Hybrid bank branches
acrevis Bank knows exactly what tomorrow’s bank should be like, and is bridging the divide between digital services and growth driven by customer friendliness – by practising a new form of video consulting.
Text: Urs Binder, Images: acrevis Bank/Hannes Thalmann,
Rapperswil, late January 2018: Ursula Mayer is more than happy with her bank and generally completes her payment transactions using e-banking. But today she has a number of questions that can only be answered in a personal discussion. This is why she heads for her regular branch of the acrevis Bank in Rapperswil – only to get quite a surprise: instead of the usual counters, she encounters an unstaffed reception desk. There is where the large screen is installed on which she is immediately welcomed by an advisor and to whom she can explain the reasons for today’s visit.
It quickly becomes apparent that this will require a confidential discussion: the customer would like to change the conditions of her mortgage. The advisor then tells Ms Mayer which of the two meeting rooms she should go to – the entrance is directly next to the reception desk. A screen also dominates the scene in the meeting room. Ms Mayer continues the videophone call with this advisor in a private atmosphere. When questions about a new mortgage product arise, another specialist is invited to join the video call. Ursula Mayer also uses video to show the advisor the documents she brought with her: she only needs to put them down on the table. A special camera films the content.
Ursula Mayer is impressed. She was given a personal welcome, received competent answers to all her questions and did not even have to make a separate appointment to speak to the mortgage specialist. She feels that she is taken seriously as a customer – the only thing she misses out on is shaking the advisor’s hand.
When the management board and the board of directors of acrevis were formulating a new digitisation strategy in 2016, they concentrated on a fundamental concern: how should the bank position itself in a changing market environment, and how can it adapt to new customer requirements? “It soon turned out that this also affects the conventional counter,” as Stephan Weigelt explains, who was the chairman of the management board at acrevis until the end of March 2018, and is now a member of the board of directors. “The counter used to have a different function: for withdrawing, depositing and changing money. Cash only plays a minor role nowadays.”
In its place, the need for advice on complex financial questions has increased dramatically – investments, retirement provisions, mortgages. And: customers expect more flexibility when it comes to opening hours, and would like the most detailed advice possible on all sorts of topics at each branch.
In a small branch such as the one in Rapperswil, the work that would be needed to implement this couldn’t be justified. There are only a certain number of specialists working at the branch, and extending the opening hours with the counters staffed is not worthwhile at a branch that sees less than 50 customers come by every day. However, closing branches isn’t an option either, as an on-site presence remains imperative for the bank. acrevis therefore implemented a hybrid concept known as “Counter of the Future” in Rapperswil, involving an unstaffed customer service centre and personal video consulting.
The advisors work from a studio in St. Gallen, with other specialists from the bank’s departments being called in when required. The customers receive competent, personal advice without needing to make additional appointments, and also profit from the longer opening hours: The Rapperswil branch is continuously open from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. acrevis can continue to operate its existing branch, position itself as a state-of-the-art bank with attractive digital services, and leverage this to gain new customers. Stephan Weigelt, a member of the acrevis board of directors, considers the new type of branch to be “an important milestone on the road to digitisation.”
The Video Consulting Solution from Swisscom is the technology that makes video-based consultations possible. As Patrik Eberle, project manager for the Counter of the Future at acrevis, says: “We examined the solution closely, and determined that it satisfies all our requirements.” One of the most important ones: the solution must be easy to operate for the employees, and be able to be grasped intuitively by the customers. “If the customers needed training just to use it, then they wouldn’t accept it.” Mona Brühlmann, head project manager in the digitisation area, can confirm this: “Having to search the interface and being unable to find the operating elements straight away, because they just aren’t self-explanatory, is simply unacceptable. This applies in equal measure for the terminal at the reception desk as for the software used by the video consultants.”
Mona Brühlmann, head project manager in the digitisation area at acrevis
Patrik Eberle considers an internet-based prototype of the solution, which was ready in summer 2017, to have been decisive for the success of the project: “It allowed us to simulate the situation in St. Gallen and Rapperswil in detail, and to integrate the solution into our existing IT. The employees were able to familiarise themselves with the software at an early stage – which dispelled any fears, and made training easier.”
