The number of UK bank branches has halved since 1998, with just 8000 surviving this ongoing cull according to this piece in The Times. Lloyds will soon add to the tally by closing a further 200 branches next year, stating that customers now prefer to bank online.
On the surface, the rapid removal of personal involvement from banking may seem a horribly dehumanising. However, this may be a case of unfairly vilifying technology. Who of us, in all honesty, really enjoy interactions with their bank? Who would, given the choice, never set foot in their branch again? It may be just an educated guess, but it’s highly likely that most of us only enter the branch because an online/telephone banking interaction has failed.
For evidence of this dynamic, just look at Amazon. The online retail giant is proof that if you build solid, user-friendly systems, the majority of customers won’t even think about the lack of human interaction – in fact, many people prefer to avoid the often disingenuous interaction.
Banking is largely a transactional process. Rather than detracting from the customer experience, automation that makes the bulk of interactions “invisible” improves it. Yes, poorly implemented IT will still cause problems, with failures often forcing customers to visit the branch anyway. But this is why digital transformation is so crucial within financial services.
By leading with technology, and ensuring the IT services are attuned to customer requirements, digital transformation can enhance the day-to-day banking experience. But it doesn’t end there. By eliminating bottlenecks and reducing reliance on human intervention for routine queries, banking staff will be able to focus on providing a more personal experience when needed – such as applying for mortgages and offering financial advice.
This isn’t fanciful thinking. Jerry Silva, Global Banking research director for IDC says that harnessing digital in this manner is critical to the success or failure of banks. “Digital transformation is the process that will separate the banks that will flourish over the next decade from the institutions that will perish from non-action.” (For more on how digital transformation will play-out within the financial services market, take a look at this article on how banking will harness IT more effectively.)
In answer to the question: is digital transformation ruining the banking experience, the answer is empathically “no”. Digital transformation isn’t about deploying the latest IT. It is, in reality, the antithesis of the old style of installing technology for technology-sakes. Digital transformation is about understanding real business requirements, then using technology to intelligently tackle challenges, enhance effective working practices and help the business meet strategic goals.