Consumers still benefit from the personal touch in banking, even as virtual banking grows in importance, says Alex Lucas, Vice-President, Product & Marketing at Manulife Bank & Trust in Waterloo, Ont.
"If you look at where the industry is going, technology offers enormous convenience," he says. "But a lot of the time, you still need to sit down with someone who can help you with complex financial decisions."
Nearly half of Canadians – 45 per cent – use the Internet as their main means of banking, according to the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA). Ten years ago, just eight per cent did. But technology will not replace the need for personalized advice and interaction, Mr. Lucas says.
The financial services industry has taken two main approaches. There are the branch-based networks, dominated by the big five national banks (complemented by online capabilities). And there are the Internet banks that don't have branches, but which often offer better rates for saving and borrowing.
Manulife Bank has a hybrid model of its own, Mr. Lucas says. For simple financial products, such as investment savings accounts and GICs, Manulife is a virtual bank. Because it has no physical branches, and therefore a lower cost base, it can pass on savings and compete well on pricing.
"But where the client does value face-to-face support, we're investing in people who can do that," Mr. Lucas says. "You're not on your own."
Instead of a branch network, Manulife Bank has a network of mobile consultants, who can meet at clients' homes or offices.
"Our approach has been to invest in mobile staff where we feel clients need help and support with a financial decision, an obvious example being a mortgage," says Mr. Lucas.
Financial services providers need to find the right balance between high-tech and high-touch banking, Mr. Lucas says. Both have their place, depending on the client's need, and will continue to be vital to a great customer experience, he says.
There's little doubt that virtual banking will keep increasing in popularity, as demonstrated by statistics provided by the CBA:
- A strong majority of Canadians, 63 per cent, have banked that way in the last year. Just 23 per cent of Canadians now identify branch banking as their main banking method.
- There is an age divide in the preference for online banking: 62 per cent of Canadians age 18 to 34 say online is their main way of banking, compared to 25 per cent of those 55 or older.
- Increasingly, Canadian banks are also offering mobile banking services that allow people to carry out a variety of day-to-day banking transactions through their smart phones.
- Just five per cent of Canadians reported using mobile banking during the last year but 23 per cent expect to do so in the near future.
- 64 per cent of iPhone users and 54 per cent of BlackBerry users expect to be banking from their mobile device within the next few years.
"Consumers will continue to migrate to e-banking, but regardless of what the newest web application offers, it all comes back to customer service," Mr. Lucas says.
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