The future of retail banking depends on how bank branch transformation initiatives will balance a mobile-first strategy with the high-touch, relationship-centric branch experience.

It’s no mystery that bank branch traffic has been declining through the years. Thanks to digital innovations, banking customers are handling most of their transactions online and through mobile applications. However, this shouldn’t minimize the relevance of the role of bank branches, but quite the contrary: The drop in the number of branch visits increases the significance of each actual visit. Providing portable connected devices like tablets to specialists can enhance the quality and effectiveness of each customer engagement.

Each Customer Visit Counts Even More

According to Accenture, U.S. customers average 15 monthly interactions with their primary bank, with only two involving in-person bank branch visits. This equates to only 13 percent of all monthly bank interactions occurring at branches, with the rest occurring online or via phone.

Since common tasks are handled online, it stands to reason that visits to the bank branch usually involve a customer seeking a solution, or a resolution requiring in-branch engagement by a banking specialist. For better or worse, each customer interaction is an opportunity to improve or diminish the bank’s standing on a personal level.

The Purposes of Bank Branches

According to Jim Bruene, founder of Finovate, bank branch offices primarily serve four purposes: opening accounts, servicing accounts, providing advice and visually reinforcing the brand. Tablets enhance the specialist’s ability to effectively meet these four purposes through some of the following benefits.

1. Tablets Reduce Customer Wait Time

With branches having to handle more complex customer issues, each customer visit lends itself to increased assistance times. Portable tablets enable available bank specialists to convert wait times into transaction times by engaging in-line customers, giving them the ability to promptly access account information and execute transactions from anywhere in the lobby.

Additionally, it’s prudent for banks to evaluate which tasks can be addressed by roving specialists. For example, account changes can be promptly handled by verifying identification with facial recognition, biometric scanning, geolocation or a driver’s license. Customers can also sign off on digital documents and provide feedback via tablet.

More complex issues can be pre-qualified before directing customers to the right line or office. Augmenting AI-powered assistant applications can further empower specialists to address complex issues, providing just one more information source for completing interactions.

To further enhance productivity, banks can also consider expanding to modern 2-in-1 devices that combine the flexible portability of a tablet with the beefy processing power of a laptop, providing more efficient and responsive keyboard-based input capabilities for high-powered service applications.

2. Tablets Facilitate In-Person Contact

On an intuitive level, humans have a deep-seated affinity to connect. Connecting is natural, logical, closes a gap and enables flow. Relationships form and flourish only after a connection is made. Humans are ingrained with the impetus to form connections. These relationships also help consumers understand the inner workings of their financial assets beyond a mobile device or Google search.

Connecting is initiated through contact and touch, and tablets innately draw on this type of interaction by appealing to this sense. Tablets also promote shoulder-to-shoulder interaction, removing the need for barriers such as desks during interactions. Additionally, they allow specialists to provide hands-on demonstrations, and address and deliver prompt solutions on the spot with detailed explanations if necessary.

3. Constant Accessibility

In a survey by Credio, 41 percent of respondents chose a primary bank based on branch and ATM availability, compared to just 16 percent for mobility and online access. Consumers choose banks that have branches near them. Why? They want accessibility as a constant within their banking experience. The old adage “It’s better to have something and not need it, than to need it and not have it,” applies here — just replace “something” with “bank branch.”

This is an intangible that can’t be overlooked; the declining branch foot traffic is simply a testament to the efficiency of mobile tools such as tablets, which allow consumers to complete their banking tasks without taking a trip out of the house or adding an errand to their to-do list. And when combined with the close availability of brick-and-mortar branches, tablets offer consumers the perfect balance of efficiency and personalization.

A New Human-Machine Partnership

The future of retail banking is to deliver efficient, high-touch personalized engagements that provide the most effective solutions in a timely manner to spawn positive customer experiences that galvanize confidence and inspire brand loyalty.

Successful bank branch transformation will resonate this theme. With customers only visiting a branch twice a month on average, it’s imperative to outfit banking staff with the properly connected tools to help capitalize on each customer engagement. After all, customers make trips to the bank branch to meet with people, not machines, but it’s the machines that can enhance the efficiency and productivity of any transaction. This means the future of retail banking will increasingly rely on augmenting technology — such as tablets — to enhance the high-touch experience for customers.

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