Channel NewsAsia

Banks redefine role of brick-and-mortar branches

Millions of banking transactions are done daily via the internet and mobile devices in Singapore and the number is expected to climb.

SINGAPORE: Millions of banking transactions are done daily via the internet and mobile devices in Singapore and the number is expected to climb.

With the rise of digital banking, banks are redefining the role of their brick-and-mortar branch network.

DBS Bank said it sees about a million transactions daily through its internet and mobile banking channels. Of these, 30 per cent are from mobile devices.

Currently, the bank has more than two million internet banking users and close to one million users on the mobile channel.

With more customers embracing digital banking, DBS said what is being done at branches have evolved.

Most of the basic banking transactions can now be done online.

The banks said more customers are going to the branches to do more complex transactions in areas such as retirement planning, investment services and enterprise banking.

DBS has over 90 branches in Singapore, including its POSB franchise.

It said that with greater use of technology, the layout and size of bank branches could also change.

Koh Cheng Hwee, head of DBS Franchise, consumer banking group, at DBS Bank, said: “Going forward we will be leveraging technology to ensure we optimise our branch premises for greater flexibility and efficiency.

“You will see that branches will be smaller in size but will have the capability to keep up with the level of services they offer in the bigger branch, that will also mean the bank can also achieve savings on real estate costs."

OCBC Bank has also seen its mobile banking user base grow by eight times in the last three years.

Its internet banking user base has grown 2.5 times in 2013, compared to 2008.

OCBC, which has 56 branches islandwide, also said that the role of its branch network has changed over time.

Dennis Tan, head of consumer financial services (Singapore) at OCBC Bank, said: "The branches are now really purpose-built.

“We build branches to cater to specific segments of customers that we have. (The bank) is also digitising the branch itself. There could be a lot more self-service kiosks that could be doing more different things for the consumers."

At Standard Chartered Bank, some 70 to 80 per cent of branch space today is dedicated to more personalised consultancy and advisory services.

It has 19 branches in Singapore, and a third of its consumer base is making transactions via the internet and mobile platforms.

The bank said the number of online payments has more than doubled over the last 12 months.

Subroto Som, regional head of retail clients, ASEAN, at Standard Chartered Bank, said: "Just over last year, we've seen 20-25 per cent drop in simpler transactions in the branch and we see 10-15 per cent drop in the calls to the call centres which are primarily towards simple transactions, like fund transfers, changing address and other personal details."

All three banks have stepped up training for its frontline staff to help them better interact with customers and meet their changing needs.

While their roles may change, it appears bank branches are set to stay. 

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