One of the challenges financial services firms have been facing in recent years is living up to the BigTech or FANG experience that customers now anticipate and demand for everyday transactions. While this has driven banks, rightly so, to enhance their customers’ digital experience, the time is yet to come when banks can completely eliminate the human element and shift to an entirely digitized, automated offering. This is evident from pro-branch investments by Bank of America, TD, and JPMC as an example.
In fact, customer preferences themselves dictate that banks retain the human touch. Despite consumers’ increasing adoption of online and mobile banking channels, they continue to consider the branch to be essential. As revealed in the World Retail Banking Report 2018, 60% of customers overall and 61% of Gen Y and tech-savvy customers considered the branch as an important banking channel, only slightly behind the internet (between 61–65%). Customers are clearly looking for an omnichannel experience.
Banking is about more than just transactions
The need for human touch in banking is due to the industry’s fundamental difference compared with services such as online retail or ride-hailing. Customers typically have a long relationship with their bank forged on high value, entrusted assets, and that involve services some consumers may not fully understand. Compared with other digital-native sectors, a high level of trust is involved.
Secondly, it is no secret that customers today want instant gratification and a frictionless experience. However, friction could mean different things in different contexts. When making a payment for a purchase, it could mean more steps to complete the payment. However, when purchasing a loan or opening a new account, friction could mean not being able to understand the product or process quickly.
Thus, digitizing or automating is not necessarily the only way to remove all customer journey friction. Until chatbots and voice assistants become mature enough to handle the full complexity of human interaction, complex customer communication will continue to require human intervention to make the process quick and easy.
Here are a few areas where the human touch will continue to remain relevant in retail banking, at least in the near to medium term:
- Complex transactions – such as a loan purchase or retirement planning – that require an intricate understanding of the customer’s needs and history
- New customer onboarding – necessitates a human agent for identification and personalization because a digital assistant could not adequately assess the new customer’s historical data and therefore could not individualize account services and offer specialized products
- Financial advice – these interactions are based primarily on customers’ trust in the expertise of their advisors, and they may not have full confidence in algorithms for high-value investments very soon.
Branch interactions will especially continue to remain relevant for:
- Must-visit scenarios in which current and potential customers must go to a branch to effectively conduct the transaction and digital methods are not available or inappropriate, such as change exchange.
- Prefer-to-visit scenarios include transactions that customers like to handle in person, such as situations that require personal advice.
Paradoxically, digital can enable banks to provide a better human touch
Digital tools and technologies can actually enable a bank to enhance human touch by increasing the scope and depth of personalization in various areas and by enhancing the role of the branch.
- Personalized communications – A common complaint about traditional branch interactions is that a customer must start fresh at a new branch not familiar with their prior transactions. However, a human agent empowered by a tablet can quickly access details about the customer’s past transactions from a single identification data (such as customer ID) and personalize the communication quickly to eliminate a friction point.
- Tailored advice – Similarly, advanced analytics on the customer’s data and past transactions can equip a human agent with richer customer insights that can be used to provide more tailored financial advice.
- Convenience and availability – Digital tools such as video conferencing can eliminate the constraints of a bank’s operating hours or location to extend anytime, anywhere services to customers.
- Spanish banking conglomerate Bankia offers Connect with your Expert, a solution that enables customers to connect to their personal advisors through the branch as well as through a 24/7 dedicated web app. Features include customer-to-advisor video calling and screen sharing for document review.
- Value-added services – As automation frees bank employees from mundane transactions, banks can augment the role of the branch to provide customers with added value.
- Capital One has launched Capital One Cafés which combine banking with coffee and community. Customers can take advantage of facilities such as a coffee shop, community room, and free Wi-Fi, and can also schedule appointments with money coaches or make inquiries with the bank’s representatives.
As highlighted in the recently published World FinTech Report 2019, the banking ecosystem will evolve to become highly interconnected, and it will be necessary for banks to identify their unique positioning and role in the new landscape. Banks that offer a differentiated experience will be poised to capture customer mindshare. Firms can provide a range of experiences by effectively leveraging their omnichannel capabilities – an advantage that even the FANG giants might envy.
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 Capgemini, “Phygital – The Amalgamation of Physical and Digital Banking Services,” January 23, 2019, https://www.capgemini.com/resources/phygital-the-amalgamation-of-physical-and-digital-banking-services.
 Capgemini, World Retail Banking Report 2018, https://worldretailbankingreport.com.
 Capital One, “Capital One Cafés: We made this space for you,” https://www.capitalone.com/local/richmond-carytown, accessed June 2019.