As surely as you can find a teller to greet you with a smile, you’ll hear the subject of branches as the coffee klatsch topic to round out 2018 … dominate 2019 … continue into 2020 … and go on for who knows how long after that?
Trouble is, all the talk and hand wringing that surrounds branches—especially the ever-present question “When will they go away?”—doesn’t add much substance to the issue, let alone lay out some meaningful blueprint. It’s a good thing, then, that Wells Fargo’s Armin Ajami brings concrete common sense to the proceedings.
And guess what, branch fans? It’s all about the customer.
“The voice of the customer is what is leading us into the future,” says Ajami, Wells’ senior vice president, strategic planning manager for virtual channels. “We know that our customers expect us to keep up with the pace of innovation they see in their daily lives, and provide simple and fast experiences, instantaneous money movement, and access to the information and services they need, at the right moment, wherever they are.”
As for where Ajami is in this moment, he’s preparing to lead a branch-related presentation at BAI Beacon 2018. In advance of “Using the Branch and Contact Center to Drive Digital Adoption,” Ajami spoke to BAI about where the discussion on branches must head—and how Wells is making good on giving customers a leg up in an age of all things digital.
BAI: At Beacon, you’ll talk about “Using the Branch and Contact Center to Drive Digital Adoption.” What’s the main point you want to get across and why?
Armin Ajami: Many times customers walk into a branch or call into a contact center to talk to a banker about a complex financial need or a life milestone such as home buying. These platforms continue to be where customers can connect with a banker and have a meaningful financial health conversation to help them reach their goals—and where customers can find a friendly, helpful team member ready to assist in their time of need. More and more, however, we see customers seek guidance around how to best use our self-service digital tools on mobile and online banking.
We’re also identifying the tools our bankers and tellers need to connect them with our customers’ digital lives. The goal is for our branch and contact center team members to provide additional value by speaking one-to-one with a customer and providing a walkthrough of some of our newer experiences such as predictive banking, which gives customers in-app insights to spending patterns and opportunities to save, and balance alerts that help customers avoid negative outcomes.
BAI: How do the branch and contact center work in concert in the quest for digital adoption?
Armin Ajami: We’re focused on creating a seamless customer experience across branches, digital tools and contact centers, and facilitating a consistent customer service experience. We believe new digital experiences will ultimately improve customer satisfaction and allow our branch and contact center bankers to focus on more complex needs for customers.
BAI: So much exciting stuff is going on within the mobile banking sphere, in which you’ve played a huge part. As we head into 2019, what can we look forward to seeing?
Armin Ajami: As a company, we’re interested in big ideas that can make banking faster, easier, smarter and safer—for our customers and the whole financial services industry. New features such as card-free ATMs, chatbots, predictive banking and Zelle—and upcoming ones like Control Tower, Greenhouse, and Pay with Wells Fargo—help us deliver on those expectations.
BAI: Customer experience matters in the branch and the contact center—and clearly both channels are changing at incredible speed. What are the key lessons to take away?
Armin Ajami: It’s important to recognize that customers aren’t asking for disruption–our efforts to advance products, services and experiences are about increasing choice and customization. We have the number one mobile app for banking, and we have a great opportunity to showcase that—and all of its leading features to our customers—when they visit us. And our branch team members can sit side-by-side with a customer and provide more value by demonstrating how they can do more with digital. Bankers can demonstrate how to deposit a check and gain access to a card-free ATM, or instantly send money to friends and family via Zelle, all on a mobile phone.
BAI: At Wells, what has been especially compelling for you in terms of driving digital adoption?
Armin Ajami: One of the most exciting aspects of the financial services industry today is the use of innovation and technology to build stronger relationships with customers through our bankers and digital capabilities. We start with the mindset that it's not about technology or even fintech. It's about giving our customers information to make better informed financial decisions—and the tools and ability to instantly complete a transaction whenever they want and wherever they are.
BAI: As you head into 2019, what are you most excited about in terms of this next wave of digital technology and its potential?
Armin Ajami: Data has become the fundamental building block on which we will build the future of the digital age. But data by itself doesn’t really do anything. Emerging data tools, like AI, enable companies to treat each person as a unique individual rather than as part of a customer segment. At the end of the day, it’s all about how each customer receives value. We’ve identified use cases for AI that can ultimately help in enhancing customer experience, protecting against fraud, and furthering our application of deep learning algorithms. This can be as simple as using text or speech within a mobile app to quickly perform a task that has been automated based on previous behavior and data.
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Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI.