How retail banking is reshaping post-pandemic

  • Cost reduction:To combat cost escalation, banks are turning to cost-cutting strategies such as re-examining their branch footprint and workforce efficiency. For instance, Wells Fargo & Co. announced its four-year expense-reduction plan, aimed at reducing annual expenses by over USD8bn. The savings plan involves eliminating layers in management, making workforce and branch cuts, and reducing up to 20% of office space by end-2024.
  • Changing customer behaviour: More reliance on digital channels and social-distancing norms would result in reduced footfall at branches, rendering many of them unviable. Areas of banking such as payments and business lending are likely to become digitalised rapidly.
  • Working from home and the hybrid work environment have become part of the new normal, not only for back-office employees, but also for customer-facing staff such as advisors and customer service agents. A combination of factors such as limited office capacity and changing employee preferences is contributing to this trend. A large UK bank recently found through a survey that nearly 60% of its staff strongly preferred working from home, rather than coming to office.
  • Rethinking apps: A key priority for all banks would be to streamline and simplify the digital banking experience for customers. Online and mobile banking apps need to be designed so they could overcome barriers to digital and financial accessibility, especially as older generations engage more through digital channels. Digital apps would need to incorporate far more features than traditional ones, which only had features such as providing account balances and facilitating money transfers. This is as more complex transactions are carried out, for example, changing terms of mortgages and opening complex savings products, digitally.
  • Use of data to personalise customer engagement: As digital channels become mainstream and application programming interfaces (API) open up the banking marketplace, competition for new businesses would be even fiercer. Real-time availability and predictive analysis of data would help deliver appropriate advice and pricing, optimise risks and drive highly relevant micro-campaigns on tap, to support business growth.
  • Advanced artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and digital analytics: Technological innovations such as robotics, AI, ML, advanced analytics, cloud computing and mobility can play a crucial role in a bank’s digitalisation journey. Branches may even be transformed into service lounges in the near future. For example, HSBC recently implemented intelligent automation to set upconversational banking processes and incorporated AI and ML capabilities to reduce the number of calls employees had to respond to.
  • Conversational banking: With banks increasingly shifting from product-centric to consumer-centric approaches, conversational banking is gaining in popularity. Engagement tools such as chatbots, voice assistants and virtual assistants are enhancing the customer experience with personalised services. For instance, Bank of America’s virtual financial assistant Erica handles customer service queries such as on credit report updates and balance information, sends notifications, facilitates bill payments and shares money-saving tips.
  • The adoption of digitalisation and technology also requires employees to be agile and drive the bank’s digital vision. From account opening to servicing, banks would need to adopt a paperless mechanism that would enable them to create more integrated networks.
  • Banks would need to invest in analytics and enable employees to effectively access and manage data. Employees’ ease of access to data through interfaces such as mobile phones and laptops would be a key success factor.
  • For instance, leading fintech company PayPal invested in popular Swedish open-banking platform Tink to collaboratively expand open-banking technology and offer seamless user experiences across Europe. Barclays has invested in fintech startup Flux that issues digital receipts.
  • Banks are increasingly leveraging offshore partners to reduce costs and application cycle time, manage higher volumes and utilise flexible staffing for spikes in work volumes.
  • Banks would need to strengthen data security by eliminating the use of personal or rented devices by investing in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). To further layer this, they would need to implement a series of controls and frameworks to monitor employee activity and transactions through authentication.
  • Realigning staff requirements onshore and offshore would also be a key success factor. Banks would need to optimise staff onshore for client-facing roles while increasing capacity offshore to scale up operations. Offshore partners with multi-layer compliance, information security and IT infrastructure can help banks reduce expenditure on technology.
  • These steps would need to be taken along with integrated employee and customer education.



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Acuity Knowledge Partners

Acuity Knowledge Partners

We write about financial industry trends, the impact of regulatory changes and opinions on industry inflection points.