Home / Banking Strategies / Digital branch design: From marketing hype to reality

Digital branch design: From marketing hype to reality

For the shift to tellerless banking to be meaningful, institutions must invest in technology that enables a genuinely paperless process.


Digital bank branches have traditionally delivered little more than a brand point of presence. These branches were seen as a cost-neutral (at best) option for customers to self-serve and complete transactions at their convenience.

Recently, however, the tide has changed. Advances in both technology and customer acceptance over the past several years have transformed the digital, or “tellerless,” branch from marketing hype to operational strategy offering efficient, full-service delivery at a reduced cost.

To effectively leverage digital bank branches in a meaningful way and drive customer adoption, institutions must be intentional when mapping out their design and purpose.

Deciding what technology to implement is a critical first step. Customer-facing technology, such as number keypads, signature capture pads and associated software are common, but the back office typically remains untouched. By retaining paper-based components on the back end, banks are creating a digital appearance without the operational benefits.

For digital bank branches to be meaningful, banks must invest in technology that enables a genuinely paperless process, forgoing spreadsheets in favor of digital portals and communication methods. Such a shift enables faster service, increased security, reduced administrative overhead and a customer-first culture. The move to paperless operations also helps enable remote work.

Getting the most out of ITMs

Banks that had already deployed interactive teller machines (ITMs) were in a position of strength when the world came to a halt last year. The more modern ITMs enable bank employees to share screens, providing customers with helpful context around their question or task at hand.

However, these screen-sharing transactions are typically conducted verbally. They’re not easily visible or recorded, making it difficult for bank management to give them a true digital migration focus.

There is an opportunity for banks to leverage assisted-service technology to drive the adoption of digital banking. Consider if the call center agent sends the digital banking link to the customer. The agent is prohibited from seeing the customer’s username and password, but once the customer logs in, then the agent can see the customer’s interactions and talk them through how to use the digital channel to solve their problem or access additional information or services.

Such assisted-service technology allows customers to evolve from basic self-service interactions, like depositing or withdrawing cash using a card and PIN, to more robust transactions that require a trained teller, like validating signatures or ensuring complex compliance with account rules.

As customers migrate from conducting transactions in the branch to leveraging digital banking, it’s important for institutions to reduce friction across all touchpoints. As an individual moves from one channel to the next, the context and history of the engagement must transition with them.

Self-service technology like ITMs can free up time for bank staff to facilitate more personal and profitable advisory services and optimize time spent with the customer. Interactions can be conducted at the customer’s convenience, typically during extended hours or even 24/7 when a manned or traditional branch is closed.

Creating value with digital card issuance

Recently, credit and debit card usage has surged and, as a result, there are new requirements for these cards to be more robust. For example, flat cards with ink that wears are no longer acceptable – they must be embossed so that details can be read long after the ink fades.

The increased reliance on and usage of these cards means that those in need of replacement or renewal need to be quickly and conveniently issued. Successful modern digital branches are stepping up and offering embossed-card-issuing machines, with the best being fully PCI-DSS certified. While these card-issuing machines are primarily used in self-service mode, they can also be ITM-capable, allowing customers to access teller assistance on demand. This digital delivery significantly expedites the process by eliminating the burden of waiting for a card at a branch or to arrive in the mail.

The time is ripe for digital branches to meet their potential. Technology advances are enabling banks to reposition the digital branch from brand perk to smart operational strategy to cost effectively extend full-service hours. Banks that welcome a more modern, digitized branch strategy will be able to successfully meet customers where they are today while gaining the flexibility to deliver for tomorrow.

John Cameron is practice manager and senior consultant at NCR Corp.