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Channel Banking: Automated yet Human

At 11 a.m. there was maddening rush in my branch. It was peak summer, temperatures were soaring and customers were frustrated with how long the cashier was taking to single-handedly attend to them. Ironically, there was also a kiosk available for depositing cash, but it was completely ignored by the throng of people who preferred to wait in line so they could hand it over to an official. Unable to take it any longer, I started urging customers to give the machine a try; with a little help and within ten minutes, the lobby was empty of all but three. The lesson? Merely installing an alternative channel won't do the trick.

Until a few years ago, the branch was the most convenient banking channel; a single roof below which customers could get all their work done. Gradually, alternative modes of banking came along in the form of call centers, ATMs and Internet banking. However, these sprung up in islands, with no linkages between them. But now, with the advent of multi-channel banking, customers can bank across a selection of channels and enjoy a consistent experience across each, which is so seamless that a transaction initiated and abandoned midway in one channel can be resumed from where it was left off, and fulfilled in another. At any time, or place.

Multi-channel banking brings several advantages besides reach and branchless banking convenience. Banks can use channels to showcase their offerings; they can leverage low cost platforms such as mobile banking to penetrate hitherto unbanked areas; they can also venture into social media to engage deeper with customers.

A common platform for channels opens up opportunities for customers and bank staff to connect to them through a range of devices. While this is an exciting prospect, it also carries significant security risk, which must be addressed beforehand.
That being said, banks need to bear in mind that multi-channel banking is not for everyone. For example, older or technophobic customers are likely to want to continue using the branch. During my days as a banker, I happened to interact with three very distinct groups of customers. One, those who came to the branch for just about everything and would not use other channels. Two, those who did just the opposite. And three - the biggest group - customers who were moderately comfortable with channel banking but wanted personal assistance to be readily available whenever required. If they faced trouble progressing with any transaction, they would either chat or video conference with a relationship manager or call their branch.

Banks need to create awareness of the benefits of multi-channel banking among their customers. Since this is where the future lies, neither has a choice.


Comments: (3)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 22 November, 2012, 11:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

When you say, "...within ten minutes, the lobby was empty of all but three.", did you mean that all but three customers left the branch after completing or abandoning their kiosk transaction? Your next sentence seems to suggest that they gave up on the kiosk.

On another note, each channel has its own strengths. Supporting all activities on all channels (multichannel support) is neither possible nor required. Studies have shown that a majority of customers want the ability to move between channels based on their perception of the relative strengths of each channel - what I'd call "Omnichannel Banking". More on this in my 3-part personal blog post titled "Jumping On The Omnichannel Bandwagon".

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 26 November, 2012, 09:20Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The customers vacated the lobby after completing their transactions with a little help from me in using the machine.

What is to be understood by this piece is that with the advent of more and more channels the dependency on people to man them is not reducing, rather, it may steadily be growing. So it may not be entirely beneficial  to add multiple channels for banking unless awareness about the usage of the same is created among customers.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 26 November, 2012, 10:52Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I'm not sure how many banks will find adequate business case for adding technology and still keep using people. Besides, IMHO, spreading customer awareness is an overused prescription to cure ills that lie elsewhere. For example, in the case of Cheque Deposit Systems, technology providers are squarely to blame for poor usage, as I'd stated in this post: 

My Bank Does Right To Scrap Cheque Deposit Systems

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