Digital challengers face tough times as consumers cling to branches

Digital challengers face tough times as consumers cling to branches

Digital-only bank startups in the UK could be on a hiding to nothing, as almost half of consumers rate in-person service at a bank branch as an important factor in meeting their financial needs.

Despite claims that digital-only banks such as Starling and Atom Bank are set to be a hit with UK banking customers when they launch this year, an online poll of 2000 consumers by Intelligent Environments finds that barely one-in-eight respondents plan to open an account with a challenger bank.

While 60% say that mobile and digital banking services are very important to them, two-thirds of the sample believe that more established banks would provide superior service through direct channels than their new competitors. Trust and security is a big issue, with a clear majority (86% and 84% respectively) favouring traditional banks on these scores.

The research also shows that more than half (52%) of UK banking customers don’t like the idea of not being able to speak to someone in person if they have a problem, along with 44% claiming that they wouldn’t switch because in branch services are important to them.

David Webber, managing director of Intelligent Environments, says: “As our research shows, many of the UK’s banking customers still like the personal touch. Traditional providers have a fantastic opportunity now to improve their digital and mobile services, and to focus on providing a superior in-branch experience for customers."

Comments: (7)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 27 April, 2015, 13:16Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

To me, digital banking seemed banking first, digital next. Looks like I'm not alone. In any case, at least in India, digital services provided by traditional banks are way ahead of the nearly-mere-online-leadgen gimmicks provided by neobanks.

Richard Sanders
Richard Sanders - Hermosa Consulting - Southend on Sea 27 April, 2015, 14:31Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The number of branches is likely to decrease but those that remain need effectivel a make over from their current format.

Across the globe there have been all sorts of branch improvements from Virtual tellers to ipads available etc. UK banks need to review the best of these and invest in delivering them to customers.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 27 April, 2015, 15:06Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Customers prefer self-service most of the times as it offers convenience and simplicity. However, they do need assistance in two scenarios - they need help or when they are unhappy about something. 

Digital is not just about offering customers banking experience via a mobile or an internet channel. This article has misinterpreted the term "digital" means no personalized interaction. Whether the in-person interaction happens in branch or over a secure digital channel such as video chat or VOIP calls is irrelevant.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 27 April, 2015, 15:44Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes Let's get this straight: banks should be good at banking; banks do not have a good track record in security or availability; yet banks continue yo offer customers access to current accounts 24/7, What's wrong with this picture? Let's help banks free up their valuable resources and subject matter expertise to do traditional banking, and leave the IT stuff to IT professionals with a track record of tight security and reliable operations. Let's put all the current account stuff in a white label service provider who also acts as a gatekeeper to "back-end" financial line of business applications run by the banks themselves. Oh, and while were at it, let's throw in a ESB to de-silo an individual banks various line of business applications. More on a model for this next week on our web site.
A Finextra member
A Finextra member 28 April, 2015, 03:45Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

While you will have a demographic that will do things the way they've done it before, and that may be a generational change, the reality is a little more complex, consider what real alternatives are customers offered? All too often Banks think give them an app, more is required to redirect long standing habits. Why is it that I might go into a branch once a year? No one from my Bank has asked me and I suspect that the same Bank has not asked the guy who goes weekly or monthly to the same Branch....maybe asking that question will provide Banks with a clearer picture for their transformation, but transform they must.  

James Piggot
James Piggot - Finastra - London 28 April, 2015, 09:45Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Personally I only ever visit a branch to deposit cheques which some people insist on using and then only because my bank does not yet accept cheque deposits via mobile phone. Once that happens its likely I will never darken their doors again. And whenever I do go I am accosted by desperate bored staff trying to persuade me to arrange a "review" which is just a chance for them to sell me dodgy products I don't need.

As to the branch being a center of excellence, the staff at two different high street banks were unable to help with relatively simple queries when my wife visited their main branches in Oxford. If there were highly trained people there that could provide expert assistance then there would be a purpose for branches, but otherwise? 

Why do people still visit bank branches, what kind of transactions are still carried out in branches?


Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 28 April, 2015, 13:52Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


Interesting comment and questions.

  1. At one bank's branch, I get immediate resolution of problems and great quality of advice (Secret Of Survival Of Bank Branches). At another bank's branch, I run around in circles to begin with but, after some figurative pushing and shoving, I eventually get reasonably acceptable answers and problem resolution (Linking Aadhaar Number To Bank Account). So, branch experience depends...
  2. That said, it's impossible for either bank to replicate the branch experience on any of their remote channels because of the huge difference in the caliber of staff employed at branch versus remote channels, fundamental shortcomings with technology and / or its implementation (e.g. signature), patchy Internet connectivity, online friction, etc. As a technology marketer, I'd love to see all these shortcomings going away - and branches shut down forever - but there are simply too many moving parts in remote channels and no single entity willing to own up to the full customer journey, so I'm not waiting with bated breath for that to happen in my lifetime. Besides, as I'd highlighted in the first blog post cited above, banks can sell better at branches and that's going to be the case in the forseeable future.
  3. I happened to visit a branch recently to deposit two high value cheques and get my passbook updated. I could've used the dropbox in the 24/7 ATM center but I wanted to get the bank's acknowledgment, which is only possible at the branch.(Mobile RDC has not yet been implemented in India). I could've opted for an eStatement but I  loathe them. The other customers I saw in the branch were carrying out the following transactions: Deposit cash, deposit cheques, open accounts, apply for mortgages, etc. 
  4. Personally, I find a branch to not only be the most effective channel for performing the aforementioned transactions but also the most convenient one. But I know that a lot of people like to show off their gadgets and generally feel cool about using technology for everything. If they feel differently, that's okay: Different strokes for different folks, and all that.