Enabling staff members at a bank to be as mobile and tech savvy as the customers they serve is a trend emerging from the most innovative ‘banks of the future’, SunGard, the world’s largest unlisted IT firm, said this week.

In an interview with Moneyweb ahead of the Cards and Payments Africa conference taking place this week in Johannesburg, Dean Young, vice president of product management for SunGard retail banking, highlighted banks’ focus on improving customer experience by ensuring it is as consistent as possible across all channels.

“Whether you’re on a mobile device, tablet, PC or in a branch, the look, feel and experience must be the same to build customer trust and confidence,” Young explained.

He pointed out that while innovation and investment into digital strategies was crucial for banks, evident in their multi-channel strategies, if customers have a bad branch experience they would still consider the bank’s service poor.

“Customers continue to rate and value face-to-face interaction above digital interaction. If banks want to offer an effective omni-channel experience, they must back-up self service channels with investments into branches and particularly, the staff in those branches,” Young emphasised.

For instance, if I’ve posted a complaint on the bank’s Facebook wall and then walk into a branch the same day, the staff member should be aware that I’m unhappy with the bank in order to offer me a great experience.

“This example shows that banks have not integrated their investments into social media with their branch solutions, but underlines the principle more broadly that they need to equip staff with the right tools and information to effectively engage with customers,” Young noted.

The branch of the future

Speaking in a roundtable discussion at the conference on Tuesday, George Kaloutas, mobile solutions and sales leader for NCR Middle East and Africa, said that new banking channels were not sounding a death knell for branches, but that these were beginning to look very different.

NCR is a global technology company and leader in consumer transaction technologies.

Kaloutas said that now, customers decided how they would like to transact with their bank, rather than the bank dictating the channel through which customers should transact with them. “We need to acknowledge this in order to improve efficiency and measure customer experience,” he said.

“Digital channels are great for driving volumes, but the primary selling channel for banks is still branches, where customers are converted onto additional accounts and cross-selling/up-selling takes place,” Young commented.

“While the omni-channel experience promotes the likelihood that digital interaction will be converted in branch networks, if banks have high customer mobility but their staff can’t operate on the same level, they won’t be able to keep up with the volumes. In other words, before operating models are changed through the omni-channel approach, branches and staff must be equipped with the right tools to service the new customer need,” Young continued.

He explained that through an app developed by SunGard called Concierge, bank staff had digital access to a customer’s bank portfolio, including transactions, loan applications and social media interactions with the bank. This enables staff to view the customer’s profile and service them at their businesses or homes in real time.

For example, loan applications can be processed and approved via the app, using an electronic signature and taking pictures of the necessary documentation. If a customer comes into a branch, staff members can service them more quickly and easily by having all the relevant information and functionality in one place.

“This is a mobility solution for staff, who could onboard customers in shopping malls or universities. It overcomes the cost structure of physical branches, by essentially creating mobile branches,” Young said.