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Personal, personnel: Reinventing the Retail Branch in 2017

Feb 6, 2017 / Consumer Banking

In recent years, consumers have increasingly turned to online and mobile banking channels to fill their banking needs. In fact, 62 percent of consumers now conduct most of their banking activity online or via mobile apps—this according to a report by Fabrice Albizzati, “Reinventing U.S. Retail Banking: Keys to Creating the Omnichannel Bank Branch Experience.”

While the rapid adoption of digital banking has led to a sharp decline in branch traffic, it doesn’t necessarily signal the imminent demise of brick-and-mortar banking. That said, it highlights the need for branches to change with the times. What’s more, this transformation forces banks to rethink their approach to hiring, staffing, managing and engaging employees to balance customer expectations with economic realities for sustained competitive success.

Despite the growing popularity of alternative banking channels, customers continue to value face-to-face transactions and interactions. In a 2016 Accenture study, 86.7 percent of banking customers said they expected to still use physical bank branches two years in the future. And of those respondents, 47 percent said they would do so because they receive more value through human interaction. These findings indicate that branches still constitute an important component in a retail bank’s overall channel strategy. But given the physical branch’s high-cost infrastructure, the time has come to reinvent the branch model to align with changing customer demands and fiscal constraints.

Back to work: workforce management reconsidered

As branches evolve, banks must rethink their workforce management practices to balance customer service with operational efficiency. The focus no longer rests on how many full- and part-time employees banks need to staff their branches; rather, it’s now on what roles employees should fill and how to optimize staff productivity and engagement. With this shift in focus, traditional approaches to hiring, staffing, managing and engaging employees will no longer suffice. Leading-edge workforce management practices—and supporting technology—can help banks deliver a superior branch experience while controlling costs and improving performance.

Customers bid adieu to queuing

Remember the days when customers queued up at the branch for the next available teller? This familiar scenario is quickly becoming outdated as customers perform more routine transactions from a desktop computer or a mobile device. As a result, retail banks must reimagine the branch model to deliver a more engaging experience—one that creates profitable, long-term relationships with customers. Industries such as retail, hospitality and travel have raised consumer’s service expectations with innovative technologies and engagement approaches. Banks must make similar changes to deliver the kind of customer experience that builds loyalty and drives competitive success. 

Forward-looking retail banks address these challenges by investing in in comprehensive “branch transformation.” Many now implement new branch designs with open floor plans, beverage stations, high-tech displays and self-service kiosks. In addition, more branches provide access to banking specialists in a consultative environment much like that of the Apple’s Genius Bar; this allows customers to pre-book appointments and avoid long wait times, Some branches even offer to send an  employee to a customer’s home, office or other location to discuss loans, mortgages and other financial products.

Higher and hire: Staffing the reimagined branch

The same old approaches to hiring, staffing and development simply won’t cut it in the branch of the future. After all, having the right employees who can handle more complex, consultative interactions will prove key to a great branch experience. That’s why more banks are shifting toward “universal agents”: bank employees who can provide a broad range of services rather than specialize as tellers, loan officers or personal bankers. This improves staffing flexibility but also means that banks must recruit employees with the appropriate skill set—including some sales experience—or develop existing staff to take on this multi-faceted role.

Optimizing the productivity of branch staff is also critical, especially given the steady decline in foot traffic. Roy Karon, president and CEO of BVS Performance Solution, notes that some “banks are redeploying staff during slower-volume periods to handle product, account, or loan inquires made via video on a cross-branch model.” As these new service options gain traction, managers will need real-time visibility into customer demand in order to deploy staff for maximum impact.

Tech innovation supports branch transformation

Retail banks must not only hire the right people, but also manage them effectively to ensure a successful branch transformation. Implementing state-of-the-art workforce management technology, including automated tools for hiring, forecasting, scheduling and labor analytics, can help banks to:

  • Track, screen, select and onboard best-fit candidates to deliver a great branch experience
  • Generate accurate labor forecasts to avoid overstaffing and understaffing, which can impact service levels and budgets
  • Schedule the right people in the right place at the right time, and reallocate employees as needed to maximize service and minimize idle time
  • Gain real-time visibility into workforce trends and identify potential issues so they can take immediate corrective action

Prepare for the branch of the future today

As retail banks work to reinvent their branches, they should take cues from other industries that utilize workforce management technology to improve the service experience. For example, as retailers install self-check-out stations and introduce appointment setting for in-store consultations, they use forecasting and scheduling software to staff the right number of people, with the right skills, to deliver a personalized and rewarding shopping experience. At the same time, mobile capabilities enable retail managers to reallocate employees on the fly to improve productivity and service.

With its increased focus on consultative services, the branch of the future requires a more flexible and innovative approach to managing and engaging employees. Modern, integrated workforce management solutions provide the automated tools and real-time visibility needed to optimize your biggest asset and primary differentiator for competitive advantage and better business outcomes. That asset, without doubt: Your employees.

Kevin Steel is industry principal, retail banking at Kronos Incorporated, based in Chelmsford, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].