Bank Arkansas Tries To Put Most Popular Branches Features In One App

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Arvest Bank in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has adopted a relatively new concept in financial services: the virtual branch.

In this fully digital venue, customers can ask questions and exchange messages with a personal banker of their choice. Uptime hours can be longer than in a physical branch, and customers are not supposed to have to repeat their personal information and issues to different employees. These meetings can even take place on video, depending on the technology used.

The $ 26 billion asset bank, a unit of the Arvest Bank Group, landed on this technology when an 18-week research project it concluded in March 2020 revealed clear divisions in service preferences customer.

One conclusion that emerged from this research was that “transactional” customers relied on the bank as a place to park their money, while “relationship” customers saw the bank as a partner in their financial well-being.

“They both value convenience, but what that word means is different,” said Angie Garrett, executive director of strategic analysis, digital and innovation at Arvest. “For relationship customers who gravitate more to digital, or who don’t have the ability or the desire to go to a branch, we didn’t feel like we were showing up well for them. “

Virtual branches are still new to the United States but typically refer to a digital app or platform that simulates the conversational and people-to-people interactions that occur in a regular branch. They rely on a range of communication tools, including web or mobile chat, video, co-browsing and document sharing. They may be suitable for clients who do not like talking on the phone or cannot easily get to a physical branch, but want to maintain personal relationships with their bankers. Thanks to chat histories, bank employees can pick up where they left off in the conversation, understand the context around a customer’s request and build a lasting relationship over time.

The term “virtual branch” has its detractors. “This implies that the best way to do things is to walk into a branch,” said Bob Meara, senior banking analyst at Celent.

According to him, banks should push their digital channels beyond what can be done regularly in branch. They need to automate as many interactions as possible while still allowing human-to-human conversations when, where, and how the client chooses. To maximize the number of tasks that can be accomplished online, products may require co-browsing, screen sharing, document uploading, or electronic signature functionality.

Only a few vendors, including Moxtra, Glia and Jack Henry, offer such capabilities and have only emerged in recent years. (Agent IQ was not included in a recent Celent report on digital engagement platforms.)

Citi Hello, an in-app audio and video banking platform for affluent Citigroup customers in India, is an example of a virtual branch outside the United States. In 2018, Citi launched a service called Virtual Remote Engagement for emerging and affluent customers. in the Asia-Pacific region which enabled live audio, chat and video banking on Citi digital channels, as well as screen sharing and document downloads. In the United States, Citi offers a video banking service called Citi Client Connect, but without the bells and whistles of its tools in other countries.

Garrett defines a virtual branch as a centralized team of bankers available to clients digitally. The Arvest version is a standalone mobile app called Arvest Banker Connect. It was built by the customer engagement company Agent IQ in San Francisco. Although the service has gone through several iterations since a first test in late 2019 and is not yet widely marketed by the bank, it appears to offer exactly what some customers are looking for.

Additionally, “it gives Arvest a chance to expand our capabilities to see how well we can fully support a client in a digital space without referring them to other channels,” said Garrett. “This will require us to raise the bar in our product and service delivery models. “

As of August, Arvest estimates that 35% of its clients are branch dependent (in other words, they use online and mobile banking, but have made more than two branch transactions in the last 90 days) and 12% are digitally focused. (which means they use digital banking channels but have completed a branch transaction in the last 90 days). The rest stick firmly to branches or online banking, or have no noticeable preferences. Garrett expects these first two groups to be the most likely to turn to Arvest Banker Connect, preferring to work with the same banker over time and also value the convenience of digital.

Still, “we don’t have a good idea of ​​who shows up in branch because they have to and who shows up because they want to,” said Garrett.

A customer satisfaction survey conducted in the summer of 2020 found that 80% of users would turn to Banker Connect instead of calling or going to a branch.

Currently, Arvest Banker Connect has 1,588 users and four to six full-time bankers. Customers who download the app can read banker profiles (usually name, title, photo, expertise, hobbies, and availability) before selecting the one they are interested in. They can exchange messages with the banker of their choice, who will see their communication history. The application is similar to Umpqua Bank Go-To.

The next steps for Arvest will be to enable prompts for bankers who suggest answers or content to answer questions. A future version could integrate video and co-navigation from Agent IQ. Arvest will also increase the number of bankers on the platform and expand availability beyond normal branch opening hours.

Agent IQ, whose clients include Park National Bank in Ohio, Rockland Trust in Massachusetts, and First National Bank of Omaha, provides a suite of services to financial institutions, including mobile and web messaging, video and co- navigation. Bankers can save notes about their clients (for example, who wants to buy a house) and set reminders to check in with them. They can bring other experts into the conversation. All correspondence is kept with the bank.

Soren Bested, director of revenue for Agent IQ, points out that the asynchronous messaging, which his company encourages, allows for more measured responses than something the advisor rushes in on a whim.

“There has been an amalgamation of convenience and real time, but it’s not the same,” he said. “The convenience is when I can ask a question about my retirement at 10 p.m., and instead of getting a response like ‘Don’t worry, we have great products,’ I get a thoughtful response and insightful tomorrow. “

Agent IQ is also deploying artificial intelligence to help bankers respond more effectively in conversations. The platform will tag conversations by topic, allowing banks to see what matters most to their customers. It can suggest answers and documents that bankers can pass on to their clients, or take the reins of a conversation as a chatbot as a first step by listing common queries, such as how to deposit a check, on which clients can click to find answers.

Garrett and his team are also debating how proactive bankers should be in the app.

“Today it’s subtleties, to check in every once in a while and remind them that we are there for them,” she said. The next level can spark conversation by providing resources tailored to a client’s interests, such as for Sole Proprietorships planning for retirement.

Garrett has his own theories on why virtual branches are elusive in the United States

“Our standard banking operating model is very branch-centric or even channel-centric,” she said. “We don’t see the difference between the two. When we talk to customers and understand their behavior and needs, that’s when these approaches come to life. “


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