Digital evangelists predicting the demise of the bank branch could be in for a rude awakening, according to a new study from IDC Financial Insights which pitches the much-derided bricks and mortar outlet as the fulcrum of a healthy bank-to-customer relationship strategy.
With the rise of mobile and online banking, bank branches are evolving to play a new role in support of other channels while providing valuable face-to-face contact with customers, says the analyst house, noting that across Europe more branches are being refurbished than shut down.
Tellers behind glass barriers are being transformed into roving sales people equipped with tablets, allowing more customer information to be captured by the bank and providing a more interactive customer experience, says Lawrence Freeborn, senior research analyst at IDC.
"Just as the rise of new technology has threatened the branch in the past few years, it also holds the key to their continued relevance," he says. "By implementing the right solutions, a bank can ensure that its branches are cost-effective and play their role in offering excellent customer experience."
Just yesterday, the UK's Halifax released figures showing that one in every two visits to a bank branch now involves self-service transactions rather than human interaction, with staff deployed to offer more informed financial advice.
As Nick Williams, the bank's digital director noted: "A growing number of customers want the best of both worlds - the convenience of banking on the move, alongside a helping hand from their local branch when they need it."
On a day that Barclays Bank announced it had closed 98 branches, or six percent of its network, Andrei Charniauski, head of Europe at IDC maintains that branches are here to stay for decades and will continue to offer major competitive edge over digital-only financial services.
"This does not mean that banks can simply rest on their past successes — the branch must evolve consistently with other channels to continue delivering its unique value," he says. "Introducing innovative technology solutions will enable branch employees to serve clients in branches according to modern customer experience demands."