Markus Beck__Head of Product Management, Corporate Client Payment Solutions, Raiffeisen Switzerland, Member of the Board of Directors of SIX Interbank Clearing AG

Bulletproof Glass Gives Way to Touchscreens: Banks Go Digital

If you need cash you can go to an ATM, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Today we take this for granted. But fifty years ago when the first Swiss ATM was unveiled on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse it was nothing short of a sensation. A half-century later we can’t imagine life without 24/7 cash and e-banking. Banks are getting more and more digital. Does this mean they’ve lost the personal touch?

No. I would even say the opposite is true. These days, with the help of modern technology, we can offer even customer-friendlier advice – not just in busy branches, but in less well-frequented peripheral regions as well. An example is video consultations. Rather than standing behind a bulletproof glass counter, the employee sits in a state-of-the-art advisory center. In the branch itself there are information displays where clients can connect to their desired advisor via touchscreen. If you want a more detailed or discreet consultation, after making a prior appointment you enter a separate room where your advisor is already waiting for you on Skype. They can bring specialists into the conversation anytime, and printers and scanners are on hand to take care of any paperwork.

Video consultations are also ideal for those without a lot of PC knowledge. Everything’s so intuitive and easy to use that people soon find their way around. This makes video advisory a good, gentle introduction to digital banking. Remote advice might seem a bit disconcerting at first. But it’s also an opportunity for bank clients in all segments to take advantage of the digital transformation that’s taking place – and that will inevitably continue.

We’re about to embark on the next step in this digital sea-change. From the beginning of 2019, all the existing payment slips will be replaced by a digitally readable bill with a QR code. This bill will contain all the information required for the payment, and will be quick and easy to process using a smartphone or other reader.

Innovations such as video consultations and QR bills reflect a structural change taking place throughout the economy and society. Similar to what’s happening in retail, banks are also seeing the merger of on- and offline approaches to create an integrated offering. Large bank branches are serving as major centers of attraction, places where people come to meet and take part in a program of events. Small bank branches are seeing the emergence of digital advisory points for routine banking business.

The Swiss financial industry is taking an active part in this transformation. At the same time we’re taking care to never lose sight of our clients’ needs, and despite ongoing digitization are coming up with ways to meet the needs of all sections of the population. This means, for example, that it will still be possible to make payments by mail or at the post office counter.

Thanks to new technologies, however far or near our customers are in physical terms, we can overcome geographic distance and build proximity and trust – which, after all, is what financial advice is all about.