dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 27 February 2014
Category: Features Comments View Comments


Through its high-tech dotFNB branches South African bank FNB is looking to the future by incorporating interactive technologies into the products and services, thereby turning the traditional banking experience into a retail adventure.

Last week FNB hosted a media tour of its Canal Walk dotFNB branch in Cape Town, which is one of nine in the country, to showcase the products and services it offers that are a blend of technology and banking. The Canal Walk branch is also the first in the country to implement a Microsoft Kinect-based interactive experience that allows you to browse through the cheque accounts and smart devices that the bank offers, as well as apply for a product-and-account bundle. This was what, in particular, FNB wanted to demonstrate to us.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

The dotFNB branches, which are cashless and paperless, are designed to combine a shopping experience with a banking experience for a more tech-inclined customer base. Upon initial glance the stores have a sterile, spacious, retro-futuristic appeal (complete with consultants, called "dotBankers" squirreled away behind computers in "sales pods") that I found intimidating, though others may find it appealing - apparently feedback that FNB has received is that clients find the branches to be relaxing. Either way it will be up to dotFNB to ensure that that initial point of contact with customers is warm and inviting because after that the experience is quite interesting and you feel more comfortable, as I discovered once Kim Gibson-Van der Walt, the head of dotFNB, took us through the branch and discussed the various services it offers.

Smart Devices
Upon entering a dotFNB branch you'll immediately notice the variety of devices on display, which include tablets, phones, notebooks, and accessories from brands such as Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, HP, and Acer.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

FNB offers these devices interest free over 24 months to its clients at what is says are competitive prices (I haven't done any maths on this so I can't confirm it). If you aren't a client you can, of course, apply for a cheque account in the branch right away or using the Kinect system (see below) to do it.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

All the devices have the FNB banking app installed so clients can get started with virtual banking immediately. The dotBankers will also assist people with their devices at any time by answering questions and taking them through processes such as how to download apps, migrate data, set up email, bank via the FNB app, and so forth, as well as basic troubleshooting. All the dotBankers are specifically chosen from FNB's employee pool due to their affinity for technology, then are trained on the devices, so clients don't have to worry about having to deal with a sales consultant who doesn't know what he's talking about. Instead they have a banker who also happens to have tech know-how.

Microsoft Surface
Each branch has a Microsoft Surface table that clients can use to access a handful of banking tools. The tables, of course, operate via touch and clients can use the tools themselves or have a dotBanker assist them. The tools include calculators for foreign exchange conversions, information on various FNB products, tools for dealing with shares, and calculators for working out information such as loan repayment values, interest, and FNB's eBucks.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

For the demo Kim Gibson-Van der Walt and Christine Burrows, FNB's corporate communications manager, set up a scenario of a couple planning for a wedding and showed us how the people would input data into the calculators to work out how much money they would need to earn, save, and borrow if the wedding were to happen, as an example, in a year's time.

I haven't had much chance to play with a Microsoft Surface table (Nokia had one at Rocking The Daisies in 2010 that I spent a bit of time with) so, after the media tour, I went back to the table to get a better look at the tools it offers and to experience what it's like to use it, although I didn't have much time to get into anything in depth.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

The table in the Canal Walk branch is mounted quite high up so if you're not tall you have a tendency to rest your palm on the surface as you're using it, which confuses the touch recognition a bit. The table also doesn't quite have the response time of most tablets, so that takes some getting used to. The various components of the tools (say, a window for a calculator and a window for a piece of information) can be moved around and repositioned on the table, as well as rotated, so there isn't a particular spot where you need to stand to be able to see the data clearly and, if you happen to be a group, you can then just rotate the information to face various people so that they can see it better.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

I was particularly interested in the foreign exchange tool so in the brief time I had I decided to take a closer look at it. It scrolls a list of countries, along with that country's current exchange rate (the rand equivalent indicator), as a ticker under the calculator. I don't know how often FNB updates its rates but the data that I saw displayed was over 24 hours old.

I couldn't find a way to select a country from a drop-down list, which would have been faster. Instead I had to wait for the applicable country to appear in the ticker, which was tedious. Once you've selected the country it appears next to the calculator. Here you can input a rand value and it will output the appropriate value in the selected country's currency (yen, for example, if you have Japan selected). Here, again, I couldn't figure out how to do this calculation the other way around - to convert from a currency to rands (enter 20 000 yen, for example, in the calculator to find out how much that is in rands) - which is usually the calculation I'm more likely to need to do. Had I had more time, I would have asked a dotBanker to assist me.

The dotFNB branches don't have in-house specialists for all the bank's products, notably business banking, home loans, and share investing, so if clients need to discuss an account or a service that is not covered by the dotBankers in the branch they can do so via one of the videoconferencing setups.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

The videoconferencing happens in a room with a door that can be closed so you are assured of absolute privacy. Clients sit in front of a monitor with a webcam and speak directly to a specialist via a phone as they watch him on the monitor. Kim Gibson-Van der Walt demonstrated this to us via a quick call to a colleague, which she put on speaker phone. There was no problem with either the audio or visual feeds. Kim says that "videobanking", as it has been dubbed, is on the rise internationally and from the demo it certainly seems to be a very effective way to deal with a consultant who cannot physically be in the same room with you and get instant answers. It's also a much more personal and efficient experience than just talking to someone on the phone.

