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Banking experts answer the 3 biggest questions of 2017

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Unless you keep your cash stashed under the bed, it’s inevitable you’ve experienced how technology has impacted the way we interact with our finances and the institutions that take care of them.

From contactless payments to peer-to-peer powered loans, technology is transforming and enabling dramatic shifts in the industry.

But while it’s widely accepted by banks that tech can help improve their offering, few people believe it will replace humans entirely. It’s about finding the fine balance between creating efficiencies and keeping the reassurance and expertise of another human being.

So what are the big questions that banks are asking in 2017? We’ve spoken to some of the experts in the world of retail banking, from journalists to executives to find out.

Branches

Will they stay or will they go?

In our latest research we found that while online banking continues to grow, major retail banks are struggling to create an ideal in-branch experience to complement it. This is despite 70% of consumers admitting to swapping channels during transactions.

But what did the experts think?

Robert Morgan at the American Banking Association started by providing a very clear but concise summary: “I don’t think branches are going away anytime soon, but the role they serve is changing.”

For Tanya Anderssen at Banking Technology this changing role is all about focusing on the customer experience: “It has improved it exponentially, but only in branches where banks have invested properly. For example, Barclays has been good in overhauling branches and introduced lots of self-service terminals for products.”

The Banker’s Joy McKnight explains further, “It’s about how to maintain the service level and the footprint to serve customers who want to go into a branch — but potentially reduce the number of customer service agents. It’s no longer about tellers sitting behind a glass partition; they are out there engaging, using iPads to access data and being more mobile and responsive to customers.”

Big data

What does it mean for banking?

Information has always been a driver in improved customer experience, aiding banks in tailoring their services around each and every client’s individual needs.

Now that we no longer have a friendly local bank manager, the need to bring information together in one place is more important than ever.

For Robert Morgan, “It used to be that customers would use the branch to see the same teller they had for 25 years. Now it’s different and tech is needed to get the teller up to speed with each customer.”

According to Joy, it’s all about joining the dots: “The banks are trying to link up the different information points about customers, so it no longer sits in siloes within the bank. Instead of one person for mortgages, one for savings etc., whatever entry point the customer hits, they have a full view of them.”

The changes in banking over the years mean that data is now spread across all the different departments within a bank. Technology can help bring about a convergence of information that can then be used to personalize the customer experience.

Bridging the online-offline divide

The biggest challenge for banks?

Customers are now carrying out their banking activity across different channels. As Joy at The Banker explained previously, banks need to find a way to create a seamless experience across all channels, rather than keeping the information disjointed and experience fragmented.

Allowing customers to create appointments online to visit somebody in a branch is one example of creating a coherent user experience. Some of the experience is automated and improved through technology, but the important advice and actions are completed by a specialist in-branch.

Tanya explains how it all comes back to creating a holistic customer experience: “They need to be prepared for the same journey to continue across all platforms. So we know if they start something on the desktop then log into the mobile app then back into the browser on a tablet and then turn up in-branch. The banks investing now in all this infrastructure will reap the benefits.”

Rob expanded on this by explaining the importance of staff focus: “Specialists are a scarce resource so they have to be used properly. Obviously, the ideal is for people to book appointments for services so banks can ensure they have experienced staff on hand.”

It’s clear that in some situations, especially when customers are carrying out purely transactional exchanges such as withdrawing cash, automation can be key to efficiency.

Tanya explains: “Even with the high-end clients, there are still some things that can be automated. What you don’t want is to walk into a branch, having laid the groundwork online and be made to go through all the same hoops and steps to identify yourself and have someone ask, “What are you here for?”

So how do we establish the right way to reach these customers in the first place?

Rob believes it’s all down to understanding their needs: “There are so many channels out there today and one thing we’ve found is that different marketing techniques resonate with customers better on certain channels. I think that’s one thing banks need to be aware of when digitizing their experience. They need to understand how customers engage differently and how a message should be tailored to reflect this.”

Building better banks

From these conversations with our experts, it quickly became apparent that the industry is aware of what needs to be done to create closer customer experiences. What’s missing is the expertise and experience to implement these changes effectively.

Interested in learning more? We asked 2,000 consumers in the US and the UK about their attitudes towards banking and what branches need to do to retain customer loyalty. Download our latest research to discover the answers, the results will surprise you.