Do You Want A Concierge And A Mac In Your Local Bank?

The Commonwealth Bank argues that local branches aren't dead, customers want online access when they visit their local bank and that HTML5 apps are the way of the future. I pretty much agree on the last point, but I'm not so sure about the other two.

As I mentioned in our writeup of the bank's future Android plans yesterday, I spent yesterday in Brisbane checking out the Commonwealth's new flagship branch at 240 Queen Street and hearing about its future strategy. The branch is being used as a pilot location to test out new technologies and new customer service models — the ones that work will end up in many other branches, although possibly not on so wide a scale.

Perhaps fortunately for its shareholders, CommBank also recognises that not all of them will work. "Some of those things will be abject failures," said Ross McEwan, group executive for retail banking services. "For many business people that's pretty hard. You'd like to have a success on everything but that's not going to be the reality. We need to roll things out faster and try them."

The Queen St branch isn't particularly like a conventional walk-in-and-queue-for-the-tellers arrangement, partly because of its size. When you enter, you're met by a concierge who directs you to the most appropriate area. That might be the tellers (who are not behind glass, though there is still a very evident security screen ready to descend from the roof). It might be the automated machines for dispensing change, accepting deposits or counting cash. It might be the foreign exchange area. It might be one of the eight touch-screen machines which let you access some bank functions and book appointments with a bank specialist. If you have an appointment, you get a free coffee from the on-site barista; if not, you can buy one. Yes, even banks aren't immune from the "let's add coffee" approach to retail.

Most visibly, the concierge might direct you to the plethora of Macs, iPads and iPod touches where you can access NetBank. (Interestingly, the Macs are running Windows, perhaps reflecting the fact that this is still a more familiar environment for most customers.)

I'll be blunt: I find the idea of going to the bank to use a machine to access NetBank weird. The whole point of online banking is that I don't need to go to a branch, so if I feel I need to be at a branch, it won't be to use a machine. Of course, I'm not necessarily a typical customer, but the number of customers who have downloaded apps suggests I'm not exactly atypical.

Overall, 900,000 iPhone apps have been downloaded, split between its main AR-influenced property guide and its main NetBank application. A future update to the main NetBank platform will see the addition of foreign exchange calculators and other bells and whistles. Despite the plethora of foreign exchange calculators online, the basic calculator on the main site has proved popular, attracting upwards of 200,000 visitors a month.

An iPad-specific version of the NetBank application is due in May, and will include options such as a single "transfer" page which handles any movement of money from an account, rather than separate pages for bill payments, movement between account and payment to third parties. However, as we noted yesterday, that app is largely HTML5-based, and bank officials say it will be a relatively trivial task to convert it for Android tablets and other form factors. That in turn means that the real engine for change will be the main NetBank site, which currently attracts a mildly mind-boggling 2.4 million logins a day.

One point about using HTML5 versus apps: one obvious advantage of an app is that elements such as graphics can be stored locally, improving performance. However, the bank's current security strategy means that it doesn't store any data on the device (other than, optionally, your login number).

Improvements to the NetBank site are driven through "labs testing", where small groups of customers are invited to test new features. In a typical round, 10,000 customers are invited to take part, though usually only 10% or so sign up. (I'd hazard a guess that if Lifehacker readers were asked, the percentage would be higher.)

Customer suggestions do appear to influence what happens in future releases. For instance, one feature tested in a Labs round offered a graph of how expenditure happens from a particular account. It turns out customers don't care about the shape of this graph — which tends to be a rapid descent from left to right — but want markers to indicate which transactions send it drastically descending. So that will be added to a future release, though we didn't get any indication of timing.

Do you fancy the idea of your bank offering multiple PCs? Does coffee make the notion of visiting a bank more appealing? Or would you rather just have more mobile banking options on your phone? Share your reactions in the comments.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money. Angus Kidman visited Brisbane as a guest of the Commonwealth Bank.


Comments

    I’ll be brazenly honest here, and admit that I haven’t read the whole article (yet), as I’m at work and its one of Gus’ lengthier pieces. Not going to stop me from commenting on the topic though (heh, typing “emails” at work looks far less conspicuous).

    I would agree that bank branches are holding a lesser relevance in how we interact with financial institutions these days. However, I also believe that the value of face to face interaction with a company cannot be substituted, especially when it comes to a very personal topic which affects all of us – money.

    I personally, as a 20-something middle class male, have only been to a branch a handful of times. One the occasions I have, it has been to open an account, and apply for a personal loan. Since then, I’ve also switched banks, to a financial institution which admittedly holds no branches in my current state of residence.
    Admittedly I found opening an account via the mail relatively quick and pain free; however a much slower process than if I had fronted up at a branch in person with all my original documents.
    I still believe that face to face dealing when it comes to loan applications is a better process. Admittedly in such a process is ironically submitted to head office for approval, but having a physical person to interact with is comforting. For my own personal use, I would more than happily greet closure of branches and introduction of mobile lenders, so this aspect of the business could be retained.

    Financial transactions at a branch, does seem to be a dying breed however. Teller transactions do seem to be utilised by those unable or unwilling to use a form of electronic banking, and as our population ages – is becoming less and less utilized. I strongly agree with Gus’ comment that going to a branch so you can use NetBank or use their phone for phone-banking does seem to defeat the purpose.

    In short, I think banks should focus on developing their electronic and tele banking services into the future, for those who want to utilize it. For those who want a branch for their daily banking needs, keep bank branches simple and functional, as they were 20 years ago. If I wanted to sit in a trendy cafe and drink coffee; I’d go to a cafe and do it, not at a bank.