The Sales Environment
Sales consultants sit in the aforementioned "sales pods" behind computers inside the dotFNB branches but the difference here for clients is that instead of sitting opposite them and having an experience that is obscured by the monitor and a lack of access to information and, at times, eye contact, the clients sit next to the dotBanker. Here they can then see what's on the monitor, which will be information pertaining to their FNB accounts, and can interact in a more comfortable way with the consultant. Feedback that FNB has received seems to suggest that clients find this to be a much more pleasant way to do banking and I imagine that that makes it easier, in turn, for FNB to sell more products and services.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

Each computer has a fingerprint scanner, which is connected to the Department Of Home Affairs' database (who even knew that was possible considering the state that ministry is in!) and is used to verify the client's identity. While convenient, it's all a little too Big Brother for my liking. Kim Gibson-Van der Walt says that biometrics are the future and its one of the areas that the bank has been piloting in its "test bed". Right now we're seeing fingerprint identification as a result of the testing but I have to wonder what's next. I hope they've all been warned by the dangers of the future represented in Minority Report because I don't want to have to get new eyeballs due to a system virus or because someone stole mine.

Documents that need to be signed are all done so digitally via a signature pad and fingerprint verification, which ensures that the branches remain completely paperless (although there is a large business printer in the Canal Walk branch) but it also constrains what clients can do. Right now in a traditional bank you can cross out terms and conditions that you don't agree with before signing, although you might end up in an argument about it. I imagine that making these kinds of adjustments is going to become impossible to do once everything becomes digital - you'll have to take it or leave it.

I'm not fond of the Big Brother digital future but we'll see what happens.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

As there are no tellers or cash in the dotFNB branches they have ATMs to service those needs. The Canal Walk branch has two ATMs outside the entrance that, additionally, each have a screen mounted above them that conveys marketing, informational, and educational messages to keep clients occupied should they find themselves in a queue.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

I don't use ATMs much and don't really pay attention to them anymore so I was interested in the physical design of the machines, hence the photograph above.

Kinect Shopping
The most exciting part of the tour - I think for FNB rather than the journalists - was the Kinect-based interactive display, which is installed in the branch window and is therefore accessible to anyone, not just FNB customers, 24/7, which is great for people who might be in the mall after hours or who are a little intimidated by the sales pod people.

The purpose of the system is to help people select a smart device and cheque account bundle and if you've used Kinect before [warning - that Kinect link contains a Star Wars dance off] you'll be familiar with how to interact with it. The system is well set up and calibrated and there is enough light in the mall thoroughfare that it has no problem picking up a person when one steps into the detection zone. Once you've been detected the system will start running the interactive portion. You hold up your hand to check in (basically confirm to the system that you are a human who wants to use it) and from there you can select a cheque account option (there are only two so it's a bit of an anticlimax) and then scroll through the products options, first by selecting a brand, and then by scrolling through the various devices by that brand that FNB has on offer. The scrolling part is a little tedious if you're someone who is just looking for quick information, rather than an interactive experience (in which case I'd suggest just going into the store and browsing the devices directly), but for those new to the God-like control of waving your hand at a screen and having it magically do stuff, I'm sure it will be lots of fun.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

Once you pick a device you are given a code, which you then SMS to a number on the screen, and this serves as your application for the account and the device. The code will tell the branch what device and account you are interested in and it will check you out (using Big Brother technologies, I'm sure) and then contact you about picking up the device at the store and getting yourself set up if you qualify for the account. The turnaround time is about 24 hours so you can be up and running with a brand new account and tablet or phone within a day.

More interesting to me is some of what's going on behind the scenes in the Kinect system. It is hooked up to Google Analytics so FNB is able to look at aggregate data to see what people are browsing when they don't have an FNB employee hovering near them who might be influencing their decision unintentionally or making them nervous as they come to grips with physically interacting with a window screen.

From here, of course, FNB can determine all sorts of information, such as what account people are most interested in, as well as which brands (of the devices) people are more likely to pick first - and more often - and what types of devices are more popular. FNB can also see what percentage of people navigate right to the end of the process - the SMS code - and apparently it is quite a high rate.

I imagine that FNB can also see how long people linger on certain information screens, which will give the bank an idea of what is important or, perhaps, what needs revising because it isn't clear, and it should also be able to see how people are navigating information in terms of moving back and forth as they compare data and make decisions, which does also make the point that right now, from what I could see, you can't directly compare two products on the screen at once - instead you have to scroll back and forth between options. That is a usability issue that will have to be addressed in a revised release of the software as constantly having to scroll back and forth to find products and double check information is something that will irritate a lot of people. It seemed to me that the software is designed for moving forwards, to the end goal of getting that SMS code, and less so for moving around to reference information. Although you can go backwards it feels as though it's pulling you forwards all the time.

There's a lot of potential for this technology, however, so it will be interesting to see what FNB decides to do with it next.

The Future Of Banking?
The dotFNB branches are an interesting glimpse at a possible future for banking services and some of what is on offer is really quite attractive - I'm thinking specifically of the videoconferencing service - and, in some instances, entertaining.

Kim Gibson-Van der Walt says that people increasingly want a retail environment and not a banking environment when they do their banking and these branches are the testing ground for this new way of doing business. Technologies and services that are well received by clients can also then be adapted for, and adopted in, the traditional banking branches, but only to a point: clients can still expect to see the familiar banking setup with tellers and cash-based services at traditional branches so there is no fear of the familiar being taken away - at least for the foreseeable future.

dotFNB: Technology And Shopping Merge In A High-Tech Bank Of The Future

The Canal Walk dotFNB branch in Cape Town is the first one in the country to offer the Kinect system. If you want to try it out it's near Entrance 3 in the mall, which is ideally positioned and secluded enough that you can interact with it without feeling as though the entire mall is watching you. The system will be rolled out to other dotFNB branches later in the year but, in the meantime, you can still visit to explore the other products and services on offer and to experience what is one possible future of banking.

Tags: #cape_town, #technology

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