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Does Augmented Reality Have A Place In Bank Branches?

Much hullabaloo has been made about augmented reality wearables like Google Glass, but is there a way financial institutions can capitalize on this virtual tech inside their brick-and-mortar locations?

Do branch managers want someone walking into their branches and having a good look around, surreptitiously getting what they see recorded in photos and video? Probably not, but that’s what’s coming if Google’s much discussed augmented reality Glass technology progresses from the pricey gadgets for super-nerds that they are today into affordable, mainstream tech gear for regular folks.

By slipping on a pair of Google Glasses, which have some smartphone features built into high-tech eyewear, a bank patron could walk in and capture information without staff or security even knowing, and in a way not possible if people used smartphone or point and shoot cameras.

The prospects for augmented reality should not be viewed only through the lens of Google Glass and similar wearable smart devices. Instead, we need to be asking ourselves about the broader opportunities and implications for augmented reality in retail bank settings. Presently, it seems these gadgets are pretty gimmicky, with some short-term “wow” value. But there may be applications for retail banking that shift the technology from parlor tricks to genuine utility. But AR tech presents a big operating challenge for bankers. Ultimately, the end game for augmented reality is mostly about making the smartphone a value-added appliance in which to experience elements of banking, like tools and transactions.

What Is Augmented Reality Exactly?

First, a quick primer on augmented reality, or “AR” for short. It’s the process of taking a live view of the physical world using a digital device, and then overlaying that view with digital information and virtual elements, like graphics, video or sound. The technology enables information to be overlaid onto the real world view, allowing people to use and interact with that virtual information.

Though Google Glass gets much of the buzz, AR is most commonly experienced using apps on smartphones or tablets that overlay digital elements to the feed displayed through the device’s built-in camera. For example, a user can point a phone at a landmark and, through an AR app, see virtual text boxes or graphics dynamically pop up that explain what they are seeing, or locate things. Imagine using AR to take a tour at a museum — how interactive it would be, and the additional meta-information that could be presented about the exhibits you look at.

Not too surprisingly (given the young, techy demographics of app developers) some of the first AR apps did things like locate all the pubs in Amsterdam that had draft Heineken.

( Read More: Cool App: ATM Finder with Augmented Reality )

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Augmented Reality In Banking

So far, financial institutions have mostly been experimenting, with augmented reality:

  • Several banks have introduced AR apps that enable customers to find the nearest branch or ATM. Just by launching an app and looking through the camera feed on the phone screen, users can see real-time information on the location and distance of the branch, as well as supplemental details;
  • Some banks have introduced property apps that use AR to show real-time price and detail information on properties for sale, and layer in tools like mortgage calculators and qualifying applications;
  • A Chinese bank allowed customers to collect coupons through AR, providing offers from merchants and attractions in the immediate area;
  • A big regional North American bank developed an app that transformed dollar bills into product information videos.

It’s completely valid to question the ROI on some of these apps, beyond the short-term “wow” factor. After the “wow” wears off, an AR developer can quickly find themselves asking “Why???” There’s been a lot of that with AR.

Certainly, branch and ATM locator tools have value, but is AR the best way to help people with their objective(s)? Or would a GPS-based solution with live mapping be better? And can a bank provide better utility, a better app — with a specific and limited focus — than try to compete with the omnipotence of Google, which can not only locate branches but guide consumers there by foot, car or transit, and show street views the whole way?

There are opportunities to design tools that assist consumers in other ways, but much of AR’s utilitarian applications seem to disappear once consumers reach a branch. Is there any way to apply AR tech to in-branch applications?

( Read More: Banks Gain Marketing Edge by Building Mobile Apps for Home Buyers )

Augmented Reality In Branches

What is the role for AR inside branches (if any)?

AR offers the opportunity for consumers to drill deeper on needed information, where even today’s most interactive screens simply don’t do justice. Extroverts aside, people generally don’t want to dig into loan calculators and other financial tools on a screen that others in a branch can easily see. It’s uncomfortable, exposed.

Instead, the simple posters that paper the walls of most retail bank branches can — with printed symbols — be launch-points for AR apps that open up tools, videos and other information on the privacy of a user’s handset, tablet screen or wearable. Branch visitors can dig deep on what they need to know, and make actionable decisions at the opportune moment for both the bank and customer.

In some respects, AR may prove a cost-effective extension or supplement to digital signage marketing displays around a branch, getting digital into areas where screens are not feasible or the budget doesn’t allow. The same programming model defined for the video walls, targeted displays and digital posters around branches can translate pretty readily to the screen in someone’s hand, often by just launch a browser-driven app.

Being able to hold up your phone to a poster and turn it into a digital signage display is actually pretty cool. It effectively makes every piece of print in a branch a screen, in a sense.

( Read More: Sneak Peek – US Bank’s Augmented Reality Branch, ATM Locator )

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The Long View

If wearable devices become commonplace and the security/privacy issues can be ironed out, they could easily emerge as a tool used by staff and consumers alike.

Low energy Bluetooth transmitters (like Apple’s iBeacons) and other tech will make it quickly possible to start recognizing consumers who have opted-in as they enter a branch. Equipped with micro-displays that give real-time information right in their natural line of sight, customer-facing staff can not only greet people by name but have access to their baseline account information and customer profile.

That raises the experience through speed of service and personalization, and opens the opportunity to new business. If branch staff knows a mortgage is approaching renewal date, that process can be initiated there and then – neutering the possibility of the financing going to another lender. A small business operator starting to push the boundaries of a line of credit can be asked about extending that line, or other options.

It’s human nature. We like it when a hotel welcomes us back, or the staff somewhere know your name before you even provide it. We like it when we don’t have to rattle off stuff we think the person on the other side of the counter should already know. That may be the real secret sauce of this wearable AR tech in branches.


Nancy RadermecherNancy Radermecher is the President at JohnRyan. A 20+ year JohnRyan veteran, Nancy has led the company’s transition from paper-based point-of-sale programs to the digital age. JohnRyan’s digital signage platform is the most widely installed in the U.S. and Europe, supporting networks from 70 to 3,000 branches. The company continues to innovate by enhancing its digital signage offering with the latest interactive, tablet and mobile technologies.

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