As digital banking use continues to increase, bank branch traffic is decreasing. But that doesn’t signal the end of branch banking. Quite the contrary; the interactions that are occurring in the branches are very important.
While consumers want the convenience of online and mobile banking, when they are making a large purchase (think home or car), need financial advice or have a service need, a person-to-person connection is the overwhelming choice, not an app. When people are making a major financial decision that involves short and long term financial planning they really want that personal relationship. And this is what sets Howard Bank apart from other banks – a hands on approach.
Branch banking will continue to change over the next five to ten years. The trend of customers coming into the branch less for transactions and more for advice will continue. “Our branch layout will change from the standpoint that there’s no need to have a 4,000 square foot branch tomorrow; an 800 to 1,200 square foot branch storefront is more appropriate,” says Barry Luciani, Senior Vice President, Branch Executive at Howard Bank.
The core function of the branch has become relationship building. And this means that the people in the branch are key. “They have to be equipped to problem solve and listen to customers and then come up with financial solutions. And they have to give value-added advice back to the customer,” says Luciani. “The days of accepting a check in our branches is going down. We’re seeing transaction counts decrease year over year. So now you have to go back and re-engineer. What does the branch really do now for today and tomorrow? It all goes back to providing advice and relationship building with our customers.”
Listening to customers and offering good customer service is important, whether that service is in-person, on the phone, or by electronic means. “At Howard Bank, we pride ourselves on customer service which is that hands on approach. We are proactively listening to our customers, because that’s really what drives coming up with those solutions,” notes Luciani, including electronic banking services such as online banking, online bill pay, mobile banking, and mobile deposit.
In addition to hands on service and financial technology, Howard’s size and community bank status offers great advantages to its customers. “We’re here, we’re in it, and the leaders understand the market. When you need to get to a decision maker, Mary Ann [Scully, President and CEO of Howard Bank] is only a thirty-minute drive or a phone call away. And the same with all the decision makers. If there’s a problem, we’re not calling Charlotte, Buffalo or Winston-Salem. We’re on the phone with the people who are involved with the day-to-day management of those processes. That really differentiates being a community bank, local, and managed in the Baltimore market.”
So while branch banking may be evolving, it is a positive change and will continue to be part of an overall hands on banking solution developed for the customer.