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Changing Face of Retail Banking…

July 19, 2010

Recently, I encountered the need to visit the local branch of my personal financial institution. In need of a notary to finalize some estate planning business, I stopped short of the reception desk, surprised by the open layout of the newly renovated branch. Watching the buzz of activity, tellers making warm introductions to bankers, loan officers and investment professionals, I found myself surprised by what I then realized…I had spent the entire morning handling hectic personal business without ever carrying on a face-to-face conversation.

Having arrived on an early flight into Detroit, I checked in using a self service airline kiosk and departed the parking garage using the automated attendant line. Next, I stopped by the ATM, withdrew cash, and headed for the office. Once there, I worked my way through a series of conference calls and webinars, capping my morning off with a series of instant-message updates for my colleagues working remotely. While I had a typically productive morning, I hadn’t had the occasion to look another person in the eye and converse.

As I walked toward the reception desk, I was greeted by who at first I thought was a teller, but actually turned out to be a “personal banker”. Initially I was uneasy and in a rush to complete my business and be on my way, the young banker suggested an account review while in the process of notarizing my documents. Impressed with his sincerity, something difficult to convey in 140 characters or over the phone, I agreed to the brief account review and took my seat in an adjacent office. Once seated, the young man took the time to explain new account features and eventually saved me money each month that I was paying in non-bank ATM fees. To top it off, he suggested that in light of my estate-planning business, I meet with their branch financial planner as he is an expert in taxation and wealth management.

As I left the branch that day, it dawned on me that I had just caught a glimpse of the changing face of retail banking. As a professional in the technology business, I am comfortable taking advantage of delivery channels like online banking, ATMs and telephone banking. However, when I need something important or significant handled, I still prefer the old-fashioned branch. Knowing that visits have become more and more sporadic, my financial institution has changed the nature of employee-client interaction at the branch level. Rather than viewing the branch as a service center, they differentiate themselves from their competition by offering value, having converted their branch network into a sales or profit center.

In today’s competitive landscape, financial institutions must ask themselves what they could be doing to capitalize on their client’s increasingly infrequent branch visits. After all, if your bankers aren’t building relationships with your client’s, chances are your competitors are…

~Jeff Hauser

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