Digital is great – but it isn't everything

'Innovate or die'. Stay ahead of the game with your online and mobile strategy to survive. All well and good, to remain a contender in the banking space, there is an absolute need to embrace the digital revolution. Nonetheless – let's not get ahead of ourselves, writes Sruti Rao

‘Innovate or die’. Stay ahead of the game with your online and mobile strategy to survive. All well and good, to remain a contender in the banking space, there is an absolute need to embrace the digital revolution. Nonetheless – let’s not get ahead of ourselves, writes Sruti Rao

Key retail banking executives in Asia tell us that integrating the branch with the digital experience is absolutely essential.

Analysts and bankers alike expressed this view poignantly during our Retail Banking Asia Trailblazers conference last week.

During one of our panel sessions, an interesting conversation emerged on the multi-channel experience, and the difficulties banks face in implementing this strategy effectively. Banks are prioritising investment in digital technology and channel enhancements, but often with limited budgets, the focus on the branch gets a little side-lined in the short-term.

This is an understandable predicament to an extent, especially in the Asian region. With a great deal of emerging markets only just starting to implement their digital offering, these online and mobile propositions would naturally take budgetary precedence. Nonetheless, the branch is not dead – and now plays a different, but essential role that banks should not ignore.

With the rising demands of emerging affluent and affluent customers, it is a well-known fact now that banks need to bring customised, personal and sophisticated service. Digital capabilities do cater to these needs, but the face-to-face interaction is still a core preference for customers of today.

Yes, the need for connecting with the customer through the digital interphase is all well and good, but that doesn’t discard the importance of the branch as much as alter the way the bank should be approaching this traditional channel’s potential.

The role of the branch has now evolved to become much more advisory-centric, commented many of the industry executives on our panel session at the RBI Trailblazers conference recently. As many of the key executives, namely Sanjoy Sen, head of Retail Banking ANZ Asia Pacific and Umang Moondra, retail banking head at Citibank Singapore, reiterated that the need for product specialists, personal conversations with the relationship managers, are developing as imperative features in the front office.

This of course has to happen in unison with the digital capability – not only in the service interphase, but also in the processes front. Bringing the analytics of each customer to the fingertips of the front-office staff, in order for them to offer premium service, needs to be synchronized for this overall objective of seamless – dare I say ‘omnichannel’ – service to occur.

This isn’t an easy endeavour.

As Umang Moondra admitted, deciding where to allocate the resources and investments across channels has to be well-thought out, and will always have its challenges. But these are challenges to be addressed of course.

The big picture on service has to be considered, in order for the digital experience to be truly fruitful to the customer.