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  • Writer's pictureFrainc Reid

Retail Branches: 10 Challenges exacerbated by a Global Pandemic, 5 keys tech is resolving them

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

A Covid-19 temperature check across Retail Branches:

The function of the branch has been evolving during the digital era, but this role has been further changed recently due to restrictions, and social distancing enforced by Covid 19.

While more transactions are moving from the teller line to other channels, branches still need to provide self service or full service transactional and advisory functions, while adhering to social distancing and the new world order we find ourselves in today.

Challenging Times are here thus Innovation is on the rise!

Institutions recognise that to meet customer needs while complimenting bank strategy, they must operate in ways that allow them to transform challenges into best practice and now they get to do that inside a global pandemic.

Challenges facing retail branches are not new, but have been exacerbated by the cycle of lockdowns, and social distancing, caused by the current pandemic. Now is a good time for institutions to look at the challenges their branch network faces and assess what the best outcome for themselves and their customers would look like.

10 Challenges facing Institutions today:

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of challenges facing retail branch banking but is some of the more common challenges that are currently being faced.

While most of these challenges pre-date the pandemic, they have been negatively impacted by the challenges caused by the changes in customer behaviour mandated by the pandemic.

  1. Operating costs and high legacy costs of servicing customers.

  2. Cultural shifts towards online channels.

  3. Buying in Technology.

  4. Poor Customer Engagement.

  5. Lockdowns and social distancing.

  6. Health and Safety of staff and customers.

  7. Increased competition.

  8. Alternate Business Models.

  9. Changing Landscape.

  10. Perception that bottom line trumps customer experience

Desired Outcome:

While every institution has differing strategies and wishes to provide a different proposition to their customers most institutions want their strategy to deliver some - if not all of the following key benefits both now and in the future.

  1. Reduce costs of servicing transactions and customers

  2. Improve cost / income ratio

  3. Increased customer engagement and customer loyalty

  4. Better customer service

  5. Increased sales

  6. Attract new customers

In a nutshell: provide better services at a lower cost, which in turn will increase customer engagement, customer sales, and attract new customers.

Challenges? Meet Results!

Any solutions to current challenges that institutions implement must have the flexibility to work for both the current and future business conditions. There is no single strategy that is correct for every institution, but previous experiences have shown that, no matter what the industry, institutions that adapt to the changing circumstances have a greater chance of thriving in the future than institutions that attempt to just survive the challenging times.

Some institutions will look at a Lean Strategy for their branch network, to reduce costs, others will look for technology solutions to improve service for customers, others still will push customers more and more down the digital channels route, and some will close swathes of their branch networks. Each strategy has benefits, as well as risks. For example as more people use digital channels only, sales of banking products may move more towards comparison websites, and the survival of the cheapest. This introduces many competitors with alternative business models, who may have cheaper legacy costs.

Of course most overall strategies will combine a number of different threads to find the best overall solution for the institution. For the purposes of this article we will look at one element of the solution, the use of technology for branch solutions, and how it can help during current conditions as well as help institutions achieve their desired goals for their retail branch strategy going forward.

5 Ways Tech is Resolving these 10 Retail Branch Challenges:

Meeting customer needs, while supporting the bank strategy inside this current Covid influenced climate, branch solutions are seeking to integrate 5 key tenants into their respective approaches to adapt to the new era of banking:

  1. Functionality

  2. Health and Safety

  3. Customer Interaction

  4. Flexibility to work now and tomorrow

  5. Branch Costs

1. Functionality:

People still need to come to the branch for advice, dealing with physical items (cash, checks) performing more complex transactions. Can ITM’s (Intelligent Teller Machines) perform more of these functions? Can full banking be provided from Machines?

Full service banking from a machine is becoming a more realistic proposition. More peripherals on machines (such as cheque reading / issuing) coupled with a Remote tablet interface to approve customer requests all on a kiosk application that is part of the branch network, rather than the ATM network means full transactional ability can be provided from Machines, without the need of physical interactions.

When advice is needed customer information and account details are at hand for the staff on the local / remote tablet interface. Integration to CRM data can provide opportunities for staff to meaningfully interact with customers, even while based in remote locations.

The staging of transactions through the online or mobile channel is made possible, as is touchless interactions with the hardware through a mobile widget minimising the need for customers to physically touch machines, important in the pandemic world we find ourselves in.

