I was startled to read about Forrester Research’s latest report into high street banking (MW March 29) and particularly its suggestion that high street branches should be relegated to a supporting role.
Haven’t we been here before? The debacle over Barclays’ proposed bank closures and the resistance from Coutts’ customers to remote banking show that a significant proportion of consumers still want a face-to-face relationship with their bank. It’s no coincidence that Inscape, one of the new “wealth management services”, is investing heavily in what it calls “advice centres” – branches, to you and me.
Of course, Internet and telephone banking are attractive options – they are significantly cheaper to operate and consumer demand clearly exists. However, consumers are not a homogeneous group with uniform preferences of what banking channel they prefer to use. Indeed, we know from modal behaviour studies that a single consumer will have varying channel preferences depending on where they are, what they are doing, the time of day, the weather and so on.
If we’ve only learned one thing, it should be that consumers are capricious. They may tell us they want an online relationship one day, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t still expect to stroll into a branch the next.
We therefore have to be all things to all people and give them the widest possible range of choices. That’s why seamless integration of online and offline activity is so important, and I don’t just mean from a technical customer relationship management point of view. Branding, message and tone of voice are all equally important.