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The Future of Bank's Branches

By Debbie Crowder, EVP-Head of Branch and Premier Banking, SunTrust Bank

Debbie Crowder, EVP-Head of Branch and Premier Banking, SunTrust Bank

We live in a rapidly changing environment fueled by evolving client preferences and emerging technologies. We are privileged to work in an industry that is conducive to a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity. People frequently ask me about the future of branches. “Will technology replace our branches? Will we have branches in the future?” The simple answer is yes, branches are changing, but with the right mix of people and technology, branches will continue to evolve for the future.

While branches remain important to our clients, their roles are changing thanks to advances in technology. People are increasingly comfortable transacting through online and mobile channels, and as a result, brick and mortar locations must change to support this. Like other banks, we’ve seen traffic in branches decline, with fewer teller transactions per year. At the same time nearly 80 percent of my banks’ solutions are fulfilled by the branch distribution channel, which is similar to the industry average. This tells us that while clients still rely on our branches, their expectations for the in-branch experience have changed. As more clients use digital channels to deposit checks, transfer funds and manage their accounts, we must continue to move away from the transactional relationship and cultivate a deeper advisory role with our clients.

Clients’ changing needs have guided our digital channels, but they also have implications on our branches. We can attribute declines in branch traffic and teller transactions largely to the popularity of virtual payments, and can anticipate that cash needs and moving payments will continue to become less necessary in the branch to fulfill. Given these changes, we must think about how to balance our branch size, design and staffing with the needs of our clients.

Our bank’s branch transformation is already in progress. This began with modernizing our branch technology, but also in many branches, by adding more advisory personnel to improve the client experience. As an example, we recently replaced our teller system, equipping every single branch with new equipment providing a more modern experience for our team. This has translated to a better long term experience for our clients. Tellers can now focus less on managing the technology and instead focus on their clients, have more meaningful conversations and uncover new ways to serve them.

"People are increasingly comfortable transacting through online and mobile channels, and as a result, brick and mortar locations must change to support this"

Beyond the changes we’ve already made, we continuously think about the future. For instance, we’re considering the idea that future branches should likely be smaller, designed less around serving transactional needs and more around facilitating conversations we need to have with our clients to help them build financial confidence. To continue meeting the unique needs of each client who visits a branch, we’ll need the balance of technology-assisted experience delivered through an service model focused on the expertise of our branch employees.

The most important consideration to make when thinking about the branch of the future is integration. We know that our clients want access to their finances from multiple channels. Technology is allowing us to bridge our branches, client contact center and digital channels to provide a seamless experience for our clients, which we call the omnichannel. Omnichannel is less about the channel, less about the product a client is using and more about the client journey. Because today, a client might be using an app to transfer funds, but tomorrow, they might want to visit a branch to discuss a loan. Since branch visits are becoming less about transactions and more about interactions, we have to engage them differently in our branches.

While we continue to work on delivering for our clients in the near term, we must also keep our heads up– assessing emerging trends, considering what our clients will need years from now, and painting a picture of what the future looks like for our business. We have employees who are fully dedicated to helping us innovate using test and learn studies, pilots, labs, incubators and other tools so we can stay ahead of our clients’ changing preferences.

As we look at the future of branches, what is most important is ensuring we keep our clients at the center of every decision we make. Technology, design, staffing-we have to have a client-centric approach to stay relevant. Everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve financial confidence and it is our responsibility to help them achieve this through a personalized, seamless and convenient experience.

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