The Future of Online Banking: The Flagship Branch

In episode one of this multi-part series on the future on online banking, author Tim Bunch argues that you shouldn't view online and branches as two separate channels. Instead, online banking should be seen as your biggest -- and most important -- branch.

Branch Impressions

Credit unions and banks both know the importance of creating a personal and professional experience inside of a branch. Everything is clean. Signs clearly point out what to do. The decor is easy on the eyes and help is never hard to find. At least that is what we hope to achieve.

A recent branch remodel I was involved with cost approximately $2 million USD. It was a much-needed project, and a huge success. The transformation was incredible. The branch went from being dark and gloomy, like a Tim Burton film, to bright and stunning. Why did we do it? We did it to create a better environment that would help cultivate growth.

Note on Terminology

Throughout this series, “online banking” refers to both mobile banking and traditional online banking.

(Author’s footnote: It’s my opinion that brick and mortar branches are here to stay for a long time, and for a number of reasons. Eliminating physical branches is not what this article is about.)

Online Banking: The Branch

When a member visits online banking, they are visiting a virtual branch. As they log in, are they greeted with the same level of excellence that we demand from our other branches? A teller, or service representative isn’t there to greet them. Instead, they are greeted by a user interface. This creates a unique challenge to both the institution and it’s members.

  • How do we create a personable user experience?
  • How do we make online banking as feature rich as a branch?
  • How do we effectively capture the cross-sale?

Sadly, online banking doesn’t get the same internal treatment as a physical branch. It’s often something that we like to “set and forget”. It tends to be viewed as an inanimate object. We think of it like a hammer. When our members want to use this hammer, they pick it up and hammer away. But in reality, online banking has so much more potential. We need to stop thinking of it as a tool, and start thinking of it as a branch. Then, add the tools needed to make it an effective branch.

Case Study

Let’s gather some facts from a real life scenario. I won’t name the Credit Union used for the study. However, if you really must know, you may contact me privately.

Time Period: June 2012
# of Brick-and-Mortar Branches: 7
# of Accounts: 45,770
Online Banking – Active Users: 14,979
Online Banking – Total Visits: 167,590
Branch Activity – Total Transactions: 48,086

Of the 7 branches, the busiest branch accounted for 25% of all branch transactions, with 12,054 unique transactions. The slowest branch accounted for 7% of all branch transactions.

We can assume that some people perform multiple transactions and that some visitors preform no transactions at all. We should be able to safely say that there were approximately 10,000 visits to the busiest location.

Contrast that with online banking. The busiest brick and mortar branch handled far less than one tenth of the number of visits online banking handled.

CapEd compared online banking traffic vs. visits to their busiest branch and found the online channel was more active by a factor of 16x.

Sitting on a Goldmine

Clearly, This Credit Union is sitting on a wealth of information and untapped potential. Which institution in your market will invest heavily in online growth? I predict they will dominate the market for years to come (as long as they have the rest of their house in order). Online banking needs to be treated the same way that a branch would be treated, given the same incredible statistics.

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Online Banking: The Flagship

Make online banking a flagship product. It should be so good that people will leave any other institution to get it. Your membership will grow as a direct result. I know that might sound crazy to some people. So, let’s begin our journey to the future for a quick look at online banking. I will be diving more in depth into these features in future episodes.

My short list of “must have’s” for the future of online banking:

  • Mobile Banking Home Screen Widgets and Push Notifications
  • Targeted and Event Based Marketing
  • Transaction Drilldowns and Fraud Features
  • In-Depth Debit and Credit Card Management
  • Personal Financial Management Tools
  • Pre-Filled Loan Applications
  • Complete and Easy Management of Accounts
  • Rewards (i.e. Badges) for Saving, On-Time Payments, and other Behaviors

This list is just getting started and doesn’t even mention things that are already becoming commonplace like remote capture deposits. I don’t have room to talk about each of these things in this first article. However, I will be discussing the features in this list more in depth in future episodes.

Steal These Ideas

Chances are, these crazy ideas of mine are not new. Perhaps someone is already working on implementing them. If not, someone should. So, steal these ideas and put them to good use. Infuse your own innovative ideas and get creative!

In arcade terms, online and mobile banking is going to be leveled up in the very near future. What we are about to see is incredibly exciting, and will change the way we bank forever. We haven’t even begun to tap into the possibilities. Online banking will become the flagship branch.

How Do You See It?

I want to hear from you. What amazing new features would you like to see built in to the next generation of online banking?

Tim Bunch is a web strategist, designer and developer at CapEd FCU. As a web standards fanatic, he passionately pursues best practices in web design. Tim is also an avid WordPress developer, music maker and coffee drinker.

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