Leading banks invest in sophisticated customer-facing audiovisual technologies to increase engagement and operational efficiency.
By Brad Grimes, AVIXA
Retail banks across the world and of all size are transforming their customer experience to capitalize on the popularity and familiarity of consumer technology.
With more than half of retail buying decisions made at the point of purchase, and nearly 30 percent of customers admitting that on-site digital signage can influence their decisions, banks are beginning to recognize what other retail markets have found: Customer engagement is a key component of a successful modern storefront.
Following the widespread adoption of mobile apps that allow customers to conduct everyday transactions, banks are now upgrading the audiovisual (AV) infrastructure of their physical branches to improve the more substantive conversations that are still best served by in-person meetings. Additionally, some banks are adopting new technologies to make physical branches more space-efficient and reduce overhead.
Doing More With Less
Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, a large U.S. retail bank with more than 1,200 branch locations and $5 billion in revenue, offers an example of how banks can adapt to changing consumer habits. In 2018, the bank began a multi-year overhaul that will see many branches shrink their footprint by up to 50 percent. As part of the project, Citizens Bank is working with AT&T and Cineplex Digital Media Group to outfit all of its branches with new digital signage displays and media players that help maximize customer messaging, improve cross-selling, and engender a community-center aesthetic by showcasing content customized to the local customer base.
Bruce Van Saun, Chairman and CEO of Citizen Financial Group, Inc., says the company-wide initiative includes redesigning many branches to have smaller footprints, with less space dedicated to transactions and more space for private rooms and conversation.
Although some banks have closed branches for financial reasons, Citizens Bank’s strategy represents a different approach with potential benefits, namely that customers can still have the face-to-face interactions they need, but improved utilization of space and technology can lower costs and boost cross-selling opportunities.
“There’s a little bit of pruning of the number of locations,” Van Saun says, “but the greater element of the program is trying to take 4,200-square-foot branches and turn them into 2,500 or 2,200-square-foot branches. By 2021 we will have gone through 50% of the branches as the target.”
The digital signage displays currently feature topics such as planning for retirement, managing student loans, and community-based activities, while also providing stock indices and local weather and news. According to AT&T, the result is a richer customer experience through next-generation features and new design concepts.
“We’ve provided technology solutions to Citizens Bank for almost two decades,” says AT&T’s Vice President of Global Business Financial Solutions Anthony Leggio. “Our world-class technology coupled with Citizens Bank’s outstanding products and services create a winning customer experience.”
A digital signage display can present far more information than a static advertisement, while using the same amount of physical space. Digital signage offers the ability to present multiple slides, scroll text, switch among promotional subject, and attract attention through changing images or video. In fact, a recent study by Capital Networks found that although static signage impressions drop off dramatically after the first day, digital signage retains a consistent engagement level. In response, banks have begun using adaptive and interactive AV technologies to engage customers and entice non-customers to see what the bank offers.
Creating An Interactive Storefront
Odeabank entered the Turkish market with a splash of color and outward-facing technology rarely seen in retail bank branches. In Istanbul, the bank’s flagship branch features unique curved architecture and an artful exterior, while the interior utilizes a range of audiovisual technologies including large touchscreen tables, tablets, interactive screens, digital signage, room-wide overhead LED tickers, and sophisticated customer tracking that targets its marketing based on visitors’ gender and age.
I-AM, the firm responsible for the flagship store’s architecture and interior design, set out to provide the most efficient and rewarding customer experience, using popular consumer technologies to put guests at ease and provide improved engagement.
Large-scale touchscreen displays in the 24/7 self-service lobby provide interactive applications that allow customers to get loan estimates and information about new products and options, while tabletop touchscreen displays inside the bank can entertain and inform customers. The bright, vibrant design creates excitement, and the constant motion from the digital displays adds to the bank’s energetic environment.
Like Citizens Bank, Odeabank has created more open space and designed its layout to promote customer conversations, while directing common, everyday transactions to ATMs or ITMs (interactive teller machines). The layout gives its digital signage and interactive displays greater reach, as customers move more freely through the branch’s open spaces and spend less time restricted to teller lines and desk pools.
