Can you remember when banks had no competitors?

The market’s saturation with competitors from within and outside of the financial services sector has almost conditioned us to believe that banking disruption has always been as pervasive as it is today. But we know better. It is an unprecedented time for banks, with competitors coming from all sides, including the retail industry.

The retail advantage

This banking trend is not so surprising. After all, beyond the products and services that retailers sell, the essence of the retail business is about developing strong customer relationships and delivering customer experiences that go beyond pure transactions. This is certainly something that banks want to master for their customers.

And the retail industry as a whole has been a digital pioneer. The industry has led the way in providing non-stop digital customers with relevant, personalized and seamless experiences across their channels of choice, including their physical presence.

On the offensive

As such, the question that banks should be asking—and many already are—is clear. What lessons can we learn—and what practices should we implement—from the retail industry?

One of the things that I am excited to see is that some banks are taking an offensive and proactive stance here, rather than a defensive and reactive one. In other words, their approach is rooted in the philosophy, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Results from Accenture’s 2015 North America Consumer Digital Banking Survey—our multi-year survey of over 4,000 consumers in the United States and Canada—reveal how important this is for banks. For the first time, consumers rank online banking services as the top reason that they stay with their banks.

As online and mobile channels continue to come of age, and new digital channels emerge, the challenge for banks is to reinvent the branch’s critical role in the customer relationship. Some banks have already started to do this using retail-inspired models.

A community experience

Consider the story of Umpqua Bank’s flagship store in San Francisco, winner of a 2014 EFMA- Accenture Distribution & Marketing Innovation Award in the physical distribution category. Note that the use of the word “store” over “branch” is not an oversight. I’ve seen many banks use this word over the last decade, but it has often been used in the wrong connotation as a place to amass products instead of as a place to shop for the product they need.

 

What is Umqua doing differently? To connect with and welcome customers and the broader community, Umqua designed this store, which opened in August 2013, to envelop customers like the best retail stores do—and then some.

In addition to its strong design sensibility steeped in local and regional influences, the San Francisco store includes breakthrough features and services not typically found at a bank branch, such as:

  • External screens with community information.
  • Public access to tablets.
  • Comfortable chairs in inviting conversation nooks.
  • A “demo bar” to showcase key products and services in an interactive manner.

This store is a reflection of the bank’s longstanding “store” concept. Umpqua develops branches that are more public gathering spaces than they are narrow destinations for financial transactions.

This spirit of innovation focused on taking what the retail industry does well and then making it better is an important lesson for all banks feeling new retail competitors nipping at their heels. Retail banks should use their local branches as a strategic advantage in keeping those non-bank competitors at bay by making better use of their stores as true places to meet their needs.

Learn more about the 2015 North America Consumer Digital Banking Survey.

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