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Consumers Want Multiple Ways to Bank

Editor's Note: Rob Aulebach is Bank of America's ATM Channel and Retail Distribution Executive, overseeing its retail network of more than 5,000 banking centers, 300 home loan offices and approximately 16,300 ATMs. He will be speaking about branch optimization at American Banker's Retail Banking Conference this week in Orlando.

Everywhere I go, I see people using their phones, tablets and ATMs to complete banking transactions that once required a visit to the branch. There's even a school of thought that banking centers will someday go the way of the fax machine.

We couldn't disagree more. Consumer behavior has changed significantly, and a lot of that has to do with technology. As consumers' behavior changes, banks are adapting with them. We know we need to provide customers with a seamless experience across multiple delivery channels. We've asked our customers how they want to bank with us. They've told us they want choice and control – access to financial products where, when and how they choose.

Customers adopt new technologies so quickly. Where once the idea of using your phone beyond calling someone (or perhaps texting) was unthinkable, today 14 million-plus Bank of America customers log into their mobile banking applications 155 million times per month. Many use the app to photograph a check and deposit it into their accounts. Consumers today can transfer money between their accounts via their mobile phone, or between friends and family with only a phone number or email address. However, with these new options, ATM use hasn't decreased. In fact, U.S. consumers conduct more than 14 billion ATM transactions per year and this number is increasing, according to Retail Banking Research Ltd.

Simply put, mobile apps and the ATM are rapidly becoming alternative touch points for many customers. But does that mean that bank branches are dinosaurs?

The answer is definitely "no."

At Bank of America more than 1.5 million people visit our banking centers every day, so branches are still vitally important. People will use their mobile devices or computers for many transactions like paying bills or checking balances, but when it comes to opening an account or getting financial advice, they want to do that face to face.

Banking is still very much a people business; face-to-face interaction remains very important because customers want to make a connection. While many have already spent time doing their financial research online through our website or with friends, we have found that more than 85% of actual "purchases" of financial products like a checking account, loan, IRA or other type of financial investment are still done in a physical banking center. At these centers, customers can complete those important financial transactions while talking with an expert or trusted teller in person.

We are adapting our banking center network to meet the changing habits and needs of our customers. A perfect example of this is the integration of our new "express" banking center, which provides customers with another convenient banking option that complements full-service locations that everyone is familiar with. We began rolling out these centers in New York City, Boston and Charlotte in 2013. They are primarily geared toward customers who are comfortable with transacting through self-service capabilities, but with the added benefit of being able to engage a teller through video teleconferencing if they need a bit more than the ATM can provide.

We call this technology "ATM with Teller Assist". These expanded versions of ATMs, available today in a few locations, allow customers the opportunity to do things at an ATM they couldn't before – like cash a check to the penny (e.g., $124.34) and double the hours that a customer can get assistance from a teller who is available remotely from one of our contact centers in the U.S. Tellers are available to speak with customers in English and Spanish, and there are plans for expanding into additional languages.

The industry is moving toward adding or renovating some branches to be smaller physical spaces with greater use and integration of technology within those locations. For example, we've equipped banking center associates with tablets in more than 1,200 banking centers, basically unfettering them from their desks so they can assist customers from anywhere in the store.

We definitely see parallels between our approach and those of national retailers that offer different store formats based on how customers want to shop. Today, many large retailers have a robust online presence, a regular store, a superstore, and some recently began introducing a neighborhood concept. Consumers are equally comfortable interacting virtually or through physical locations, with the expectation of accessing what they want, when they want.

In our case, we offer different types of banking centers based on the needs and customer penetration in a particular market. For consumers who prefer or need the services of a more traditional banking experience, we have full-service banking centers with tellers, financial service advisors, small business bankers and mortgage officers on-site. And in areas with concentrated population and high traffic during certain times of the day, we are opening our new express version of banking centers giving customers more flexibility and options than a standard ATM offers.  However, express locations are deliberately located near one of our full service locations to augment our traditional banking centers.

In a recent conversation with new parents who were thinking about the next generation, I was asked what banking will look like for their newborn in 20 years as they get ready to leave home.  Framing the question that way gets you thinking far more broadly than you would if you were thinking about your own customer experience a year from now. I don't have a crystal ball, but I do believe there will always be a place in the community where you can bank in person. Banks must keep their fingers on the pulse of what our customers want and need if they want to remain relevant. At the end of the day, we need to meet customers where THEY are – not vice versa.


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