Branch Transformation: A Q&A with Citizens Bank

Chris Nichols and Beth Johnson

Chris Nichols, chief strategy officer for CenterState Bank recently sat down with Beth Johnson, CMO and head of virtual channels for Citizens Bank—a $157 billion regional bank based in Providence, R.I.—to get her thoughts on the future of the branch and how the bank thinks about various customer engagement channels.

Nichols: How important is it for Citizens to proactively transition clients from the physical branch to online or mobile?

Johnson: For us, it’s not about transitioning customers from one channel to another. It’s about choice and the customer experience. Relevance of experience is really at the core of what we’re doing—whether digital or face-to-face. We want to have the right channels in place so that customers can choose to bank with us when, where and how they want to, with seamless end-to-end customer experiences.

Data analytics and customer research have been really powerful tools for us—helping us to deliver offers that anticipate and meet their needs—but also helping us learn where we can evolve our capabilities and engagement models. In 2017 we launched several digital offerings, like peer-to-peer payments with Zelle and a digital small business lending platform with Fundation. But we also made significant investments in our branches, transforming spaces to better meet the needs of the local community and creating more spaces for consultative conversations.

Nichols: What have been Citizens’ more effective tactics in getting customers comfortable with their mobile banking products?

Johnson: Culturally, people are becoming more comfortable with digital experiences for a variety of needs, which I think has helped increase the adoption of mobile banking. Customers are looking for convenience, so if they find mobile a convenient channel, then that’s where they will choose to engage with us. Banks have really embraced digital innovation over the past several years—and create quick, seamless experiences that customers are embracing.

Nichols: How does Citizens think about voice banking (using Siri, Alexa, etc.)? How mainstream will voice banking become?

Johnson: The financial services industry has embraced technology and AI. So I think we’re in a place where things like voice banking or other AI-driven platforms become part of the delivery considerations for banks as we see the lines between products, services, and physical space continue to blur. We’ll always ask ourselves: how does this innovation improve the customer experience? And if we believe it will help them manage their financial lives, then it’s something we’ll explore adding to our offering.

Nichols: What products does Citizens foresee in the future?

Johnson: Much like our view on channels, when we look at product innovation it’s really rooted in customer experience. Currently, we’re evaluating customer journeys in key areas, like the new-to-bank experience and home buying. As we think about product innovation, we have to put a customer-centric lens on the experience. And knowing what the experience is today helps us to understand where we need to simplify or evolve. For example, homebuyers don’t want to buy a mortgage; they want to buy a home. One of the things we’re working on right now is a partnership that allows us to help facilitate the search for the home—not just the purchase of it.

We also have teams dedicated to understanding the fintech landscape and scanning the marketplace to see what’s out there. We know we’re not going to be able to buy or build everything that we need so we think about where it makes sense to buy and where it makes sense to partner. You’ll see us continue to innovate with that approach going forward to launch new products or evolve existing ones.

Nichols: Will interest checking, savings, and money market accounts all survive in the next decade?

Johnson: I think they will continue to have a place in banks’ offerings, but we’ll see more innovative thinking around them, whether it’s how the product is structured or how it’s delivered to customers. At Citizens, we recently launched Citizens Access, a nationwide, direct-to-consumer digital bank that offers Member FDIC-insured online savings and CD accounts. That new delivery model allows us to expand our offering beyond our branch footprint and engage with customers who want a fully digital experience.

Join Chris Nichols and Beth Johnson as they discuss the how’s, the why’s—and the why-not’s—of transitioning customers from the branch in a lively panel discussion that will also include Chris Fritz, SVP and head of digital solutions at SunTrust and Marci Knight, EVP of retail banking and CMO of American Bank of the North.

The panel will take place at the 2018 ABA Bank Marketing Conference, September 23-25 in Baltimore. Register now.