The future of branch banking might involve palm reading.
For 2012, that means using palm technology to verify identities at an automated teller machine and not a mystical, soothsaying woman telling you that you'll be married three times. The technology is found in prototypes of new branch technology at consulting firm Accenture's financial services innovation centers across the world.
Accenture recently partnered with Filene Research Institute to give attendees at a credit union conference in Chicago insight into how branches will operate in the digital age.
Although the conference was for credit unions, there were plenty of takeaways for banks, which are facing many of the same issues in attempting to balance digital delivery with traditional branches.
Roughly 90% of all new accounts are originated in branches and online banking has not yet managed to 'become a driver of new accounts, says Stephanie Sadowski, a senior executive at Accenture. While banks may continue to open branches, it will be a more methodical exercise that will focus on addressing specific gaps, rather than dots on a map.
The conference also featured a video conference with Accenture's innovation center in Sophia Antipolis, a research park in southern France that has a prototype of the next generation of a branch bank. Tellers will still exist, but futuristic branches will have a whole lot more gadgets and ATMs. Palm reading is just one way to access an account; customers could also use a quick-response (QR) code on their smart phones or contact-less cards.
The virtual walk-through included a private banking section where executives could interact with customers using Microsoft Surface - think tabletop Pac-Man meets touchpad tablets.
To stretch resources, Accenture representatives said that video conferencing would likely become a bigger trend. Rather than dedicating a loan officer or mortgage specialist to each branch, one can meet daily with several clients virtually across a wide geography.
It sounds expensive, several credit union executives say. In that case, the smaller institutions might have the advantage over their bigger counterparts.
"They don't have to worry about 20,000 branches," said Nigel Smith, a managing director for Accenture Banking Distribution & Marketing Services.
Smith said smaller banks could also band together to implement changes, taking small steps to implement new technology and taking a more multi-disciplinary view of technology and branches. "You start with the low-hanging fruit," he said.
In her presentation, Sadowski highlighted several companies that banks and credit unions should consider emulating. For instance, Delta Air Lines has narrowed the top of its website down to things customers want the most. Computer-maker Dell has customized its customer experience, realizing that the consumers at Wal-Mart have different wants than those shopping online. Starbucks has succeeded with its mobile application, which allows customers to buy their coffee and earn rewards points through their smart phones.
As branches enter a digital future, expect lots of new video, high-touch service and palm-reading ATMs.