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Why Smart Banks Are Rethinking UC

Unified communications has been around for quite some time and it has greatly improved organizations' ability to communicate with customers by leveraging a variety of channels to enable a wide range of user experiences. But the sophistication of the latest generation of UC tools and the state of banking today suggest there are still considerable benefits to be reaped in this area.

UC can do a lot, from providing a better experience for customers and building more lasting relationships, to driving operational efficiencies and enabling regulatory compliance. But while a great deal of effort has been applied to capturing internal benefits to the organization, the application of UC in external-facing, customer interactions is really just getting started.

Branch banking is a case in point. For years, banks have considered how much they invest in physical branches and what they do digitally. Branches are expensive to maintain; however, branch closures tend to generate negative publicity and concerns that banks aren't caring for local communities, or worse, not doing well financially.

But by leveraging UC to complement and enhance face-to-face interactions, banks not only can expand the range of branch services and improve customer interactions, but also become more efficient. For example, customers can leverage immersive video from a branch to consult with specialist advisors dispersed across branch locations. This gives customers access to the bank's best resources from every branch, wherever their locations, while also allowing the bank to utilize talent more fully, driving efficiencies and more business. Non-specialist personnel can still handle administrative tasks at the branch, while experts can spend the bulk of their time focused on what they do best.

But it's not an either/or binary decision and banks can use UC to support part-time branches and have staff who work across the branch and the virtual contact center. So, the bank is effectively maintaining virtual and physical channels without having dedicated staff committed to one or other channel.

The Role of UC in Tomorrow's Branches

In "Retail Banking 2020: Evolution or Revolution?" writers from PwC predict that the branch will evolve in several ways:

Branches will remain, but take many forms, from flagship information, advisory and engagement hubs (offering education, financial advice, full-service capabilities and community offerings) to smart kiosks (offering service, sales, cash and video contact with a range of specialists).

In other words, we're observing a coming together of physical and virtual channels and UC can be a powerful model for covering both bases.

Beyond the branch, banks can use UC to create more dynamic connections with mobile-first customers. For example, the State Bank of India (SBI) rethought the way it uses UC across the business, and built a UC app backed by a global contact center to enable real-time and personalized communications between high-net-worth customers and their relationship managers. Using the app, customers can check the availability of their advisors, send messages, initiate voice or video chats, conference with multiple specialists, and even initiate trades. The app was designed with security top of mind, and compliance to applicable regulatory requirements. It records and documents all interactions, and integrates seamlessly into the bank's records to automate back-end functions. Such applications give customers control and immediate service wherever they may be, while also driving efficiencies for the bank.

I could share myriad examples from other financial institutions all over the world that are exploring how best to leverage UC technologies in ways that dramatically improve customer experience. In doing so, these organizations are differentiating, increasing customer loyalty, and even enhancing their brands. In the digital world of today, no amount of advertising and PR can compete with a more convenient and tech-savvy user experience. The brands that "get it" and best cater to how their customers want to be served -- or to serve themselves -- will be the ones that emerge as winners. In this respect, it is still early days for UC in the banking world, and there is still considerable opportunity for the technology to have big impact on business.