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Branch transformation has been a consistent topic of analysis, research, and development for financial institutions across the country for the past decade. A steady stream of innovations emerged from banking technology providers to automate operational tasks, from deposit automation to cash recycling to in-branch transaction automation and more. Banks and credit unions have analyzed these innovations and adopted a selection of processes and technologies that specifically fit their operational needs. Financial institutions of all sizes have been evolving their operating models at their own individual paces, with careful piloting and testing of new technology leading to methodically implemented changes. While these new technologies are able to have a transformational effect on customer experience, invariably these implementations targeted improving operational efficiency.
To borrow an overused but apt cliché, the pandemic changed everything. Businesses of all kinds had to rapidly change their models on the fly, creating new ways of doing business and delivering goods and services to their customers. Customer interactions that had been solely offered in person were, by necessity, shifted to remote interactions over phone or video connections. Touchless customer interactions quickly became ubiquitous, from curbside pickup at the hardware store to front porch delivery by the local microbrewery. In some cases, scenarios where self-service was not even an option quickly became self-service by default. These adjustments were relatively quick out of necessity, as businesses in many verticals had to immediately make these changes in order to survive.
For financial institutions, ATMs have provided basic self-service capabilities for decades. Banking customers are accustomed to performing simple deposits and withdrawals from primary checking and savings accounts via self-service, while reverting to in-person branch visits for transactions with other accounts or for more complex needs. When that in-person channel was taken away, customers expected banks to provide alternate capabilities, just as other businesses did. Expanded self-service banking options are no longer a tool that delivered efficiency in branch operations; they are now a necessity in order to serve customers’ needs and meet their new expectations of ubiquitous self-service availability. Alternative service channels are no longer solely for the delivery of incremental efficiency gains; they also provide critical service resiliency when in-person service channels are temporarily unavailable.
Now that restrictions in many places are being lifted and life is trending toward something resembling normal, financial institutions are returning to their analytical ways. They are evaluating things that worked while also studying the changing expectations of customers who have lived in a period of unprecedented service options for over a year and don’t appear to want to go back. Customer expectations have changed, and banks are focusing on meeting these new expectations.
Fortunately, these expectations are aligned with advances that have been made by banking technology companies. ATM cash recycling technology is available in many form factors, giving banks a powerful tool to dramatically improve operational efficiency and reduce cash handling costs by 40% while also enabling larger self-service transactions for customers and a wider range of available denominations. Connecting ATMs to core banking systems transforms a machine that dispenses money into a full-service banking kiosk, providing customers with access to their entire banking relationship and enabling 24/7 self-service on over 90% of a customer’s transactional needs. Assisted service technology such as video connectivity can make an ATM or kiosk even more effective and provides a platform to allow customers to conduct all of their banking needs whenever and wherever they want.
Efficiency is still an important factor in branch transformation, but it can no longer be the primary driver. Customer experience is more important than ever, and meeting customer expectations about when, where, and how they can interact with their financial institution is critical in maintaining customer loyalty as well as expanding the customer base. Strategies that both enable a robust and flexible customer experience while also improving operational efficiency provide the foundation for a successful branch transformation program.