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High-Tech + High-Touch: The Perfect Pairing

Apr 07, 2017

Strong customer relationships are the cornerstone of community banking, but utilizing high-tech interactions is becoming an increasingly important way to foster more powerful relationships and remain competitive. In today’s commoditized environment, delivering a better customer experience has become a key differentiator.

 “There is an incredible opportunity for community banks to lead with technology while never losing sight of our personal service,” said ICBA Chairman Scott Heitkamp during an address to the nation's community bankers at ICBA Community Banking LIVE® in San Antonio last month.

“Technology can make us difference makers in our community bank strategy. In many cases, it already has.”

Holyoke, Mass.-based PeoplesBank created a special department to evaluate and implement new customer-facing technology and improve existing technology.

A review of the bank’s mobile banking platform revealed that a segment of its customers were making special trips to the branch to deposit larger checks when their usage behavior suggested a preference for remote deposits.

After determining the customers presented a low-fraud risk, the bank increased its mobile deposit limit. 

Working in Tandem

When Claremont Savings Bank in New Hampshire closed one of its branches, the bank decided to replace it with a “technology branch” nearby featuring two “smart teller” machines

“The idea was that customers would do most of their regular transactions at the machine, which would free up the staff to interact with more customers in other ways and cement their relationships with them,” said Brenda Reed, senior vice present of retail services for the Springfield, Vt.-based bank.

There’s also a direct video connection from the machines to the bank’s call center, allowing customers with questions about the technology or their account to see and talk with a person immediately.

“The customers who try it love it,” Reed says.

“Effective technology simply shortens the gaps between personal interactions,” said Kristen Zell, a product specialist for ProfitStars speaking at a session during ICBA’s convention. “It enhances the relationship between the lender and the borrower rather than replacing it.”

Local businesses want both fast loan decisions and “someone who can advise them and connect them to others in the community,” said Peter Rice, senior vice president for small business lending at the Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Bank. Even though the bank’s small-business loans can be approved and funded in as little as eight hours, most commercial borrowers don’t need money that fast, he noted.

“Technology is huge,” he continued. “But you must have a culture” that appreciates each borrower’s uniqueness as well, Rice explained.

Although embracing technology has become a necessity in the financial industry, delving in requires a thoughtful plan and, in some cases, change management for both customers and employees.

“I don’t think any of us needs a crystal ball to see what’s coming. Fintech will continue to migrate to mobile-first solutions. Tablets will replace computers. The Internet of Things will explode, driving digital convergence,” said ICBA Bancard president and CEO, Tina Giorgio.  In her blog, “Tina’s Take on Payments,” she outlines practical steps bankers can follow to evaluate their payment landscape and engage leaders and the appropriate stakeholders at the bank.

For a more complex or rapidly evolving product like mobile wallets you can use a chart to track and evaluate opportunities against your bank’s key metrics, explains Giorgio, who said bankers should be prepared to ask and answer questions like:

  • Is this product relevant to current and future customers?
  • Will it increase our revenue or reduce our expenses?
  • What resources will be needed for implementation?
  • How is marketplace adoption?
  • How will the product/service integrate with our existing offerings and what will the customer experience look like?

Once you’ve got the necessary components in place you’ll be well on your way to delivering a memorable customer experience that delivers on all fronts and helps your bank stand apart from the crowd.

“With the speed that technology is moving, it’s our responsibility to make sure the bank stays competitive and meets, or hopefully exceeds our customers’ expectations,” says PeoplesBank vice president, Karen Buell.

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