Is There a Role for the Branch in The Digital World?

Alex Jimenez, Vice President Senior Strategist, Zions Bancorporation, will be joining the Leaders Debate on the new platforms and technologies transforming banking at FinovateSpring, coming to San Francisco in two weeks. Here, he considers the role of physical bank branches in the digital world.

I often hear people ask if there is a role for the bank branch. This question consists of several components:

  • In this increasingly digital world, customers still go to bank branches, why?
  • How do digital technologies affect in-person experiences?
  • How do digital technologies change the setting where those experiences happen?

I’d like to tackle each of them separately.

Why do customers still use branches?

In the past few years several opinion surveys have come back with similar responses to this question. Americans surveyed say that they still want bank branches for when they have issues with the bank, or because they still frequent the bank for their everyday banking activities. These two reasons don’t make much sense in the aggregate. 

Bank call center metrics indicate that when people have an issue with a bank, they call the bank rather than visit the branch. In addition, branch transactions are down across all types of customers and FIs. People use digital channels for everyday transactions, like checking balances, transferring funds, and depositing checks.

The gap between survey responses and data indicates that a vast difference exists between how people respond to these questions and how they behave

How do digital technologies affect in-person experiences?

The main concern that branch traditionalists describe is the inability for a customer to reach a person. Do digital technologies potentially eliminate the banker, or can they help them?

As noted earlier, digital technologies have impacted rote branch transactions. There is still a need to visit branches to deposit checks and cash, but the use of both is also diminishing. 

Customers still use branches to open new accounts, apply for loans, and get advice. Account opening and application can be done digitally, and are slowly being impacted. The pace of the decline has more to do with banks’ clumsy technology or policies than the actual availability of technology.

If rote transactions and account opening move to digital channels, advice and selling remain the activities most often cited as reasons for a physical branch. Digital technologies, however, can augment advice, selling, and even in-person account opening very simply. Yet, many banks have not extended digital capabilities to today’s branch. Many years ago at a previous organization, my team deployed a self-service tool on our website that allowed a small business customer to answer questions and receive offers to address their specific needs. The service relied on a simple algorithm that helped the customer navigate through a 15-minute session. The tool did not succeed online. However, we deployed it at the branch where it became successful. Apparently, the combination of the human touch, and the algorithm, resulted in a better experience. Previously, the branches had used paper pamphlets to help them highlight services. 

Call centers have knowledgebases at their disposal, yet they are not often offered to branch staff. Similarly, sales teams have access to CRM dashboards that are used sparingly by branch staff. Branch staff can use these technologies to enable themselves to provide better experiences.

How do digital technologies change the settings of where those experiences happen?

If banks provide branch staff with digital tools to optimize all person-to-person customer experiences, do they need the physical real estate? Probably not, in the longer term. 

Many banks have begun and continue to transform and consolidate branches because of the changes that digital technologies bring. The industry has focused on rote transactions and their impact on the branch, but the reality is that people perform most transactions remotely. 

Many years ago, various FIs like Coastal Credit Union in North Carolina rolled out video ATMs which allow for video conversations with bankers sitting in their call center. Aside from cash transactions it doesn’t take much to allow those same video bankers to be able to have video chats with customers through any internet-connected device. As more and more people become accustomed to having video chats with others, these channels will naturally become more popular than the local branch.

So, is there a role for the branch in the digital world? It depends on how branch is defined. In the short-term the branch as it is configured today will continue to slowly decline. Future branches will not bear much resemblance to the branch of today. The branch of the future may not be a location at all. I expect it to be sets of experiences, some of which will be facilitated by bankers with access to digital tools, on various delivery methods many of which aren’t available yet.

How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping Fintech

Talking with MX Research for an article recently published in the Credit Union Times, Ron Shevlin, Head of Research for Cornerstone Advisors, opined on the importance of AI and the banking industry.

Shevlin, who will serve as the chair for the Artificial Intelligence Summit at FinovateSpring in San Francisco next month, said that “banks are at serious risk if they are not investing in the data capabilities and assets that are going to drive AI technologies in the future.”

