BRANCH CLOSURES IN THE DIGITAL ERA – SHIFTING INFRASTRUCTURES

By Simon Cadbury, Head of Strategy & Innovation at Intelligent Environments

As UK high street banks continue to announce branch closures, Simon Cadbury, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Intelligent Environments, outlines how consumers’ relationships with their banks are changing.

It’s unsurprising RBS announced it is closing 44 branches in the UK this month. The capabilities of digital banking are increasingly able to handle any concerns or tasks that a customer would traditionally take to a local branch. As technology continues to mature, we’re all beginning to prioritise the quality of a bank’s digital infrastructure over its physical presence on the high street.

Digital customer service

Simon Cadbury

Simon Cadbury

Firstly, slow and outmoded customer service channels are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, with customers choosing to contact their banks through other channels.

According to our recent research, one in ten people have contacted their bank via social media. Customer services over this platform can be hugely beneficial both for the provider and the customer as it offers a convenient, direct and efficient method of communication.

According to research by ING Group, HSBC responds to a staggering 85% of complaints and questions on Twitter around the clock, with an average response rate of 30 minutes.  In addition to this, banks such as Barclays and NatWest have created social accounts specifically for customer service, generating over 30,000 followers each and high engagement rates.

Unsurprisingly, younger people are fuelling this change in communication, as more than six in ten (61 per cent) 18-30 year olds are now demanding WhatsApp style customer service messaging from their bank, according to our recent research. Furthermore, seven in ten (69 per cent) 18-30 year olds never call their financial services provider, while according to discount company vouchercloud; one in six has never even visited their own bank branch.

Smartphone cheque deposits

Another reason why customers won’t need to visit a branch in future is that HM Treasury is currently consulting on whether customers can simply deposit cheques by taking pictures of them with their smartphone. Outdated legislation means that until recently, British banks have been unable to implement this solution, unlike their stateside counterparts.

Barclays is pioneering the UK introduction of smartphone cheque deposits later this year (albeit only for cheques from other Barclays customers for now), replicating JP Morgan’s US launch of the technology back in 2009. Its Managing Director, Steven Roberts claims the new system will be as easy as downloading a book or film, with the trusted cheque now able to compete with the rapidity and convenience of other banking methods.

Wearable technology

As Omni-channel digital banking becomes common place, this will further reduce the need for customers to venture in branch. One of the newest channels is wearable technology, a phenomenon that’s set to transform the way consumers manage their finances. These innovations bring great potential for the financial services industry, especially for mobile and online banking offerings.

According to our recent research, 15% of customers are already interested in managing their money via wearable technology; they feel it would be more convenient.  A further 11% would even switch providers if a rival offered a digital banking app for wearable devices.  Last year, we developed the world’s first banking app on the Pebble smartwach. This enables users to view their live bank balance and recent transactions and will even vibrate when a user is nearing their overdraft limit.   As Google Glass finally edges towards its imminent UK launch and highly rumoured products like Apple’s iWatch are unveiled, wearable financial solutions will soon become commonplace.

The future

This shift of preferences means banks are leaving traditional infrastructures behind and are focusing on what the next generation of digitally savvy customers wants. As customers turn to more sophisticated banking technology and more convenient money management services, having brick and mortar outlets isn’t nearly as important as it once was.

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