Retail banking, and particularly the mortgage business, is well positioned to take advantage of the power of new media. There are several reasons:
*The trend toward automation is well established in retail banking. Consider the dramatic increase in the volume of telephone transaction services across the nation during the past 18 months, and the broad acceptance of the automated teller machine over the past few years.
Nationally, less than one-half of all retail banking transactions still occur face-to-face with a teller. It is estimated that by the end of this decade, technology-based services will account for a majority of routine banking transactions. This is significant because it indicates a large number of bank customers have comfortably made the transition to nonpersonal transactions, paying the way for a smooth transition into interactive media.
*With the trend away from face-to-face banking, effective marketing of the more sophisticated products becomes more difficult. Many banks are looking for new ways to relay customer-specific information about nontraditional banking products-such as stocks, bonds, government securities, and mutual funds. And the need is growing. Statistics indicate that only one-third of Americans' discretionary assets are held in traditional products such as CDs, savings, and checking. This is a significant drop from just 10 years ago, when traditional accounts were predominant.
Interactive kiosks, on-line banking, and Internet web sites provide excellent channels for relaying specific information about sophisticated products.
Recently, the door has been opened even wider for this type of information sharing. In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to allow the presentation of stock information and the limited sale of stocks over the Internet.
*While remote banking - minibranches set up in grocery stores, shopping malls, hospitals, and other sites - is a well-established trend, it begs rethinking today. Like the brick and mortar and the staffing of a full branch, remote branches also have significant costs. Much as many banks would like, they simply can't afford one in every major store.
Kiosks are fast-becoming an accepted marketing option. But, as with any other selling tool, they must be carefully conceptualized to achieve maximum results. The four basic rules of designing an effective kiosk are:
*The kiosk cabinet should be eye-catching.
*The touch-screen interface should be easy to use.
*The programing should allow for fast results.
*The programming must let the user do what he or she wants.
Any bank considering entering this new area of electronic banking should seek out a producer experienced in the design of touch-screen programs for the financial industry. To begin, an experienced producer will be able to evaluate whether or not a kiosk is a worthwhile delivery method for an individual bank.
Furthermore, an experienced producer will be able to bring all the technical elements together to create effective programing, assuring a solid return on the investment.
Over the past several years I have watched interactive technologies change the way many industries do business, the way they train their employees, how they market, how they deliver their products, and how they communicate with their customers and prospective clients.
The answer to the question of whether the time is right can be evaluated by examining the number of industry leaders who already utilizing new-media outlets. Bank of America, Citibank, Computer Power Inc., Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae - these are just a few of the major-league companies that have found new media to provide sensible yet impressive solutions to their communications needs.
Mr. Seroka is president of Seroka & Associates, an advertising firm in Brookfield, Wis., that has created interactive presentations for Alltel, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association, and other financial companies.