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Mobile Technology from the Branch Perspective

This article was originally published in BAI Banking Strategies

By Meredith J. Deen, COO at FMSI

Despite concerns about security, a 2014 Federal Reserve report found that in 2013, 33% of all mobile phone users and 51% of all smartphone users took advantage of mobile banking – up from 21% and 42%, respectively, in December 2011. This is good news for banks promoting their mobile banking services, but our experience is that few institutions are doing a good job leveraging mobile in their branches.
 
This is unfortunate because mobile technology can be utilized in several different ways in the branch to enhance bank operations, sales and service. For example, some banks are now using mobile-ready business intelligence (BI) platforms that can analyze and report on a variety of transaction data, from credit and debit card activity to teller transactions and more. These reports can provide a wealth of valuable insights, including: weekly and monthly branch activity key performance indicators (KPIs), pattern-based behaviors that might indicate fraud and member preferences that help each branch fine tune customer service and sales.
 
No matter what type of information a platform is harvesting, analyzing and delivering, some level of mobile integration will increase its value to the bank and the branch. Some solutions offer mobile viewing of charts and reports; others let users create and request alerts. The most powerful BI solutions enable authorized individuals to request custom views, drilling down to see data from a different perspective than the default view offers.
 
Informed Decision Making
 
When such capabilities are available on smartphones and tablets, they enable management at all levels to engage in better, more informed decision-making, whether a sales associate is pitching a new bank customer or a branch manager is discussing fraud with an expert at a conference. Mobile availability of BI, preferably interactive availability, is one of the most powerful tools a bank can give to its management.
 
Current BI applications enable banks to gain better visibility into their branch traffic patterns, supporting predictive analysis. Once a bank acquires this capability, staff schedules should remain fluid enough to address emerging trends quickly. Using mobile alerts and messaging – whether incorporated into a scheduling solution or available through some other technology – lets bank management notify tellers and other production personnel quickly and easily if their schedules change based on forecasted traffic spikes or drops. (With some technologies, these alerts can be automatic.)
 
If the solution also lets workers send mobile messages to their managers, it will provide other benefits. Workers can notify management if they are sick, for example, or directly request a personal day or vacation time. Although the traditional phone call is always an option, mobile-to-mobile connectivity between branch personnel and management streamlines scheduling, supports after-hours communication and helps avoid misunderstandings.
 
Mobile technology can also be a powerful driver of customer service and branch productivity in the lobby. Some branches of SunTrust Bank, for example, now offer a Tablet Bar, a designated location with secure guest WiFi where customers can use their tablets or smartphones to access SunTrust’s mobile apps or online banking interface. Recently, Wells Fargo Bank put the finishing touches on the first of a new, downsized branch model for urban locations that incorporates mobile technologies.
 
When customers enter this Wells Fargo branch, a bank employee makes contact and, instead of leading them to a teller line, directs them to a 19-inch, flat-screen ATM to perform their transactions. If the customer requires assistance, the employee can work with them via a computer tablet or smartphone (as well as a keyboard) that the bank staffer carries. In this branch model, interestingly enough, the bank does not have a vault and both employees and customers obtain cash via the ATMs.
 
On a related front, ATM manufacturer Diebold has been demonstrating a “branch of the future” solution that lets customers take money out of an in-branch ATM via a mobile banking app rather than a debit card. These mock branches also incorporate a tablet bar.
 
For banks not ready to make those leaps yet, mobile technology can still deliver big benefits to branches. For example, some lobby tracking solutions support tablet based sign-in in the lobby (in a “coffee lounge” environment rather than a cubicle). These systems can issue mobile alerts to customer service representatives (CSRs) or bank management when a customer signs in or when assistance times reach a designated threshold.
 
“Event Only” Incentives
 
Just about everyone has stood in line at an ATM at a festival or other community gathering. Innovative banks (who are often corporate sponsors of these events) are exploring the concept of bringing secure, Wi-Fi enabled tablets to their sponsorship tents. Paired with welcome giveaways, such as water and toys for children, these can really increase the value of an event sponsorship.
 
With connected tablets, CSRs could close deals with “this event only” incentives for new customers, gather prospect information for follow-up or demonstrate to a curious vendor how they could accept mobile or tablet payments at the event. This capability also provides representatives with an up-to-date information stream where they can check current interest rates, take address changes and perform courtesy services for customers while they cool off in the shade and enjoy a cold bottle of water.
 
While you are deciding how best to use mobile technology in the branch, don’t forget to avail yourself of all the data it can provide. Most mobile app developers, whether they are third-party or in-house, incorporate the ability to extract user metrics. This function gives banks access to data covering not only what activities users perform, but also abandonment rates and more. They may even have access to location-based or user-specific data that lets them know whether a specific branch’s customers have adopted mobile banking broadly or hardly at all. Such information helps banks determine if branches should participate in mobile banking education initiatives, such as, holding in-branch classes for account holders.
 
We predict that banks whose branches offer the right combination of high tech and high touch will have a competitive edge for quite some time.
 
Ms. Deen is chief operating officer of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI), which provides financial institutions with business intelligence and performance management systems for efficient branch staff scheduling and lobby management. She can be reached at meredithd@fmsi.com.