Google has teased us once more with an augmented reality future.
The company has released images and video heralding what appears to be the imminent launch of their Glass augmented reality devices. Not surprisingly, commentators are predicting a seismic shift that will match the launch of the iPhone. That has created a wave of excitement, as banks and technology providers speculate how these innovations will turbo-charge mobile banking.
I don't doubt the impact of augmented reality will be significant. In fact, I believe the opportunities provided by augmented reality will go much further, right to the heart of most retail banks: the branch itself.
In these days of all-pervading devices and increased mobility, branches are often seen as the unglamorous retail channel. However for most banks, they still serve as the setting for customers' most important purchases and transactions. The experience a customer receives in a branch remains crucial to sustaining a long-term relationship.
So let's consider teller transactions. In a busy branch at lunchtime, tellers will be rushing to churn through customers as fast as possible, in order to manage queue lengths and accommodate customers in a timely fashion. Most banks provide leads to tellers to try and get referrals for sales people. However, in their rush, tellers often don't have the time to look up these leads – or don't notice them. The same applies to customer service prompts – for example, a notice on top of a computer screen may indicate a customer has a credit card waiting to be picked up. In these scenarios, banks are missing out on sales and customers are getting a poorer level of customer service.
Now, let us imagine a teller wearing an augmented reality device, like Google Glass. Once the customer has been identified, key information could pop up as an augmented reality overlay around the customer's face. This could include account details, sales prompts and any outstanding customer actions. The teller would immediately have the information they need and in the easiest place to find it – right before their eyes.
In fact, one could take this a stage further and add an element of biometrics. When a customer gives their name, the system could automatically pull up their details using voice recognition. Alternatively, biometric face recognition could be used to recognize the customer as they approach the teller desk. This may sound rather Big Brother today, but in the future, customers may see the improvement in convenience as a greater benefit – especially if this is offered as a choice.
In other parts of a branch, salespeople could use augmented reality devices to see customer limits and details while talking to a customer in a sales meetings. Sales illustration could now be delivered in 3D, as could a customer's personal finance plan. The salesperson or customer could literally move money around in augmented reality form – to see and understand the impact. All in-branch forms could be translated in real time for non-native language speakers. The possibilities go on.
Augmented reality has the potential to enhance customer service and sales not only in the exciting world of digital channels, but also in the banking powerhouse that is the branch network.
Alex Bray is retail channels director of banking at Misys, a financial services technologies provider. You can follow him on Twitter @StGilesResident.