What Does Omnichannel mean for Retail Banks?

Art Harrison

Curious about what omnichannel banking means? We were, so we went and learned all about it for you.

Here are the three big areas where retail banks need to excel to continue to service customers effectively, and fully leverage the benefits of omnichannel banking.

1. Digital-only transactions

Currently there are plenty of digital-only transactions that customers can do with the bank. Things like transfer money between accounts, deposit cheques, or pay bills. That’s all from an app as well – online banking lets customers do an even broader range of activity.

But what about opening an chequing account, getting a mortgage, signing up to a small business account, or saving for retirement? Most of these still need a trip to the bank.

But here’s the thing.

There are digital solutions that enable these to be completed online.

Things like digital ID verification and better online help and service tools (more on those in a minute) mean that we have the technical capability to complete these transactions online. For real omnichannel banking,  retail banks need to work towards the objective of completely mirrored services – anything you can do in a branch, you can do (or at least start) online.

2. Connect branches with digital experiences

Right now, the contrast between in-branch services and digital ones is glaring.

Information you complete online rarely leads to that information already being completed in branch. Customers are forced to use branches for certain banking activities, and then are promptly asked a series of questions that could have been completed remotely.

In-branch and online experiences are often disjointed in terms of look and feel as well, with branches using out-of-date branding and signage, and digital tools/channels having their own brand guidelines.

The challenge is that digital channels and real ones remain two separate threads, each with their own business processes (the multichannel model).

But customers don’t care about that. They care about being able to do stuff online or, if that’s not possible, reduce their time in the bank as much as possible. Even if this interferes with banks’ organizational silos.

Banks need to build systems that are linked to the customer, not the channel that the customer is using.

What an omnichannel banking experience actually looks like

Here’s what an omnichannel banking experience might look like.

Imagine that you were a customer who wanted a mortgage.

You probably have to go into a branch in order to get one. But first, you pre-qualify yourself and complete 90% of the application before you get there with a user-friendly digital interface. This is far easier to do at home because:

  • You can do it whenever you want (not 10-4)
  • You’ve got all your documents right there
  • You can do it in your pyjamas.

Then, you submit that application. You get a notification from your banking app saying that they’ve received your application, and you need to go to a branch. You’re presented several times to choose from and you book an appointment.

You pick your appointment and a calendar invite is automatically sent to your calendar.

At the same time, your application is sent to the branch you’re going to for review as well as automatically scanned with anti-fraud and credit check software.  A day before your appointment, a branch employee reviews your application manually, sees any red flags raised by the software, and messages you if anything is missing or if you need to bring anything special.

You rock up to the bank (additional documents in hand), sit down, and complete the final 10% of the application. At the end, all your documents are stored in your banking app, so you don’t need to take anything with you, and you esign your mortgage application, so you don’t have to worry about losing it.

It all takes about 20 minutes.

This, of course, is an ideal world, where omnichannel banking is the norm. But that’s the level of digital/store integration that customers expect. And while the banking industry isn’t going anywhere (because of its high barrier of entry and its own embrace of innovation) there is enough pressure from alternative lenders, P2P lenders, investment tools, and digital-only banks to cause some consternation.

The problem isn’t that customers are going to stop using banks. The problem is that customers are going to stop using banks for all their financial needs.

For example, we can look at search traffic trends for terms like “robo advisor” we see clearly that there’s increasing consumer interest in a digital solution.

robo advisor

We see the same thing for trends with "digital banking." 

If major banks are going to continue to capture market share and continue to be dominate in the retail banking space, they’re going to have to marry their online and offline experiences more effectively then they currently are.

3. Investing in online / digital help channels

Retail banking continues to lag behind when it comes to secure, online communication. The primary non-branch communication continues to be the phone and email. While there is definitely a space for these channels, there are a number of other options retail banking should be exploring around online chat.

Online chat, chatbots, and social media help

The ability to talk to a customer service rep right when you need them is an invaluable contact point for customers and a huge cost saver for banks.

First, consumer preferences. A study conducted in 2016found that consumers generally want to talk to a person (phone/in-branch) when they’re doing something complicated. But when they’re doing easy stuff or have a quick question? Digital channels all the way. What’s more, digital natives and businesses both feel digital help isn’t up to snuff. Online chat could help bring digital customer’s expectations from banks more in line with reality.

Online chat could function brilliantly in a omnichannel banking ecosystem as a tool. Consider our mortgage example for a minute.

If the process of getting a mortgage was broken down into simple, step-by-step instructions, the help consumers might need at each stage is probably relatively simple. And thus, can probably be solved with online chat.

From the bank’s perspective, investing in online chat is a win-win. Not only does it make your customers (particularly younger generations, many of whom are being transferred wealth from their parents) happy, but it also reduces your cost as a single phone operator can service multiple customers at once. Plus, with chat bot technology coming along nicely, it’s possible that they can act as a screener for CS reps and allow them to refocus their attention on higher value-add tasks like troubleshooting tricky problems or helping customers through complex processes.


Omnichannel experiences are really about three things:

  • Understanding how your customer moves through your organization
  • Understanding how customers want to engage with your company
  • Creating a consistent experience all the way along this path.

Most retail banks are making major efforts towards achieving these objectives. But the truth is, the path banks have defined is relatively narrow. For example, it might be extremely easy to sign up to a basic chequing account, but a slight deviation puts you back in the world of paperwork and outdated static HTML web pages. Banks need to widen this path and double down their commitment to customer experience to retain the customers they have and deepen the bank-customer brand relationship that’s at the heart of retail banking.

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