According to the 18th annual study, customers’ widespread use of bank branches has grown to just under pre-pandemic levels as the U.S. and the rest of the world acclimate to doing things in person.
All ages looking for advice on financial health
Almost three-quarters of customers surveyed say they plan to visit a branch at the same rate this year. Interestingly, 21% of customers under age 40 say they expect their branch visits to increase compared to 12% of those over 40. Those results come against a perception that younger bank customers are more likely to embrace a fully digital experience.
“The reasons that they’re most often going into the branch, some of it that have to do with general transactions, deposits, withdrawals, transferring money, those types of things, but they are looking to go back into the branches or visit branches to sit down and get some advice on their financial health,” said Jennifer White, senior director of banking and payments intelligence for J.D. Power and lead researcher on the retail banking study.
“To have a conversation about whether or not they’re truly aligned in the right products that make sense based on their behaviors, to resolve problems, and maybe open new products. There is a desire, particularly in the under-40 crowd actively looking to manage their finances, to have in-person experiences at greater levels than before … they’re returning for an experience above and beyond average branch traffic.”
Seeking synergy between experiences
White says that those customers drawn to banks’ digital experience — because of convenience, favorable interest rates, or because they are “highly digitally engaged” — still could be looking for more in-depth financial guidance. And for traditional banks, ensuring the experience in-branch and online complement each other as much as possible is essential to retaining and gaining customers.
“Whatever brought them there, that doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in receiving advice, getting that reassurance that they’re in the right product mix, or when they need assistance, perhaps having a clear-cut path to resolving problems,” she said.
“Those are all needs, regardless of every banking customer, regardless of which bank they choose. It’s just that the retail banks have to meet those needs both in person and digitally. They have to be able to replicate those experiences. Those direct and online banks have a bit more of a niche there where they have to make sure that they’re still offering those experiences but in a strong way digitally.”
Challenge: Replicate physical experience online
It’s also important for retail banks to optimize both the digital and in-person experience to ensure “that young, emerging, affluent professional seeking that advice and reassurance” can replicate online the experience they had at a physical bank location.
“That’s how population moves and functions,” White said. “You can’t just trust one source. That’s key. What I think that means for the fintechs, though — and it’s certainly where we know the national banks are making investments — is trying to bring some of that softness into the digital experience.”
Efforts to make the online experience more valuable and comfortable to customers is something banks, both traditional and neo/online, as well as almost every business, regardless of product, are pursuing.
“If someone’s opening a new account digitally, how do you pause and ensure they don’t have any unanswered questions? Or suppose someone is looking to move money and do transfers. How do you assure that process is being executed effectively and reassure the customer that there is no reason for them to have lingering questions?” White said. “That softness is what institutions building virtual assistants are trying to bring into the mix.”
Craig is a freelance writer and editor. He has toiled in various positions for various newspapers in Western Canada, including the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald.
When he’s not busy fixing his home, you can find him experimenting with his slow cooker, finding the right grind (and coffee bean) for his AeroPress, reading fiction and non-fiction, mulling over director Ingmar Bergman’s works, and practicing his backward crossovers (both sides!) while ice skating.