Many consumers are excited about the possibilities offered by digital enhancements in retail banking and have become enthusiastic early adopters of new products made viable by digital platforms and technology. From mobile banking and payments to remote teller machines, people of all ages are experiencing time-saving and life-enhancing innovations every day.
The benefits are apparent, but not every consumer is equally able to be part of the digital transformation in banking. It is the responsibility of financial organizations to provide services in a way that addresses the problems of the communities we serve, and to help all people acclimate to the new “digital banking world”.
In our experience, once aware of the capabilities of digital banking, consumers often overcome their initial reluctance and become enthusiastic users. Of equal importance is ensuring that people with disabilities are able to benefit as much, if not even more, from advances in digital technology. This means designing customer-facing systems that are accessible, based on consumer needs rather than the convenience of the bank, being sensitive to the requirements of consumers with unique needs.
High Tech + High Touch
We have found that as consumers evolve from a reliance on cash and paper to behavior more aligned with digital trends, they need support and “stepping stones” to help them in this transition. In this spirit, Piraeus Bank created and launched, with impressive results, the e-branch concept. We believe this offers a useful model for other banks across the world looking to introduce as many customers as possible to the benefits of digital banking.
Designed for both individuals and business account-holders, our first e-branch in Athens, was opened in December 2016, with another three launched in Athens since then. All of them are designed with one goal in mind: to create an environment that encourages all customers, even those who are not tech-savvy, to experience the benefits of technology and gradually transition to fully digital services.
Our e-branches are conceived as a bridge between traditional physical branches and the experience of online and mobile banking. They are the first of their kind in Greece and are designed to offer a comfortable, welcoming and informal atmosphere in which customers can feel at home.
While e-branches offer fast and simple banking for existing adopters of digital platforms, they are set up primarily to reassure and assist those customers who feel more comfortable when supported and guided by a fellow human.
The Power of ‘Phygital’
At the heart of our approach is the concept of the Remote Cashier. This technology replicates the experience of dealing with a member of bank staff in person and were designed to provide reassurance for people uncertain about banking without a physical cashier in front of them.
Remote Cashiers are able to complete more than 90% of the transactions a customer would be able to complete at a traditional cashier desk. The service is provided through Video Teller Station (VTS) technology, designed by Piraeus Bank in our Innovation Centre, which combines camera-enabled video screens with devices allowing customers to deposit cash, scan checks and input other documents.
The screens raise themselves from a flat worktop-style surface when they sense a customer approaching. Users simply touch the screen to begin and identify themselves by scanning their ID. Throughout the transaction, a specifically trained teller guides them through the process via a video call. Video animations and LED flashes next to the relevant device provide further guidance as customers complete their transactions. They use a biometric e-signature pad to approve their transactions, which are also completed with conventional receipts.
Serving Consumers With Disabilities
Accessibility is not simply a question of encouraging reluctant customers to move into the digital age. We also want to ensure that financial inclusion is a reality for people with disabilities such as visual or sensory impairment – a particularly challenging goal for us in Greece even in traditional branches; for example, blind people must have two witnesses in order to accomplish banking transactions.
In this instance, our e-branches offer a solution. As the Remote Cashier transaction is fully electronically logged, there is no requirement for two witnesses, making transactions for this special customer group both easier and more secure.
We have already added braille signage on to the VTS and have trained our remote tellers in sign language to improve accessibility for hearing-impaired customers. More innovations will follow from our work with national organizations to improve service levels for customers with challenging needs.
Greater Accessibility Yields Better Results
The four e-branches we now operate in Athens performed much better than expected over their first year. In the cases where e-branches replaced traditional branches, they perform more transactions than the branch they replaced with lower operating costs for the bank and, importantly, greater customer satisfaction.
The service is having the intended educational effect: a third of its users are aged 60 or over and we are delighted to be helping those customers sample the benefits of digital. There is also an important secondary effect: as take-up increases for routine transactions, staff in traditional branches have more time to devote to higher-value services, and customer engagements requiring a physical presence. The benefits are felt by customers, through enhanced customer service, and by us, through the more efficient deployment of resources. It is the definition of a win-win.
We believe the Remote Cashier and e-branch concepts have a direct application for retail banking operations across the world concerned about their role in promoting both digital adoption and financial inclusion. They also carry exciting possibilities for rural areas.
Remote Cashiers established in remoter areas, can provide customers with access to experienced tellers, even ones with very specialized skills, for example the ability to communicate in sign language. In many cases, we believe VTS technology will immediately improve on the already high standards of provision customers receive from our traditional branches.
All this of course doesn’t happen by accident. The bank started this initiative with clear objectives. We placed the customer and their experience upfront and worked cross-functionally to deliver results. We encourage our peers in the market to consider a similar approach