The Role of Branches in a Digital Banking World | Zebra Blog

Envisioning the Role of Branches in a Digital Banking World

Given the trends in branch traffic and the rise in digital banking, what technologies and strategies should banks consider to ensure they are getting the most from their branch network?

A financial consultant meets with a client in a bank branch
by Brian Wallace
December 22, 2020

Branch and lobby closings during the pandemic were a shock to the system in a banking environment where teller transactions were already trending down each year. Digital adoption has spiked over the past few months as consumers embrace alternatives to face-to-face service. And, as in-branch services have closed and subsequently reopened, banks have had to reckon with the role of personal and community connection in customer engagement and develop strategies to maintain this connection in a socially distanced era.

Considering that most banks are looking to get more out of their branches moving forward – more efficiency and more productivity, but also more meaningful engagement with customers and clients – many are wondering: what should banks be planning for their branches in 2021 and beyond?

Rationalizing Locations, Hours and Focus

It’s clear that digital banking continues to gain momentum, but that doesn’t mean that branches don’t have an important role moving forward. But fine-tuning what that role is – and where – can be a balancing act. Given current customer shifts, a low rate environment and cost pressures, banks might feel compelled to close and consolidate branches. However, during this process, it is vital to consider both the attrition of branch customers impacted by the closure as well as the impact to new-to-bank customer acquisition. Closing branches without an effective alternate approach to engagement and acquisition could backfire in a big way.

On the other hand, one of the benefits realized as lobbies closed in 2020 was that relationship bankers had more down time. They were suddenly able to prioritize proactive outreach to ensure customers’ needs were being met. This shift in focus from reactive servicing to proactive engagement will need to be permanent, especially as in-branch transaction and sales decline.

Additionally, there is an opportunity to put more focus on empowering the productivity of branch employees overall. This will require more strategic role design, though. While many banks are creating more flexible – or universal – roles to more broadly manage key branch activity, more consideration should be given to making this standard. No matter how you decide to modernize operations and utilize resources, just be sure that you’re implementing tools that will help improve the productivity of all branch employees, whether in traditional roles or new ones.

Optimizing Branch Staffing and Productivity

To improve branch-level productivity, it’s important to understand how branch staff are spending their time and how effectively they’re approaching their work. For example, branch managers typically spend a lot of time scheduling branch employees—up to 15 hours a week in many cases. Instead of driving value at the branch, though, they are having to manually edit schedules, manage callouts and ensure the branch is adequately staffed for customer demand.

Asking managers to take responsibility for scheduling without modern supporting technology and “opt-in” opportunities for associates creates multiple risks. First and foremost, not all managers have equal experience or skill to intuitively align associates’ preferences, skillsets and availability with the forecasted customer demand. As a result, some will apply the same, inefficient schedule repeatedly—while associates are often frustrated by the lack of flexibility and left unable to adequately engage customers.

By contrast, enabling cross-branch scheduling with employee self-service scheduling solutions allows banks to optimize scheduling and productivity. Associates can be flexed across location clusters, increasing the potential capacity within each individual branch to engage clients and eliminating the need to overstaff to accommodate callouts and other possible last-minute changes.

At the same time, many associates are excited by the opportunity to work across neighboring branches. In our international banking survey, almost 70% of associates stated they’d like the option of picking up shifts at neighboring locations. With an employee-facing scheduling app, branch associates are able to bid on open shifts and set availability at both their home branch and alternate work sites. Branch managers are able to quickly find qualified team members to fill gaps, while employees are able to easily manage their work-life balance wherever they are.

This ability to flex employees nimbly across branches improves scheduling efficiency and reduces the need for manual schedule interventions, while also improving both employee and customer experiences.

Connecting with Customers Where They Are

You may know what you’re willing and able to offer to customers in the current climate, but do you know what they really need from their bank branches today? Even before the pandemic, consumers were more tech-savvy and digitally engaged. And this level of omnichannel engagement has further accelerated over the last few months. Consumers expect seamless experiences, whether they start the interaction online, with the call center or in a branch.

Many banks have been stepping up their offerings for in-branch appointments to meet this expectation in a safe manner, with social distancing and capacity limits during the pandemic making appointment scheduling a top priority. However, the booking and meeting processes are often disconnected. Bookings aren’t accounted for in branch schedules and workload planning, meaning that when customers arrive at the branch, they still face long waits and unprepared or unqualified bankers. It’s vital that branch managers and associates have real-time visibility into new bookings, changes to scheduled appointments and upcoming meetings to eliminate delays or disruptions. A mobile-first booking tool enables branch staff to see what meetings are on their daily to-do lists, without any surprises. In turn, associates can effectively engage customers and drive additional value for the customer and the bank.

Mobile in-branch technology is also key to modernizing other in-person employee and customer interactions and ensuring easy service across channels. For example, employees armed with queue-busting tablets or customer-facing interactive self-service kiosks can help bridge the gap between digital and brick-and-mortar experiences and ensure faster service. At the same time, mobile solutions for branch bankers allows them to access their work on the go, with real-time alerts and notifications. This is especially helpful for traveling banking specialists as it enables them to transition easily between branches based on customer demand without missing a thing.

To learn more about the challenges facing branch banking in 2021 and beyond and the key opportunities to improve returns from your branch network, watch our on-demand webinar with Novantas.

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Brian Wallace
Brian Wallace serves as the General Manager of Banking at Reflexis, which was acquired by Zebra in 2020. He has over 20 years of experience developing and executing operational strategy and technology solutions across both retail and banking.