By Alissa Fry-Harris

Published in Western Independent Banker Magazine September/October edition 2016

Another technology tipping point has been passed: more people visit banks using their computers and mobile devices than visit branches. Suddenly, your tiniest branch is now your biggest.

And it’s no longer just urban Millennials heading through those virtual doors, it’s everyone, from all generations and geographies. A 2015 Javelin study found that 30% of all U.S. consumers conducted their banking business via mobile, compared to only 24% in branches. That’s 25 million people. And that was last year.

Mobile services in particular, which offer unmatched convenience when well-implemented, are developing quickly, as 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have morphed into mobile first/mobile only consumers as of 2015.

For a while now, banks have been rising to the challenge of streamlining their customers’ branch experiences. Lobbies offer amenities such as lounge furnishings and self-service tablets, while employees have left the teller windows and roam freely. (The Financial Brand). Self-service technologies have also been deployed to branches in the form of interactive teller machines, which easily hand off between DIY and personal service as needed. Savvy banks have invested in customer-facing employee training—helping customers avoid waiting in lines for quick questions, and giving banks more opportunities to identify needs and cross-sell products.

But how do you translate this welcome into a tiny branch that fits in the palm of your customer’s hand? How do you make a mobile app as comfortable and personal as it needs to be? Is it sleek and agile when handling routine tasks, such as depositing checks and paying bills? What about applying for a new car loan right from a car dealership floor? Do your mobile apps carry your bank’s branding consistently, and do their functions work together across all channels?

According to Ovum, financial institutions invested $131 billion in technology last year, much of which went into mobile projects which they hope can make these dreams come true. Whether the investments will pay off is yet to be seen.

And how about your all-important first impression on new prospects? It’s not enough to focus on the “inside” of your mobile branch for existing customers once they log in. You have to get them in the door to begin with.

Fully 70% of consumers would prefer to open their new deposit accounts digitally, but the vast majority find the process difficult or tedious to accomplish, and abandon the attempt—perhaps to be scooped up by a competitor’s smoother application process. Furthermore, although most consumers also want to apply digitally for auto loans (69%), mortgages (72%), and credit cards (64%) according to Javelin, most banks offer very little in these areas, especially for mobile devices.

Given the continuing migration of consumers to digital and especially mobile platforms, the latter half of 2016 isn’t a moment too soon to be making questions like these a prominent, possibly dominant, part of every bank’s branching strategy. The rise in online-only banking is another signpost that it’s time to prioritize the prospect’s or customer’s digital experience over what happens in-branch, difficult as these gears may be to switch.

The good news is that there are technologies available today that can support all the processes consumers want, and—equally crucial—integrate with each other and existing systems to form seamless, automated workflows. We are also beginning to find new ways to work with the complexities of regulatory compliance vs. customer convenience. We’re learning very quickly what makes a consumer respond positively to a mobile process, but how very easily they can walk out the virtual door.