We’re reaching a point where two banking narratives are starting to collide: the decline of bank branches on UK high streets and shifting consumer behaviour when it comes to banking. Both trends have accelerated due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As these trends collide and embed themselves within our daily banking lives, the real question is what’s next? How do banks create a world that gives consumers what they want and need, when and where they need it?
Consumer experience is always key, but now it’s about creating the connected, seamless experiences that consumers expect. Often the banking sector is an area where people don’t expect customer service to excel, but I firmly believe that there is an opportunity for the industry to create real connections by combining the best technology and the best people. Bringing these worlds together will enable banks to deliver a true unification of the customer journey and experience.
Over the past decade banks have understandably focused on trying to ensure that their digital services were keeping up with the competition presented by digital first neo-banks and banking services apps. Simultaneously consumer expectations have evolved through the shifting business models of digital retailers and the increasingly personalised nature of services.
Now the two need to combine, to ensure that UK banks are forward looking and future-proof in how they give their customers what they need. To date, the unification of the customer journey between digital services and physical banking has been an area of much debate and future gazing, but it has seen little action.
All that is set to change as banks face the challenge of continued evolution and must put customers at the forefront of their innovation strategies – keeping in mind that all customers are different and like to bank in different ways at different times. For example, when it comes to branch-based services, it’s commonly thought that it’s just older demographics and vulnerable parts of society that rely on in-branch banking. But this just isn’t true. Whilst these people need to be able to access banking services in the way that best suits them, so do the large number of SMEs that require physical and cash services to operate – as well as those who simply want the choice about how to interact with their bank.
Alongside ensuring that access to banking is both physical and digital, it is also important for the industry to recognise that many customers prefer to experience human interaction when dealing with banking services. Technology is now in place that means that digital banking is not prohibitive to human interaction and vice versa, so finding that delicate balance is key.
Ultimately, the seamless interaction of digital and physical services is the future of banking. But what does the roadmap look like to get there? Although some banking services already exist in a new format that provides a blend of in-person and tech-enabled services, what about the rest? And how do technology-based services add the human touch and provide the quick access to the experts customers need?
By breaking down silos and considering end-to-end customer journeys rather than purely thinking in terms of “channels” this balance can be achieved – providing the end consumer with an experience that instills trust and safety, but also an interaction that is personal and fulfilling.
Plugging the gaps between digital and physical services and achieving that blended end-user experience really requires the adoption of a customer mindset and a consideration of where banking services can truly add value to a person’s daily life. Take the example of a small business owner who’d like to pay in daily takings. The owner can pre-stage their transaction digitally using their mobile phone, authorising an employee to then visit a branch or a self-service system to complete the transaction.
From a consumer perspective, an individual could request a higher withdrawal limit in advance of visiting a branch, which is then authorised by a member of staff; who at the same time re-engages the customer with a face-to-face discussion on a mortgage application they started online.
An effective synthesis between digital and physical banking can also be achieved through the self-service channel. For example, a customer could complete a cardless transaction using just their mobile device and then at the same time engage in a video call with a member of staff to discuss a more complex matter.
By considering this more integrated approach to banking services it’s clear to see how technology plays a key role in delivering that next level of convenient customer services, whilst allowing staff to focus on the areas where human interaction can drive real added value for the consumer.
Many believe that we are well down a path where digital technology-only banking services will be the norm. But we should not be focusing on such a finite transition and ultimately digital-only banking does not and will never, fulfil the needs of all consumers, all of the time. As an industry we should be driven by a desire to deliver the best customer experience possible, leveraging all the options available to us.
The technology is available today to provide a transformation in how connections are made across all of the banking services customers want and need. But we should never forget that we are all human. So whether a transaction is completed online, on a mobile device, in the branch or through the self-service channel, the “experience” of these services is key.
Enabling meaningful connections and delivering that seamless interaction between channels has never been more important in driving the real future of banking.