The Branch of the Future, Today

Elaborate depictions of the branch of the future have been a topic of discussion for so long now that it seems like the future should be here already. What if I told you it is?

Banks of all sizes have begun enhancing branch design to meet their business goals and fit their customers’ needs. However, with no blueprint for branch transformation, these changes are not always easy to recognize as each bank is approaching them very differently. Plus, the continuum of innovation flooding the banking industry has made many people numb to gradual changes in the branch, as we have come to expect a tech-enhanced user experience in all aspects of our life.

It is time to take a step back and realize just how advanced the modern branch really is. The branch of the future is here today. And though implementations differ, those who are successfully transforming branch design and operations are using mobile and self-service channels – those very things touted as driving the death of the branch – to create a truly omnichannel experience.

Mobile Key Component

We have all heard it: Mobile will kill the branch. However, the reality is that mobile channels are a key component of the evolution of the branch, not as a competing or even complementary side kick, but as an essential part of modern branch operations. Whether it is branch staff using mobile devices to deliver corporate customers in-person banking service in their own offices or near field communication (NFC) technology allowing bankers to recognize customers by name when they walk in the door with their mobile device, mobile has found a comfortable home in the branch.

Take, for example, the team at Naples, Fla.-based First Florida Integrity Bank, which is phasing out legacy systems so that all in-branch operations work in a tablet environment. They have replaced the traditional teller line with bankers who are equipped with touch screen devices, allowing them to conduct transactions and supporting a more engaged experience with the customer. In fact, the location runs more like an Apple store than a traditional branch. The bank’s customers also have access to public WiFi and a variety of tablet and smartphone devices available for use at a technology bar. Further, the branch will be working from a completely mobilized core platform in the future.

The in-branch mobile strategy has worked for First Florida, as more than 1,800 customers visit this location each month. Once customers become accustomed to the new concept, they become loyal visitors. In fact, a group of customers come in every morning to read the paper on the Kindle devices at the technology bar; one man even comes in every week to Skype with his grandchildren.

It is true that mobile banking has slowed branch traffic, especially when it comes to a younger generation of customers. However, statistics indicate that those who visit a branch have a higher level of satisfaction with the bank overall. According to a Gallup study that surveyed respondents who opened an account in the last six months, 80% chose to open their account in a branch with merely 8% opening an account online. Further, customers who opened their account online were 20% less satisfied with the experience than those who initiated their account in person.

Studies like this indicate that an emphasis on customer service is still an essential part of most bank interactions, and banks have taken notice. Modern banks are now merging mobile and other self-service channels to help lock down customer loyalty and re-establish a focus on customer service without losing the benefit of technology innovation. The branch of the future in many institutions now incorporates interactive teller machines, kiosks and other self-service stations that allow customers to handle transaction-based business in the branch at their own convenience.

Attracting customers to the physical branch with efficiency-enhancing technology still provides opportunities for bankers to help customers handle more complicated engagements where a representative is needed, such as loan application, retirement planning or financial management. It also enables the bank to ensure the customer is satisfied and build a relationship that could not have been established through other channels.

Extraco Banks of Central Texas has taken a SWARM approach when it comes to merging the traditional customer interaction and self-service innovation. The bank’s full-service employees greet customers as soon as they enter the financial center and provide a one-stop-shopping experience for customers. Video phones can also be utilized in the lobby to enable customers to interact with specialists on more complex transactions. Instead of requiring customers to walk to a traditional teller line, Extraco has brought the customer experience to the entry of the financial center through the use of pods, recyclers and teller capture, which have cut the transaction time in half. Extraco’s Relationship Bankers utilize headsets to support movement in the lobby and allow the employee to provide a full-service experience for the customer, without handing them off to another employee to complete the customer experience.

This approach to combining self-service and hands-on customer service not only improves customer loyalty, but requires less branch space, drastically reducing operational costs due to faster service and reduced overhead.

More than a Buzzword

Creating a cohesive look and feel across mobile, self-serve and in-branch channels has become more than a just a nice idea, but an essential goal to meet rising customer demand. Many banks are taking the creation of a seamless customer experience from device to device so seriously that they are now employing chief customer experience officers, making omnichannel far more than just a buzzword.

The omnichannel approach is unlike the multichannel focus seen at the onset of online and mobile banking, which focused on offering channel choices and encouraging customers to use the one most appropriate for them. According to a recent Facebook study, more than 40% of people switch between devices before completing an activity. This makes it essential to create a banking environment where customers can seamlessly, and without confusion, switch from smartphone, to tablet to the branch.

Tying all operations back to an omnichannel experience is also allowing banks to more easily gather and act on essential customer data than ever before to create revenue-building cross-sell opportunities and improve retention with targeted customer insight.

While no two banks are acting the same way when it comes to revolutionizing the branch, there is still an overwhelming focus on finding ways to enhance the branch experience rather than eliminate it. Even as mobile and other self-service channels are leveraged for simple transactions, there will always be a need for the face-to-face interaction afforded in the branch when addressing complex banking situations. The omnichannel focus will continue to merge innovative banking advancements with traditional relationship-building interactions in today’s branches and well into the branch of tomorrow’s future.

Ms. Murphy is a solution specialists manager with Jack Henry Banking, a division of Monett, Mo.-based Jack Henry & Associates. She can be reached at [email protected]