Thursday 8 August 2019 5:40 am

Banks, don’t forget about the human touch

Helen Page is group brand and marketing director of CYBG.

Technology is transforming how we all live our lives. This is true in every part of the country and in every sector, and banking is no different. 

But the challenge for banks is to harness the possibilities of rapidly-evolving technology for the benefit of our customers. New banking tech affects how we live our lives, and perhaps even how money makes us feel. We may, for example, feel more in control when banking apps help us to budget and to see all of our financial transactions in one place through the new benefits offered by Open Banking.

However, it’s human nature to be wary of change, and some customers will embrace it more readily than others. It’s hardly surprising to hear that the over-55s are less enthusiastic about using banking technology.

But here’s the rub – some of those who are more reluctant to adopt new technology could actually benefit most from new digital products and services. Our research finds, for example, that low earners are less likely to use budgeting tools than high earners.

That’s unfortunate, considering that almost all adults have access to a smartphone. Clearly, we need to educate and promote the benefits of new technology to all our customer demographics, and not just to those who see wifi as a necessary utility in the same way as gas and electricity. 

Above all, we need to ensure that our customers trust us and the technology that we’re promoting.

The future of banks

Of course, we will market new products and services to make them as attractive as possible, but we also pride ourselves on listening to customers and what they actually want now and might want in future. Then, with the collective technical expertise at our disposal, we can meet demand. If they can imagine it, and the technology exists, we will make it happen.

As part of this process, CYBG commissioned a new report with futurologists Foresight Factory that paints a fascinating picture of what the bank of the future might look like. And that hypothetical future bank extends beyond the bricks and mortar of a high street branch. 

This research, combined with an accompanying consumer insight report from Censuswide about consumers’ relationships with their banks,  supplements the feedback that we receive from our consumers, and helps us to understand what they will want from their bank in the future. 

What do consumers want?

Despite predictions about the death of branches and rosy projections relating to the growth of branchless fintech startups, 88 per cent of respondents had been into a bank branch in the past year. And 81 per cent of all ages wanted to maintain contact with human beings and visit branches, no matter how sophisticated banking technology becomes. 

When the Censuswide research asked where human interaction matters, banking came out top, up there with hospitals. The “people experience” in supermarkets and pharmacies was seen as less important.

Interestingly, on the perennial marketing question of “what do women want?”, we see an even greater attachment to the physical infrastructure of bank branches and human interaction than for men.

Read more: What are the banks doing to support the survivors of financial abuse?

We know from talking to our own customers that they don’t necessarily want cashiers in suits and ties behind glass panes in banking halls of mahogany and marble. Having friendly staff, in an informal atmosphere, who can talk knowledgeably about banking issues over a cup of tea with technology on hand is more in line with customer demand in the modern world. 

As the high street changes, we must change with it. For instance, in our newest branch – Bworks in Manchester – we provide working space for startups. We also provide yoga classes as part of a growing recognition of the link between financial wellness and physical wellbeing. 

Personal time

I find it heartening that people still want to interact with other humans. This is particularly true for complex or sensitive transactions. Arranging a mortgage, being a victim of fraud, or dealing with a bereavement are occasions where a human being invokes trust.

­­­­­For more simple financial tasks, banking customers of all ages trust new technology. Now, biometrics such as fingerprint and retina identification are seen as more secure than old fashioned chip-and-pin for payment security. 

I am confident that the warmth and emotional intelligence of human interaction will be an important part of distinguishing bank brands in the market for a long time to come. 

And those banks which grasp the opportunities of new technology will be the brands still meeting customer needs for decades to come.

Main image credit: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images