While banks have been shrinking their branch networks for years, the COVID-19 pandemic offers a glimpse of what life might look like without any physical branches at all. Looking forward, two things are clear: First, branches are vital to reaching customers. However, banks should change how branches operate if they want them to remain relevant. In our view, bank branches can prosper if banks reallocate staff, add virtual branch support and revisit how branch employees engage customers.
Why branch banking still matters
When banks first started optimizing their branch networks, many began by revamping channel strategies and branch footprints as they encouraged customers to use digital channels for basic transactions. Now that that’s done, it’s time to rethink how branch employees can deepen relationships with customers.
Here are some steps to consider taking as you evaluate how your branches operate:
- Shift from service to sales: At most retail branches, only about half of the employees are in banker roles. We recommend that you elevate underutilized tellers and train them to become licensed bankers. Next, shift their focus from support to sales. But don’t stop there. Consider training assistant branch managers to coach the staff on effective sales behaviors.
- Centralize branch support: Determine which functions you can centralize to a shared virtual support center, which can enable you to streamline roles at individual branches. At the same time, challenge the status quo of other processes. For example, can cash handling be streamlined now that less cash is used for transactions? Some of these actions might seem trivial, but the savings can add up.
- Revisit how you engage customers: Your branches should play a key role in digital onboarding. We recommend training employees to assist with account transfers, so customers know there’s always a human being who’s available to help. Deepening engagement through in-person interactions can improve customer lifetime value.
The bottom line
The pandemic is changing how often customers visit the branch and what they need to do when they get there. Smart changes can help you lower costs, better serve customers, improve retention and drive growth.