By Jonathan Graham, Account Director, ActiveOps
Does managing – and transforming – your branch network give you headaches? If so, you’re not alone.
The humble bank branch is arguably one of the most exciting – and most unpredictable – areas in modern banking, with so much going on that it’s hard to know where to start sometimes. In the last five years (and especially since the pandemic), most of the traditional branch banking activities have been moved to digital, mobile, and inbound channels – and while footfall to many branches has slowed as a result, those that are coming in to the branch are coming with more complex questions that still need the human touch to answer.
Successfully transforming branch banking operations is vital if you want to give customers the service they expect from their branch, respond to the increased costs of real estate and reduced footfall in many branches, and ultimately fend off competition from other high street and challenger banks. And that’s where the headaches often come from. Because the truth is that, right now, many branch managers are finding that the changes being made are making their jobs harder, not easier – and risking both customer satisfaction and employee wellbeing at the same time.
In this post, we’ll cover three opportunities that we see for banks to improve the way they manage, run and transform their branch network operations.
In order to make changes that will bring about the results the bank needs, it’s vital that change managers understand key data such as:
- Transaction volumes for each branch
- Footfall in different branches
- The kinds of enquiries branches are receiving
- Demographic data on customers at various branches
- How employees are using their time – what tasks are they doing, how long they are taking, and what the outcomes are
Unfortunately, most banks don’t have all that information – in fact, one bank we worked with found that prior to engaging with us, 65% of their work in-branch was unreported. Instead, both change teams and day-to-day managers are working based on assumptions. There’s a well-known adage about what happens when you assume things; suffice to say here that, given the variance in demand for services that different branches see across the country, building a new strategy based on assumptions about demand and capacity will inevitably lead to that strategy not working for many branches.
With that in mind, you need to implement systems that gather and aggregate vital information about branch operations – even across operational silos – and make it available to everyone who needs it. Without those systems and tools, it will be difficult to get information that’s granular enough to provide deep insight and to get a complete view across your organisation that lets you meaningfully improve your plans and strategies for the branch network. With them, though, you’ll have a golden opportunity to improve day-to-day branch operations and your transformation programmes.
Once you have all that data on what’s happening in the branch network, using it correctly can make a huge difference. Depending on how you interrogate and present that data, you can unlock different insights; for instance, looking at the data over time will show you trends in work patterns that can influence future planning efforts, while looking at demand across all branches shows you a picture of which services are needed in various branches across the country.
Giving branch managers, central planners and change managers the right insights at the right time – and the ability to use that analysis to drive the right outcomes – will help branches do more with less, respond to customers faster, and keep employees from feeling stressed and demotivated. It will also help change managers focus on the right areas for transformation projects.
Better still, if that analysis can be made available in real time, it can enable branch managers to be more agile, perhaps by borrowing resource during spikes in workload or by redirecting employees to other activities when things aren’t as busy.
As we’ve said already, many of the tasks and activities branch employees used to do are now done by customers using ATMs, online, or on the phone. Instead, employees are mostly dealing with difficult cases that can’t be handled via automated channels, or with customers who have been unable to use the bank’s automated services. Those customers may already be frustrated when they arrive at the bank, making them more likely to be dissatisfied with their service and your employees more likely to be stressed, disengaged and burnt out after dealing with complex cases and unhappy, angry customers.
The opportunity here is that, by assessing the skillset of your branch employees, you can create plans to upskill them to handle complex cases more easily – improving customer experience and reducing employee burnout. Upskilling branch employees also gives you the opportunity to use them for other kinds of work such as in the back office, or handling inbound calls, improving utilisation and productivity across the wider business.
How to embrace these opportunities
Does this all sound a little far-fetched? That’s understandable – the level of detail and insight we are talking about here is virtually impossible to achieve without technological intervention. Manual reporting (even through digital tools like time trackers) require time and effort that is sure to lead to human error over time – and crucially, can’t be in real time.
The key is to explore technological options that can gather and collate all this data for you. Finding a solution that works across all your existing data repositories, and that can automate the analysis of your data to deliver insights directly to the people who need them, will improve decision-making, make planning easier and more effective, and ultimately create more happy employees and customers. Quality data and insights empower transformation and ensure changes are made based on solid evidence.
As a result, branch rationalisation can happen without damaging customer service; branch staff can continue to work while feeling fulfilled and engaged in what they do, with the skills to succeed; and customers can continue to get the great service they need from your bank. All of which, ultimately, makes your bank more competitive.