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Balancing digitization with the personal touch

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Over the last 10 years, the increasing popularity of all things digital has meant that financial institutions have been emphasizing online and mobile channels. The trend is easy to understand – digitization has myriad benefits, such as account opening, paying bills, checking an account status, transferring funds, and depositing checks, all through a smart phone or browser, and all without having to leave your home.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies faster than anyone could have anticipated – we’ve watched banking evolve from customer interactions that take place face-to-face to those that occur on an almost entirely digital level. While we try to keep ourselves and others safe with social distancing, many customers have been willing to try new digital tools rather than step outside into physical environments.

However, while there’s no denying the benefits of using banking technology, not all of us are prepared to embrace a completely digital experience – significant numbers of people are reluctant to rely on digital channels for a variety of reasons.

From its inception, banking has been built on personal relationships that allow banks to tailor experiences for a vast range of customers with varying needs. We’ve become so accustomed to this that even advocates of digital channels still prefer to speak to a person for more complex transactions, like taking out a loan or seeking financial advice and investment guidance. Then there are the tech novices, and those who fear that digital banking channels expose them to greater risk of fraud – these people would much rather speak to a person, pandemic or no pandemic. Additionally, a study by Adobe Analytics shows that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 72 percent of Gen Z consumers visited a physical bank branch at least monthly.

All of this points to the fact that personal interaction is still a key factor in the relationship between bank and customer.

However, during this time of limited personal interaction, and even after the crisis has passed, banks need a solution that gives consumers what they want. Research shows that consumers want a true omnichannel banking experience that allows them to switch seamlessly between all channels, so they can start a transaction online, for example, and conclude it with a personal banker if that is what they prefer.

By investing in the right technology, banks can reinvent customers’ experiences by providing innovative and intuitive digital tools that combine effortlessly with personal interactions. And it goes without saying that any solution that a financial institution uses to deepen consumer engagement must provide unfailing security to build trust and increase adoption.

And so just like the ATM changed the role of the bank teller, so digital banking will give banks the opportunity to invigorate the in-branch experience as we start to emerge from this health crisis.

By re-inventing the call center experience, and providing customers with more digital ways to do their everyday banking, banks can start to use branches primarily as a place where customers can speak with a banker, in person, to ask for advice or conduct more complex transactions. A branch can also become a safe, educational environment in which customers can conduct routine transactions digitally, but with help at hand if needed.

Interactive teller machines (ITMs) offer all the conveniences of an ATM – such as making deposits, withdrawing funds and checking balances – while also enabling customers to connect to a live teller. Customers can access this service from their car while on the go using voice activation or by scanning a QR code, rather than touching a screen, punching keys or inserting bank cards. It provides immediate answers for customers who haven’t made an appointment to see a personal banker or who want to avoid waiting in long lines at a branch. The service also benefits those who do not have access to a computer at home and so need to visit a physical branch.

We are living in uncertain times, where social interaction is limited for the foreseeable future, but in order to succeed, or even survive, banks must find a way to ensure they still meet all their customers’ needs, now and as institutions plan their reopening strategies in a post-pandemic world. Optimizing digital strategies is key to remaining competitive, but so is the incredible importance of human connection.

Mzukisi Rusi is vice president, customer success at Entersekt