Bridging the Gap

How to Increase Human Interaction in Banking 

by Peter R. Rancie with Kristen S. Borchers 

CONTEMPORARY BANKING in the United  States is navigating through turbulent waves of transformation, primarily marked by a  reduction in physical banks1 and a momentous thrust toward technological integration. With this metamorphosis, there emerges a landscape where the realms of digital mobile and web-based banking have unfurled unprecedented conveniences and accessibilities. However,  shadowing these advancements are notable limitations, primarily the erosion of human interaction, which has historically been a  cornerstone in cultivating customer trust and satisfaction. 

In navigating through these challenges, innovative business solutions are essential in synthesizing technological efficiencies with the irreplaceable value of  human touch. The seeds of the following human interface  ideas come from one of the author’s youthful experiences. 

Peter Rancie grew up in the northern suburbs of  Melbourne Australia, in a government housing project.  The local elementary school did not have a well endowed  library. Most books were classroom sets of textbooks or  readers. Peter recalls that his saving grace in terms of self education and access to a much greater variety of books  was the mobile book library that would come each Friday  afternoon, parking just a few hundred yards from the  family’s humble, three bedroom, 1200 square feet home  that housed nine people. That mobile library, with its ever  changing supply of books made all the difference. He  would use his library card to get as many books each week as the library would allow, and then devour each of them.  Quite often he would be up late into the night, reading with a flashlight under the blankets after his parents, and  his three brothers in the same bedroom, had insisted on the light being turned off. 

The idea of a mobile library, which gave an impoverished  neighborhood access to more books, is somewhat akin to the idea of BankMobiles. Wrapped vans, fitted with ATMs and computers for onboarding and servicing remote communities, and delivering financial literacy initiatives to unbanked and  underbanked communities and families, offers a friendly,  accessible and personal alternative or supplement to the  digital age. 

Another promising innovation that holds significant  potential in reinvigorating human interaction within  the banking sector is the concept of Virtual Banking  Concierges. This innovative model marries technological  sophistication with human empathy and expertise,  fostering a platform where customers can engage in real time, virtual interactions with banking professionals.  Unlike conventional automated systems, Virtual Banking  Concierges aim to recreate the in-branch experience in  a virtual environment, ensuring that customers receive  personalized guidance, advice, and support. 

The Virtual Banking Concierge system operates through  secure, user-friendly platforms where customers can  schedule and engage in video or voice calls with banking  representatives. These platforms ensure that customers  receive immediate attention, replicating the direct and  personal interactions characteristic of physical banking  environments. Importantly, the Concierge system is not  just reactionary but also proactive. It enables banks to  schedule check-ins, consultations, and financial health  discussions, nurturing the customer-bank relationship  continuously. 

This innovative model mitigates the geographical and  accessibility limitations that have been exacerbated by  the reduction of physical banks. It ensures that banking  services, characterized by human interaction and  personal touch, are accessible even to those in remote or  underserved areas. Furthermore, it elevates the level of  customization and empathy in service delivery. Banking representatives, through virtual interactions, can gauge  customer needs, emotions, and contexts more accurately,  enabling a more tailored and compassionate service  approach. 

Moreover, Virtual Banking Concierges provide a bridge  across the digital divide. They offer a supportive platform  where customers, particularly those who might feel  overwhelmed by technological complexities, can receive  guidance and assistance. Through personal interactions,  banking representatives can guide customers into and  through digital platforms, beginning with something  as simple as a phone call or an email, enhancing user  comfort and proficiency in navigating technological tools. 

In adopting this innovation, considerations on security,  privacy, and reliability are paramount. The Virtual  Banking Concierge platforms must embody robust security  frameworks that safeguard customer information and  instill confidence in the virtual interactions. Furthermore,  user-centric principles for the digital experience (DX)  has to ensure ease of navigation and accessibility to foster  a seamless and enjoyable customer experience. 

A third novel proposal is Community Banking Pods (CBPs). CBPs are a stepped up version of BankMobiles.  These are larger bus style mobile banking units designed  to travel to different communities, enabling banks to maintain a physical presence without needing permanent brick-and-mortar branches. The concept of CBPs is rooted  in adaptability and community engagement. Each Pod is  staffed with banking professionals who offer a range of  services, from basic transactions to personalized financial consultations. They aim to foster a sense of community by  being present in various locations on a rotating schedule,  ensuring that customers can plan visits, much like they would to a traditional branch. 

CBPs facilitate human interaction, allowing customers to engage with bank representatives face-to-face, nurturing relationships and trust. They also embody inclusivity by ensuring that banking services, imbued with personal interactions, are accessible to diverse demographic segments, even those in remote and otherwise underserved areas.

CBPs also engage in community education, offering workshops and sessions on financial literacy, digital tool navigation, and emerging banking trends, thereby enhancing community knowledge and comfort with banking processes. The essential difference between CBPs and BankMobiles is that one is an event style experience requiring a large team and significant planning, whereas the latter is more transactional, with even more flexibility. The updated CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) regulations are expected to encourage innovative banks and other financial institutions towards such solutions. Adoption of one or more of these community banking interactions will help bridge the gap between shrinking brick-and-mortar access, increasing population, and declining human interaction.

Veritas Chronicles is at the ready to shine its publishing light on institutions that take actions like those suggested to address the human/tech balance in banking and financial services, especially for the unbanked and under-banked.§

1 The FDIC reports that at the end of 2022 there were 4,165 FDIC  insured banks down from a peak of insured banks in the 1980s of about 19,000  banks.
2 In the 1920’s the per capita ratio of persons to banks was approximately  3,500. In the 2020’s the per capita ratio of persons to banks is around 80,000. Keep  in mind, there are now more credit unions across the US than banks, so the above access numbers may be a little daunting. However, with the inclusion of credit unions the per capita ratio is still about 35,000-40,000. So, even with the credit unions touting local community and personal focus, there is still a dramatic decline in face to face or personalized engagement at street level.

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