Harnessing the power of branches in your digital strategy

Key Takeaways

  • Even as digital channels increase in popularity, most customers still prefer to visit a physical branch for advice on complex transactions or to open new accounts.
  • In-person experiences need to blend seamlessly with digital to create the cohesive omnichannel experiences customers want.
  • Personalized, context-driven campaigns delivered via mobile banking apps can help bridge the physical/digital gap by incorporating additional sources of data.
  • As banks grow more comfortable with omnichannel, the experiences they offer will continue to evolve.

The rise of digital banking has not meant the demise of the physical bank branch. In fact, it’s just the opposite. At many banks, branches are still the most important retail sales channel.

In the same way consumers prefer visiting their local Apple Store to troubleshoot computer issues in person, they also like an actual human to guide them through major financial decisions. Fifty-nine percent of customers prefer to apply for loans in person, and 58% prefer to open savings or checking accounts at a branch, according to PwC.

The next step for banks is to augment physical branches with powerful digital capabilities. Customer journeys span both online and offline spaces: Eighty-two percent of bank customers research a new product online before purchasing, while 60% say they want to visit a branch when purchasing, according to The Financial Brand.

By empowering branch employees with digital tools, banks can get the best of both worlds — and reap the reward of lasting customer loyalty.

Bringing The Digital and Physical Worlds Together

Customer data is the glue that binds online and offline experiences together. To provide a modern digital experience, a bank should assemble all data in its systems — whether it’s collected via an in-person meeting or a mobile app — and use that data to trigger targeted, context-driven campaigns. If this infrastructure is built out thoroughly, the bank will have everything it needs to bridge the gap between in-person and digital experiences.

For example, imagine a customer visits a branch to pre-qualify for a mortgage. During their discussion with a branch associate, it emerges that the customer’s low credit score could present a barrier to an approval for the desired loan amount. The associate might offer advice on how the customer can reduce their credit utilization or take other actions to improve their score.

However, giving advice is one thing — ensuring the customer follows through is another. To support their efforts, the branch associate can suggest that the customer opt in to receive personalized financial recommendations and other messages through their mobile banking app. The customer’s interest in mortgage products has been recorded in the bank’s systems, along with their credit score. Once the customer opts-in, this data triggers their enrollment in a campaign targeted at people who want to improve their credit to get a home loan.

The campaign can then use contextual data such as location, weather reports, mode of transportation, and so on to send messages at the right place and the right time. The customer might receive tips to save money on groceries when they’re at the grocery store, or receive a reminder to pay down their balance on a credit card when they’re sitting at home and able to focus on their account.

By bridging the digital and physical worlds, the bank can support and encourage the customer to meet their financial goals in their daily life — without interrupting with communication that is irrelevant or inaccurate.

The Future of Bank Branches

By using data from in-person meetings to inform digital campaigns, banks can take the first step toward building a true omnichannel experience. But as banks become more adept at omnichannel, bank branches and the role they play will continue to evolve. So will the technology involved.

One interesting case study comes from HSBC, a bank that rolled back its physical branch presence in North America in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. In recent years, HSBC started investing in retail banking again — including an anthropomorphic robot named “Pepper” for its flagship branch in New York City.

Though her presence in the branch window definitely attracts attention, Pepper is more than just a gimmick. Thanks to her natural language processing (NLP) capabilities, she’s able to answer customer questions just like a bank teller, reducing lines and freeing up branch employees’ time. Customers can even complete transactions via a tablet attached to Pepper. Business at the flagship branch increased fivefold in the first year Pepper was introduced.

While anthropomorphic robots may not become common in local bank branches, Pepper’s story is an example of how creative and effective the blending of physical and digital can get. Banks of all sizes must experiment to determine the right mix of offline and online experiences for their customers — and the kind of data infrastructure that is required to support it.

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