To breathe new life into their branches, banks need to treat branch employees like the strategic assets they are to deliver more engaging customer experiences.

In today’s customer-centric world, customers expect banks to go beyond simple transactional services to meet their personal financial needs. 47 percent of customers would like their bank to provide proactive advice, and 26 percent would pay to work with an advisor to manage a budget. Despite increasing digitization, customers continue to value human connection with their bank. The desire of customers to connect manifests itself in the high percentage (87% of the overall population and 86% of Milllenials) who says it will use the branch more in the future. When asked for the reasons, customers answer that “I trust my bank more when I speaking to someone in person” and “I receive more value from my bank when speaking to someone in person”

Unfortunately, traditional banks fall short on customer expectations. Customers increasingly view their banking relationships as transactional—defined by simple transactions such as paying bills – rather than advice- or relationship-driven. In 2015 and 2016, 79% of customers viewed their relationship with their primary bank as transactional, compared to 71% of customers in 2014.

To adjust to changed customer needs, banks should look outside the financial services industry, where disruptive companies have successfully combined physical with digital to offer customers a more robust overall experience. For years, Apple has used its physical stores to provide customers with higher value personalized guidance, which seamlessly integrated into its online and mobile experience. More recently, Amazon has expanded into physical stores in order to showcase its products while offering customers the opportunity to interact with associates. At the center of all those investments is a high-quality human touch experience.

Banks have the opportunity to create a similar experience by leveraging their branch networks to build an advice-based, human connection with customers. At the end of the day, banking customers still see the branch as their channel of choice for perceived high-risk/high value financial transactions.

To ensure the branch experience meets customers’ needs, banks need to:

  • Equip branch employees with skills to communicate the intricacies of complex financial products and identify solutions that match customers’ needs.
  • Create personalized branch interactions that bring together customer experiences in the online and offline worlds. Access to digital tools and real-time customer information—and knowing how to use them—will be key to creating a seamless interaction.
  • Treat branch employees like the strategic assets they are. New roles must be supported by new indicators of success, incentives, rewards and talent strategies.

Barclays has already benefited from a hybrid physical-digital experience. Through the launch of its Digital Eagles – digitally-savvy employees who help customers learn to use digital products and services – Barclays has created a better experience that will help both customers and the bank’s financial outlook in the long run.

Breathing new life into the branch will ultimately enable banks to tap into new sources of profitability and form a formidable defense against the growing numbers of digital-only players.

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