One of the discussions I was having recently was around a future vision for banking, and the idea of branchless banking reared its ugly head again.
As mentioned many times, I don’t believe in branchless banking in the future .. just less branches for banking.
Anyways, this discussion veered in another direction that also rang my old bells: remote visual banking.
Just as we Youtube everything, the idea that your banking would be serviced through a remote advisor who you could chat with onscreen came up as the ideal way to be serviced in the future.
This is a theme like branchless banking, cashless society and biometric authentication. It keeps cropping up and then disappearing again.
The question is: can we really have a future where the bank deals with customers via remote visual media?
Why do we not have this today?
Because we’re not ready for branchless, cashless, intrusive biometrics or remote visual communications?
Maybe, but that will change.
After all, all of these things have been around for a long time.
Virtually since the invention of the telephone for example, video connection via the telephone network has been on the cards …
… I saw the same idea reoccur regularly during the 1990s and 2000s as video calls and, more recently, Facetime has appeared.
It’s a subject I talked about regularly over a decade ago and my view back then, as it is now, is that we will see visual communications as a channel for bank services take off at some point.
The question is when, rather than how.
In fact, it has also been tried by banks in many countries on a regular basis.
One of the first I heard about was the New England Credit Union in Australia.
Back in 2005, they were using video to talk with customers at home due to the great distances that needed to be covered. Many of NECU’s clients would be living in the outback, miles from their nearest branch, and so this was the best way to talk with them.
Then, in 2008, Monabanque in France added visual banking to their homepage on the web, as broadband speeds improved to offer such easy and visual connectivity.
And in Britain we now make 32 percent of our communications via internet video or telephone, up four times the 8 percent rate forecast in 2007, according to a recent Financial Times article.
So why has this not appeared as a proper sales and advisory channel?
I guess it’s in part to do with the culture: we are not yet using video calling as a service channel for much at all. As of today, video calls are really purely for keeping in touch with friends and family.
Part of it is also to do with process: the businesses that could use Skype-to-call or similar for servicing are not yet geared up for this.
And part of it is to do with cost: not the cost of the infrastructure which is just internet based video, but more the cost of the resource set up, training and program.
In fact, this last part – training staff in how to be exceptional in a visual service delivery via remote channels rather than just on the telephone – may be the biggest gating factor.
It is not to say that it still won’t happen.
In fact, just like biometrics and less branches with less cash, these things appear to be inevitable at some point in the future.
The question is just when?
Then, as part of this, the other component of service that I talked about almost a decade ago should also come into force: avatar servicing.
I talked about Avatars well before the James Cameron film appeared, and still believe that we will see avatars automating many transactions on visual communications, in the same way that we use the automated voice menus on audio telephones.
In fact, just to show you an early example, this is one that AT&T was playing around with in the early 2000’s.
The idea is that you film human agents delivering a variety of around 200 words and vowels, and then there mouth movements can be automated in line with scripts to look like natural human conversations.
It was a little bit choppy back then … and still is. Here’s a recent example that Cambridge University has experimented with, as covered by the BBC in March 2013:
So, I still believe a decade later that the hardy perennials of visual servicing via remote channels, along with biometric authentication, less branch banking and a less cash society are all within the near reach future.
It’s just a question of when, rather than if.
Oh, and of course, getting technologies that can automate these processes properly, e.g. getting Avatar services that are smooth and clear and that work.