Published in Financial Services

Bank Branches and Surveys in the 21st century

Banking in the Mad Men Era

Many of us enjoyed the series Mad Men, remembering (or imagining) a time in the not so distant past. While we felt a nostalgia for some things – the cocktails, the clothes, the furniture – we also appreciated how much had changed in our lives over the intervening 50 years. But one thing hasn’t changed very much since those days and that’s the surveys we give our customers. Sure, we may email an invitation to a survey that’s online but the questions themselves would have been familiar to Don Draper. We ask about the tellers and the people at the desks or service counter. This despite the fact that virtually everything about the bank branch has changed dramatically.

Fifty years ago, tellers did all the math, posting deposits and withdrawals, counting out cash, and so on. Today, the majority of banks use sophisticated systems that read the deposit slip and the checks, count cash deposited and withdrawn.  In short, almost all of the transaction itself is done by the system.   The teller is adding a human touch… a reassuring voice that answers questions, gives value-added tips, and provides a friendly experience.

The Branch as Store

If you were involved in banking in the late 1990s, there was much talk about the death of the branch. You even had Wingspan Bank that operated completely on the internet. Then came the dot-com collapse. Suddenly everyone in banking was talking about the branch as a “store” and instead of trying to drive customers out of the branch, the goal should be to bring them in. Meanwhile, technology innovations have made banking easier than ever:

  • ATMs can now process deposits as completely as the teller can
  • Customers can deposit checks on their smartphones
  • Debit cards let you get cash back without ever visiting a branch

The result is that visits to the “store” are way down. In the 1960s and the 1970s, most people visited their local bank branch as often as they visited the dry cleaner. For those old enough to remember, you rarely went to another branch for any business because your signature was on file in your home branch. Today, a significant number of people don’t go to the branch at all leveraging online, direct deposit, and cash back to handle their banking. Others don’t make it past the vestibule and the ATM.

The Branch Store of the 21st Century

So is the bank branch finally dead? Far from it. But like many other things it is undergoing a transformation. Thought leaders as diverse as McKinsey & Company, BAI, and Capgemini Consulting are talking about the changing nature of bank branches. All agree that people still want branches for complex issues and advice. And the new technology is becoming part of the core branch experience with media walls, interactive stations, and bank staff armed with tablets. The bank branch of yesterday was like the supermarket or dry cleaner where you went every week to do your routine transactions and occasionally saw someone about something more complex like a mortgage or IRA. The bank branch today is becoming more like an Apple or Microsoft store trying to encourage customers to come in, learn something, and buy when ready. While different banks are taking somewhat different approaches, they are all have certain elements in common:

  • Encourage customers to think of the bank as a place to get ideas about how to live their lives not just a place to deposit checks and get cash
  • Make the experience more interactive
  • Leverage technology in the branch and at home

Financial services still have a way to go in catching up to retail in terms of integrating mobile, online, and “in-store” experiences but most are taking steps in that direction.

Making the Survey Match the Experience

Which brings us back to the survey. If you get a bank branch survey it will probably not be very different from one you may have gotten 20 or even 30 years ago. But so much has changed. While surveys still tend to be generated by a transaction (mostly tellers and some platforms), the changing branch environment means that some of the most important interactions may not be transactions in the traditional sense but customers getting advice on how to use the latest technology or asking about new services. We need to engage all the people who are coming into the branch (and those who rarely set foot in it) to ensure that they are getting an integrated experience that is making their lives easier and more productive. That may mean different surveys for different customer segments or experiences.  Surveys need to be more flexible as well. Online, smartphone, and social media are all increasingly the way people want to communicate. Phone surveys are increasingly less popular.

Finally, the questions need to shift from focusing on routine transactions (which are increasingly handled by technology even at a teller station) and more on the total experience.

  • Are customers getting what they want when they want it?
  • Do they feel engaged in whatever channel they interact: mobile, online, in-branch?
  • Do they see the branch as a place for answers about how to manage money in their lives and not just a place to do routine transactions?

Just as the branch of the future is transforming to be more engaging and interactive, so too does the branch survey have to come into the 21st century and start asking the questions that will help propel the new branch strategies.