      (copy and paste long web articles into an email, and address it to your personal account; read the article and look like you are doing work! If someone comes too close, just 'finish up' and send it to yourself - win-win; you looked like you were working AND you don't forget to read the rest of the article later ;-)

    I'm a concierge for CBA (at an admittedly less fancy branch than Queen St) and I have a pretty good idea of the kind of people who regularly use branches. For small business people, travellers (foreign and domestic), and the less computer savvy, branch service is crucial. It's also helpful for people who don't have a sound grasp of what financial services they actually need (worryingly, a large number).

    The advantage of having some electronic access options within a branch us that it gives staff the opportunity to demonstrate them to customers who might otherwise not be exposed to them (due to ignorance, mild technophobia, whatever). Maybe next time they'll use these options rather than spend extra time coming to the branch unnecessarily.

    No. If they introduce this I'm changing banks.
    Macs running Win7,...talking about a confused marketing ploy.

      Win7?
      It's XP.

    Coffee banking - WTF?

    That being said, the branch is certainly not dead. I'm with commonwealth but my boyfriend is with NAB so when it comes time for bill-paying and rent-paying, he gives me his half in cash because NAB online banking has been a nightmare for him - it simply refuses to work.
    I pay all the bills online while I'm at work, rather than spending my whole lunch hour at the bank, so I need to go into a branch to deposit his cash into my account, then enabling me to take care of business.

    Commonwealth online banking is awesome, but until other banks can meet their standards in that medium, the branch must remain!

    Woops - "rather than spending my whole lunch hour at the post office".

    Hell no! The amount of stuff ups we've had with the comm bank with our mortgage, I'd prefer competent service over and above the bells and whistles. And what a waste of money, I'd rather they cut fees/interest rates!

    Gee, it looks just like my credit union, except my credit union has looked like that for 3+ years. PCs in the branch are used regularly by customers for tasks they are suited for (balances, transfers, etc) though you can always walk up to a teller to do this. Each PC has a small printer attached.

    They also have "balance only" terminals, which are a roll printer, keypad and small LCD display. I suspect they will eventually disappear, as the PCs provide the same functions.

    Whoa, crossing of the streams. I'm a muso and I played at the opening of this last night. They spent a lot of money on this place, it's very slick inside.

    I just had a radical thought. Banks spend so much time advertising how customer centric their branches are, but never once seem to mention amongst their advertising the experience using netbanking or tele-banking. I'm willing to bet a large percentage of people would be influenced by this - I know I would. Hell, go one step further, create a sand-box duplicate of their net-banking portal so potential users can test out the experience before signing up.

    Online banking plays a big role in my financial management, and signing up with a new bank yields a great big unknown when it comes to online transactions. I personally would LOVE to be able to pay with a institutions online banking system in a sandbox environment before signing up for the long haul of their fees services

      Totally agree with Sam on his comment. 99% of my interaction is via my banks online application. It would be great to try out how it work before I signed up if I wanted to change banks.....might even entice me if I tried something that really worked and offered great security.

    It's good to know they'll have computers to access netbank on there. It's definitely not something I'd use regularly, but as I don't access netbank on my phone, sometimes I find that I've forgotten to transfer money into the correct account before leaving home or work, and it'll be nice to be able to go to the bank and transfer money quickly myself.

    I went into this bank a couple of weeks ago, walked in and around the whole bank searching for the home loans department. Got back to the main entrance, stood for a minute trying to see where i should be going for help as all staff were busy at the kiosk with customers. Two minutes later someone came up to me to offer assistance. Told them what i needed assistance with, they asked me to stand on a spot behind a laarge column. Waited 10 minutes to see a staff member, who wasn't able to assist and booked me in for a call back. Two days i ended up calling back myself to get my initial issue resolved......
    It doesn't matter how tech pretty their branches might be, you still need good and knowledgeable staff to work in these branches. I'm in no rush to back to this branch.

    Just on the concierge side of this article, I was a Comm Bank manager for the past 10 years and the only way a branch got a concierge was they had to give up one of their staff members. There was no additional staff. Then the decree come down that all Tier 1 branches MUST have a concierge, again with no increase in staff. So we now have these concierges that in the main just greet and say goodbye to clients but dont actually do any transactions and the branch has one less person to do these. No wonder they are installing more PC, iPads etc and I bet the branch will have to forego more staff to have more of these on line items.

    I do most of my banking online - have done since about 6 months after netbank was introduced, but I've had to go to branches of a few banks recently. My experience at the CBA I went to for a scheduled appointment was walk in, greeted by the concierge, offered coffee and asked to take a seat while the concierge found my contact and then showed me through. (meantime I noted a number of people using the netbank machines on offer and a good queue of people moving quite quickly through the tellers).

    I went to another bank a few days later and there were about a dozen customers, half trying to work out what to do because they didn't see the ticket machine at the door, or trying to work out where best to wait in the "queue less" waiting room. I found the electronic concierge machine didn't have an option for "I have an appointment" so I went in and spent the next 5 minutes waiting for the customer service to listen me say "I'm here to see X" (was asked to take a number), but after they finished with a customer and walked off not to return for a while I just started knocking on the booth doors until I found my contact.

    Based on the number of customers waiting every time I've been to a branch, I don't think branch banking is dead yet.

    I go to the bank to use netbank when I need to transfer -now- from my netbank saver and my Vodafone 3G on my phone is being its usual shit self.

    Thanks you for you about this topic . I dom't know about banking online.

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