We have an opportunity to embrace hybrid money management and make branches Community Hubs
Tina Hughes, Director of Savings at Yorkshire Building Society, says:
It has been widely reported that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is considering regulations that could give it the power to block the closure of bank branches to ensure people are not left without easy access to cash. Meanwhile the debate continues about the future of retail banking and how it will evolve in the future. Perhaps now is the time to make the case for a pragmatic approach, where the digital and physical approaches to money management are blended.
Whilst we don’t offer current accounts, the same principles apply to managing savings. We understand that our customers want to do business with us in the way that suits them best. For some people, that’s the quick convenience of using our app or managing their savings online. For others, that’s taking their passbook into one of branches and having a face-to-face conversation with one of our branch colleagues. Rather than forcing them to choose between managing their savings solely through digital channels, or only via a branch, at Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) we take a hybrid approach to enable and empower our customers to manage their savings in line with their preferences.
We do this by having a commitment to our branch network matched equally with an ever-growing digital capability. One of the key components of this is our app, which allows our savers to manage their money quickly and easily. It’s important to note that our digital services complement our branch offering, rather than replacing it. We place an emphasis on a commitment to digital tools and access to real people in equal measure.
Our members tell us that having the choice to look after their finances the way they want and at a time that suits them provides them with a better customer experience. We believe we now offer a genuine hybrid approach to accessing our mortgages and savings whether that’s through digital channels, on the phone or face-to-face.
The pandemic has focused us and other financial services providers on the importance of helping customers to choose how they manage their money just as it has brought into sharp relief how important it is to have good financial wellbeing. But what does this really mean? For me it is the ability to withstand the type of economic shocks and hardships which families across the country have faced during lockdown. We recently shared research to almost one in five UK adults have less than £100 in savings. Our focus throughout the pandemic continues to be to support our customers in building financial resilience through saving, something which became really crucial this year.
So, the future of community banking could also mean in-person services to support financial resilience – which is why we have launched a pilot partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau, supporting people who are in real need of practical help. This pilot scheme in six Yorkshire Building Society branches hosts Citizens Advice expert advisers who provide free and confidential assistance to both members and non-members.
At YBS we supported people to open more than 150,000 savings accounts in the first half of this year and helped them to access savings when they needed them. We also launched our savings app last year, which has supported more than 140,000 customers to stay at home and transact digitally through a brand-new channel.
Nationally, we have more than 220 branches and agencies across the UK. So we are proving that this hybrid model is working for our customers and members.
We know that face-to-face service will continue to play an important part of what we offer. In the past few years, we have opened face-to-face services in towns and cities where we previously didn’t have a presence and we’ll continue to look for more opportunities in underserviced towns and cities.
Yet the pandemic has highlighted two important ways in which our app or the digital approach more broadly has helped our customers.
The first is all about offering customers a choice of access. Digital adoption has understandably sped up as a quick and easy alternative to face-to-face contact, especially during lockdown when our world changed almost overnight.
And secondly, as 2020 has clearly shown us, anyone can find themselves in sudden financial difficulties and end up needing to rely more on their savings. So making saving easier for our customers, via our app, supports our ambition of helping our members to become more financially resilient.
Put simply we know customers’ habits are changing but we also know through recent research that over a third (33%)[i] of people would still prefer face-to-face service when looking for help, advice and support. So, whilst we should undoubtedly help customers take more control of their savings with our mobile app and online servicing, we’re equally confident that they value the role played by our retail network.
Digital versus in-branch banking can be a highly emotive topic to local communities. If building societies and banks are to genuinely reconnect with local communities, blending the physical with the digital and offering new community services in branch will be critical. Hybrid money management could be a way of unlocking greater financial resilience for communities right across the country, which can only serve to strengthen financial resilience as we rebuild from the pandemic.
All information correct at time of publication.
[i] Yorkshire Building Society Financial Resilience survey: The research was carried out online by Opinium. All surveys were conducted between 7th May 2021 and 11th May 2021 and the sample comprised 2,000 UK adults.