Bank Branches Are Still Good for at Least One Thing

by Edward O'Brien 0

Even the kind of consumer who is always connected to the Internet may still crave a human connection when it comes time to open a bank account.

Consider Regions Financial. The Birmingham, Ala., bank recently launched an online tool that helps determine which checking account is best for its customers — or prospective customers — by asking a series of questions: what features they need, how much they receive in direct deposits each month, how many checks they write in a month, and so on.

The interactive tool is meant to recreate the experience someone might have in the branch as they talk to a banker who would go through a similar process in person. At the end of the session, the tool gives the user a recommendation and two options: open the account online or schedule an appointment in the branch. Preliminary results show the branches are still a draw.

“We are less than two months in, but our customers are choosing both options,” said Andy Hernandez, head of digital banking for Regions. “For us, it is not about making them choose. It is about simplifying the experience and acknowledging that many customers may want to start the process online but finish it face-to-face.”

For the banking industry, consumers’ perhaps fickle nature presents a chicken-and-egg problem: Do consumers want a mix of digital and in-person banking, or does the inadequacy of current digital offerings effectively force them to use a second channel?

With the role of the bank branch much maligned of late, financial institutions are seeking the right configuration for their branches. And as branch use can vary across markets and demographics, making the right choices can be challenging. FIs must determine the appropriate level of in-person service expected for each branch and network as they strive to meet consumer expectations. This must be accomplished as they consider such factors as online and mobile banking penetration and the need for in-person advice when questions arise in digital channels.

Overview by Ed O’Brien, Director, Banking Channel Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group

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