The next generation branch

Banks have begun opening branches again...but this time, they're looking for something different--some way to create additional value around the customer's branch experience. Here's a partial day in the life.

Accenture Technology Labs' "Next Generation Branch" (NGB) showcase is located in sunny Sophia Antipolis (which is nestled gently between Nice and Cannes in the south of France, where I do not live...but I am not bitter about this, because Chicago winters build character). The NGB is an acknowledgement that when banks got Internet fever in the late 90s (as did we all) and closed their branches in favor of virtual points of presence, they made a mistake. It turns out that customers like branches. They like human tellers and personal service. They weren't content to deal only with ATMs and websites, and they began voting with their feet. To stem the tide, banks have begun opening branches again...but this time, they're looking for something different--some way to create additional value around the customer's branch experience.

So What?

By "create additional value" is meant, of course, "sell additional services" (over and above checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, etc.). Banks want you to buy mutual funds and insurance; they want you to open a brokerage account; they want you to do your retirement planning under their supervision. With this goal in mind, NGB uses a variety of technologies designed for customer identification, screening, data collection and sales support. Here's a partial day in the life:

As you enter the branch, a system identifies you by scanning your RFID loyalty card and then displays a personalized welcome message on the wall. At the same time, a sales representative is informed of your arrival and supplied with a quick summary of your financial situation. If you're judged to be worth the effort, the sales rep will approach, shake hands, and gently inform you that if you maintain your current savings rate, you'll be spending your Golden Years in a refrigerator carton. You are utterly flabbergasted to learn that he has a solution to this problem, which he'll be happy to explain if you'll just step this way...

And step you do...over to a couch whose table has a pair of lattes and a tablet PC. You and the sales rep settle in and he brings up a retirement planning simulator that uses pictures (of cars, houses, colleges, etc.) rather than numbers to accustom you to the trade-offs inherent in financial planning. As you adjust the car up-market (from Passat to Porsche, for example), your child's college education falls from Harvard to a school whose team nickname is something like, "The Savage Stain Removers." By contrast, reducing your house's size increases your total charitable contributions, and so on.

Meanwhile, another sales rep is keeping herself apprised of which brochures the branch's customers are reading (smart brochure racks make this possible) and using this information to decide whom to approach and with what messages. (The information can also go into each customer's record and be used to explore opportunities later via phone or email.) Another system is tracking queue lengths, wait times and traffic patterns: This data can be used to optimize staffing and even branch layout.

Back at the couch, you and the sales rep have started exploring retirement funds that might fit your risk profile when a complex question arises that brings him to a screeching intellectual halt. Recovering, he contacts a centrally-located retirement expert who explains the finer points and also takes control of the display to demonstrate graphically the magic of compound returns. You're impressed by the depth of his knowledge--you had no idea your bank's experts were so...expert--and decide to take control of your retirement by purchasing a huge number of shares of the Secure Retirement 2035 fund--so many shares that, starting tomorrow, you'll have to live in a refrigerator carton. But this is (as the sales rep helpfully points out) a small price to pay for financial security.

There's more: a statistical branch manager support system, electronic pens for filling in deposit slips, remote expertise via 3G phone, and face recognition ATMs, to name a few. But we are out of time. If you'd like to know more about the Next Generation Branch, please get in touch with Accenture Technology Labs' Emmanuel Viale. who is leading the charge in this space.

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