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Face-to-face branch contact essential

Personal touch trumps some analytics, says European study

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Face-to-face branch contact essential

Bank branches can elicit more customer retention and more cross-selling than any other method, as the opportunity to talk face-to-face with customers remains the best way of understanding how to serve them better.

That’s according to an IDC study conducted in Europe—with obvious parallels to U.S. branch systems.

The study highlights some of the key drivers for branch banking:

Branch satisfaction remains high. Even customers who generally avoid their local branch appreciate its presence. Transformation can entrench branches' popularity by making sure that each customer visit is fulfilling, that customers are presented with relevant offers, and that their complaints or queries are handled.

Face-to-face contact is key to building customer relationships. Modern data analytics can predict which products might best suit which customer but not to the level of a face-to-face meeting. This suggests that branches can elicit more customer retention and more cross-selling than any other method.

Banks must protect their investments. For banks with existing, unwieldy branch networks, shutting down large numbers of branches is not realistic. Branches are often on long-term leases, and the costs already incurred, in terms of previous investments, are too high. So the decline in visits must be mitigated by making the branch experience as smooth as possible, while maximizing revenue opportunities and minimizing cost.

Modern technology makes branches more affordable. A transformed branch can occupy a smaller area, employ smaller staffs, and be better geared toward revenue generation. Staff, equipped with the right tools, can focus on sales rather than transaction processing. By investing in branch transformation and modern technology, a bank can therefore put its branch network on a sustainable financial footing.

"The falling overall branch number in Europe masks a brighter reality," says Lawrence Freeborn, senior research analyst, IDC Financial Insights.

Freeborn says that in the United Kingdom, around a fifth to a quarter of branches have been refurbished in the past couple of years, indicating that banks are investing in their shrinking stock, and continue to appreciate the importance of the branch.

“Taking an annual refurbishment rate across the industry of around 10%, and combining this with the recent leaps in technology available to banks and their customers alike, it can be deduced that the average European branch in 2025 will look entirely different from the one in 2015," says Freeborn.

"Financial institutions have done a great job reducing the cost of routing transactions by migrating them to self-service channels over the past decade," says Andrei Charniauski, head of Europe, IDC Financial Insights. "However, they have not been able to bring the same degree of automation to the most value-adding part of branch banking—sales and customer relationships. As branch networks undergo refurbishment, it is imperative to make the most of innovative IT solutions to elevate the performance metrics of sales personnel."

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