Far from killing off traditional branches, digital technology could breathe new life into them, Nationwide chief executive Graham Beale has told Finextra.
Banks including Barclays and RBS have warned that their branch networks are set to shrink dramatically over the next few years as more and more customers turn to online and mobile channels to carry out basic transactions.
Meanwhile, financial services firms have been exploring how to make the most of the branches they do keep, finding ways to save costs by having more technology and fewer but more specialised employees.
Nationwide has sought to harness technology by rolling out in-branch video links that let customers talk to off-site mortgage consultants. The Nationwide Now project has so far reached around 60 branches, with more to come.
Beale thinks that in the future customers will use the face-to-face video service from the comfort of their own homes via tablets and laptops.
But in the meantime the technology is actually helping to keep branches alive because it is far more economically viable for remote branches with low demand than full-time mortgage consultants. This means that branches can justify their existence.
"A lot of people say that the impact of digital is going to remove branches from the high street. We're forming an alternative view," says Beale.
Nationwide says that 94% of customers who have used the video links think that the service is a good or excellent replacement for face-to-face meetings. Beale tells Finextra that the building society has made moves to make the system as personal as possible. For example, advisors ask customers if they want a cup of tea and then contact the in-branch team to get one delivered.
"There's a very good way of melding very modern technology with all the benefits and cosiness of a branch environment," he argues.
Nationwide CEO Graham Beale talks to Finextra at the BSA Annual Conference