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Experts Caution Against Cramming Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos in Branches

Six experts on retail design in the financial industry share their thoughts on the role technology will play in bank and credit union branches.

Sean Keathley, President at Adrenaline

Cash automation, digital signage, and tablet sales tools are all must-haves for the branch of the near future. However, we far too frequently see technology deployed for technology’s sake without a sound purpose or strategy. For example, mobile devices on display with no unique in-branch content or staff training on what to do with them will not be used. Video tellers in areas where customers want to be serviced by humans can be a tech turn-off. The secret to using technology wisely is to back into it — first ask why, and then solve the “why” with a technological solution.

Branches will continue to have space for both transactions and consultations, but as footprints compress these functions will converge. Cash automation is a must-have. Teller lines turn into concierge and quick service desks, where an associate can serve a quick need or direct a customer into a more private area that can accommodate a longer dwell time. But, less square footage will present greater privacy challenges that will require rethinking of design. Lastly and most critically, the branch’s user experience must leave customers with an impression—one that is unique to you and communicates what is different about your products, services and approach to banking.

Mark Weber, President/CEO at Weber Marketing Group

Amazon announced in December, 2016 plans to expand their brand new “Go” store to over 2,000 brick-and-mortar locations. Yes, you heard that right… Amazon + brick-and-mortar. Using self-driving technologies and deep learning artificial intelligence, Amazon understands its user segments well, and applies that knowledge into simple, fast, intuitive, cool, new design experiences. This comes on the heels of their new brick-and-mortar book store launches.

The point? When one answer fits everyone in the industry, people flock to cookie cutter solutions… and then wonder why they all look, sound and operate alike. Technology and consumer behavior are moving too fast to land on a non-adaptive and less innovative approach.

The thoughtful answer is far more nuanced and unique to each financial institution. Future branch solutions — including the tech that goes in them — should be anchored first in relevant data analytics. That means looking at performance trends, consumer market segmentation, and a focus on designing fully integrated (and rapidly changing) channel experiences.

The opportunities for getting branch design and a relationship culture right in the future are tremendous. Getting CRM systems integrated to adequately gather and assimilate data into meaningful insights for consumer decision making will continue to be a rising focus and likely be influenced by machine learning technology ahead. Countless consumers still desire a relationship; seek information and advice that is not being delivered adequately from digital channels alone. With nearly 60% of traditional retail products still being sold in the branch, relationship building should be a key driver of the future.

Kevin Blair, President/CEO at NewGround


I strongly urge financial institutions to be very careful chasing the technology silver bullet.
As the market continues to evolve consumers will come to the branch for assistance, not to use the latest technology. I recommend minimizing technology spend to a minimum and increase focus on the consumer experience.

Improving the overall experience will do far more for driving consumer loyalty and deeper and more profitable relationships. Technology should be used to enhance the experience.

John Hyche, SVP/Principal LEVEL5

The funny thing about the development of technology is that it often eludes or exceeds the imagination of “regular” folks. At best, most of us look at what is cutting edge and can imagine one step farther. The true visionaries and dreamers are so far down the road that their ideas seem ridiculous.

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Competitively, institutions must keep up with the changes or risk irrelevance. Financially, institutions must carefully balance their business model to achieve performance and safety/soundness goals. The institution’s business model and engagement culture are big influencers in choosing branch technology. Market profiles and target markets, both current and future, must be considered in making technology choices.

In many ways, the future is now in terms of delivery of financial services. Automated cash handling is here today and will remain as long as we have cash. These devices offer efficiency and security, allowing employees to focus on customer engagement. Consumers expect 24/7/365 access to some level of service so financial institutions will continue to integrate web/mobile with in-branch for a consistent brand experience.

We’ve seen technology-based disruptions in the past (ATMs, call centers, internet banks) and the industry has a way of absorbing them and rebalancing. Consumer expectations are additive — adding new products/services/channels rather that replacing old ones with new ones.

It’s about technology in balance. Currently, some institutions are experimenting with a wide array of service delivery mechanisms. At times, multiple alternatives are offered in a single facility. Often these experiments are expensive and fail because consumers don’t demand one of everything in the same facility. Most often we hear that the consumers bypass technology in preference for personal service when that choice is offered. Other institutions set up “test kitchens” to see how consumers respond to different service channels.

Kevin Poirot, SVP at PWCampbell

Technologies will be deployed to further differentiate the way services are delivered and the way the brand is communicated. Cash recyclers have played a key role in differentiating the teller engagement by freeing them from the closed in line. These types of technologies go towards the function of the branch and should always be evaluated for best practices. Meanwhile digital strategies towards customer experience should also be explored. As a retailer, we want the customer to engage with the brand and pick up the product — something that has been elusive for the financial industry that provides services. Mobile devices and screens provide the opportunity for customers to physically engage with the brand in a meaningful way.

What are the core components that branches must have? The ability to handle transactions and ability to consult will be compulsory in the branch. For some, these functions will remain separated, while others in a less transaction-dependent environment will seek to gain efficiencies by combining the two.

Ray Wizbowski, Chief Marketing Officer at Entrust Datacard

Although digital channels continue to become more utilized, the majority of customers still have a need for human interaction and want the ability to access expert advice or receive immediate help in case of an emergency. Today’s branches must take a product- and service-level focus through a combination of in-branch technologies and face-to-face interaction.

If a breach or fraud requires payment card replacements, branches that have the ability to issue fully personalized, ready-to-use cards in a matter of minutes will differentiate themselves from their competitors. This increases loyalty and keeps a bank’s card at the top of the consumer’s wallet by immediately replacing the lost or stolen card. If consumers want to understand the security measures behind online transactions, a digital expert in the branch can walk them through the authentication technologies available. If they have a question about investment tools or lending products, an in-person discussion provides the bank with a way to establish a connection and build an understanding of its offerings and its brand.

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