Retail banking is a balancing act. Keeping costs down has to juxtapose with keeping standards high and services convenient. NCR, however, has devised new products which might make this juggling act a bit easier. Patrick Brusnahan writes

The task of keeping costs down while keeping services at a high enough level of suit the consumer has always been a struggle. NCR, with two new products, believes it has found the solution.

Rachel Nash, director of financial services at NCR UK, says: "We’ve very successfully migrated a significant amount of transaction to self-service, but there’s still a rump of transactions that still happen in branch with a person-to-person interaction. This is very costly for the banks. Banks are trying to see how they can migrate those services to self-service or digital, whether it is online or mobile.
"However, we’re now talking about a new category of assisted service, which can either be local or remote. It’s been very successful in retail, where one person can serve multiple customers for a better experience and faster transaction time."

The first service which aims to take advantage of this trend is the Interactive Banker, already live in the United States with implementation in Australia and Italy underway. With this, a customer can enter a branch and use a machine similar to an ATM. The difference is that branch workers are on the floor with tablets, rather than behind a counter, and are alerted if a customer needs help or if there is an opportunity to offer the client a new product. The main difference with this service is that staff are ‘more front of house instead of being behind a counter. A lot more "free range"’.

In terms of benefitting both the customer and the bank, Nash believes: "It’s time-saving for the consumer as they can carry out transactions by themselves. The actually don’t need to wait in line for a long time for basic transactions.

"The benefit for the bank is that they can engage whenever they want with a customer. They can immediately approach a customer and a staff member can immediately see if there’s an offer for that certain customer. You get the time to look into customer details instead of moving a queue along. There’s a selling opportunity now. It also offers greater productivity for the bank. They can still offer a full service proposition but at a lower cost point."

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The other new addition to NCR’s range is the Interactive Teller. With the aim of delivering ’24-hour service without needing 24-hour staff’, it resembles a standard ATM, but with a video screen. It is also able to officially transact, whether that be taking out cash or depositing a cheque. This is all with a member of staff from the bank communicating via the video screen, an attached telephone and a text chat. So far, the Interactive Teller has been sold to over 170 customers globally.

Nash believes that this is a solution to a critical problem. She says: "Banks are challenged in how they provide a full banking experience to people in a local community, such as the highlands in Scotland. Now they can offer a full service but have the tellers centralised. This way it is in place for customers that, otherwise, would not have been served."

She adds: "It’s using staff more effectively and making them more customer-facing. You’re actually increasing your presence with the same number of staff."

It seems to be having the desired effect, at least in terms of lowering costs. One customer saw its salary costs fall 40%, but opening hours were increased by 85%, after the implementation of the Interactive Teller. While this could lead to the worrying possibility of job losses, NCR states that banks have actually been hiring more people to support the virtual teller growth.

Despite relative success with these new products, revenue at NCR’s Branch Transformation business in 2014 doubled in comparison to 2013, they have not been launched in the UK. Nash says: "From a UK point of view, there has been a lot of challenges surround mergers, integration, and de-integration; A lot of post-crisis issues. Everyone is coming out of that now and the market, to me, is very ready. Also, it is very necessary to transform the branch experience. There are still queues; there are still issues with a high cost base. There’s a lot of pressure from the government to retain banking services in local communities and this is a way to do it at a lower cost base."

Nash, however, concludes by saying that both of these services will be available in the UK within 6-12 months. She says: "There’s a lot of interest across the world. These solutions are in 15 countries now and it’s constantly growing."