Banks Must Embrace the Opportunity to Transform Branch Communications. Here’s Why.

Modern branch networks require agile mobile communications to meet evolving customer demands while adopting to unprecedented challenges.

A bank teller assists a customer from behind glass while both wear masks
by Brian Wallace
January 25, 2021

Historically, banks may have hesitated to adopt emerging technologies, especially for their own internal usage. There were often well-intentioned reasons for this, such as security, privacy, and regulatory concerns. As a result, branch banks often faced lagging communications speed and efficiency.

However, some branch leaders should view the arrival of COVID-19 – with its unique performance pressures – as an opportunity driver for communications and operations transformation.

For example, the pandemic has further stressed outdated communications processes and systems that were already struggling to keep branch staff aware of new offerings and other pertinent business happenings. Yet, this is possibly the most crucial of times for bank executives to improve manager-employee interactions. Therefore, COVID-19 provides a compelling case to stop delaying modernization and embrace tools that can facilitate secure, reliable, and audit trail-enabled mobile communications among all staff, regardless of physical location or role.

This simple innovative step will immediately empower branch networks to be nimbler— and more responsive to other non-pandemic emergencies or events, such as hurricanes, floods, blizzards, and so on. And, if you choose communications technologies that are highly scalable, you can adapt them as needed over time to help boost operational compliance and efficiency as well as branch associate productivity and morale – all of which can lead to a more substantial return on investment (ROI).

I realize that you may be hesitant to make any drastic changes right now. The pandemic has been quite disruptive to operations, and you don’t want to do anything that may compound operational challenges. But know that remaining on outdated systems presents far greater risks today than upgrading to a modern mobile communications platform. Communications transformation is something bank leaders must embrace if they don’t want to run the risk of miscommunication – or missed communications – among staff. Plus, this is a great chance to enable improvement and future agility in the face of the next national (or local) crisis.

Current Branch Communication Gaps

Traditional banking communications were based on location-centric processes, typically using paper, phone and email channels. This approach was always inadequate for today’s branching needs. According to Reflexis’ International Branch Banking Employee Survey:

  • Some 35% of branch employees spend eight-plus hours each week on non-customer-facing activities.
  • Responding to email was a top time-consuming activity, according to 62% of survey respondents.
  • About 27% of respondents claimed existing communications methods are only “somewhat efficient,” with many saying they are even worse than that.

Technology for Branch Transformation

Given the current state of branch transformation, these inefficient legacy communication strategies are no longer viable. From managing schedules to communications and training, employing a consolidated and agile approach to branch operations can increase efficiency and growth, allowing branches to operate more holistically.

The primary issue is that many banks lack a common communication platform and toolset to enable agility. Currently, front-line associates improvise with their own tech workarounds, using unapproved or non-sanctioned apps such as WhatsApp or personal SMS. This situation can have unintended negative consequences:

  • There is an increased risk of communication protocol breaches or errors. Customer and employee data may be exposed on unsecure or unsanctioned channels, potentially resulting in regulatory action and legal liability.
  • By relying on paper or phone communications, branches can’t confirm in real time who has read and understood the messages. The risk to operations only increases when there is a rapidly unfolding crisis or market shift.
  • Managers can’t consistently target messages to the recipients who truly need them, or to whom they apply. Too many messages flood branch employees’ inboxes, creating distracting communications noise. For instance, associates are on the receiving end of email blasts (including routine message, birthday wishes and the like) that reach every branch employee. Associates can’t tell at a glance which messages are relevant or specific to them, so important changes and requests are overlooked.
  • Similarly, messages aren’t prioritized and employees don’t know which messages are immediately crucial. Even a message sent as a priority (such as a bank fraud warning) becomes just another inbox communication. Unfortunately, given the limited execution accountability, this leads to missed directives and additional risks.
  • Because all communications demand immediate review, it becomes risky for branch managers or associates to set aside regular time to read less critical or less urgent messages. These sorts of messages, however, may have long-term importance or extended deadlines, or require managers to review them in-depth. They should not be neglected in favor of just reading the priority communications.

Solutions for Branch Communications Success

Today, perhaps more than ever, branch operations managers must ensure that their communications reach the right staff at the right time so that the most appropriate action can be taken to the benefit of the bank and its clients. But, without better communications tools in place, it’s unlikely their teams will become aware of, much less be able to respond to, the ever-changing and expanding demands of today’s branches.

Fortunately, there are on-demand mobile software solutions available to rapidly address these problems – and support associate wellbeing, engagement and morale. If you want to improve employee communications, drive better customer experiences and increase branch success, now and into the future, look for mobile applications that:

  • Can be easily deployed and maintained. The initial rollout, with the porting of branch hierarchies, should only last 4-6-weeks. Subsequently, the system should be stable and support continuous communications, while requiring only necessary administrative tweaks (such as adding/removing users).
  • Have the flexibility to enable local teams to create their own corporate-approved communication channels and protocols. These systems will improve on existing associate networks (such as those using unsecure and unauthorized technologies).
  • Enable the smart prioritization and scheduling of communications. Key messages should be immediately visible to associates, and the system should generate receipts that enable the sender to confirm the communication was viewed and acted on without having to reach out to the recipient again. This type of solution will reduce the communications burden on employees (eliminating today’s carpet-bombing approach to company communications) and promote accountability.  
  • Can be securely accessible anytime, from anywhere. This means offering the same mobile-first platforms already proven in other industries. The system should also provide a streamlined interface, with pertinent information and requested actions presented clearly.
  • Offer real-time messaging capabilities to enable crisis communication management. The solution should support launching new processes or programs with required knowledge management elements – this allows managers to react to fast-moving situations across a variety of locations.
  • Are secure, with data protected and encrypted right from the mobile device and into the network. The application should also leave an audit trail that documents banking best practices and demonstrates legal and industry compliance.
  • Include future capabilities, like artificial intelligence (AI), for auto-responding to many common or routine requests, such as “Which branches are closed today?”

If you need to transform your branches’ communications processes and systems but want to ensure it does not become burdensome on IT, employees or customers, give us a call. We’re happy to talk with you about your mobile technology options and help map out a transformation plan that will enable you to achieve your goals.

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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.
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