The branch has found itself in in the firing line as digital and mobile banking start capturing consumer mindshare, and increasingly, money. So is the branch doomed or are the same fears for branch survival during the dot.com years resurfacing only to be proven wrong again?
The internet failed to topple the branch demonstrating consumers still valued the brick and mortar retail experience. Yet it is undeniable that mobile has a unique advantage over dot.com – anytime, anywhere access to banking services. With consumers demanding one-touch services, simplicity of experience and security, mobile is presenting new opportunities to innovate the banking experience and meet the rising expectations of the digital customer.
So why trek all the way to a branch and wait in a queue when you can have all the banking services you need at your fingertips? Well some argue that banking is a business of trust and technology cannot be humanized enough to replace a person when it comes to more complex services like mortgages and life insurance. Tesco Bank, Santander UK and Virgin Money are continuing to invest in branches, claiming they are integral to delivering the brand experience, even if customers are visiting branches less frequently.
Perhaps it is worth considering that mobile is complimenting, not competing, with the branch. Should retail banks be moving towards a "mortar and mobile" approach rather than one eliminating the other.
Global pioneers in the smart branch are proving that branches can deliver on exceptional experience, re-designed with connected and interactive in-branch services. Citibank is arguably leading the pack with its Apple inspired branch design. Customers are engaged from the moment they step in the branch with interactive assistance at the ready:
- Digital Media Walls for quick and real-time updates
- Interactive touch screens for product and service browsing
- Phone banking with a face utilizing smart video conferencing with banking specialists
- Imaging technology for secure and quick transactions
- Technology workbenches to delve further into new products or account information
Citibank has embarked on a digital refurbishment of its branches to refresh the experience. But at what cost? Some argue that simple economics dictate the decline of the branch as average number of visits per year continue to plummet. Brett King, Founder of Movenbank and author of Bank 2.0 has argued that smart redesign cannot save the branch as it is consumer behaviour that is ultimately making the branch obsolete by shifting banking activities to the small screen. Thus stating that the branch is no longer a necessary channel for customer interaction and experience and the might of mobile will win over more and more customers.
So the question remains: Is the smart branch hype or hero?
Image source: All Vectors