Branch Investment Is Part of a Strong Digital Banking Strategy

While there is a lot of focus on mobile and online banking channels, investing in current and new branch facilities is still important. Only with a targeted investment will the multichannel bank and credit union account holder be adequately served.

Technology has changed financial services delivery in fundamental and profound ways, but banks and credit unions that direct all their IT resources to mobile and online channels may be neglecting a significant opportunity to make sales and service inroads – through branches.

Investing in upgrades ranging from self-directed branch technology and appointment apps to workforce optimization systems can simultaneously streamline service for routine transactions and free front line employees to engage in the type of higher-quality conversations that lead to increased sales and stronger account holder relationships.

Enhancing digital delivery through branches, and making the most of automated systems running behind the scenes, can pay dividends by; 1) improving the account holder experience through an organization’s highest-profile channel, 2) capitalizing on brick-and-mortar infrastructure as a showcase for a full range of financial products and services, and 3) stepping up operational efficiency by reducing staffing costs while enhancing service.

Improving the Physical Channel Experience

The tendency among consumers to embrace new channels without relinquishing longtime favorites underscores how closely perceptions of service quality align with the range of available choices. They may choose to bank online, via mobile device, or in person – and banks and credit unions that deliver these options seamlessly, conveniently, and with flair will win.

In the branch, this winning combination takes the form of quick, easy-to-use automation and a knowledgeable branch staff whose sole focus becomes guiding account holders through options to help them achieve their financial goals. Self-directed technology, like kiosks and technology-assisted platforms including video tellers and remote conferencing centers, facilitate convenient, accurate execution on routine transactions and provide one-stop access to a wide range of financial professionals, covering business services, mortgage lending, and investments.

An appointment scheduling application is another example of innovation that aligns with a reputation for cutting-edge service delivery, and simultaneously recognizes that many account holders still want to talk person-to-person, but don’t want to sit around in the lobby waiting for the opportunity to do so. Offering the option to schedule appointments acknowledges the value of busy customers’ time, provides yet another relationship-building channel, and builds a new source of useful business data.

An institution can now track trends on which products and services account holders are scheduling appointments to discuss, and when and where those appointments are scheduled – all useful information in managing staff deployment and branch hours and in pinpointing the demand for services.

Read More: The Challenges of Branch Transformation

Digital Solution Showcase

No matter how much consumers prize mobile and online banking, they don’t choose their primary financial institution by browsing the app store. A mobile app is just another icon on a smartphone, while a well-staffed and technologically adept branch is an opportunity to train the spotlight on everything an institution can do for the people they serve.

Beyond the brand-building impact of branches in high-visibility locations, investing in a technological facelift can position an institution as a people-first, tech-savvy financial partner. And when knowledgeable branch professionals answer questions about mobile and online services and demonstrate their use, this service underscores the broad range of delivery channels available and redirects traffic for routine transactions to those channels that are more convenient for account holders and lower cost for your institution.

Deploying scheduling and lobby tracking software helps to put in place and measure progress toward sales and service goals in this new environment. In branches employing the universal agent staffing model, for example, sales and service professionals are expected to spend more time interacting with account holders to identify their needs for products and services and open new accounts.

Tracking software can help quantify the parameters of these sales/service encounters so that adequate staffing can be scheduled to handle service demands and optimize interactions with current account holders and prospective customers.

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Optimizing the ROI of Branch Delivery

Branch software can also help reduce costs and improve service. For example, by deploying automated staff scheduling in two branches as part of a phased roll-out, Pen Air Federal Credit Union trimmed 6.5 staff positions, saving $150,000 annually through attrition rather than layoffs.

“As openings come up, we have the data now to assess whether to fill those positions. We can look at every open position to determine if it will be filled or replaced with a part-time position,” says Angie Betts, Senior Vice President/Member Experience of the $1.3 billion Pensacola, Florida, credit union serving 100,000 members.

Other technology upgrades, such as installing cash recyclers and video tellers, also improve efficiency. Cash recyclers reduce the time branch staff spend counting cash, reduce errors, speed up service, and can even decrease payroll costs because employees don’t need to come in early to open cash drawers and stay late to balance and close them. Video-assisted teller machines reduce staffing requirements without diminishing consumers’ perceptions of convenient, personal service.

In short, efficiency, service quality, and sales are all likely returns on investing in branch technology. The facilities transformation underway at Community First Credit Union of Florida combines design and technology upgrades planned for its 18 branches with retraining tellers and member service representatives as universal agents equipped and empowered to handle all sales and service encounters.

“Community First’s two newest facilities feature more open designs, replacing the traditional ‘bandit barrier’ with teller pods and cash recyclers for an atmosphere that is less transactional and more interactional,” says Jimmy Lovelace, VP/Branches for the $1.3 billion credit union with 302 employees serving 112,000 members. The new branches also feature video conferencing centers equipped with scanners, digital finger pads, and other technology so members can consult on demand remotely with mortgage and business loan officers and, in the future, investment advisors.

In its first five months, Community First’s Riverside branch has built a deposit base of $1 million serving almost 200 members. Branches in high-visibility locations help build the brand, especially among prospective members who choose their financial providers based on brick-and-mortar proximity – even if they never enter the branch. “We have to help our members understand that the real power in going to branches is the face-to-face interactions,” Loveless adds. “That’s the journey we’re on at Community First, looking for ways to leverage the technology so we augment the personal experience without replacing it.”

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