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Has the pandemic transformed banking to be digital forever?

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Question: Has retail banking transformed to be digital forever?

Answer: No.

I’ve always said that banking can never be purely digital as it needs a human touch. It needs the ability to talk to someone as money is the second most important thing in our lives. In fact, for some, it’s the most important thing in their lives, even though money is just an imagination.

However, as the pandemic progressed, many believed that banking would become purely digital. We stop using cash, so we don’t need ATMs; we couldn’t go out, so we found ourselves more than able to live without a branch, so all the branches can shut down; we all downloaded banking apps and did things remote, and found it better than expected; and so on.

Therefore, we are all now digital humans interacting with digital services from digital banks?

Not exactly.

Two research reports came out in the last week from Deloitte and Accenture.

The first from Deloitte, who surveyed 3,000 American consumers in March 2021, found the following:

The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented catalyst for digital banking across the globe. With many branches temporarily shut down and most physical interactions minimized, retail bank consumers in the United States had no choice but to embrace these self-service channels like never before.

Almost every bank, large and small, saw a spike in digital banking usage. For instance, Wells Fargo saw a 35% increase in remote check deposits and a 50% growth in online wire transfers compared to a year ago.1 The pandemic even pushed many customers to use mobile banking for the first time, especially in the older cohorts. But will these new digital banking behaviours—some of which were involuntary—stick, and more importantly, will the increasingly digital interactions lead to sticky relationships?

The answers to these questions are not as straightforward as they may seem. In fact, our survey findings indicate that consumers’ preferences for digital banking are very much context dependent. They may use digital channels for many routine transactions, but for services that are complex and involved, many surveyed customers will want in-person interactions, even as their needs are evolving with changing social, economic, cultural, and technological trends. After the pandemic experience, consumers seem to be looking not only for instant gratification, increased convenience, and flexibility, but also more tailored services. That said, irrespective of the banking channel they use—the branch, phone, or a mobile app—one factor continues to remain important for them: the human touch.

The second from Accenture found similar results. In particular the need for digital humanisation.

Michael Abbott, Senior Managing Director, Global Banking Leader at Accenture, summarised this key insight in an interview with the Banking Transformed podcast (always worth listening):

“One of the overarching trends for 2022 and beyond is how do we take what we’ve done in branches for 50 years, and put it back in the digital, and put humanity back into it? We’ve become functionally correct and emotionally devoid. We’ve lost touch with our customers. We’ve lost the ability to have a conversation or ask a question of the customer. Today, technology can put humanity back in banking by creating seamless operations and exceptional experiences.”

I’ve actually said this for a while, most recently Human-first, NOT digital-first (although also see Banking for humanity), and the point is never to forget the human experience at the end of the digital connection.

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, 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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