A smart revamp of Omani bank branches

Mobile apps and online transactions often dominate talks of the future of banking, threatening to make bank branches obsolete in years to come and quite rightly so. In recent years, online transactions have forced banks to shut thousands of branches worldwide, thanks to some impressive digital apps. But even with disruptive financial technology gaining pace, the brick and mortar approach may remain the largest revenue channel for banks, especially in Oman. While banking culture may be a reason, services offered to customers is what will drive the future of these branches.
This requires a major shift from today’s conventional bank branches or a digital revamp to a ‘smart bank’. In the future, a visit to the bank will no more be about a simple transaction but a complete financial service experience that attracts customers back to the branch, like a retail setup. Customary role of tellers will evolve from customer service agents to sales personnel while banks will expand offerings through new ventures, mergers and acquisitions. And technologies like big data and artificial intelligence will power every transaction and activity done by customers, channelling it through the fastest and most efficient ways.
So, what will bank branches look like and where’s the value for Omani banks?
Firstly, the floor layout in a smart bank will be streamlined such that the client needs, whether a fast transaction or an elaborate advisory session, will be a memorable experience.
At the entrance, is the self-service or the digital banking zone where Interactive Teller Machines (ITM) operate 24/7 as an automated branch in a box. These machines offer a seamless experience replicating the bank’s mobile app or website platform. Customers can do simple transactions or avail banking services such as authenticating over the limit cash transactions, apply for credit cards and loans and cash cheques. Remotely connected to a human banker, ITMs can be used for most services offered by the branch, even during off hours. During office hours, mobile staff on the floor equipped with tablets will be available to guide clients while customers with specific requirements will be notified automatically to these mobile tellers, ending the time and space consuming token and desk system.
Personalisation will be the key to sustained revenue growth in a smart branch. Aided by Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence in the background, tellers can suggest products and services to customers on the move.
For instance, a customer who has recently received a loan for his marriage can be offered a loan to build a house at low rates, ensuring customer loyalty and an excellent experience. The ITM itself can be modified to show advert visuals in the backdrop during customer interactions.
Interested customers can visit the experience zone where futuristic technology such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can help customers feel their dreams. Although such a zone would have the initial capital for banks to bear, Omani banks can develop business models where companies showcase their products to consumers. For example, real estate companies or car dealers let potential consumers feel their products through technology in these zones.
Lastly, Omani banks can also increase the portfolio of investments from their fixed account customers using the third zone, the personal banking zone. Assisted by insights from AI, here, expert bankers sit down with customers and advise them on a variety of subjects including locally favoured topics such as Islamic banking and investments and other strategies for financial planning. Such a dedicated facility driven by technology can also help to bolster the Omani economy and induce financial literacy amongst the local population.
In the future, with the use of advanced technologies, banks in Oman are likely to significantly reduce costs while introducing new innovative revenue generating streams. And with customer experience the defining aspect of a smart bank, branches are certain to stay as an integral part of banking experience for customers.

Syed Haitham Hasan
syedhaithamhasan@gmail.com – @SyedHaitham]