Banking branches out

9 December 2013

Social media, web, email, live chat… banks are fast moving from multichannel to omnichannel engagement with customers. Future Banking asks Anja Stolz, head of marketing and communications private clients at Commerzbank, the significance of the physical branch in this increasingly digital environment.

Future Banking: What do you think are the core challenges facing the financial services industry from a CRM perspective?

Anja Stolz: The financial services industry essentially faces three core challenges in CRM:
1. Loss of trust: as a result of the financial crisis, customers have become more critical of banks and the advice they offer. At the same time, thanks to digital media, customers are better informed, and the market has become more transparent. It is easier to change banks these days. Banks have to win back customers' trust and strengthen customer loyalty.
2. Individuality: now more than ever, customers expect to be treated as individuals. Meanwhile, the trend in retail banking towards industrialisation and standardisation, which is due to the regulatory framework and low margins, remains intact. The balancing act is to make customers feel that they are being treated as individuals and given tailored advice in spite of the high level of standardisation.
3. Flexibility of channels: customers now expect to be able to reach their bank through their chosen channel. They also expect the different channels to be properly interlinked.

What role do you see the physical branch playing in the future?

Studies show that over 70% of German customers want their bank to offer both physical branches and online banking. While the proportion of customers using online and mobile banking is increasing, the physical branch will remain the principal channel for banking advice, especially where more complex financial solutions such as real estate loans and pensions are concerned. This is why our aim is for Commerzbank to be an integrated, multichannel bank in which an extensive branch network goes hand in glove with a modern, direct bank.

How do human beings fit into this digital banking realm, and how much of the customer experience will eventually be automated?
Personal contact and face-to-face advisory meetings will remain crucial, even in a digital world. The adviser continues to play a key role in building up a customer relationship. However, it will be more and more important in future to build up this kind of relationship via digital channels, too.

How far do you see the development of mobile banking going within the next few years?

We are seeing digital devices rapidly evolving. However, basic customer requirements do not change as quickly. This is why we take both technological innovation and customer changes into account. We always look at which target groups are using which devices before we decide whether we will integrate a device into our offering, and with what content and functionality.

Banks are increasingly adopting omnichannel communication solutions. How do you think they will engage with these?
At the moment, channels are differentiated on the basis of the offering. Some are pure information channels; others are a means of offering services and selling products. This is bound to change over time. Commerzbank currently has a presence on various social networks and enables customers to contact it at any time, be it via email, telephone or, in the future, a chat function.

We have found that electronic promotional messages are often ignored, so could a return to print solutions could be a way forward?
It is all about getting the right mix of channels - print and digital. Any medium must be right for its target group and purpose. Print media remain important as a way of extending the reach of traditional marketing communications.

What is the one thing a bank needs to do to maximise the customer experience?

The future of banking is personal and digital. We therefore need the best of both worlds: a combination of branch and direct banking. We have set ourselves the objective of building up an integrated multichannel bank. This means that customers can get in contact with us wherever they are and at any time, and that the chosen channels are interlinked in the best possible way.

The core task is to build a data platform that provides all channels with identical data in real time, so that there is a seamless interplay between online, mobile and branch banking. This is the only way to ensure that customers receive the experience they expect in future.

Anja Stolz is head of marketing and communications private clients at Commerzbank.