By : Nigel Martin
October 03, 2017 12:00 PM
Despite the unprecedented level of choice and flexibility available to retail banking customers today, there is strong evidence to show that branch and in-person service still have a critical role to play in the industry.
In June 2017, the American Bankers Association (ABA) released research showing that consumers want a combination of technology and face-to-face services, particularly when it comes to complex transactions such as taking out a mortgage. The ABA has also highlighted the significant role that physical branches play in their communities.
If your business wants to maintain a physical presence and continue to support its customers and local communities, one of the key priorities should be making sure your branches are running as efficiently as possible.
The importance of branch accessibility
In a recent survey of nearly 2,000 US consumers by the ABA, a substantial majority (87 percent) of respondents said it's important to have a local bank branch easily accessible from their home. More than three-quarters (79 percent) said local banks play an important role in their communities, through activities such as sponsoring events and delivering financial education.
Nearly nine out of ten Americans (89 percent) agreed that it's important to the US economy for the banking industry to encompass providers of all sizes. The majority of survey participants expressed concern that the number of banks across the country has fallen by 2,700 in the last decade, dropping below 6,000.
When it comes to serving customers, one of the key roles of the bank branch - of which there are more than 92,000 in the US - is providing face-to-face support and guiding people through major transactions. This function has become increasingly important since developments in digital banking and self-service have made it possible for customers to complete many transactions independently.
Six out of ten US consumers (60 percent) surveyed by the ABA said they use online resources for research, but prefer to apply for a mortgage in person.
Bob Davis, the industry group's executive vice-president of mortgage markets, financial management and public policy, said: "Banks invest billions of dollars to offer their customers the latest technology. But at the end of the day, nothing compares to sitting across the table, face-to-face with a banker when you're making the single most important investment of your life."
Tackling the branch efficiency challenge
So here's the big question for many banks: How do you maximize efficiency and ensure that your branches continue to deliver the services customers want, without unsustainable costs?
Firstly, it's important to ensure that your skilled staff are available to concentrate on those activities that require their personal touch and expertise, such as speaking to customers and guiding complex transactions. In-branch solutions - self-service kiosks and deposit ATMs offering video connections to remote tellers, for example - can prove invaluable when it comes to freeing up staff and boosting customer convenience at the same time.
There are many technologies available today that can help banks to save time and raise efficiency by automating processes that once had to be completed manually. Automated cash and transaction balancing in the self-service channel, for instance, can remove the need for staff to spend hours on tasks such as searching system logs and ATM electronic journals to reconcile cash balances with transaction activity.
Cash recycling and optimized cash management processes can also make your branch network more cost-efficient by reducing ATM replenishment costs, while innovations in location services make it possible to engage with consumers when they enter a branch. The ability to send personalized, relevant recommendations to customers when they are in exactly the right place to act on them could have a big impact on revenue generation.
These are just a few examples of the exciting technologies that could help to secure the future of the branch, ensuring that customers can continue to access the in-person service and support that is as important today as it has ever been.