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The Bank Branch Needs to Evolve and Here's Why

Not so long ago, the only way to manage or even access your money meant a trip to your local bank branch during relatively limited banking hours. Today, things are quite different. 

With the convenience of online banking and 24-hour ATMs, fewer and fewer people are visiting their local branches. A study from FMSI supports this notion, reporting a 45.3 percent decline in average monthly teller transactions since 1992.To regain their relevance in customers' lives, banks need to reinvent their role. They must give customers new and compelling reasons to stop by the local branch.

Evolving Functions of the Bank

Customers no longer need to visit branches to access their cash. Their actions speak loudly in telling the financial establishment they are perfectly content to rely on debit cards, direct deposit and conveniently placed ATMs.

But just because customers are less dependent on their bank for accessing cash, doesn't mean they don't need financial assistance. Banks need to evolve with customer behavior and make the most of new opportunities to serve customers in a deeper capacity. This will require modifying daily processes and training existing employees to more effectively perform less traditional functions.

Serve as a Financial Educator

When it comes to financial literacy, Americans are barely making the grade. A 2015 study conducted by the National Financial Educators Council found that the average score on a basic financial literacy exam was a 62. This meager score would generally earn a D and a sideways glance from a disappointed teacher.

Adults and children alike are not always exposed to the financial education needed to make sound decisions that will positively impact their financial futures. Banks have the opportunity to fill this gap.

Compounding the problem is the fact that modern customers can - and do - Google everything. That's fine if they're looking for a recipe for lemon bundt cake. But it's not ideal for finding authoritative answers to important financial questions.

Banks can earn trust and loyalty by providing consistently reliable and authoritative answers customers seek. They need to create an environment where customers feel comfortable asking questions -- even ones that may seem silly.

To make this work, branch employees need the opportunity to spend more time with customers and they must be prepared to help educate customers. Gone are the days where a customer transaction takes 2.1 minutes.

This education can take on many different forms.

  1. Clear informational material - Banks should have a ready assortment of materials that customers can easily reference. These materials should be clear and simple to understand for less educated consumers.
  2. Classes - Offering classes in basic financial skills, like checkbook management or savings strategies is an exceptionally thoughtful way to support customers. These classes can be appropriate for struggling adults or teens with new checking accounts.
  3. Community partnerships - Creating educational opportunities is a highly effective way to be philanthropic without spending a lot of money. Some banks have found success partnering with college or high schools and offering classes to their students. Others have reached out to an even needier population, incarcerated individuals, offering their expertise to help better their communities.

Help customers solve problems

When customers are dealing with complex or embarrassing financial problems, they need problem solvers. Customers want to feel supported. This is particularly true in situations like a credit record that's a bit too spotty to quality for the financing they thought they could get.

For convenience sake (and sometimes to avoid embarrassment that comes with facing someone who has recently reviewed your credit record), many customers are turning to online financing options.

When customers seek online financing, they are often left largely on their own to work through loopholes or rigorous checks that may complicate their financing. Banks, on the other hand, can work closely with these customers to navigate these slowdowns and help the customer reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Making this happen requires three primary things.

  1. Mindset change - Bank employees must take on a supportive and understanding counselor role. To enable this, bank leadership must empower employees by providing the tools they need to truly support their customers.
  2. Access to a wide-range of products - A wide assortment of product offerings, allow bank staff to more effectively meet their customers' needs and offer the options they might require to make a financing wish a reality.
  3. Training - Problem solving isn't easy. Bank employees need the skills necessary to practice problem solving in a realistic sense. This means additional training, including cross training. Modern bank employees need to be decidedly more versatile than the employees of the past.

Benefits of Changing Roles

While it won't happen overnight, as customers come to see your service offerings are different and better, they'll come back.

There is also a hidden, and perhaps even more important, benefit. Working in this capacity allows banks to build stronger relationships with their customers. This leads to trust. And when customers trust you, they want to do business with you. As customers learn that they can turn to banks for education, judgement-free problem solving and financial support, they will once again see the merit in these institutions.

Times have changed, and banks must, too. Evolution of services is necessary for banks to remain the Main Street mainstays that they have so long been.