Bringing the bank branch into the digital age
Written by Ashish Gupta, president, UK and global banking & financial markets, BT’s Global Services division
Over 600 bank branches have closed across Britain in the past year, with banks citing declining demand from customers in the wake of the online banking revolution as part of the reason for the closures. But, do customers really prefer not to bank in person at all, or are banks missing a trick by not digitalising the branch experience in the same way as they have digitalised the online banking experience?
Many High Street retailers already provide a successful ‘digital’ bricks and mortar experience, with digital touch points such as intelligent merchandise labels and shop window displays to show how to interact out of hours. These types of solutions blur the lines between shopping online and in-store, creating the seamless brand experience that digital consumers expect. And with 61 per cent of Millennials still preferring to open a new bank account in-person due to online privacy concerns, banking should be no different.
Some of the many digital possibilities for bank branches include proximity technology that identifies a customer when he or she enters the branch, self-service kiosks and mobile tools so staff can look after customers on the spot. Barclays is one of the pioneers in this space. The bank began its digital transformation more than three years ago, introducing free wi-fi into 1,600 branches. Customers can now combine digital services with human assistance and employees equipped with iPads can serve people anywhere in the branch. These tactics are accelerating take up of Barclays’ digital services by enabling branch staff to give tuition to customers on how to use apps.
Such digital alterations can improve the customer experience, reduce operating costs and free up employees. So why aren’t more banks taking their branch network down the digital route? After all, recent BT research into the ‘digital CIO’ found that every single CIO who responded saw the digitisation of business as a personal priority.
One of the main problems is legacy technology. Many bank branches have barely changed in the past 20 years and digitalising them would therefore require a complete overhaul of the IT estate. A solution to this is to move towards a dual operational model that allows the winding down of legacy systems, alongside a strategic cloud platform to host all new and future digital solutions. In other words, keep the new and the old separate and only migrate to the cloud those legacy systems that will be essential to a digital future.
Another argument for adopting the cloud that is one quarter of banking spend on technology already takes places outside the IT department. So it is only a matter of time before banks find themselves with a patchwork of autonomous digital solutions that must each be properly secured and managed. Digital upgrades are much easier if all digital products and services sit on the same cloud platform, in a ‘cloud of clouds’. Such a strategy would also demonstrate that the bank has the right security and compliance measures in place to mitigate the operational risks of cloud computing.
Running a technology trial in a few branches is pretty straightforward; rolling out innovations consistently across a branch network is less so. Basing the digital transformation on a single cloud platform mitigates this and also enables the retail banking CIO to provide flexibility and choice to the business while managing digital transformation from the centre.
One fifth of global organisations are already completely cloud-centric, and a further 46 per cent have more than half their applications and infrastructure in the cloud. For retail banks, establishing a single cloud-optimised infrastructure that allows them to connect easily and securely to the applications and data they need, regardless of where they’re hosted and where each branch is based, is therefore an essential step in creating the experience customers increasingly expect.
The local bank branch still has an important role to play, for all bank users. Younger customers, often inexperienced in financial affairs and as concerned about online security as anyone else, appreciate the reassurance of a guiding hand; while many older customers simply prefer to bank in person. What’s more, banking is an intangible service and the branch is the physical presence and human face of the brand.
By delivering a great experience that attracts customers in person, and enabling staff to be more productive, digital innovation can help Britain’s retail banks to build that all-important seamless brand experience whilst maintaining a viable and vibrant branch network.