WHAT ARE BRANCHES FOR ANYWAY?


Is it the end for the traditional bank branch?

In the past if you wanted to do some banking in person you had to go at a time and to a location dictated by the bank, usually a branch and between the hours of 9-5 Monday to Friday and often resulting in a large queue during your lunch hour. This has changed slightly over the years with some high street branches offering late night and Saturday opening but you still had to make a specific effort to get into a branch.

Now with Barclays rolling out their counter-replacing Assisted Devices (ASDs) and their staff into 24-hour ASDA branches does this herald a new beginning for personal banking at a time and location convenient to the customer rather than the bank and could this spell the end for the traditional high street branch?

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Some signs of the times: Barclays are opening 'mini-branches' in 24-hour Asda supermarkets (see above) while Tescos are pushing further into banking services but, perhaps perversely, not having a physical presence in their stores. Sainsbury's have signed a deal with Travelex for foreign currency and the online-only bank First Direct is installing ATMs!

Almost the only reason I ever go into a bank branch these days is to pay in a cheque (usually for one of my children). They stay pinned to a cork board in the kitchen for weeks until I finally give in and make a detour to my local branch on a shopping trip into town. One of the questions at our recent customer experience webinar from Diebold was whether there is actually a future for the branch as we know it, even if it is a mix of self-service technology and smiley staff 'customer advisors'. Since I will soon be able to use my mobile to pay in cheques, why would I need to go there at all?

Once upon a time, to get a mortgage, you might have to put on a suit, shine your shoes, go to an interview with the branch manager and try not to look too shifty-eyed when asked about your monthly expenditure. Now everything is done by tick-box and decisions are made on the basis of bank policy criteria - at a level above the branch. That could just as easily be done online, as could most other bank business.

'Ah', I hear you say, 'but what about KYC and AML and all that.....?' Well, there are moves afoot for identity information to be held and confirmed by trusted third parties so you won't have to take passports and utility bills to be photocopied by your bank. KYC Network Exchange in Switzerland are providing that kind of service and, in the UK, the social enterprise, Mydex, have a wider ambition for individuals to take back control over their data through personally-controlled 'lockboxes'. Banks would receive a secure certificate confirming the relevant information.

So what's left? Paying in cash for individuals and small retailers? Retailers have other options but maybe here at last is a function for all those post office branches which are desperately trying to find a purpose and a justification for remaining open. Of course, keeping post offices open has the full support of their local communities....... but bank branches....?

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