A Top-To-Bottom Videoconferencing Experience
For many banks, audiovisual technology upgrades have pervaded the entire corporate environment, bringing new solutions to every level of the company’s operations. Videoconferencing plays a vital role in the daily operations of many corporate offices, reducing travel time and costs, expediting conversations, and helping increase efficiency while also providing more human-centered, face-to-face interaction.
Bank of America has put this audiovisual technology directly in the hands of consumers through its new Advanced Center, available at select locations. The concept is an employee-free branch featuring an ATM lobby, digital concierge, and private rooms equipped with on-demand videoconferencing systems.
The digital concierge automatically detects a customer’s arrival and instantly connects them to a bank employee located at a call center for addressing basic banking needs. This provides customers with fast service and a personal feel while using very little floor space.
The private rooms offer videoconferencing with local and national experts to discuss auto loans, mortgages, retirement, and more. With more than 300 Advanced Center locations currently planned, it is poised to become an important part of the bank’s retail presence.
Dominating the Conversation
Still other banks are reaching for the “wow” factor using audiovisual technology. Customers entering Bank of Hawaii’s flagship “Branch of Tomorrow” in Honolulu are greeted with a stunning 10-metre by 2.2-metre LED video wall with a 3mm pixel pitch that results in HD-resolution imagery — the type of technology usually found in stadiums, airports and along major roadways. The video wall, installed by Ford AV, creates a unique exerience in the main lobby, displaying captivating Hawaiian scenes interspersed with bank promotions and other marketing campaigns.
Bank of Hawaii is actively advertising its AV technology leadership. On the bank’s website, the company proudly states that “The Bank of Hawaii Branch of Tomorrow offers a 21st-century banking experience—including easy deposit ATMs, Wi-Fi, tablets, digital screens and a team of financial specialists—to support greater convenience and create personal interactions.”
All told, many banks are using customer-facing AV technology in bank branches to create a renewed sense of community and engagement often absent in silent queues, teller windows, and static wall advertisements. As the pace of technology continues to accelerate—introducing new means of communicating and conducting business—banks should be aware of their customers’ changing habits and how those habits can actually improve and modernize the retail banking experience. We live in a multimedia world, and all the digital screens can be seen as gateways to customers’ loyalty and attention. In-branch audiovisual experiences mean significant benefits for both banks and account holders.
Brad Grimes is Senior Director of Communications for AVIXA™, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA represents the $178 billion global commercial AV industry and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world. For more information, visit www.avixa.org/bankAV.
ECB stays put but warns about surge in infections
By Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank warned on Thursday that a new surge in COVID-19 infections poses risks to the euro zone’s recovery and reaffirmed its pledge to keep borrowing costs low to help the economy through the pandemic.
Having extended stimulus well into next year with a massive support package in December, ECB policymakers kept policy unchanged on Thursday, keen to let governments take over the task of keeping the euro zone economy afloat until normal business activity can resume.
But they warned about a new rise in infections and the ensuing restrictions to economic activity, saying they were prepared to provide even more support to the economy if needed.
“The renewed surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and the restrictive and prolonged containment measures imposed in many euro area countries are disrupting economic activity,” ECB President Christine Lagarde said in her opening statement.
Fresh lockdowns, a slow start to vaccinations across the 19 countries that use the euro, and the currency’s strength will increase headwinds for exporters, challenging the ECB’s forecasts of a robust recovery starting in the second quarter.
Lagarde saluted the start of vaccinations as “an important milestone” despite “some difficulty” and said the latest data was still in line with the ECB’s forecasts.
She conceded that the strong euro, which hit a 2-1/2 year high against the dollar earlier this month, was putting a dampener on inflation and reaffirmed that the ECB would continue to monitor the exchange rate.
The euro has dropped 1% on a trade-weighted basis since the start of the year, but is up nearly 7% over the last 12 months. Against the U.S. dollar, that number rises to over 10%.
Opening the door for more stimulus if needed, Lagarde confirmed the ECB would continue buying bonds until “it judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over”.
Lagarde also kept a closely watched reference to “downside” risks facing the euro zone economy, which has been a reliable indicator that the ECB saw policy easing as more likely than tightening.
