The branch as differentiator in a changing banking landscape

How personal service—delivered well with a technology assist—can help keep upstart competitors at bay.

For decades, community banks and credit unions were the go-to providers of home and auto loans, checking and savings accounts, and other financial services for many consumers. In recent years, though, technological advances have paved the way for new entrants and delivery channels, transforming the industry landscape and account holders’ service expectations.

Some of those emerging competitors have made the most of huge marketing budgets to tout the ease and convenience of their business models. Quicken Loans has heavily promoted its Rocket Mortgage brand to become the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, largely on the strength of an advertising presence that accounts for 70 percent of total TV spend in that category. In just over 11 weeks in 2019, according to an analysis by Kantar Media, Quicken Loans spent $57.3 million on televised commercials, including Super Bowl ads and primetime fare featuring superheroes, comedians, and even Yogi Bear.

Alternative lenders dominate paid search advertising as well, with LendingTree and Quicken Loans accounting for more than 47 percent of ad clicks for searches on terms like “mortgage rates,” “mortgage calculator,” and “first time home buyer.” That combination of traditional and online advertising has allowed Quicken Loans to continue to build on its success, posting an all-time high $32 billion in mortgage volume for the second quarter of 2019 alone.

The online lender’s chief claim to fame is the promise of simplifying what has long been viewed as a complex process. The potential to submit a home loan application on the Rocket Mortgage mobile app and get approved in under eight minutes appeals to time-starved, financially savvy consumers.

Delivering truly personal service On the other hand, a lot of prospective borrowers, especially those buying their first home, don’t want to make a snap decision about the biggest financial commitment of their lives. For people who appreciate personalized guidance from experienced professionals about big decisions like what type of mortgage will be their best option, a visit to their neighborhood branch remains a much-appreciated service.

The emphasis here is on personal service from friendly employees who understand what account holders need and can deliver on their expectations in a timely and competent manner. No one wants to wait in line or sit in the lobby surrounded by other people with no idea when their turn will come. No one wants to be passed from one employee to another until they land with someone who can provide the assistance they have requested.

The reality is that traditional financial institutions may have contributed to the perception that branch visits are a chore to be avoided rather than an opportunity to consult a trusted financial advisor on important decisions. People can walk out of a branch fretting about wasted time or being treated like just another account number—or they can leave feeling like a valued customer and more confident about their finances.

Transforming the branch experience Just as technology elevated remote delivery of financial services, community banks and credit unions can launch a digital transformation of their branch experience—and in the process reclaim their territory as advocates for their customers’ and members’ financial well-being.

An appointment-scheduling app invites account holders to plan visits at times that suit their busy calendars so they can bypass the waiting area and connect promptly with financial professionals specifically trained and qualified to provide the services they’re seeking. With advance notice on the assistance people have requested, those professionals can be prepared with the information and documents to make those interactions efficient and productive.

For account holders who prefer not to schedule appointments in advance, a lobby tracker system can improve their branch experience through advances in queue management. For example, new functionality in Kronos Customer Connection solution invites members to activate text messaging when they check in for customized confirmation and for alerts when they are next in line.

The better-informed people are about their place in the queue, the more they feel in control about their options on how they spend their time. They could schedule an appointment to return later or sit back and relax, informed about their approximate wait.

These technology tools also empower branch managers to improve service by amassing data to chart peak traffic times and improve staff scheduling efficiencies. Lobby tracker systems monitor when wait times exceed standards set by each financial institution so managers can redirect staff to step in and serve account holders when demand for frontline service is high.

Sales and service systems, such as the module in the Kronos Customer Connection suite, provide real-time data on customer service requests and employee productivity. And managers across the organization can more accurately to track products sold by branch location and cross-sale metrics to gauge marketing and product development effectiveness and identify locations and employees where coaching support may be useful.

The business intelligence generated by these innovations can significantly enhance the personal delivery of financial services and position the branch as a potent differentiator in this evolving financial services landscape. The growing recognition that frontline staff offer an advantage fintech competitors can’t match may be one reason adoption of Kronos banking solutions have posted 225 percent annual growth over the past year.

For everyday financial transactions, mobile apps are great—and branch employees can assist account holders in taking advantage of their institutions’ digital offerings. But even the biggest TV ad budget can’t supplant the immediacy of trusted financial guidance available at the branch down the street.

Chad Davis

Chad Davis

Chad Davis is Industry Sr Solutions Marketing Manager, F5 Networks, which is the leader in app security and multi-cloud management. He can be reached at Web: Details