He added that banks need to focus on the ongoing financial health of their consumers and that capability will only come about as a result of embracing technologies like AI and its data needs. As far as Shevlin is concerned, banks are better off trying to emulate Fitbit than Amazon.

Sound interesting? Then join Ron Shevlin and a few hundred of your fellow fintech fans on Tuesday, May 7th – the day before FinovateSpring begins – for an all-day exploration into the role artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing in the development of fintech.

Here’s a look at the keynotes, debates, case studies, and panel discussions we have scheduled for the day. Tickets are available now, so visit our registration page and save your spot today.

  • How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform the Financial Services Industry. A keynote address from Dave Birch – Global Ambassador, Consult Hyperion.
  • Transforming Legacy Businesses with AI – Machine Learning is King Now, But Image, Voice & Natural Language Processing Are Coming Up Fast. What are the Internal Challenges? The Ethnical Challenges? And the Business Opportunities? A strategy roundtable featuring:
    • Mary Jane Ajodah – VP, Chief Digital Office, Strategy and Delivery, BNY Melon
    • Tom Tiefenworth – Assistant Vice President, Chief Technologist Compliance Analytics, Legg Mason
    • Anindya Sengupta – Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Prudential Financial Inc.
    • Sanjeev Khati – Head of Business Development, Banking and Financial Services, USA, Tata Consultancy Services
    • Conan French – Senior Advisor for Innovation and Fintech, Institute of International Finance (IIF).
  • The Rise of Natural Language Processing & How it is Reshaping Financial Services. A keynote address from Franziska Bell – Director, Data Science Platform, Uber
  • AI for Fraud Detection and Risk Management. A fireside chat with Kedar Samant – Senior Director, Simility Risk Platform – and Elizabeth Vogelsang – Director of Risk Management, Chime
  • Let’s Chat About Chatbots. A strategy roundtable featuring
    • Sandi Boga – Director, Customer Experience (CIAM), ATB Financial
    • Jerry Gupta – SVP Group Strategu, Swiss Re Management (U.S.) Corporation
    • Sumit Sarkar – Head, Customer Experience & Strategy, Personal Banking, BMO
    • Katia Lang – Co-founder and CEO, The Fintech Times
  • An AI Powered Future for Marketing. An innovator insight from Barry Kirk – VP, Loyalty Solution Leader, Maritz Motivation Solutions.
  • Data – Oxygen for AI. How Data Management & Data Governance Can Make or Break Your AI Journey. A debate featuring:
    • Eric Byunn – Founder and Partner, Centana Growth Partners
    • Hari Ramamurthy – CTO and Technical Architect, Kuflink
    • Joost van der Burgt – Senior Policy Advisor on Fintech, De Nederlandsche Bank
    • Mike Brusov – Founder and CEO, Cindicator
    • Daniel Drummer – Global Lead Data Analytics, J.P. Morgan
  • Using AI to Transform Customer Experience. A case study.
  • Harnessing AI to Revolutionize the Insurance Industry. A case study featuring Sean Harper – Co-founder and CEO, Kin Insurance.
  • AI to Streamline Operational Processes. A case study featuring Yun Zheng – VP II, Global Risk Analytics, HSBC USA.
  • Fintechs and Financial Institutions On the Journey Towards a Productive Partnership in AI. A closing debate featuring:
    • Tim Prier – CEO, Wicket
    • Brian Ascher – Partner, Venrock
    • Manuel Roggero – Director, Design and Partnership Innovation, Solution Acceleration and Innovation, RBC
    • Ron Shevlin – Head of Research, Cornerstone Advisors

From Product to Solution: The Evolving Role of the Customer in Technology

The Customer Experience Summit, taking place on Tuesday, May 7th – the day before FinovateSpring officially begins – will feature deep dives into the challenge of customer engagement.

This special summit day will be filled with analyses, debates, and case studies on how companies are taking advantage of new technologies like AI and advanced machine learning to reach new customers and better serve their current clients.

