Glory Global Solutions: Vincent Nakache and Gregor Dobbie
As Europe's high-street bank branches continue to disappear, those that remain must focus on delivering a more positive customer experience. Vincent Nakache, European president, and Gregor Dobbie, European sales and marketing director, of Glory Global Solutions explain how the right combination of human interaction and new technologies can enhance the customer experience and help drive organic income.
The number of retail bank branches operating in Europe's mature markets is continuing to fall. Squeezed by the eurozone's economic crisis, hemmed in by tighter regulations and losing customers to online and mobile services, this ongoing decline has led many in the field to question the future viability of traditional high-street outlets.
"Around the turn of the century, a number of industry analysts were predicting the death of the bank branch," says Gregor Dobbie of Glory Global Solutions (GGS).
"But, while the fall in numbers across European markets looks set to continue, branches are definitely not going to disappear completely. Banks still have a real desire for face-to-face interaction with their customers."
For Dobbie, the challenges faced by today's branches are not so much a death sentence as an opportunity to revitalise the banking process. But a new approach is required - the delivery of a "positive customer experience" must take priority.
"There's been a strong recognition among our clients that even if branch networks are smaller, more than ever before they need to drive income," he says. "And it's been proven that - particularly in the retail industry - the likelihood of a consumer buying something increases if they have a positive customer experience. So there's now a huge focus in branch banking on providing just that."
Along with helping branches to sell financial products, making banking more enjoyable is also increasingly important for branches wishing to retain flighty clients.
"We live in a society today where customers are becoming more and more demanding. It has never been easier to change your bank - you can do it so quickly now," says Vincent Nakache of GGS.
"This raises a question; how can banks create customer loyalty in such a tough environment? We believe it can only be achieved through the delivery of a positive customer experience."
Service with a smile: putting the consumer into focus
But, while the logic of focusing on enhancing the customer experience certainly makes sense, achieving real change is difficult. Most consumers tend to regard a trip to the bank as a chore. Turning such a negative perception into something positive requires fundamental alterations in the way branches operate.
For Dobbie, a key ingredient is increasing and improving the financial-advisory services on offer.
"We see a requirement for bank branches to become what we would term 'advisory centres'", he says. "So, customers will still be able to carry out their traditional banking activities and transactions but, at the same time, will seek to gain advice on products. Banks will also use the opportunity to provide that advice in the hope of generating more income."
Getting the balance right between automated banking services and face-to-face interaction with tellers is also high on Dobbie's agenda. While new technologies can carry out basic transactions and cut costs, it is still vital to retain a human element in the bank-customer relationship.
"We may well have branches that do not have tellers in the future, but they will never be without people," he says. "There have been lots of trials of branches with no staff, and most of them have been an abject failure. They are okay for basic transactions, but what about more complicated ones? Would the consumer be comfortable with that? As a salesman myself, I'm also a great believer in the notion that people buy from people. Customers want to speak to a human being, not a machine.
"Having said that, self-service is a fantastic technology - it enables banks to process transactions more cost effectively," he continues. "What we're coming up with is a way of retaining the benefits of technology while leaving the people in. So the machine carries out low-value and routine transactions, freeing up the member of staff to have a dialogue with the customer."
Dobbie adds that much of the technology used for financial self-service machines was inspired by the retail sector, where consumers now regularly serve themselves at checkouts. This industry has also, he argues, adapted far better to changing customer location requirements than most bank branches.
"Two decades ago, people went shopping in high streets, and that's also where the bank branches were," he explains. "But, if you look at consumer behaviour now, they tend to go to retail parks, which is one of the main reasons footfall has declined in a lot of branches.
"Retail has driven and embraced this change, building large facilities on the outskirts of towns. I think banking can learn from retail here. It needs to take the location to the people, rather than expecting people to come to the location."
A look at the technological innovation behind the process
As well as freeing up tellers to interact with consumers, technology itself should also, Dobbie believes, facilitate the delivery of a positive customer experience.
"Consumers expect to be entertained. At the same time, they also want to be informed," he says. "We think technology is an excellent way of providing both - hence the phrase infotainment. In future, the design of our products will be moving towards this ability to provide information that's also entertaining."
Yet, while the latest developments in banking technologies can deliver a rich customer experience, they are not without pitfalls. The constant stream of new payment methods makes processing more difficult. Moreover, the plethora of different channels increases the chance of user inconsistencies, which can frustrate customers.
"Perhaps you'll use an ATM in one way, then do something with internet banking in a different way, and later visit a kiosk and use technology in yet another new way," Dobbie explains. "These discrepancies are potentially very annoying, and we see a lot of focus on trying to get that experience consistent. At Glory, we have the technology to enable that."
Sound advice: listen to the experts
Having acquired Talaris from the Carlyle Group for $1 billion in 2012, Glory Global Solutions now operates in over 130 countries. Such wide geographical coverage gives the firm a strong insight into best practices for branches. Combined with its investment in tomorrow's technologies - the overall Glory Group spends upwards of $150 million a year in research and development - GGS is well placed to supply high-street banks with the expertise and the technology to meet its customers' needs.
"We see ourselves as an adviser for banks, but also a facilitator, particularly in terms of technology," says Dobbie.
Though best known for its cash management solutions, GGS offers solutions across several Industry verticals from the strongest, Financial, to the fastest growing, which is Retail. It has over 5,000 client retail banks worldwide.
In future, GGS is aiming to increase its presence outside of Japan, where it currently owns more than 85% of the market share.
"Glory has a programme called ambition 2018, when the Glory Group will celebrate its first century," Nakache explains. "Thanks to the acquisition of Talaris, around 40% of turnover today is now made outside of Japan. We want that to increase to 50% by 2018. That would be real progress for us."