The delicate balance between digital and retail

-This post first appeared on the WealthTab blog

The 2016 Digital Banking Report “State of the Digital Customer Journey” is a daunting 75 page tome. But it contains findings that are as startling as it is relevant.

Take this statistic for instance: The vast majority of financial institutions can’t open a new account entirely online or on a mobile device.

Just consider the ramifications of that fact for a moment. The one notable exception to that finding is Tangerine, which has built an entire business plan centred on mobile phone functionality. But for the vast number of banks and financial advising firms, customers still need to go in person to open a bank account or complete the onboarding process with an advisor.

So at a time when downtown real estate is shrinking while getting more expensive, and as customers are increasingly turning to mobile apps and websites to manage more and more aspects of their lives, the financial sector is growing further and further out of touch.

The fixed way of doing things needs to end, and financial institutions need to start viewing technology as a facilitator for change rather than an insignificant accoutrement.

The new BMO building in downtown Toronto is a good example of a bank revamping its retail experience to reflect the changing ways in which people conduct their business. It was revamped in 2014 to streamline their marketing department from several offices into one new 29,000 square-foot facility located on the 7th floor of the Manulife Centre’s north tower at 55 Bloor Street West.

The new design makes use of alternative workspace strategies to help create a collaborative, open environment that promotes interaction and information sharing. Special attention was placed on integrating both technology and graphics to promote BMO’s brand and corporate image within the workplace.

Improving the retail space is one part of the equation. Creating a physical space that encourages fluid interactions and eases workflow allows face-to-face meetings to be more productive. But imagine just how much more productive and meaningful such exchanges would be if less customers needed to go to their financial institution in person on a regular basis. Moving routine procedures like opening a new account online or to a mobile phone would allow for more meaningful communication and strengthened customer relationships.

It’s a delicate balance, and those personalized interactions are still necessary to maintain strong relationships. Moving everything online or trying to completely replace human interaction with the use of chatbots is moving too far in the other direction. Replacing the human with technology is also sure to isolate customers. After all, websites are only one-way communication, from the financial institution to the client. And chatbots are only useful for initial engagement. But finding the right balance, by embracing technology as a facilitator to improve on in-person interactions and reduce amount of time to service, will keep a financial institution competitive in today’s fast-changing market.