When was the last time you went into a bank?
Until this week, it had been over a year since I last visited my local branch of Standard Bank. And let me tell you, a lot has happened in the world of banking between these two visits.
I honestly thought I had stepped into a morgue when I popped into the Standard Bank Sea Point branch to pick up a new credit card (I had to cancel my old one thanks to some dodgy transactions that were picked up – that’s a story for another day).
Gone was the hustle and bustle I remember – the traffic jam of customers coming and going through the revolving doors and the queues of people standing chatting in line, waiting for one of the many tellers to deal with their various needs.
Instead, the once airport-like atmosphere had been replaced with three or four old-timers milling around, poking their heads into empty cubicles looking for someone to assist them. And I’m pretty sure that at least half of them were lost and looking for a pharmacist.
There was a polite lady greeting customers as they walked in, asking for their details. She asked one particularly curmudgeonly old guy who walked in for his name, to which he replied that he had been a customer of “The Standard Bank” for sixty years and she should know his name by now. With that he sat down in a huff.
He then proceeded to complain at the top of his lungs to the other waiting customers that the bank, like the country, was going to hell in a handbasket. In fairness, I could understand his frustration as it took about 20 minutes on average before someone appeared from a cubicle to help customers. He was also upset that all the old staff seemed to be gone from the branch, no doubt redeployed or retrenched in a cost cutting exercise by the bank.
I would probably have been more sympathetic to this particular octogenarian had he not been telling his equally cantankerous mate that he was still more than able to get it on in the bedroom and how he wouldn’t mind ‘schtuping’ his young nephews girlfriend.
After deciding that he had waited too long, he walked into one of the cubicles, screamed at the person behind the desk that The Standard Bank was “a disgrace, an absolute disgrace”, and proceeded to storm out, presumably to meet up with his nephew’s girlfriend.
The truth is that you can scream and rant all you want, but banking has changed irrevocably. The banks don’t want you to visit their branches anymore. For both the customers and the banks themselves, digital banking is easier, cheaper and in many cases, superior to the bricks and mortar branches that have traditionally formed the backbone of this industry.
The same is true for all other areas of the financial services industry, including investments, healthcare and insurance.
Having a “thank-you-but-I-prefer-to-do-things-the-way-I-always-have” approach is no longer an option. We all need to accept that from this point on, all improvements in financial services – from service to functionality to cost – are going to come in the digital space. This is pretty much the case for probably every other industry too. Not only that, but most companies are beginning to do away with analogue options altogether.
The good news is that improvements in user experience in the digital space has made it far less daunting to make the switch. Over the last two or three years in particular – thanks to improved interfaces – online banking, investing and insurance has become (almost) idiot proof.
The point is – either you put your fears aside and get on the digital bandwagon; or spend your time roaming around an empty and soulless bank, yearning for the return of the good old days, which has about the same chance of happening as you “schtuping” your nephew’s girlfriend.