How can bank branches digitize and improve their efficiency to attract the digital customer?

Posted by media on December 11, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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Since the advent and rise of Fintech startups, in the financial sector there is a "fight" for attracting and retaining the new digital customers. They demand great digital experiences, products and services tailored to their needs and personalized care and communications.

Fintech startups have a unique way of interacting with customers: the digital space. But banks not only have online channels, but also brick-and-mortar offices at street level, which represent a great opportunity to attract and retain the digital customer. The experience that banks should be offering online and offline has to be optimal: interactions need to occur naturally and smoothly in any of these channels and between them.

There is much talk of how banks have to design their digital experiences to win the pulse for the digital customer and not fall behind the Fintech startups, which largely dominate the online field. In this post we want to talk about the offline side of banks, and how they can take advantage of an area where they clearly surpass the Fintech startups: the bank branch.

This post is also available in Spanish.

While on one hand it is clear that there are still many bank offices and they should not be eliminated completely. If they are reduced to an optimum number, digitized and automated, they can be much more efficient and create a great opportunity to attract new customers and retain existing ones, by offering them a highly personalized service. In addition, digitized branches are a very effective way for banks to differentiate themselves from Fintech companies, which have the disadvantage that they can only interact online with their customers.

In this post we would like to highlight 4 ways that bank branches can digitize and improve their  efficiency:

1. Provide digital tools and high-level financial training to employees

It is a noted fact that the Millennial generation hardly visits bank branches. But there are still many people from other generations, and even many Millennials, that want to be served in person when it comes to purchasing complex financial products, such as applying for a loan, getting a mortgage or evaluating different investment options. Therefore, any customers entering a bank office, looking  for advice before purchasing any of these financial products, represents a golden opportunity for banks to build customers' loyalty.

Those who are in the frontline to attend these customers must have sound financial knowledge to advise each of them in the best possible way. On the other hand, it is essential that all employees can access the complete profile of customers (including their online interactions) through a single platform, and they must have the right tools on hand to complete complex operations easily and effectively.

The more personalized and informed this interaction is in the office, and the fewer obstacles are in the way of completing a transaction, the easier it is that the customer enters a branch looking  for advice and leaves with a completed purchase.

In this sense, the electronic signature is a digital tool that can be integrated with any platform via API and allows branch workers to be more effective. After giving the customer relevant information about the product or service he/she wants to purchase, considering his/her financial profile, employees must make available to the customer an electronic signature tool that allows them to complete the transaction immediately in the branch. This is key if banks want to get the most out of their offline interactions with customers.


2. Fewer offices, only in strategic locations and highly automated

In a recent article published by Business Insider, former CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, stated the following:

“I predict that the number of branches and people employed in the financial services sector may decline by as much as 50% over the next 10 years, and even in a less harsh scenario I expect a decline of at least 20%” - Antony Jenkins, ex-CEO of Barclays


Although many offices will close due to increasing digitization of consumers, it would be unreasonable to close them all. At the end of the day, as previously mentioned in this post, many consumers still value the proximity of their banks represented by their physical presence. It is also a very good way for financial institutions to convey credibility. The reasonable thing is to keep those branches that are located in strategic places and those with greater attendance of customers.

All branches need to be automated as much as possible, to continue serving, but with fewer employees, to both customers who continue to make simple transactions (opening a bank account, withdraw money, make a transfer, etc.) and those who look for quality advice to buy more complex financial products or services.

Those who perform simple actions should be encouraged and trained to use the interactive ATMs and other digital devices with self-service functions. The classic ATMs are already evolving to allow customers to make common operations easily. The increasing sophistication of ATMs will help reduce branch staff, who still will attend to customers when required, but who should be mostly dedicated to serving customers who need expert financial advice.

RETAIL BANKING: FOSTERING SELF-SERVICE FUNCTIONS

  • Screens for video conferencing to remotely talk to the customer service department.  .
  • Tablets and monitors on hand for every customer, from where they can log in to their online banking within the branch. 
  • Ability to conduct transactions without using credit or debit cards simply through the customer's smartphone
  • Use of biometrics at ATMs to identify customers.
  • Possibility to buy other non-financial products and services through ATMs.

The administrative burden of employees at bank branches should be shrinking, to focus on direct selling activities and serve and retain customers through a highly personalized service.

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ING Direct's concept for digitized bank branches I Newtone Architects and New Architects I Source: 
The bank of the future


3. Make the most out of customer information to create personalized experiences

Banks get much information from their clients through different interaction channels, which can be gathered both online -page web, app bank or social networks- and offline -information that employees can collect from customers at the bank branch. All this data is highly valuable because it allow banks to get a very precise drawing of each customer's profile: income and expenditure patterns, savings and investment habits, which devices each customer uses more to contact the bank and when do they contact, what kind of products do they buy, etc.

All of this information should be collected and analyzed to understand customers, know what their priorities are, what their lifestyle and consumption preferences are, etc. This way, banks can be able to offer them financial products and services perfectly matched with their profiles.

Moreover, it is not only important to customize  financial products and services. It is also crucial to personalize communication. How a product is offered can make a difference, since this reveals how well the bank knows its clients.

Receive potentially interesting deals at the right time, through the most common interaction channel and with a proper communication certainly helps increase the probability of success in the sale of financial products and services, and helps build customer loyalty.

4. Include bank branches in the omn-channel strategy to maintain consistency between online and offline interactions

As we mentioned in one of our latest blog posts, digital customers are very used to the interaction experiences offered by companies like Apple or Amazon, who are experts in user experience. In the case of Apple, the experience remains excellent in their physical stores, since the stores  are a very consistent and tangible extension of their digital practices. The Apple stores are the last step of a loyalty strategy that starts online.

By the influence of Apple & co., what the digital customer expects from banks is exactly the same. If a customer starts to fill online an application for a loan from his/her computer, but leaves the process after finishing it, he/she expects to retrieve the document at the same point when later re-entering the website of the bank through their smartphone via app. Or when that customer enters the bank branch to seek advice, he/she expects the employee to know that he/she was in the middle of the process of asking for a loan.

Maintaining consistency in the online and offline interaction experiences offered to customers, who move from one world to another without even realizing it, is essential to meet their expectations and get their loyalty.

These four proposals to digitize and automate bank branches are just a detail within the entire transformation that banks must perform to adapt themselves to the digital age and to live up to the Fintech startups. None of these changes are minor and affordable in the short term, but certainly bank branches will play a significant role in the future. Redesigning them well is a challenge and an opportunity that banks should use to their advantage.

This post is also available in Spanish.


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