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The future is visual banking (still)

One
of the discussions I was having recently was around a future vision for
banking, and the idea of branchless banking reared its ugly head again.

As
mentioned many times, I
don’t believe in branchless banking in the future .. just less branches for
banking.

Anyways,
this discussion veered in another direction that also rang my old bells: remote
visual banking.

Just
as we Youtube everything, the idea that your banking would be serviced through
a remote advisor who you could chat with onscreen came up as the ideal way to
be serviced in the future.

This
is a theme like branchless banking, cashless society and biometric
authentication.  It keeps cropping up and
then disappearing again.

The
question is: can we really have a future where the bank deals with customers
via remote visual media?

Yes.

Why
do we not have this today?

Because
we’re not ready for branchless, cashless, intrusive biometrics or remote visual
communications?

Maybe,
but that will change.

After
all, all of these things have been around for a long time.

Virtually
since the invention of the telephone for example, video connection via the
telephone network has been on the cards …

1950s – videophone from Chris Skinner on Vimeo.

… I
saw the same idea reoccur regularly during the 1990s and 2000s as video calls
and, more recently, Facetime has appeared.

It’s
a subject I talked about regularly over a decade ago and my view back then, as it is now, is that
we will see visual communications as a channel for bank services take off at
some point.

The
question is when, rather than how.

In
fact, it has also been tried by banks in many countries on a regular basis.

One
of the first I heard about was the New England Credit Union in
Australia.

Back
in 2005, they were using video to talk with customers at home due to the great
distances that needed to be covered. 
Many of NECU’s clients would be living in the outback, miles from their
nearest branch, and so this was the best way to talk with them.

Then,
in 2008, Monabanque in France added visual banking to their homepage on the
web, as broadband speeds improved to offer such easy and visual connectivity.

Video banking, France, Monabanque Mar 08 from Chris Skinner on Vimeo.

And
in Britain we now make 32 percent of our communications via internet video or
telephone, up four times the 8 percent rate forecast in 2007, according to a
recent Financial Times article.

So
why has this not appeared as a proper sales and advisory channel?

I
guess it’s in part to do with the culture: we are not yet using video calling
as a service channel for much at all.  As of today, video calls are really
purely for keeping in touch with friends and family.

Part
of it is also to do with process: the businesses that could use Skype-to-call
or similar for servicing are not yet geared up for this.

And
part of it is to do with cost: not the cost of the infrastructure which is just
internet based video, but more the cost of the resource set up, training and
program.

In
fact, this last part – training staff in how to be exceptional in a visual
service delivery via remote channels rather than just on the telephone – may be
the biggest gating factor.

It
is not to say that it still won’t happen.

In
fact, just like biometrics and less branches with less cash, these things
appear to be inevitable at some point in the future.

The
question is just when?

Then,
as part of this, the other component of service that I talked about almost a
decade ago should also come into force: avatar servicing.

I
talked about Avatars well
before the James Cameron film appeared, and still believe that  we will see avatars automating many transactions
on visual communications, in the same way that we use the automated voice menus
on audio telephones.

In
fact, just to show you an early example, this is one that AT&T was playing
around with in the early 2000’s.

Chris, AT&T from Chris Skinner on Vimeo.

The
idea is that you film human agents delivering a variety of around 200 words and
vowels, and then there mouth movements can be automated in line with scripts to
look like natural human conversations.

It
was a little bit choppy back then … and still is.  Here’s a recent example that Cambridge
University has experimented with, as covered by the BBC in March 2013:

Get Adobe Flash player

So,
I still believe a decade later that the hardy perennials of visual servicing
via remote channels, along with biometric authentication, less branch banking and
a less cash society are all within the near reach future.

It’s
just a question of when, rather than if.

Oh,
and of course, getting technologies that can automate these processes properly,
e.g. getting Avatar services that are smooth and clear and that work.

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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3 comments

  1. We used this as part of customer sign up at my old bank in New Zealand, TSB Bank. Our [my]bank service let’s customers sign up from their iPhone. But as regulations stated we had to see the customer ‘face to face’. So as part of the sign up form we let them enter their Skype username and mobile number so we could Skype or FaceTime them to finish the process

  2. Chris
    The Nationwide Building Society piloted this in 1995!
    Rob

  3. I think the training aspect is interesting. Communicating over video is different than face to face even though that may seem a nuance. It would be a big task to train up banking staff to put their best ‘face’ forward on video.

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