2. Health & Safety of Customers and Staff

With a little more context, remote approvals facilitate customers being able to transact on a machine in the lobby without having to enter the bank and queue for the teller line. Drive up’s with extended functionality allow customers to bank without leaving their cars.

As more transactions become available on the self-service channel, banks are staying open longer with less staff, while maximising the transactions available to the customers.

Remote Management of the kiosk network through the tablet application means: hardware issues, transaction issues and video assistance is easily done remotely too.

Touchless interaction with the Hardware through a mobile widget means even vulnerable customers, and those customers who are most concerned about healthcare can continue to bank with a minimum of risk.

Staff being able to remotely interact with customers enables technology with the human touch, without physical contact.

3. Customer Interactions

Automation with the human touch is as easy as a tablet interface, branch staff and a customer with a query coordinating locally, over the shoulder, or remote in another timezone. Video can link customers to real life tellers, and even advice from experts that would not normally be available within specific branches.

Better information provides branch staff with the ability to interact with customers in a more meaningful way. Branch staff can be alerted when customers use machines. They can be made aware of possible opportunities (such as a customer having completed step 1 online of a mortgage application), and can interact with customers accordingly. It is also possible to use geo-fencing to identify customers when they enter the lobby, and prior to the customer using any machine. Better information, quicker, leading to better interactions where applicable.

4. Flexibility

Banking in the pandemic, and banking post pandemic can operate within the same framework. Medical Experts believe we must learn to live with not just Covid-19 but also other pandemics may occur. Industry Experts are stating that there will be an increase in digital channels,

However, a Canadian study shows that customer behaviour will revert back to something similar to pre pandemic especially when transactions require peripherals. The reality is that banks need to have the flexibility within their branches to enable them to facilitate customer requirements in either scenario.

During pandemic times Antuar’s inBranch Kiosk provides the flexibility to perform contactless banking with branch staff assisting customers from a tablet application, not just on kiosk hardware, but also filling in forms using customer tablets, assisted by branch staff tablets. Omni banking is made possible by staging transactions on the mobile channel and completing the transaction in the branch.

Post pandemic inBranch Kiosk allows the branch the flexibility to work more efficiently by employing the concierge model of banking. The concierge model of banking, with improved information for branch staff, increases staff utilisation by up to 40%, increases customer experience and satisfaction, while also allowing more opportunities for branch staff to interact with customers leading to increased sales.

5. Branch costs:

Up to 90% of financial transactions can be automated.

Up to 75% cost reduction for servicing transactions can be achieved by Automation.

Reduction of administrative and transactional tasks for branch staff. Over time even small increases in staff efficiency leads to substantial savings.

Additional savings are possible by marrying the technology solution with some of the other strategies mentioned above, for example the Lean Branch model. Automation of transactions allows for better use of available space, enabling branches to provide the same functionality, and at least the same level of customer experience from a smaller footprint.

How can Antuar Support you in transforming these challenges?

Antuar is a financial technology company focused on branch innovation.

In today’s fast paced world, the role of the branch is evolving, and Antuar’s banking software solutions are designed to enable Financial Institutions to innovate the branch network, while reducing the overhead cost of servicing customers.

To achieve this, Antuar has created a suite of banking solutions, that are hardware agnostic, and core agnostic products that cater for full service, Assisted Self Service, Self-Service, and meaningful Engagement at Point-of-Contact.

Antuar integrates with core service providers and the branch network using an agile delivery model and suite of supporting tools.

Antuar’s inBranch Kiosk solution provides a wealth of functionality to enable branches to thrive both in pandemic and post pandemic conditions. From the hardware and core agnostic customer facing solution providing more functionality than a typical ATM, due to being deployed within the branch network, to the staff facing tablet application which interacts directly with the machine, as well as providing relevant information about customers using machines, technology has been used to enable institutions to reduce the cost of servicing customers, while increasing customer engagement and experience. An example of this would be the touchless application which can be used by customers to interact with the machine from their mobile phones without having to directly touch the machine itself.

1:55 Second Tech Demo is here for easy reference:

Antuar has a track record in reducing costs by up to 40% and increasing sales by up to 1 new product per household. This is done by empowering branch staff to interact with clients through technology and information, while reducing and optimising manual overheads. Antuar’s inBranch Kiosk solution has all of the functionality detailed in the above piece as part of its base product offering, allowing institutions to implement the modules they believe will provide them with the best fit for their branch strategy.

Antuar is a team of experienced branch people, designing branch solutions with offices in Florida, Argentina and Ireland.

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