mobile banking

The Modern Retail Banking Mode

Exploring brick-and-mortar banking in an increasingly digital financial world.

Advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and application program interfaces (APIs) are among the key technologies and applications traditional banks are using to battle fintechs, alternative lenders and other digital competitors in a rapidly changing financial marketplace. Meanwhile, consumers and businesses are increasingly comfortable trading their personal information for convenient, friction-free online and mobile banking services based on their needs and preferences.

In the 2019 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions Report published by the Financial Brand Newsletter, editor Jim Marous noted, “for the first time ever, the use of data, AI and advanced analytics was ranked first, replacing improving the customer experience as the No. 1 trend.”

At the same time, an October report released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) titled “Global Retail Banking 2019: The Race for Relevance and Scale,” found that “while there is a clear trend toward more digital engagement, human interactions clearly still matter to many customers. Indeed, since financial decisions can be complex, high value, and emotionally important, many banking customers still value face-to-face advice from knowledgeable experts.”

Members of New Jersey’s banking community believe it’s all about finding the right balance between technology and high-touch, personalized service. The ways that banks deliver financial solutions are changing and the approach may be multi-channeled. Yet, people and relationships are still a fundamental part of the banking experience.

Allyson Schlesinger, executive vice president and head of consumer banking at Columbia Bank, says brick-and-mortar branch offices used to be more transactional, focused on things like account deposits and check cashing. Today, she agrees they have become places where people come to seek financial information and advice.

Schlesinger cites statistics that show while younger demographics do most of their financial transactions digitally, many still prefer to open accounts in person. “People still want that connectivity – a face they can count on – when it comes to highly personalized things like educational loans, investment strategy or retirement planning,” Schlesinger adds.

And, while Business Insider reported that more than 4,000 retail businesses will close in 2019, following record levels of closures in 2017 and 2018 (and many financial institutions are rebalancing their branch and digital networks), Columbia Bank is opening new branch offices in towns including Newark, West Orange, Ramsey and Lyndhurst. “While Columbia Bank is investing in new technology and introducing services like Zelle® and a business app for Apple Watch®, we are also investing in communities by building branch offices in key locations where people live, work and play,” Schlesinger notes.

Thomas Iadanza, senior executive vice president, chief banking officer at Valley Bank, thinks that as technology and customer demands have evolved, mobile and digital tools have become an extension of the traditional branch banking experience. “Our customers want to bank when and how they want, whether that’s from their mobile device or by talking to a branch associate at one of our offices,” Iadanza adds.

“Relationship banking is the foundation of our strategy for growth. This means meeting with our clients to provide insight, support and customized solutions that help them achieve their financial goals. By doing this, we’re creating a better banking experience and exceeding customer expectations every day,” Iadanza continues. “Our clients are more than just account numbers. They are our partners and we know that their success is tied directly to ours. That’s why it’s so important to develop deep and meaningful relationships with our customers.

“To remain relevant and competitive in today’s banking industry, we need to provide an omni-channel experience that allows our customers to access their accounts through a variety of methods of their choosing. By integrating emerging digital resources and tools with best-in-class, personalized customer service, we’re providing a differentiated experience and deepening relationships with our customers,” Iadanza explains.

“Developing strong, lasting customer relationships is the hallmark of what we do every day in our retail bank,” Wells Fargo Southern NJ Region Bank President John Zimmerman says. “That is as true today as it was more than 160 years ago when we first began offering financial services to our customers and communities. Our No. 1 goal is to help our customers succeed financially and we are always looking for new ways to partner with our customers to help them reach their goals.

“Twenty years ago, customers solely used the branch system as their primary channel to connect with the local banker. In the State of New Jersey and nationwide, the introduction of new technologies has provided customers with a number of options to meet their banking needs,” Zimmerman points out.

“We are constantly updating our technologies to provide the flexibility and convenience that our customers desire. A majority of our customer interactions now happen through our digital channels, and our 30.2 million digitally active customers are increasingly using online and mobile capabilities,” Zimmerman highlights. “We have more mobile-active customers (24.2 million) than online-active customers, and we continue to invest in our mobile capabilities, including the ability to open accounts through mobile.”

Valley Bank’s Iadanza adds, “I believe that there will always be a need for that traditional brick-and-mortar branch. Customers can conduct basic banking transactions through digital channels, but for more complicated transactions or for consultative services, I still feel that a customer would rather walk into a branch and sit down with one of our skilled banking professionals. “At the end of the day, we’re all selling commodities, but we are still a people business.”

“Our goal is to stay ahead of customer expectations,” Columbia Bank’s Schlesinger concludes. “Branch expansion, investment in technology and the simplification of customer experiences are key, but it comes down to people; hiring new and talented individuals motivated to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

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