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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Banks hope to cash in on hi-tech
David Reid
By David Reid
Click reporter

In 1967 the world's first cash point opened in the UK. Nearly 40 years on, we are moving to online banking. David Reid joins the queue for the counter to see what banks are doing to persuade you to give them your money.

St Tropez
The south of France is a favourite retirement place for the wealthy
After the repetitive grind of years in the 9 to 5, many head south to live life at a different pace.

The south of France has earned itself a pretty deserved reputation in recent years as a nice place to retire to.

When people retire, they tend to bring their money with them.

So it is fitting that here, amid the pointy pines and mirrored windows of Sophia Antipolis - France's answer to Silicon Valley - researchers have been developing what they believe will be the future of banking.

While online banking has made it easier to move money around and cut overheads, the technology innovator Accenture believes the drive to lop off local branches is premature.

Twice as many customers crave the human touch as do not, Accenture's Michael Redding told Click.

"Customers quickly found that there is a big difference between doing something on a website and doing something in person.

"So when you think about it from a bank's perspective, if twice as many of your customers want to see you in the branch, you've now got to figure out how to make that branch the best it can be."

Instant recognition

One place you can start is by knowing what your customers want before they tell you.

Interactive wall
Interactive walls allow customers to learn about new products
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) means customers can carry remotely readable chips in their credit cards, or pick them up when they browse bank literature.

Emmanuel Viale, also from Accenture, says there are various applications.

"The first one, of course, is to identify the customer as the person enters the bank.

"The other aspect is more multi-media: being able to display, based on the customer profile, interactive video linked to the profile of the customer.

"So detecting the presence of the customer next to an interactive wall, for instance, and playing a video based on a profile of his interests, etc."

Interactive wall

The future bank will probably look pretty different as well.

Forget crouching behind a desk to squint at your bank manager's flickering monitor.

The interactive wall works with light sensors and tracking cameras, allowing bank workers and customers alike to peruse the financial products on offer.

The wall could well become a common shop-front feature, giving passers-by an insight into what is going on inside, or what is on at the movies downtown.

Michael Redding says it is probably used mostly in education.

"A branch can hold a seminar where customers can come in and learn about applying for your first mortgage, or how to plan for your retirement, or playing the stock market, investor tips.

"You can get a number of customers together and you can have a banking expert come in and explain it to them on a very large display, but then the customers can get out of their chairs and interact with it and learn."

Tracking

Visual, camera-based tracking can also be used to find out what services customers most use and which bits of the bank suffer bottle-necks.

Camera-based tracking
Visual tracking means banks can see customer bottle-necks
So if there is a log-jam in loans, staff can be re-shuffled to deal with demand.

Security cameras designed to foil one kind of hold-up can be employed to reduce another.

Banks, naturally enough, are pretty concerned about security.

With modern biometrics, proving ID has shifted from what you carry to what you are.

All essential details can now be boiled down to a bar-code printed onto a pass.

Privacy issues

A lot of these innovations are cool technologies in search of a problem to solve, and while bank customers like the personal touch, some might find it a little too personal.

Emmanuel Viale says: "It's true that all these technologies are very intrusive: you know where people are, what they do, what they are interested in, etc.

"On the other hand it can be presented as a service to the customer.

"You have to let them know that they will be tracked, or at least that they will be carrying an RFID badge, or that they will authenticate with biometrics.

"In exchange it is a level of service further that we provide."

While these technologies may breath new life into local branches and perhaps save an endangered species, there is not much here to help those of us with that common banking problem: not enough money.



SEE ALSO:
Banking on a future without queues
23 Jan 06 |  Business


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