As Steven Ramirez, founder and CEO of Beyond the Arc, and Chair of our Customer Experience Summit explained:

Customer experience as a discipline keeps advancing. That means organizations have gotten more sophisticated about monitoring the experience, understanding customer needs, and designing ways to delight. In other words, what was innovative two years ago is now table stakes.

For the leaders, there is an opportunity to leverage fintech to break new ground. They can find new paths toward the goal of a seamless financial services experience. But even for the followers, fintech offers huge opportunity. They can cherry-pick the best solutions to meet their customers’ needs. Fintech can help them to close the customer experience gap. 

Steven Ramirez, founder and CEO, Beyond the Arc

Focusing on the different advantages and challenges for both fintechs and financial institutions, Trulioo VP for Growth Anatoly Kvitnisky sees opportunity in collaboration.

“Fintechs are driven by growth and their natural strength is optimizing their platform for conversion. When it comes to CX, fintechs prioritize customer acquisition, convenience, and scalability.  Financial institutions, on the other hand, are driven by risk-aversion, which create barriers that make their CX cumbersome, often unnecessarily, to keep potential risk as low as possible.

But in this equation, financial institutions have the most experience meeting both legal and regulatory requirements. Combining the strengths and approaches of fintechs and financial institutions often lead to an ideal outcome: a frictionless CX that lets the highest number of customers through while meeting the legal requirements during the process.”

Anatoly Kvitnitsky, VP of Growth, Trulioo

Here’s a look at what we’ve got in store for you at our Customer Experience Summit this year at FinovateSpring. Tickets are available now and we look forward to seeing you next month in San Francisco!

  • The Evolution of Innovation: Build, Buy, or Partner. A keynote address from Rilla Delorier – EVP and Chief Strategy Officer, Umpqua Bank.
  • Return on CX – 80% of the Potential ROI is Typically Left Untapped. An analyst insight with Paul Berg – Senior Managing Consultant, Gallup.
  • How Can Financial Institutions Transform Customer Experience through Deep Customer Insights? Why Powerful Data Analytics will be Critical for Success. A strategy roundtable featuring:
    • Carl Fudge – Portfolio Director, IDEO
    • Emil Mataskh – former Chief Analytics Officer, Commonwealth Bank of Australia
    • Kim Prado – Global Head of Client Insight, Banking and Digital Channels Technology, RBC Capital Markets
    • Rachel Kobetz – Head of Experience Design, Bank of America
    • Larry Lubin – Chairman & President, BlueRush
    • Talie Baker – Senior Analyst, Retail Banking and Payments Practice, Aite Group
  • How to Innovate on Behalf of the Customer and Build around their Needs to Drive Loyalty and Sustained Growth. A fireside chat with Robyn Burkinshaw, CEO and founder of BlytzPay, and Philippa Ushio, Senior Vice President, Prosek Partners.
  • Bridging the Gap between the Customer Experience Promise and the Customer Experience Reality to Deliver Outstanding CX at Scale. A keynote address from Naveen Agarwal – Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, Prudential Financial, Inc.
  • How to Align Your Whole Organization to a Common Customer Purpose and to Harness Future Tech to Redraw the Customer Experience Landscape. A leaders debate featuring:
    • Vivek Bedi – Vice President of Digital Product, Northwestern Mutual
    • Terri Kallsen – Executive Vice President, Investor Services, Charles Schwab
    • Andrew Stevens – Global Banking Specialist, Quadient
    • Oliver Guilaumond – Global Head of Fintechs, ING
    • Steven Ramirez – CEO, Beyond the Arc
  • Creating a Seamless Digital Customer Experience. A fireside chat featuring Michael Lewis, Chief Technology Officer, Global Consumer Technology, Citi; and Sam Kilmer, Senior Director, Cornerstone Advisors
  • How We are Creating a Seamless Customer Experience. A panel discussion featuring:
    • Jason Osterhage – Senior Vice President, Lending, Alliant Credit Union
    • Jeff Berezny – Head of Global Product and Marketing, Trov
    • Danny Morrow – Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Extend
    • Tim Hong – Chief Product Officer, MoneyLion
    • Mary Hooper – Director of Digital and Innovation Strategies, Synovus
    • Steven Ramirez – CEO, Beyond the Arc
  • Harnessing Disruptive Technologies to Maximize Customer Experience and Loyalty. A case study with Hossein Rahnama – Founder and CEO of Flybits, Inc.
  • Delivering Outstanding Customer Experience by Harnessing Open APIs. A case study with Jeremy Berger – COO and Co-founder of Arival Bank.
  • Analyst Insight: Transforming the B2B Customer Experience
  • Fintechs and Financial Institutions on the Journey towards a Productive Partnership in CX. A closing debate featuring:
    • Sam Kilmer – Senior Director, Cornerstone Advisors
    • Susan French – Head of Product, BBVA Open Platform
    • Mike Sigal – Partner, 500 Startups
    • Lara Druyan – Managing Director, Head of Innovation, RBC
    • Anatoly Kvitnitsky – VP of Growth, Trulioo

