June 20, 2012

Philip Farah
Philip Farah, Director, Financial Services Practice, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group
The branch isn't going away, it's going forward, says a new study released today by Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group.

The study focused on the need for banks to move toward an "omni-channel" strategy of delivering a consistent customer experience across channels, so that customers can seamlessly access products and services when they are needed. Among the different channels looked at in the study, the role of the branch was one of the most contentious and polarizing issues for the customers surveyed in the study. Cisco found that although customers are doing more of their banking activities through virtual channels, they still desire the face time and personal attention offered in a branch.

"Banks are trying to figure out what to do with their most expensive channels, especially with branch visits decreasing around the world," says Philip Farah, the director of Financial Services Practice at Cisco IBSG. "The branch will be a hybrid of a help desk and a place for finalizing major transactions and investments."

[Life Without Channels: How to Provide a Seamless Customer Experience]

A large number of the survey's respondents (47 percent) showed an interest in an all-virtual bank, says Farah. In addition, the majority of respondents already use virtual channels for checking their balances, transferring funds and managing their accounts. This would seem to indicate that the possibility of banks going completely virtual is soon to be a reality. But Farah notes that opposition to an all-virtual bank was strong as well, with 26 percent of the respondents saying they would likely switch banks if branches were discontinued.

All-Virtual Bank
Responses to All-Virtual Bank Without Branches
Source: Cisco IBSG

And just because customers have switched to using virtual channels for basic transactions and account management doesn't mean that they never visit a branch. Cisco's study actually found the opposite to be true. The most tech-savvy customers are also some of the most frequent branch visitors, with mobile banking customers averaging 2.5 branch visits per month, just above the 2.3 visit-average across all respondents.

Branch Visits
Average Monthly Branch Visits and Virtual Channel Usage by Technology Adoption
Source: Cisco IBSG