For Eberle, the greatest challenge was the combined IT and building project involving overlapping project phases: after all, the counter area in Rapperswil needed to be converted and the studios in St. Gallen needed to be set up. Real stumbling blocks were not, however, encountered – something on which Patrik Eberle and all those involved agree.
A team from Swisscom CIM (Customer Interaction Management) provided comprehensive support throughout the project – with the exception of the construction-related aspects, and training the employees to work in front of the camera – sharing advisory, implementation and support services. And this from the technical implementation concept right through to details such as the positioning of screens, cameras and microphones, or issues related to the acoustics of the room.
Patrik Eberle, project manager for the Counter of the Future at acrevis
Patrik Eberle: “The Swisscom CIM team was the single point of contact for us. Swisscom functioned as a competent general contractor – filling this role with life in word and deed.” The consistently positive mood during the project work and the wealth of experience of the Swisscom specialists proved to be a valuable contribution to the success of this demanding project, as Patrik Eberle observes.
The eight-member team currently responsible for video consulting is the same team that is also responsible for providing customer advice by telephone. “These employees have always had a very broad area of responsibility,” as the team leader of customer services, Ana Tiosavljevic, can report.
Ana Tiosavljevic, team leader of customer services at acrevis
“Video consulting means another step has simply been added.” Each member of the team now assumes responsibility for the video consulting service on certain days. The team members find this adds some welcome variety to their day, especially as no calls from the e-banking hotline and the call centre are forwarded to the video studio. How to work in front of a camera is something the team was able to learn from an external advisor and practice in a training course – including blocks of theory and peer assessment. “Having completed the training course, everyone has a positive attitude and looks forward to each and every day in the studio.”
Stephan Weigelt, member of the board of directors at acrevis
Mr Weigelt, which business-related challenges did the acrevis Bank want to address with the “Counter of the Future”?
It allows us to cater to changing customer requirements, to serve more customers and to attract new customers. And we can provide our services more efficiently – which is the goal of every company.
Is the hybrid branch in Rapperswil a key element of your digitisation strategy?
Yes, because it provides a visible flagship and combines the traditional bank branch with digital services. Physical branches still have a huge significance. How this element will be positioned in future is a different matter. Most of the services that we currently provide in the hybrid branches are something the customer will also be able to obtain at home within the foreseeable future.
And is Rapperswil the prototype for a further roll-out of the concept?
Every branch is different, with different types of customer traffic, customer structures and volumes. Not all branches are likely to look like the one in Rapperswil in future. But the project does lay the foundation for ongoing developments, and provides insights for further optimisation.
Where do you see the acrevis Bank in ten years’ time?
Digital services will clearly gain significance. However, we are confident that only a combined approach will result in success, and are therefore not talking about a fully digital bank. Personal contact will remain important in future, including on-site contact, where people shakes hands and might operate a device or software together.
What have the first few months of experience with the “Counter of the Future” been like?
It’s still too early to draw definitive conclusions. We have, however, noticed that it’s being used actively, and the feedback is good. It’s interesting that it doesn’t just appeal to the younger customers – there are also older customers who are excited about receiving such comprehensive advice by means of the video channel.
Swisscom is offering this video advisory solution as a 360-degree turnkey solution from a single source. Services range from consultations to equipping customer service consultants’ workstations and product studios, and also include connectivity and computing. The customer-interaction management experts from Swisscom have years of experience with contact centres, call centres and premium video solutions.
The solution can be used on any device, regardless of whether a smartphone, tablet, PC or on screens or touchscreens at a branch, and can be integrated into websites, kiosk solutions and dedicated information systems. The Video Consulting Solution is suitable for use everywhere that services and products are offered over the internet or at the point-of-sale or point-of-information.
Patrik Eberle and Dejan Mastrapovic
Dejan Mastrapovic, Head of CIM Video Solutions at Swisscom, underlines the increasing significance of video consulting: “Video-based consultations are assuming an increasingly important role in digital communication with customers. The project at acrevis saw the Video Consulting Solution being implemented quickly, and with optimal support for the customers and the employees.” According to Dejan, enhancements will be made to the video solution product in future, for example with voice biometrics or image/face analysis. This will open up hitherto unknown potential in terms of customer care for companies from all sorts of industries.
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