For past generations, the word bank meant stately buildings, mahogany walls and plush leather chairs, a critical destination for people seeking loans, safeguarding their savings and planning their or their company’s financial futures. Client needed to physically show up at their bank to conduct any business. Today, many hold their banks in the palm of their hand with technology radically altering the way consumers take care of their financial needs and the way bankers conduct business. The digital revolution has redefined the world for those on both sides of what used to be the teller’s window.
For consumers, banking is now an anytime, anywhere, anyhow function fueled by mobile apps, online tools and social engagement. From mobile account access to remote check deposit to real-time alerts on unusual account activity banks are delivering products and services that meet and anticipate their customers’ needs well beyond the branch. Smart phones and tablets are becoming a main contact point where banks and their customers meet and this interface is as important as ATMs and electronic bill payment. A recent survey noted that nearly half of customers will seek out the competition if their bank is not providing the latest mobile offerings.
For banks, this sea change is evidenced by the fact that for the first time the number of bank branches is declining, with more than 2,200 shutter in 2012 alone. Another telling sign is that the number of payments by online bill payment and mobile banking now exceeds the number of checks issued by bank clients. So what are smart banks doing internally and externally to not only survive but thrive in this new environment?
The path forward is not simply a choice between either bricks and mortar or digital but embracing a hybrid strategy that fully leverages the power of technology both internally and externally and recognizes that banks no longer dictate the rules of engagement – the client is now a full partner. Smart banks are focused on a “client first” mission, utilizing branches as hubs for client meetings to get together and jointly address needs. They are integrating technology into every aspect of their business to build client satisfaction, drive operational efficiencies and create new business opportunities.
Smart banks are taking advantage of cloud based systems to enable staff to communicate and interact with clients in ways not previous available. They are utilizing social media as a key means of engagement and interaction, providing services, product information and important feedback from clients. In fact, our bank was built for the community and therefore much of what we offer was developed by listening and responding to their needs. Mobile technology is one example, and allowed us to serve our clients when Superstorm Sandy knocked out the phones and electricity at a number of our branches.
Technology is also helping bankers do their jobs better and more cost effectively, an issue particularly relevant is a low-interest rate and fee-averse environment. Loan officers can spend more time in the field empowered by data and analytics at their finger-tips, improving decision making, responsiveness and client relationships. Smart bankers are providing support services through Twitter, introducing new products via Facebook and educating/sharing opinions via blogs and other online postings. Our executive team and board of directors all have tablets which speeds the dissemination of information and is helping eliminate the avalanche of paper that was once synonymous with the industry. Technology is also leveling the playing field allowing community banks to compete and grow in a world for now dominated by the mega banks.
The new banking reality means that that this and successive generations of account holders may never see the inside of a bank building and those that do will be visiting smaller digitally centric café style branches. It is an exciting future for smart bankers who appreciate the power of technology to enhance the client experience, their business and bottom line. Personalized mobile services, advanced digital wallet capabilities and the ability to offer segmented client experiences across delivery channels are just a few of the advances that are making the future exciting and will empower us to make banks more relevant than ever.