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Bhupender Singh, CEO of Intelenet Global Services, discusses the technology available to help banks make the most of their in-person service

According to a survey by UBS, online banking has now overtaken in-branch banking, with 52 per cent of transactions now happening online. UK banking has been gradually moving online over recent years, and as banks become more agile with their tech, everyday banking processes get easier for tech savvy and younger customers. But this shift to online is having an effect on bank branches on the high street, with UK banks closing 800 of their branches last year alone – which could have a negative impact on some consumers.

The rapid closure of local branches could have negative effects on the customers who do not have as easy access to online banking; elderly people or those reticent to switch, who rely on branches,or rural communities where broadband signals aren’t always strong enough to support the bandwidth required for secure transactions. In villages and smaller communities, where other shops often rely on the local branch to drum up trade, there could be a serious knock-on effect.

Sometimes, whether customers bank online or in branches is simply a matter of taste: while many may relish the convenience and ease of internet banking, others prefer the reliability and attention of in-person service. The success of new challengers such as Metro Bank, which continues to open large high street locations, runs against the tide of branch closures and shows that in-person service can still be a highly valuable part of retail banking business.

So how can traditional banks stay modern and competitive, whilst continuing to create value for those 48 per cent of offline transactions, and the people who make them? Just as online banking continues to be updated and developed with new innovations, banks can engage with new technology to update their branch offering.

Financial decisions that most customers will still come into a branch for, such as mortgage loans and account opening, can be dramatically improved with new technology. This enhances the in-person service provided by branches by improving what staff can offer.

Traditionally, complicated administrative processes required multiple personnel to go through long procedures. But now many of these can be uploaded to cloud computing systems, and automated using AI programmes to make key decisions. Using this process, one bank was able to reduce the processing time for mortgages from 11 days to a matter of 48 hours.

This frees up many of the staff that used to perform back-end administrative tasks to focus on customer-facing roles, improving their customer service offering. Speeding up and streamlining these services will bring in a higher level of customer satisfaction. It also reduces the staffing strain on branches, making them less expensive to sustain.

Another alternative to lessen the strain on branches whilst bringing services to more isolated or less tech-savvy customers, is by making the most of new developments in technology to bring in-person service to them – offering a modern, convenient banking process without the need for customers to have internet access.

Many consumers can find telephone banking inconvenient and time-consuming, particularly if they are left on hold for a long time or have to explain their issue several times to different people. One solution to help less computer-literate customers is by improving the over-the-phone services in contact centres.

A variety of companies in all areas of customer service are using voice recognition technology to identify their customer on the phone. By cross-referencing the identity of the speaker to their existing customer data, and applying AI programmes that predict what their issue is likely to be, automated programmes can send individuals straight to the right department. This cuts out the intermediary stage of customers having to inform an operative of their problem just so they can be directed to the right place, and frees up the staff who previously did this job to focus on more specific problem-solving in their in-person service. Saving time and improving the customer experience, could mean customers rely less on branches, without missing out on personal service.

The face-to-face interaction model of the branch can be completely turned on its head, if banks harness the potential of uber-like scheduling tools, and apply these to banking advisors. Instead of customers having to come into their branch, they can have the nearest roaming advisor come to meet them. Or, staff can be directed to different branches to meet customers depending on demand. This could help deliver more specialist advice to isolated areas.

The developments in banking technology in recent years have had a revolutionary effect on the way many of us bank. As more customers use the internet to manage their accounts and finances, the branch has been losing its importance. But financial services providers must be careful not to leave some customers behind. The rapid shift in technology available to banks does not only mean a move to working online. With advances in automation, voice recognition, AI and scheduling tools, banks can revolutionise the way they use branches and other facets of in-person service so that all customers can benefit.

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