The banking industry, perhaps more than any other, has seen the most change from the digital revolution of the past decade. Traditionally, in-branch visits were the first port of call for customer when it came to managing and discussing their finances. But the unstoppable rise of mobile apps means people can now bank wherever, and whenever they please; all they need is a smartphone in the pocket.

There is plenty of evidence to support these trends. The British Banking Association (BBA) found that in-branch visits declined from 476 million in 2011 to 278 million in 2016 – a 32 per cent fall. But money matters can be complicated and sensitive, so it’s clear there will be an ongoing need for both a human and digital service in banking.

So, how can banks deliver this omnichannel experience?

Energise the In-Branch Experience

The good news is customers still value face-to-face conversations with bank employees. This is especially true when it comes to opening a new account; research from Lexis Nexus found that, when it comes to opening an account 61% of UK millennials prefer to do it in person – rather than online.

But with apps available 24/7 – and able to meet most of our everyday banking needs – customers now have less of a reason to go in-branch. So when they do, banks need to capitalise on this and make the experience memorable, valuable and relevant. Crucially, this is an opportunity for banks to enhance relationships with its customers; offering a positive experience that they’ll remember, while introducing them to relevant products and services that can benefit their lives.

One good example is Virgin Money, which last year announced it was opening a ‘game zone’ in its Sheffield branch, with bowling alleys, table football, and a children’s play area. In a statement, Chief Executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia commented, “We wanted to create somewhere people could come together and enjoy each other’s company. It’s time for a better kind of bank and Virgin Money and Sheffield’s new Lounge are here to deliver that.

This demonstrates how banks are seeking to reinvent the in-branch experience through offering new and unexpected services. For some customers, visiting their bank can be akin to visiting the dentist; a necessary but not always pleasant experience. So making the experience as straightforward and relaxed as possible is crucial.

Keep Pace with Customer’s Digital Expectations

 Smartphones have become an integral part of the customer experience in banking. Millennials have very much led the charge for this adoption. According to a new global survey by Legg Mason, almost half of UK millennials want to do their financial planning on a smartphone. Banks are working hard to keep innovating in this area; just having an app is not enough – they need to offer something different in a digital age where we are accustomed to a cycle of upgrades and improvements.

It was only a matter of time before the ‘selfie’ – the most modern of all artforms – became a legitimate part of the customer experience in banking. Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland are all experimenting with biometrics in the security process, allowing consumers to log on to their online accounts by taking a photo.

Challenger bank Atom has also tapped into customers’ expectations for personalisation; letting its customers choose a logo, name and colours to make their app experience unique. By allowing customers to adapt the interface to suit their preferences, Atom claims to “celebrate your individuality in every way”. What’s great about digital banking is its agility, and ability to constantly develop and test functions and services to keep evolving the customer experience.

Add Value in the Era of Self-Service Banking

 At the heart of the omnichannel experience is the seamless linking and integration of on-and-offline channels. Banks need to avoid seeing the channels in isolation; both contribute to the overall perception customers have towards their providers. What’s clear is that both channels are valuable in different ways. Banking apps offer convenience and instant access to customers wherever they are, whereas in-branch is the place where customers go when they want the expertise of the bank’s employees to be a part of the experience.

In the age of self-service banking, to really build customer engagement and encourage loyalty, banks need to offer people products and services which can enhance and add value to their lives in other ways. For example, offering tools to help protect their online identity, not just in banking, but across their whole digital footprint. Or using data-driven marketing to create targeted offers at opportune moments. Another example would be push notifications highlighting the bank’s travel insurance product when the customer has just booked a holiday.

The pace of change in banking shows no sign of abating and research by the consultancy Caci estimates the number of branch visits is forecast to drop to 268m by 2020, while mobile app usage is on track to more than double to 2.3bn. For banks to succeed in a competitive industry, they will need to offer valuable interactions across all platforms, engaging customers with their products and services and seeking new ways to become more valuable in their everyday lives.

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About The Author

Vice President and Country Manager UK, Affinion

Karen is a B2B specialist with more than 20 years’ experience in the financial services sector, primarily in retail banking and general insurance. In her role as Vice President and UK country manager at Affinion, Karen provides strategic leadership advice to the UK team and is responsible for driving and delivering UK commercial growth through both new and existing business.