Banks warned: Customers still want the in-branch experience

14th Jul 2014

Banks closing their bricks-and-mortar branches with the future aim of going 100% digital might want to make note of recent research from Accenture, which suggests the public isn’t all that keen on the idea.

According to the report, “Winning the race for relevance with banking customers”, more than half of bank customers use a branch every month despite the digital options available to them, while 21% use a branch at least once a week.

The interesting fact among the figures is that these are actually increases in branch use, based on 2012 statistics, with monthly visitors rising 7% from two years ago and weekly visitors rising 9%.

And if banks are hoping to point to the next generation as proof that customers want a digital-only experience, they may have to rethink their strategy. 54% of 18 to 24-year-olds visit branches once a month against 39% in 2012, the biggest rise among any age group.

“This year’s survey underscores the growing complexity in how consumers want to interact with banks in the digital age,” says Peter Kirk, managing director in Accenture’s financial services group. “This presents difficult questions for banks as they look to balance digital channels with costly branch networks and deliver relevant services.”

One institution that may find the statistics tough to swallow is RBS, which recently announced a £1bn investment for its digital services. Although the bank states some of the funding will go towards upgrading 400 of its branches with new technology such as iPads and Wi-Fi to better blend the omnichannel experience for its customers, it has come under-fire in recent weeks for its plans to cut a number of jobs and branch closures across the UK.    

Accenture’s research suggests that banking is still a complex playing field, however. While internet banking is the channel of choice for most banking transactions, customers are visiting branches to undertake a variety of self-service activities, which the report states goes against the activities banks hope customers will undertake in-branch (building relationships and buying new products). 34% of in-branch customers state they do so to ‘check their balance’, while just 23% go with the aim of ‘getting information on a new product or service’.

And while customers claim to want “more engaging banking experiences tailored to their lifestyles”, it appears the number of channels for interaction is actually on the decline. Just 22% want to be able to interact with their bank via instant messenger, compared with 32% in 2012. Video chat access declined from 21% to 16%, while video kiosks dipped from 19% to 11%.   

The only channel the public appear more receptive to more interaction on is social media, however the interest is still low, at 11% compared with 10% in 2012. The concept of a ‘socially engaging’ bank (where customers share comments and feedback on products and services, and engage with other customers to share views and tips) is also met with some level of discomfort, with 65% of people stating this as a ‘negative’ concept, favouring other more traditional services instead.  

Accenture's data is based on a survey with over 2,500 current account holders across the UK.

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