Shifting the Ground

Felix Thomson

Content Executive

The Financial Services Forum

The huge expansion in the range of contact points is making life more complicated for banks and their customers. The hub of that relationship is shifting rapidly, as Marcus Hickman explains.
Following the widespread branch closures of the late nineties, many banks refocused their efforts in rejuvenating the bank branch to make it a more effective sales environment and a financial “surgery”, where customers could come for advice. Yet there is evidence that customers’ use of branches is dwindling as they increasingly turn to other channels for many of their transactions.
National Australia Bank, owner of the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, recently announced the closure of about 20% of its UK branch network. In percentage terms, this is the biggest bank branch closure programme since Barclays shut 10% of its branches in 2000, and could mark a turning point as banks shift their focus from the branch to other channels. Multiple channels are now essential for any major bank. Customers use more than one way to communicate with their bank, depending on the activity, the time of day, or where they are. For example, a customer may usually use the Internet to do his banking, call a contact centre using his mobile phone when travelling, and make an appointment at the branch when he wants advice about managing his finances. As a result, banks are under more pressure than ever to provide high quality, integrated service through all channels. This pressure is one that will only intensify. Teenagers, many of whom will soon be banks’ customers, if they aren’t already, use the web, instant messaging, chat and e-mail to communicate – bank branches are likely to hold little appeal.
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