But she signalled those risks were less acute, in part thanks to the recent Brexit deal.
“The news about the prospects for the global economy, the agreement on future EU-UK relations and the start of vaccination campaigns is encouraging,” Lagarde said. “But the ongoing pandemic and its implications for economic and financial conditions continue to be sources of downside risk.”
Lagarde conceded that the immediate future was challenging but argued that should not impact the longer term.
“Once the impact of the pandemic fades, a recovery in demand, supported by accommodative fiscal and monetary policies, will put upward pressure on inflation over the medium term,” Lagarde said.
Benign market indicators support Lagarde’s argument. Stocks are rising, interest rates are steady and government borrowing costs are trending lower, despite some political drama in Italy.
There is also around 1 trillion euros of untapped funds in the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) to back up her pledge to keep borrowing costs at record lows.
The ECB has indicated it may not even need it to use it all.
“If favourable financing conditions can be maintained with asset purchase flows that do not exhaust the envelope over the net purchase horizon of the PEPP, the envelope need not be used in full,” Lagarde said.
Recent economic history also favours the ECB. When most of the economy reopened last summer, activity rebounded more quickly than expected, indicating that firms were more resilient than had been feared.
Uncomfortably low inflation is set to remain a thorn in the ECB’s side for years to come, however, even if surging oil demand helps put upward pressure on prices in 2021.
With Thursday’s decision, the ECB’s benchmark deposit rate remained at minus 0.5% while the overall quota for bond purchases under PEPP was maintained at 1.85 trillion euros.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)
Bank of Japan lifts next year’s growth forecast, saves ammunition as virus risks linger
By Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady on Thursday and upgraded its economic forecast for next fiscal year, but warned of escalating risks to the outlook as new coronavirus emergency measures threatened to derail a fragile recovery.
BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the board also discussed the bank’s review of its policy tools due in March, though dropped few hints on what the outcome could be.
“Our review won’t focus just on addressing the side-effects of our policy. We need to make it more effective and agile,” Kuroda told a news conference.
As widely expected, the BOJ maintained its targets under yield curve control (YCC) at -0.1% for short-term interest rates and around 0% for 10-year bond yields.
In fresh quarterly projections, the BOJ upgraded next fiscal year’s growth forecast to a 3.9% expansion from a 3.6% gain seen three months ago based on hopes the government’s huge spending package will soften the blow from the pandemic.
But it offered a bleaker view on consumption, warning that services spending will remain under “strong downward pressure” due to fresh state of emergency measures taken this month.
“Japan’s economy is picking up as a trend,” the BOJ said in the report, offering a slightly more nuanced view than last month when it said growth was “picking up.”
While Kuroda reiterated the BOJ’s readiness to ramp up stimulus further, he voiced hope robust exports and expected roll-outs of vaccines will brighten prospects for a recovery.
“I don’t think the risk of Japan sliding back into deflation is high,” he said, signalling the BOJ has offered sufficient stimulus for now to ease the blow from COVID-19.
NO EXIT EYED
Many analysts had expected the BOJ to hold fire ahead of a policy review in March, which aims to make its tools sustainable as Japan braces for a prolonged battle with COVID-19.
Sources have told Reuters the BOJ will discuss ways to scale back its massive purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and loosen its grip on YCC to breathe life back into markets numbed by years of heavy-handed intervention.
Kuroda said the BOJ may look at such options at the review, but stressed a decision will depend on the findings of its scrutiny into the effects and costs of YCC.
He also made clear any steps the BOJ would take will not lead to a withdrawal of stimulus.
“It’s too early to exit from our massive monetary easing programme at this point,” Kuroda said. “Western economies have been deploying monetary easing steps for a decade, and none of them are mulling an exit now.”
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore & Shri Navaratnam)
World Bank, IMF agree to hold April meetings online due to COVID-19 risks
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have agreed to hold their spring meetings, planned for April 5-11, online instead of in person due to continued concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, they said in joint statement.
The meetings usually bring some 10,000 government officials, journalists, business people and civil society representatives from across the world to a tightly-packed two-block area of Washington that houses their headquarters.
This will be the third of the institutions’ semiannual meetings to be held virtually due to the pandemic.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chris Rees
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