Along with the video technology project, BNZ hired ex small business owners and taught them banking, so they could have empathetic conversations with clients. Existing small-business staff lacking that experience are sent to spent a week every year embedded in a small business, so they can understand its cares.
All told, 54 people work in the business specialist center and serve the telepresence setups in the branches. They conduct 10,000 video conversations with customers a week. "The specialists can have really in-depth conversations with small businesses," Ferreira says.
BNZ created Edge Centres within its branches that provide services to small businesses such as meeting rooms, free wifi, fax machines, and workstations they can use to check email and work. "Often small business customers are in industrial areas and they don't want to bring customers to their location," Ferreira says. "They can bring them here instead." The bank hosts Friday night get-togethers where small business owners can network with one another.
The bank also simplified products, and pared down its product line to those that seemed most relevant and understandable to small businesses.
In about nine months, Ferreira expects to roll out a version of small business videoconferencing for smart phones. He also plans to extend the videoconferencing approach to wealth management and property investment.
Ferreira's team tries about 60 new ideas every six months. "Innovation is in our Kiwi DNA," he says.
Why are New Zealand banks ahead of U.S. banks in these and other technology areas? "The big issue with American banks is an unwillingness to move," he says. "People get stuck in a big-bank mentality. But big banks can do this. This was not easy, it took tenacity and not caring what people are saying behind your bank. I also surrounded myself with wonderful people."
Two other bankers at the Small Business Banking Conference also talked about using videoconferencing to interact with small business clients.
CIBC has eight commercial bankers serving small businesses by phone and videoconferencing. Mike Marshall, senior director of small business banking, noted that, "People are much more comfortable talking to an expert who is confident and knows what they're talking about, even on a screen, than someone in a branch who doesn't understand small businesses and the products they use."
David Tremblay, business development and strategy executive of the client development group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, pointed out that small businesses like to bank when it's convenient for them, which is not during traditional branch hours.
He also noted that his bank provides a choice. "Sometimes clients say, 'I'm old school, I want to look people in the eye, I don't have a computer,'" he related. "We don't cut people off from the branch."
Tremblay expects that within a year, banks will be offering small businesses videoconferencing from a smartphone. "If you're not including a video strategy in your phone strategy, you're missing the boat," he says.