“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.” – Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum Geneva
Staying Relevant in The Branch Space
Welcome to the third edition of this series. Accenture’s research into what human characteristics were/are vital in yesterday’s and in today’s American banking space is interesting. It was noted that the focus in yesterday’s banking space was on being service-focused, procedural, reactive and hierarchy-driven. On the other hand, they found that today’s market space focuses on being digitally-savvy, open and communicative, customer-oriented, results-driven, advice-focused, team-play, energetic and self-motivated.
Dear Managers, are you and your Team sharpening your skills to focus on these modern requirements, although some may only be partially true? There’s been a lot of discussion in the industry about the future of the branch. There’s no arguing that branches are expensive, and many players have even argued that they’re no longer relevant in a ‘digital world’. However, branches represent an opportunity for banks to differentiate and build loyalty with their customers. This can be through great, advice-driven experiences with frontline staff. There are several benefits of moving frontline staff from transactional to advisory positions. Bank branches now have less transactions and rather need more expertise. What customers now need is guidance and advisory services.
The problem here is that most frontline staff are young with little financial experience. They may not have experience in advising on buying a home, investment mix, or running a business. Since they may not even have much personal experience of their own, many find themselves just product-pushing. Instead of listening, identifying needs, explaining options and making recommendations, inexperienced frontline staff typically may not be able to satisfy customers – thus leaving them to guess or resort to online advice. It is therefore imperative that bank managements not only build a customer-first culture that avoids aggressive sales tactics, but also train their staff on the product, industry, and customer service knowledge they need to become trusted advisors for customers.
Demystifying the ‘fine-print’
Customers are asking for trusted advisors who will not conceal any hidden fees they suspect banks use to hide their profit. There is a general perception among some customers that in the efforts of bank staff to be task-driven and profit-conscious, some front-liners do not reveal the full terms and conditions in the transactional forms – and are quick to push them to the customers for their signatures! One customer cracked a joke about it, saying: “…. after all, that is why it is in small and fine-print”.
Life-long Education always ensures Relevancy
In a period of continuous massive change in the financial services sector, coupled with closure of financial institutions, one should not be impervious to learning what went wrong and how to stay relevant to ensure survival in the marketplace – as well as ongoing survival for businesses. These days, one should not stop learning when one graduates from school. Today’s successful leaders need to learn everything that is relevant to their businesses. The advent of sandwich-programmes, evening and week-end courses, has helped many bank staff re-enter the formal learning system while others either rely on classes offered by their institutions, or pursue self-development through reading, videos, podcasts, etc.
In the new era of digital banking, there is a need to learn new skills in business today; including coding, digital analytics and others. Big Data was expected to be worth US$102bn by 2019 according to IDC research. Take advantage of opportunities available for skilled analysts in the industry. There is an obvious need for mastery of essential knowledge for applying data-handling methods to inform business and financial decisions. While some organizations are embracing this need by committing to training their employees, most expect employees to learn on their own.
Building a Personal Brand for the Marketspace
On that note, I urge all bank staff to note that within today’s marketplace – with its social media and digital-based employment services – creating a personal brand is imperative and very relevant. Just as many consumers shop for financial services online as opposed to going to a branch, employers are also shopping for new employees digitally as well. You have to stand out from the crowd through your professional LinkedIn profile, which usually has a chronological career history. If you have extra or unique abilities like writing personal articles, shared perspectives, comments on current trends in the financial services sector, and potentially even videos or audios of presentations, this is an advantage.
Organisations are increasingly looking beyond just career accomplishments. They want to know what a future employee stands for and how they think. Sharing articles, insights and perspectives is the best way to accomplish this. What’s exciting about this process is that every time you share content digitally, it will be consumed by people with interests in alignment with yours. And the more you share, the more people see you in the marketplace. You will be surprised how much your market value gets enhanced. In most cases, your organisation becomes proud and enjoys being associated with you.
Building a personal brand is not only for those looking for a job, it is actually a way to build a legacy of who you are (or who you want to be). It is also a way to connect with others in the industry as well as with clients and prospects. For many, it is the one of the most important ways to remain relevant in the marketplace. Please turn the ‘disruption’ into opportunities. In addition, having an open and forward-thinking mindset will make you a valuable player in the digital transformation process.
Upskilling Staff for Digital Branches: The Role of Financial Institutions
Banks are now re-thinking talent. Banking professionals are no longer expected to possess just technical skills but rather are increasingly required to be tech savvy. Banks are redefining job roles and restructuring their organizations to facilitate various digital banking initiatives.
The first priority of advice-driven branch staff has to be providing understanding, clarity and confidence to consumers. For example, not just to sell them a new mortgage. That means training is needed to focus not just on product and industry knowledge, but also the empathy to address concerns and build trust with customers. A good training programme should have three main parts: product knowledge, industry trends and soft skills.
A good way to structure a product training is around the customers’ life journey. This makes cross-selling very relevant. It has always been a must for bank staff to appreciate and understand the concerns and needs of people at different stages of their lives. They must be able to articulate the appropriate benefits and features of solutions to meet those needs. It should be a must to include training on the fine-print and fee structures of the products and services.
Staff must understand the implications so they can communicate them clearly to customers. Sometimes, unknowledgeable staff simply hand over to customers a brochure so they can “read about the details”. Staff should walk customers through details and ensure they understand the fees and limits associated with their product or service. This need is more pressing now that the number of patrons to a branch is dwindling fast. Going through the scorching sun and driving through heavy traffic must end up with patrons feeling more relaxed, and not be rushed through enquiries and transactions.
Banks must also consider providing staff with the appropriate tools to be resourceful for customers. Interactive walk-throughs of the products and services – like the mobile app, mortgage applications etc. – are invaluable. Not only as an online resource for customers, but as an on-demand resource for staff. Branch staff can walk customers through products, applications more easily when they have access to product walk-throughs on a tablet or their computers.
With the recent news that Citigroup has launched a robo-advisor for accounts with at least US$50,000, branch staff need to sit up and be more relevant. “Citigroup is making a push for investors’ dollars with a new digital robo-advisor that is free for customers with at least US$50,000 in deposits or investments at the bank. That is the threshold needed to qualify for the bank’s Citi Priority bundle of banking services, which will soon include access to an automated investing programme, according to documents viewed by CNBC.
“The programme works like most robo-advisors: Users answer a few questions related to risk appetite and investing timelines, and the software puts them into a pre-made portfolio of investments. Customers with Citi Priority or higher status can use the programme, called Citi Wealth Builder, for one free portfolio. Those who do not qualify are charged a fee of 0.55% of assets under management.” Awesome, is all I can say for the moment.
I will pause here for now.
To be continued….
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies for training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.