Consumers Seek Specialty Branches and Stewards of Their Digital Footprints

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Mobile banking may get all the attention, but among virtual banking channels, it's online banking that really resonates. And bricks-and-mortar branches still have plenty of room to run.

So concludes a survey released Wednesday in which Cisco asked 5,300 consumers in eight countries how they would like to bank.

"The reality is it's not an either/or but an 'and' for virtual and physical channels," says Philip Farah, director, financial services practice, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group.

The online banking channel scored the highest; 77% of consumers perform online banking transactions (e.g., check balance, bill pay) on a personal computer at least once a month, and 16% do so daily. While still a solid number, only 40% perform similar banking transactions on a mobile phone at least once a month.

But consumers still favor branch banking; 84% are highly or somewhat interested in the idea of a "specialty branch."

"This concept has resonated most in North America," says Farah. "The specialty branch is focused on giving advice and providing personal, customized assistance to people."

The services North American consumers indicated they would most like to see in a specialty branch include financial education (31%); notary public services (30%); tax preparation (28%); legal services (24%); property insurance (22%); copy, fax and shipping services (18%); and cafés with free wireless internet access.

After the specialty branch, the second-most-popular banking concept for North American respondents is virtual banking, in which all banking interactions are conducted solely through virtual channels. Thirty-eight percent of North American respondents said they were highly interested in this idea; however, 42% gave it a low-interest rating.

"The segment of the population who are early adopters of technology and shifting faster to virtual channel, are also strong users of the branch, visiting 2.5 times per month or more," Farah says.

Banks have an opportunity to become stewards of their customers' digital footprints, securing all their online account and identity data. More survey respondents (39%) said they trust their bank to be such "infomediaries" than any other type of organization.

The research also found interest in communicating with remote experts through video; 26% of North American consumers said video conferencing with a remote expert would enhance their experience when the expertise was not available in the branch.

In the mobile channel, North American consumers expressed most interest in being able to do real-time expense tracking (22%), remote check deposit by taking a picture (21%) and mobile payments (18%) on their phone.

Banking over social media was met with less enthusiasm — only 1% customers in developed countries say they are interested in social banking. "The social channel is still in very early days," says Jorgen Ericsson, vice president, financial services practice, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group. "There's an issue around privacy there. Consumers are interested in social media primarily as virtual learning environments. A bank can be an orchestrator of such a community."

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