

Let’s say that a customer wants to open an account, but they are not sure of which is the right one for them.  To help them decide, they want to speak to an adviser.  Today, a customer can probably book an appointment on line, and then that’s about it.  When they get to the branch, everything is off line.  Wouldn’t it be great if they could start a journey at home or on a mobile device, and then continue that experience seamlessly in the branch?  When a customer goes in to the branch they are recognised and greeted; the branch staff know when they have arrived.  The adviser already has all of their details to hand as they can see what the customer can see.  The customer may need to produce original documentation: they can unlock it from their digital vault and the adviser gets it straight away.  Moments after selecting the right account, they can sign, there and then, and within moments receive a greetings message.  The customer can see the new account on their mobile device, open and ready to go.  Should it take longer to fulfil, the customer receives informative notices as the opening steps progress, so they don’t need to chase it up themselves.

A holistic approach to digital banking

The point is that customers don’t want a silo experience where they are classified as digital or non-digital, branch-based or online.  Banks and building societies need to stop seeing that there is a difference between the two.  Digital should be just an extension of the branch.  Digital services are just things customers can do in a branch, but can do them when they are out and about, any time they want to.  If customers are allowed to dip in and out of the branch and have a joined up digital experience, is this not truly a branch of the future?