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Apr 18, 2018
Jeff Klump

Technology is important in community banking, especially on-line access and mobile banking platforms, but most consumers and industry professional don’t believe that digital channels will ever negate the need for bank branches.  It is of evermore importance to not lose sight of the human element in the branches, because people still value the personal relationships they have with the staff.  People still want to have access to people.  There are many community banks where technology doesn’t make sense, for many reasons that could include the wrong demographics or for financial reasons.   There is still much to be said for re-imagining the branch experience so that it complements the digital assets, but is not replaced by them.  The design basis of branch transformation minus technology should focus on making connections – not just with the community, but connecting people with people, in order for customers to feel confident about financial issues.

Enhance the experience of the customers you currently serve and wish to attract, but don’t try to change their behavior.

People are creatures of habit and once they get comfortable with the way they do things, they always expect the same outcome.  It may NOT be wise to integrate new technologies into your legacy or well-established branches.  A K4 client found success in integrating new ITM technology into new branches, but kept the traditional teller lines in remodels of existing branches.  They did not want to upset the existing branch customers by integrating new technology and changing the environment that they could relate to and were already comfortable in.

If you are in one of these branches or have a branch network with a strong and loyal base, you may want to consider NOT replacing what works with new technology.  Customers have preferences and choices; they know that almost everything they do in a branch can also be done with technology – whether an ATM/ITM, online or mobile banking.  When they visit a branch, they are demonstrating their preference of the human element and value of the personal relationship and service.  They don’t want to come into a branch to be redirected to a learning experience they aren’t ready for or comfortable with.   They want a personal experience that they can’t get from a screen.

Transform the way your customers are served, by upgrading customer service and options.

Ok, so technology upgrades aren’t an option, can you do any if the following?

  • Offer longer branch hours and be open when your competitors aren’t?
  • Offer keycard entry to a lobby or vestibule for after hours, secure ATM transactions?
  • Create additional convenient locations, adding mini-branches in grocery stores, etc.
  • Staff your branches to reduce teller line wait times during rush hours?
  • Do you have Universal Bankers or Relationship Bankers on staff? This is the new normal.  Fewer staff, but the right staff – the right people in the right places – more knowledgeable about all products and services.  Community Banks need to capitalize on those employees that can build and maintain relationships.

Deploy only the technology that will make them feel secure, and design for implementation!

A little bit of technology goes a long way!

  • PODS replacing teller lines are often used for eliminating barriers and they make the experience more personal.
  • Consider smaller, more manageable technology, like check scanners and cash recyclers at the teller line or POD allowing the teller to make conversation with your customers to strengthen the relationship.
  • Simplification and automation of operating procedures moves non-customer activities out of branches and allows staff to focus on financial advice, service and marketing.
Wayne Bank & Trust Co, Cambridge City, IN

Wayne Bank & Trust Co – Cambridge City, IN Author’s Own Project Photos

Use branch design, graphics and refreshments to entice and make connections to the community.

Create an environment where people would like to hang out and take advantage of the fact that people are very loyal to local establishments.  Reinforce the importance of the relationship and create a space for social interaction.  Consider upgrading your refreshment options with modern coffee makers, bottled water, snacks, and present it in an appealing manner.  No one wants orange rimmed coffee pots that have been burning since early morning and powder creamer packets. Make it an experience of the senses – the same way retailers and realtors use smell, taste, and visuals to enhance the environment for better sales potential!

First National Bank of Durango, Durango, CO

First National Bank of Durango – Durango, CO
Author’s Own Project Photo

Play off the strength of your local connections and surroundings.  Don’t forget to illustrate your organization’s commitment to the community through environmental graphics.

Antwerp Exchange Bank, Antwerp, OH

Antwerp Exchange Bank – Antwerp, OH
Author’s Own Project Photo

Make it a more than a branch experience, make it a BRAND experience.

In summary, when going through a transformation of any kind it is important to make sure all of the components that make up your brand fit together and support it consistently.  Your physical space is your presence within the community, a revenue generator, and where your customers interact with your brand, so therefore it should be a reflection of your story.  This story should be further communicated in everything that you do while supporting your business strategy and your marketing goals.  In the digital space it is important to determine which rapidly evolving technology advances are trends and which ones should be made a reality.  Your online & mobile banking, website and social media should not only be consistent as pieces of the digital marketing family, but should match your marketing materials and physical space.  The website is not a place to mix things up with modern design if it does not match the design of your branch and doing so will only dilute your brand.  However, if your physical space is being updated or remodeled (or vice versa), your digital space should be updated as well in a timely manner.

People today want modern and updated facilities, but they also like consistency and familiarity.  Even if the majority of your customers visit the branch, the experience needs to be the same and communicated as such, both physically and digitally.   Make it the ultimate customer experience with your brand!