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Howard Berg, Managing Director, Gemalto UK

Howard Berg

Howard Berg

Big names in banking are permanently closing the doors on thousands of branches across the world, leading to some commentators expressing doubts over the place of the bank branch in the digital world. Consumers are increasingly used to managing their finances via the internet or smartphone applications. But the reality is there is still a place for bank branches, so long as they continue to innovate and evolve in the wake of ever more fintech start-ups.

Firstly, there are some banking functions that still need to be done in person, which banks can champion.Take the customer enrolment stage, for example, which can be a confusing and lengthy process. There are some aspects of the customer journey which simply cannot take place on a mobile platform, such as the acquisition of certain biometric credentials.  New innovations on the market allow customers to use advanced services in-store, including the use of self-service terminals to print payment cards securely and on the spot. This offers customers instantaneous and convenient any-time card renewal – no 7-10 working day waiting period for a new card and PIN.  So how can banks ensure they stay relevant?

Embrace the digital transformation

Banks must embrace the digital transformation to stay ahead of the game in 2017. With regulatory challenges like PSD2 on the horizon in the UK and the KYC issues it’s likely to raise, banks need to invest in building easy to use, seamless portals which simplify the enrolment process. They need to strike a balance between meeting new regulatory requirements on customer data and constructing a convenient digital onboarding process. Once an effective enrolment journey is in place, banks need to consider the best way in which to deliver an omnichannel strategy. That means first-class mobile apps, making intelligent use of customer data, and ensuring every step of the customer journey, from smartphone to the bank branch, is a connected one. For instance, Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia’s leading financial institution, has installed self-service kiosks, which allows customers to receive payment cards on the spot. It’s a much speedier and more convenient and much more modern card issuance strategy, enabling staff to provide personalized support when the person is in the bank branch. 

Personalisation is key

The bank branch is becoming less crucial to the customer journey, but it’s still possible to engage with customers and foster healthy relationships in the age of digital banking. In fact, there are more opportunities for banks to encourage brand loyalty. Personalisation should be the key theme. Customised bank cards and real-time marketing offers based on individual user data are just some of the ways financial institutions can engage with their users. There are ways banks can modernise, such as offering PIN codes by e-Channels which allow customers a fast and interactive way to activate and use their payment card as soon as they have it in hand.

IoT is infiltrating every sector, including banks, and branches need to embrace IoT to remain relevant. In a time where consumers demand convenience and an always-on personalised service, such as mobile banking apps and contactless payments, IoT has the potential to create numerous opportunities for banks. A truly personalised experience can be developed through data regarding customer behaviour and demands, creating a new level of customer intimacy. This can then be used in-branch to streamline customer experience by simplifying options available to them and always being prepared for potential issues. 

Focus on security

The downfall of banking shifting online and towards apps is security risks and threats, including data integrity attacks, phishing and card skimming. There’s also a trust issue – the more people bank online and on mobile, the more they risk becoming separated from their provider. Trust needs to be established through constructing multi-layer protection as well as creating the perception of security. Layered banking security involves securing data in the cloud through techniques like encryption and cryptography, and equipping mobile apps with strong software security. CNP fraud needs to be tackled by encouraging a move away from static card information, looking at dynamic solutions. DCV, which involves a security code that changes continuously, makes it very difficult for a fraudster to acquire card details.The advantage of bank branches here, over fintechs, is their longevity within society which has established security and respect.

What is needed from bank branches is a reinvention to link the virtual and physical worlds seamlessly, which will occur as they transform and acquire new technologies. Banks should explore installing IoT-enabled equipment and digital banking portals in branches, which focus on customer experience – for example, enabling payment mean activation within just ten minutes from enrolment. With mounting competition from fintech start-ups, banks need to rely on the strengths of their branches to provide them with the advantages required to keep them alive. It’s all about giving customers control over how they bank.

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