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Strands and Mastercard

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Strands and Mastercard’s SME Cash Flow Manager is a tailor-made digitalization tool for SME banking using cutting-edge business financial management solutions.


  • Deliver actionable insights and help business owners save time and money
  • Monitor Quickbooks data within digital banking experience
  • Place Mastercard solutions within customer’s digital user journey

Why it’s great
Strands and Mastercard’s joint cash flow solution allows a financial institution to deliver a suite of SME digital finance tools that empower the bank to become the business owner’s trusted advisor.


Jay Singer, SVP, Global Small Business Segment, Mastercard
Singer has 20+ years of leadership experience in the payments industry across marketing, portfolio management, and product development. He currently leads Mastercard’s Global Small Businesses Segment.

Cesar Richardson, General Manager, Strands Americas
Richardson helps banks re-build digital experiences that increase customer engagement, boost online conversion, and unlock the value of consumers’ behavioral data.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Agora

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Agora helps banks ramp up their digital experience without replacing their core banking system. Agora provides and co-creates tech tools for banks so that they can accelerate their digital journey.


  • No core integration
  • Turnkey, plug-and-play, built-in solution
  • Fully white label

Why it’s great
With Agora’s platform, banks can now build their own digital journey without replacing their core banking technology.


Arcady Lapiro, CEO and Co-founder
A fintech geek for over two decades, Lapiro has built a digital bank with over $20b in assets. He is a mentor of fintechs and a proud father of three.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Payclub

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Payclub is building the first bank to help Gen Z manage, save, and spend money using collaborative group accounts.


  • Create a group for any reason
  • Split by total, each, or custom amounts
  • Manage from anywhere with shared insights

Why it’s great
Payclub helps groups manage money together using collaborative group accounts.


Jason Rieger, CEO
Rieger has an intimate knowledge of the college market and was the first employee at JusCollege (largest college travel company – acquired for $25m in March of 2018).

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Our Libra

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Our Libra is a data-driven automated financial advisor and consumer lender focused on helping middle-class Americans manage their savings, investments, and debt.


  • Automated financial advisor for managing savings and debt
  • Innovative, data-driven consumer lending platform

Why it’s great
Our Libra provides an insightful and economical way to serve a market that desperately needs quality financial advice: the American middle class.


George Matthew, Founder and CEO
Matthew is developer of the Our Libra site and related algorithms. He is a former investment banker (over $20b of M&A and IPOs) and startup founder.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: CryptoNumerics

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

CN-Protect from CryptoNumerics is enterprise software that enables privacy protection of consumer data to comply with CCPA, GDPR, and HIPAA.


  • Consistent privacy protection using Differential Privacy and AI
  • Privacy risk balanced with analytical value
  • Quantifiable metrics and auditing reports for compliance

Why it’s great
CN-Protect enables the protection of both identifiers and quasi-identifiers while retaining analytical value.


