By Jerry Young, CEO, ieDigital
Over the last few years, the entire modus operandi of banking has changed beyond recognition.
Largely long-gone are the high-street bank managers who knew many of their customers by name, replaced instead by an online-focused banking sector. So great have inroads been in the UK that statistics reveal almost a quarter (24%) of British people have a digital-only bank account compared to only 9% in 2019. Furthermore, around 5.3 million British people intend to get a digital-only bank account during 20231.
The convenience of being able to access our banking 24/7 is, of course, a game changer for most people and businesses. Instead of making a special journey to visit our bank manager, many of us will simply go online, or use a banking app, from the comfort of our own home at any time of the day or night.
However, has this behavioral banking shift, driven by technology, resulted in a loss of that personal touch? And can we use the very same technology to reverse this trend?
Emotionally detached banking?
While banking has become functionally complete, it could be stated that the “online revolution” has led to banks becoming emotionally detached. After all, we have already seen above the amount of people who now rely on digital-only banks, which do not even provide the opportunity to meet staff face to face, instead relying on digital channels or call centres.
However, we are now seeing a reversal in the “remote” trend. Banks are actively using technology to figuratively embrace their customers, despite very rarely ever meeting them in person.
The rise of banking hubs
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has calculated that running a bank branch costs hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, making it easy to see why many branches simply cannot compete with online and app-led banks.
Nonetheless, there is still a need for some degree of face-to-face functionality. Around 40% of British people still visit their main bank branch at least once a year, with 9% visiting at least once a month.
For older customers, people with complex queries, and those with limited access to digital channels, face-to-face interaction can be a lifeline when they are dealing with financial transactions or concerns. To address this, many of the UK’s 11,000 Post Office branches now have agreements with banks, allowing them to provide some core money-management services. Campaigners have also started opening shared banking hubs across the UK to preserve access to offline banking services, face-to-face support, and cash withdrawal.
The role of UK building societies
Building societies are often more embedded in their communities than their banking counterparts—and amping up that physical presence can help make the most of that local advantage. Nearly three quarters of members agree that building societies are pillars of the community, significantly higher than the 52% of major bank customers that agree.
Going above and beyond customers’ transactional needs is vital, both to stand apart from competitors and give customers the level of support and experience they’re looking for when they arrive at a branch. Hosting digital skills classes, drop-in advice sessions, or even specific community events can create a hub where customers know they can seek support.
Blending technology with the personal touch
Younger people are demanding accessible digital banking services from their providers. They are increasingly turning to neobanks and fintech unicorns to conduct their banking, payments and investing.
The emergence of ‘FinTok’, a community on popular app TikTok for sharing financial advice, in recent years has proved the value of the human touch. Since becoming popular during lockdowns in 2020, FinTok has become home to a community of advice on personal finance, investments and saving money.
Furthermore, almost half of bankers believe that customers will use augmented reality or virtual reality as an alternative channel for transactions by 2030, with many big names already placing their long-term bets. JPMorgan has become the first global bank to invest in a popular metaverse platform by opening a lounge in Decentraland that allows users to create, experience, and monetize content and applications.
We need to end by sounding a note of caution.
The ability to present a personalised offer is wholly dependent upon accurate information feeding the banking marketing engine – and the most-up-to-date technology is needed to do so.
Unless a target list is refreshed multiple times a day, the ability of banks to present the most up to date offer at the right time is unlikely. Relying on a single snapshot of customers taken at one time is problematic as customers’ needs and their priorities change constantly. Instead, the ability to seamlessly integrate with a data warehouse or target upsell provider enables prospects to be moved in and out of campaigns as data changes occur.
Crucially, this will enable a bank to present the right offer at the right time – and is another example of how banks that do not pay heed to existing systems that might be antiquated and out of date will miss out on the opportunities being presented by the huge move to online banking.
In addition, who will validate social channel accuracy such as posts on Tik-Tok? They are not regulated by the FCA unlike banks and building societies!
The tables are starting to turn. There was a time when people viewed technology as a replacement for the human touch in banking. However, we are now seeing technology becoming an enabler for this personal touch.
Be it ‘FinTok’, the Metaverse or banking hubs, the relationship between the personal touch and technology is becoming much more symbiotic and one where the boundaries are becoming blurred.
However – as with many things in life, systems are only as good as the information supplied. Information is key – without it, banks will be on the back foot, no matter how hard they try to harness the latest technology.
1.Analysis conducted by finder.com