I only have a mild interest in the future branch type stuff but some sort of tipping point was reached and I felt I had to write about it like a grumpy sod. From my point of view it seems the prototype future branches fall into two basic categories. The shiny ultra sleek technology stuffed, self-service focused branch and the ‘come in relax, we have free wi-fi, would you like a skinny mocha latte with that financial review’ faux coffee shop full of lovely people not really selling you stuff, honest. There is also actually a third one and that is closing them but that is a whole other thing.
The first type is an obvious example of using technology to streamline processes and make the brand seem shiny and innovative. Some of the technologies are undoubtedly very clever and powerful but they are also a bit soulless and they are seemingly still incapable of escaping paper. This example from Audi Bank just screams don’t touch anything. So clean, so unwelcoming yet they expect people to stand there and browse dream cars such as a Kia. There are many more videos like this I just picked on this one as I saw it recently. Maybe it is future concept videos that actually annoy me.
Self service based branches are inevitable but they should cater for those functions that they excel at. Basic transactional banking. Pay in and take out of money, process the antique paper still associated so heavily with banking. If you can make them more developed sales areas with things such as video calling and interactive signatures then go for it…but surely in most places those can also be offered to people at home today? All these advances in technology are needed and the slick future branch does show them off well. The cost of branch banking is getting harder to justify and technology solutions must be investigated but don’t confuse techno utopia with customer happiness.
The second kind, the chillax coffee shop, is the one that irks most. The reason being that it is an admission that banking has gone too far down the self-service, automated robot route and now banks are confused why no one comes to talk to them anymore? Don’t they love us? Just because we built all these automated straight through processing systems that does not mean we don’t want to hear people’s hopes, dreams and desires. The realisation has set in that customers know banks don’t want to talk to them unless they want to sell them something. Banks have gone out of their way to make them less human and accessible by process shaving and penny-pinching. You can’t phone your branch, try booking or amending an appointment online, they are almost off the grid spaces until you walk through the door. Like a much less exciting version of platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.
But the main reason for my annoyance is the fact that there is a lot of effort and cash put into these jovial chat shops in the real world yet banks digital platforms remain as conversation free as a library in a monastery. The ability to converse in the scary “new” world of the information superhighway seems lost on most financial organisations. Regulations and rules will be blamed but the reality is banks are not the worlds greatest conversationalists. The unkempt wilds of the web and its 2.0 consumer obsessed walled gardens of inanity represent some sort of alien landscape that a process obsessed industry just can’t codify or fill with cheap coffee and comfy seats.
The solution seems obvious to me. Hire or train capable people who can converse in these new places in the strange tongue they have adopted and make your organisation seem infinitesimally human. Think how you could add nice conversation capabilities to your cold hard Internet banking portals or maybe make it possible to actually reply to those marketing emails you are so fond of. The telephone, and video chatbooths in branch cannot be the only place you can talk with your customers. Of course you may not be able to directly sell loads of products in those digital spaces but there is a lot of mileage in at least making them conversant. Asymmetric digital conversations can be much more flexible and achieved in half the time than waiting on the phone or schlepping to a branch. It is of course important to be innovative in branches and try new things, they are still very important pieces of banking infrastructure and I do not wish to see them closed. For me it is about making it as easy as possible for your customers to talk to you when and where they want irrespective of the medium.