Monika Holboke, Co-founder and CEO/CSO
Co-founder and CEO of CryptoNumerics, Holboke leverages her background in numerical methods and mathematical modeling to help organizations gain insights while protecting people’s privacy.

Hassan Bhatti, Co-founder| Commercial
Bhatti is a technology entrepreneur with broad technical and business knowledge along with a proven ability to take incredibly hard technical ideas and commercialize them.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: CalcXML

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

CalcXML’s FIST Score is a new index used to evaluate all aspects of a person’s financial health, access vulnerabilities in debt, liquidity, retirement and insurance, and make product recommendations.


  • Personalized dashboard with national/group comparables
  • Customizable content with administrative and marketing reports
  • Single sign-on; scalable and secure database; API integration

Why it’s great
FIST Score unites the sophistication of computational AI technology with a simple user experience, creating a cradle-to-grave tool that enhances consumer loyalty and product placement.


Chris Brockbank, Founder and President
Brockbank is a pioneer of online financial calculators and online tools as well as the author of the mathematical algorithms featured in the FIST Score.

Rebecca Foster, VP Sales and Marketing
As VP of Sales, Foster works closely with financial institutions to integrate FIST Score and financial calculators with their existing portals and websites.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Digital Align

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

AlignMoney from Digital Align is the world’s first digital Banking-as-a-Benefit platform for employees offered by employers to enable financial success at the workplace.


  • A new benefit for employers to attract talent and retain loyal employees
  • Easy to apply and get instantly approved by multiple lenders
  • A new distribution channel for banks and credit unions.

Why it’s great
AlignMoney is a Banking-as-a-Benefit platform that provides easy access to banking products and services at the workplace to assure employee financial inclusion and financial success.


Rajeesh Patil, Founder and President
Patil is a leader and solution architect with expertise in building strategy and execution plans for transforming all banking business functions in the areas of customer and employee experience.

Praveen Shekar, Head of Sales
Shekar is a passionate sales leader with experience in selling software to enterprise customers. He has extensive experience working in banking and technology with a focus on digital transformation.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: Wizely Finance

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

Wizely Finance is a white-label product that empowers financial institutions to deploy any new lending product to their best customers in a matter of weeks, from scratch.


  • Understand customer behavior and cross sell opportunities with predictive analytics
  • Execute an automated, multi-channel marketing strategy
  • Leverage an all-in-one loan origination platform, payoff process and administrative dashboard.

Why it’s great
Wizely Finance is a consumer loan division in a box, providing everything necessary to offer on-demand consumer loans and an elegant user experience.


Paris Benson, Founder and CEO
Benson is a three-time fintech entrepreneur, technical founder and customer acquisition specialist who has developed, run, and exited fintech companies over the last decade.

FinovateSpring Sneak Peek: DataDock Solutions

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateSpring on May 8 through 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Register today and save your spot.

DataDock Solutions empowers its clients to make better decisions about what customers they trade with and where they allocate their risk wallet.


  • Delivers data analytics, advanced metrics, and rich visuals
  • Helps make rigorous, consistent, and precise decisions
  • Provides 90% of the functionality with less than 10% of the cost, and delivers in weeks not years

Why it’s great
Trading revenue is like a soup that has already been cooked: you can’t take the ingredients back out. DataDock uses powerful simulations to provide the next best thing: a recipe book and a taste test.


Kumaran Vijayakumar, CEO and Co-founder
Vijayakumar was global head of equity derivatives and convertibles at BofA. He led the build-out of equities trading at MF Global, and traded exotics/index options at Goldman Sachs and Citi. He has a BS from UC Berkeley, and an MBA from Wharton. Vijayakumar is also a CFA.

Thomas Wadsworth, COO and Co-founder
Wadsworth was formerly senior derivatives trader (MD) at Goldman Sachs, focused on single stock options, cross-asset opportunities and technology projects. He co-headed single stock volatility trading at BofA. Wadsworth earned a BE from Vanderbilt University.