We're increasingly using online and mobile banking, but it's not going to make human customer service go away.
In fact Westpac's newly transformed banking platform is designed as much to get in touch with real people as it is to do more services for ourselves away from branches.
The aim of the platform, planned to be in use among all Westpac customers early next year, is a consistent experience whether on a desktop or mobile device and one that flows easily to conversations with its staff.
"The opportunity for us is to build a far more personalised experience with customers," says general manager of retail banking Ian Blair. "That doesn't mean branches or bankers will disappear. It actually frees up the time of our bankers to have deeper and better quality discussions with customers as they use technology more and more for their transactional needs."
The responsive platform is part of a $15 million, 18 month programme by Westpac and will initially offer the 100 banking services Westpac currently offers online and will add another 50, including live chat.
Some of the new online features will include enhanced search, budget and savings capability and the ability to originate most product and service applications that currently require a visit to a branch or phone call to a contact centre, says Westpac.
Data from in and outside Westpac gives weight to growth in online and mobile banking and customers wanting a more personalised banking experience, says Blair.
He cited Juniper and Forrester research that showed 200 million customers would make banking transactions using a tablet by 2017, while Google says 30 percent of Kiwis would rather give up their TV than their smartphone.
According to Cisco's Customer Experience Report for retail banking in April, 63 percent are willing to virtually meet a financial advisor, 46 percent would open an account virtually and 30 percent use financial mobile applications.
Simon Pomeroy, head of digital banking and customer experience, says customers want "seamless and frictionless" ways to contact human beings, starting with digital channels. "You can drive personlisation and lead conversations through digital channels, but how do we have human beings there to manage customer experience in a very different way. We're embracing this because our customers want this level of experience."
Westpac says only a few banks globally have the type of device agnostic platform it's developed. The bank's 5000 New Zealand staff have been trialling the platform and it will be rolled out to 50,000 early adopters next month, then all customers by January.
The platform will be accompanied by a wrapped banking app to offer services alongside Cash Tank, its existing smartphone app for quick balance checks.
The 60-strong Westpac development team has been centralised and can make enhancements to Westpac's platform 40 percent faster, it says, adding it aims to add new functionality to the platform every six to eight weeks. The team partnered with Wellington IT company Silverstripe to develop the platform.
The platform also integrates with accounting programmes Xero and MYOB and Westpac is talking to a third party about adding budgeting tools.