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‘Bank to the future’ –what 5G means For high street banking

By Jason Wells, VP and GM EMEA at Cradlepoint 

As recently discussed here in Global Banking & Finance Review, banks have a range of technology-driven options to radically improve the customer experience.  Digital transformation is impacting the industry in ways that would have hardly seemed possible just a few decades ago.  The impact of technology and increased connectivity is particularly evident on the ‘front line’ of retail banking, where pop-up branches, digital signage and ‘smart branches’ are transforming the way banks interact with their customers like never before.

One of the growing challenges for banks and retailers in general is that in this digital era, customers expect better, more connected services, whether they are dealing with the retailer online or in person. But, whichever digitally-inspired direction they move in, connectivity is the underlying enabling technology.

In A Wireless World, We’re All On A Pathway To 5G

One of the major drivers of technology-led change is the arrival of 5G wireless connectivity in the UK. With EE’s recent rollout of services in six cities, a pathway is emerging to its general availability. 5G will offer the speed, quality of connection and reliability banks need to bring customer-focused innovation to the high street. While the 5G rollout gathers pace, Gigabit-class LTE wireless technology will increasingly provide high performance connectivity, eventually working alongside 5G to offer a comprehensive high-speed network.

4G LTE technology has already carved a valuable role as the go-to connection for failover and Day-1 connectivity, but now, it’s is a viable option for primary wide area network connectivity as well.  This allows organisations to ‘cut the cord’ and replace multiple cable and fixed line providers – often stitched together to provide a branch network – with just one or two wireless providers.  In doing so, they can also realise a significant improvement in connectivity uptime.

Specifically, for banks that want to extend the reach, reliability, and speed of their branch networks without all of the complexity challenges of traditional wired connections, Gigabit-Class LTE can already provide as much as 80% of the value of 5G.

 The Digital Transformation Of High Street Banking

But where is this taking our banks? Along with every other sector that has built its success on the High Street, retail banking is looking to digital technology to change its relationship with customers for the better.

Innovation is arriving in many forms. The rollout of digital signage, for example, is making communication with customers more relevant, creative and timely. Similarly, digital initiatives that improve accessibility and widen the relevance and usefulness of branches are finding their way onto the high street. It’s increasingly possible to walk into a branch and get access to a financial expert via video link, instead of having to book an appointment with a member of staff in person.

As the traditional high street presence of banks gets smaller, the pop-up branch has emerged as a way to maintain services in places where a branch is no longer supported by demand. Pop-up branches offer many advantages over a permanent location, not least because they can be opened for a relatively short space of time, or placed in shared locations that are suitable to their local community.

Similarly, the pop-up concept has allowed new entrants to the industry with little or no high street presence to connect directly with consumers. Dozens, a finance startup, recently launched a one month pop-up branch on Harrow Road in Westminster, for example. On a wider level, Wiltshire Council has just announced support for a community bank serving the South West of England. The project could see pop-up branches opening in leisure centres and libraries.

This kind of useful, lateral thinking needs the right kind of enabling technology, and initiatives like these rely completely on secure, high performance data connectivity. In most cases, it’s not practical for a pop-up branch to organise fixed line connectivity for a limited period of time, or the connectivity cannot be shared with the location ‘host’ because of security or performance concerns. For these banks, wireless networks will provide the reliable, high performance and secure communications infrastructure they need when they open their pop-up branches.

Customers across every market sector value innovation that improves the retail experience. As banks try to differentiate themselves in a more competitive market, those that can offer new ideas that make it easier and more productive to use high street banks – in whatever form – will be better placed to retain and attract customers.