Until the 2000s, the drive-up teller and the ATM were probably the most notable advancements at the branch level. Of course, now banking can be done virtually, from a desktop, or on-the-go with an appropriate app from a smartphone, tablet, or wearable device any time of day, and nearly anywhere in the world. With today's technology, you can check your balance from 30,000 feet, sign for a mortgage from the middle of the Atlantic, or research car loan rates in the Chunnel from England to France. In a lot of ways, the branch as a channel is dying because while banking has evolved, the retail channel hasn't.
So what's killing the branch? Technology and Millenials. And what's going to keep the branch open? Technology and Millenials. Those born between 1980 and 2000, also called "Generation Y," are technology-fluent and their behaviors are changing the way consumers interact with their banks. This generation has a high adoption rate with mobile devices, social media, and the Internet, and is on track to kill the most identifiable and staid channel in banking history.
But is it their new banking habits that are making the branch obsolete, or as bank retailers, are we simply choosing not to evolve?
In truth, Millenials have the same financial needs as previous generations. They need loans for cars and homes and educations. They need to put their money somewhere beside under a mattress. They need consumer and business banking products, investment advice and they will need retirement plans. Their needs are not all that much different, but the way they're choosing to be served and the way in which they bank is truly revolutionary.
So banks and branches need to be revolutionary too. Some banks have taken a shot at that by adding WiFi, phone chargers, and free or discounted coffee to their branches. But do those tactics drive business? Do they start conversations? Do they lead to a deeper, more trusting relationship between customer and banker?
To keep the branches open customers need a reason to come into the branch for needs that can't be fulfilled anywhere else. Not online, not in an app, not at a coffee shop, but only in person, in a brick-and-mortar location. They key to the banking industry's retailing future is to give Millenials (and the generation after that) an experience they cannot find anywhere else.
What might that be? Wifi? Not really. Big, flashy, interactive screens? Depending on the content and experience, perhaps. How about things that impact your customers' lives? If they have kids in tow, does the branch offer a way to entertain and educate kids so that the parents can have an uninterrupted conversation with a banker? If so, is the conversation conducted in a way that is relevant to the customer? Or, might they feel the experience is similar to getting advice from their parents? When given materials to take home, are they still being handed it a big folder with hundreds of flyers, or are their needs being accommodated with a digital kit they can share on Facebook? By what method is follow up being done? Is it in the way they prefer to be contacted (email, text, Twitter), or are they being asked for their preference?
Banking and the need for banking has not changed -- it is the customer habits that have changed. Therefore, the way in which banks communicate information and messaging has to change to meet the needs of these younger customers.
Apple understands this evolution. Their stores are a textbook example of what a great retail experience should be. Their product is great, simple to use, very design oriented, and it works right out of the box. But you can also buy an iMac through online retailers or at Best Buy, so why do customers make an appointment to buy (to buy!?) an Apple product at an Apple store?
You get to play with the product all you want. Someone truly knowledgeable communicates the features and benefits in ways that are relevant to you. You know your questions will be answered not by "the guy in the back" but by the person you're actually talking to who, shockingly, is giving you their undivided attention. You know that when you choose to purchase, and even though there are 500 people crammed into a 2000 square foot store, the transaction will take less than 15 seconds, that your receipt will be emailed to you, and that if you don't like your product when you get it home you just bring it back -- no questions asked.
Can a customer have a similarly relevant experience in their bank branch? Not yet, but we're working on it.
Author Jason Carey will be presenting Seminar 29 entitled, "Digital Signage & Interactive Technology in the Venue of the Future," at Digital Signage Expo 2015 on Thursday, March 12 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about DSE or to register for this or any other educational seminar or workshop and learn about digital signage go to www.dse2015.com.
Jason Carey, Channel Manager, Wells Fargo, is a 10-year team member responsible for the in-store digital experience in 6,300 Wells Fargo retail locations. He leads strategy and supports content for the digital signage program while exploring the use and integration of other ... View Full Bio