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By Kieran Arigho, Financial services consultant, Lexmark UK & Ireland

In the UK, we have continued to witness the changing role of the high street bank throughout the course of 2014, as competition from challenger banks are forcing a rethink of current operations and customer service strategies.

With the proliferation of mobile technologies and Internet connectivity, today’s consumer wants to manage their financial affairs from any device at any time, from any location. The drive towards a digital banking environment is an inevitable transition that retail banks need to embrace if they are going to stay ahead in our current marketplace.

Here are Lexmark’s predictions for the year ahead:

  1. The emergence of ‘drive-to-digital’

While we have already seen elements of the high street bank become digitised, in 2015 we will see this very much dominate the way in which retail banks operate and engage with customers.

Traditionally, departments within banks have operated in silos, which mean there hasn’t been a clear, single view of the customer. Further, all customer requests were paper-based and operated manually, opening up the potential for errors and inconsistencies.

We are in the middle of a major transformational overahall of bank processes and operations from front-end to back-end become digitised (full end-to-end digital flow) and automated. 2015 will focus very much on investment towards digital integration across retail banking, not only from a technical perceptive, but in terms of resourcing as centralised digital teams are being recruited and mobilised to lead the growing trend of ‘drive-to-digital’.

The key for banks is to have the ability to structure the organisation’s data and put in place the proper processes and tools to ensure the migration and all subsequent work flows smoothly. Today, innovative and simple solutions exist, that make the digitisation process a lot more seamless, cost effective and straightforward than it might have been in the past. For instance, automatic character and document recognition, integrated directly into the scanning devices can automate the entire capture, workflow and indexing process.

In turn, this frees resourcing and employees become more efficient. As a result, financial directors and advisors can make better, more informed decisions across the bank – while reducing the overhead costs of managing information.

  1. Omnichannel banking: personalised customer service any time, anywhere

As banks move to become more digital oriented, customer service will also change completely as more channels are opened up for real-time engagements. The growing complexity of customers choosing to interact with a bank via email, web chats, and mobile apps will become more complicated as people take the conversations onto social media. Increasingly, customers are opting to communicate with banks on Twitter and Facebook – particularly with customer complaints to capitalise on media and public attention.

This puts pressure on bank staff to ensure they have a consistent approach across all omnichannel platforms. This is particularly the case as more and more information is transformed to digital form, for example the recent introduction of digital cheque payments via image processing.

Banks need to make sure its engagement with the customer is as fluid and seamless as possible. When personal ID is handed over to open a new account, or apply for a mortgage or loan, the information should be scanned and automatically slotted into any paperwork the transaction requires. Not only does this remove labour intensive and time consuming processes, it massively enhances the customer experience with the added personal service factor.

For bank managers, the opportunity is also to enhance its current customer engagement strategy by improving responsiveness and time to deliver. In our current climate of intense competition, this will serve to retain customers and reduce operational costs.

  1. Know your customers: video conferences will bring local branch services to a whole new level

In line with the digital take up by high street banks, we are seeing a return to face-to-face interaction with customers. 2015 will see the rise of video conferencing between bank staff and customers.

As consumers continue to demand 24/7 access to services, particularly when it comes to their finances, businesses must be able to provide a solution before the competition does. For high network customers, video conferencing is fast becoming a viable communication tool for them to securely connect with their client manager – at any time, from anywhere.

We are already seeing this being trialed at the moment, and will likely see a fast take up especially as it will mean customers will have more flexibility without compromising the level of service. It will also save them the inconvenience of physically visiting a branch, but still have the benefit of ‘meeting’ their bank manager in person.

For bank managers, resources will change. Bank officials can focus on interacting with their customers rather than manually entering swathes of information. Customers feel like they’re with a bank that knows how to take the pain out of these processes. Gone will be the days of faceless phone calls or web forum helpdesks, as the high street banks bring back more local, personal services to the public.