2021 Predictions: Digital Channels Will Become The Default For Day-To-Day Banking — But Branches Are Here To Stay, Too

There’s no debating that COVID-19 changed life as we know it around the globe. But what is debatable is when — and if — we’ll really return to normal.

By Yext

Feb 25, 2021

5 min

There's no debating that COVID-19 changed life as we know it around the globe. But what is debatable is when — and if — we'll really return to normal. From a business perspective, companies and organizations can count on one thing: Many of the shifts and trends in digital consumer behavior we saw over the past year are here to stay. In fact, some industries are already operating 5 to 10 years in the future thanks to the pandemic.

While there are many insights to take in as we continue to navigate the first quarter of 2021, we wanted to get a first hand account on how businesses are adapting in order to not just be digital first in their approach, but "digital best" to ensure they're not just surviving online, but rather thriving. We spoke to a few of our customers and partners to get their takes on the biggest trends of the past year that were most relevant to their business, their strategies as we move forward, and a few bold predictions for 2021.

Up next in our multi-part series, we have James Roy, SVP of digital marketing at People's United Bank.

While 2020 was a case study in unpredictability, it was also a year of tremendous transformation through innovation. What shifts or trends stood out most to you in your industry? JR: We've definitely seen a big shift to digital among banking customers. They're using digital platforms as an additional way to manage their money. But, surprisingly enough, we've noticed customer returning to branches when they were able to. So, even though we've seen a big increase in digital banking adoption, our prediction going forward is that the branch experience is just going to continue evolving.

It's really going to be about that marriage between digital and the human touch, which our talented bankers provide. Banking institutions right now should be trying to find the right balance to be able to serve both customers who are digitally inclined, and those who are not.

You mentioned the important relationship between digital and the 'human' perspective. Has your view of digital changed this year? And what do you think will be its importance looking forward into 2021?

As with every other financial institution during the peak of the pandemic, we saw rapid increases in digital adoption and digital banking. But one of the lessons learned coming out of that, was there was a lot of additional pressure put on our call centers. We're seeing a lot more inbound inquiries than usual because more people are relying on these online platforms for information. Moving forward, there are just going to be more and more issues and questions that people need immediate answers for. And waiting an hour on the phone for an agent just isn't the experience that we want to provide.

We came out of the peak of the pandemic asking ourselves, 'How do we rapidly enhance our service journeys to provide really great ongoing customer support?' That's what brought us to Yext Answers, which is a far superior platform for site search.

So thinking about digital strategies generally for 2021, I think it's only going to become more important to provide really intuitive and informative web experiences for customers.

Make a bold prediction about your industry: What's going to happen — or emerge as a hot new trend — in 2021?

There's a lot of talk that branches are going to go away. But people still need to interface with somebody for complex financial needs. There's still a very strong place for branches — at least in the immediate future. Once the veil has been lifted, of the pandemic, I think people will be going back into branches.

So, my 'bold' prediction is that branches are actually here to stay. Digital channels will become the default for people's day-to-day banking — like depositing checks, and paying bills, and paying friends, and things like that. So they'll really be going into the bank for conversations around complex financial needs — making those in-person trips to physical branches more meaningful than ever.

In 2021, it's no longer enough for businesses to be digital first. Instead, it's about becoming "digital best." How are you thinking about continuing digital transformation in order to be best in class? What strategies will you continue? Which will you sunset?

Our underlying strategy has always been trying to take the best-in-class branch experience that our customers receive, and replicate that digitally. So as we head into 2021, we're going to continue to explore new ways of providing a personalized experience. We want to really get to know our customers — through our data, and through their behavior, and really be able to meet their needs in the moments that matter throughout their digital journey.

Of course, that line starts to blur with the physical world as well. We also want to make sure our bankers can take advantage of our customers' online journey, and see the ways people are expressing intent through digital touchpoints. We want to make sure our physical and digital channels combine to provide the same outcome: a stellar customer experience.

And finally, not to make it all about us, but: How do Yext solutions fit into your business's transformation in 2021?

We've just scratched the surface in terms of what we can do with the Yext platform. Especially now that the platform itself has evolved and expanded into all these other important areas — such as site search with Yext Answers, and new integrations like ours with Adobe. Once you build your knowledge graph, and have the ability to expand that structured data across more and more places, it opens up a whole host of possibilities. Yext will become an increasingly important part of our ecosystem that's all centered around the customer experience.

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