Future of the Branch: Are Branches viable going forward?


Innovative, modern branches, with a primary focus on offering a digital-based experience in a physical branch, appear to have found a way of keeping the branch a relevant and frequented banking channel, despite the ever-increasing popularity of online and mobile banking. Banks that are considering how their branches could create a unique and stress-free experience offering a greater level of service than can currently be gained through purely digital channels, while still acknowledging the value and importance to the customer of an interactive, convenient interaction, have found success with their forward-thinking approach to updating their branches. Though such branches are experiencing greater popularity and continue to attract customers, the considerable emphasis on digital interaction in-branch is not without its difficulties.

Implementation of user-friendly interactive screens, from self-service expansive wall fittings to branch representatives offering banking products and advice with the aid of a tablet, have become intrinsic to these streamlined branches as key points of interest for customers, replacing computer monitors only viewed by branch staff. These interfaces that were only accessed by branch staff, not shared and utilised by branch customers, therefore required considerable modification to be suitable for customer use, become more user-friendly and of a modern, simple design. For some banks, the potential cost and timescale of this alteration would be huge, with a full overhaul of a crucial branch system costing the bank a significant sum of money they may not have the ability to allocate to branch renovation, while also resulting in prolonged closure of branches while the systems are altered. The scale of this project could also be a concern for banks, with hundreds or even thousands of screens requiring redevelopment. Though innovative branches around the world have illustrated how the branch can still be valued and required by customers when offering a more agile, personalised service, the time and cost involved in updating and transforming branches is a significant concern, preventing some larger, older banks from adopting this relatively new approach to branch banking.

Currently, elevating the appeal and ease of branch banking using innovative technology is imperative to keeping branches relevant, useful and desired by customers, but will the rapid advances in technology eventually bring the end of the need for a physical branch? There are a multitude of possibilities for what could finally cause branches to become obsolete, with innovations such as pure voice interaction seeming to pave the way. The relevance of voice powered technology in banking is beginning to be recognised, with Barclays recently introducing voice recognition software for their phone customers, eliminating the need for multiple security questions and passwords. The technology identifies a complicated “voice print” from customers using more than 100 characteristics, highlighting how voice-powered banking can be secure and easy, becoming a more desirable alternative to visiting a branch. A similar concept has been incorporated into banking apps, with Santander providing a service in their SmartBank app that allows customers to verbally ask simple questions about their transaction history, rather than search through this data manually. Already, this app offers an easy, speedy service unable to be matched by a branch, and is intended to eventually enable customers to fully service their accounts, engaging in valuable services such as reporting lost cards and making payments. Mashreq Bank in the UAE has also seen the potential benefits and convenience of this technology, partnering with Apple to use Siri for voice-powered payments. Providing customers with a service more user-friendly and less time-consuming than other current digital channels further reduces the need to visit a branch, showing that ever-improving digital channels are able to adequately answer customers questions and reduce the time and steps involved in using banking channels. With voice-powered technology looking to become more universally used, through deals such as Samsung’s with the creators of the next gen AI VIV, a sophisticated, learning, voice-powered platform able to make app usage, including banking apps, more convenient and user-friendly than ever, the advantages of branch banking will continue to diminish, with stylish, tech-heavy branches unable to compete with the ease of access and scope of emerging digital channels.

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