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Branches - what is their place in the omni-channel world

Recently I read a fascinating article on Bank branches key to fending off digital challengers in Finextra. The article talks about how the business of branch banking and customer behavior are changing due to digital channels.


Global trends show that branches are no longer just for simple transactions like cash deposits and withdrawals. They are emerging as advisory centers where customers can discuss their complex financial problems with trusted experts. Banks in Western European countries, like HSBC – where cashiers are being rapidly removed from branches, are leading the charge. I believe the rest of the world will soon follow.


This logic is borne out by research. A recent survey by Capgemini indicates that most customers would prefer to go to a branch to open a new product. It is apparent that many customers would still like to see and talk to a human rather than a machine when undertaking a complicated financial transaction or purchase.


With the advance of Omni-channel, we are not far from a time when customers will be able to start a new application (such as for a loan) from the comfort of their home or office using a tablet. They will be able to video chat with contact centre advisors and both would able to view the application form at the same time. There are many other ways that technology will be able to knit together user experience between channels. So where does this UX nirvana leave the branch?


I believe that branches will still have a role in an omni-channel world for several reasons. As I mentioned, branches are already becoming advisory centers – but this is not a channel specific service. Advice can be delivered through video-chat. So what will make branches different? Put simplistically, it is the quality of customer journey.  This is where the convenience of location, the attractiveness of experience and the depth of interaction become critical. In the future, branches will have to focus on the opportunity to differentiate their brands.  Customer satisfaction will be the ultimate goal. Branches will need to be comfortable and attractive – and speak to the bank’s overall brand values. How could this be done? With help of technology banks can provide superior and more value added services.


Yes Bank, a commercial bank in India with 100+ branches, has completed a pilot of an RFID system enabling branch employees to identify customers as they enter the branch. The technology makes it possible for customers to receive personalized service without having to identify themselves. At the door of the branch, RFID readers capture the unique ID number on the card's RFID tag, whether it is in a customer’s wallet, pocket or purse. The name and photo of the individual pops-up on screen of the greeter at the entrance. Simultaneously a camera photograph of the individual is matched with the customer's photo on file, to verify the customer’s identity. The greeter informs the customer which employee will serve them, or escorts them to a private room for personalized service.


We should not under-estimate the value customers ascribe to meeting a staff member face to face. Face to face meetings –are more impactful because customers and staff can better react to nonverbal communication. Whilst a new generation of Skype users is coming off age – there are still significant numbers of users who will still want the old fashioned face to face experience to give them confidence in their financial choices. For this reason, branches will continue to have a role in the future. 



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