Air-gapped queueing and minimal contact points are no longer the realities of an abstract future. They are now concrete aspects of our socially distanced society.
In high-street bank branches, interactions have shifted. Contactless appointment check-ins, digital signage, and changes to cash deposit systems may all have a place in the bank branch of the future. To make these changes while remaining productive and maintaining security means realising a future based on enterprise-grade wireless connectivity is a requisite.
It may appear that the pandemic triggered innovations such as fixed wireless access and pop-up facilities. In reality, their adoption has merely accelerated. In-branch customer experience optimisation has long been on the banking menu. And while it may have previously been set for dessert, the ongoing need for social distancing is now serving it up as the main.
Bank branches’ place as the sole establishment left open on the high street during the pandemic is another reason wireless connectivity is needed. They are an essential service. And banks must make sustainable adaptations to fit the different requirements for interaction that we must now follow.
So, how can banks effectively digitise their branches? And how is wireless technology driving these changes?
Zero-downtime wireless WAN
Traditional banks now face their biggest challenge in history: digital-only banking. Over two-thirds of participants in a 2020 study planned to transition to a digital-only bank in the future. It’s therefore vital that traditional banks running physical branches not only innovate, but also capitalise on existing virtues to compete with the new pack on the prairie. Reliability plays a big part. So does trust.
To enhance this valuable aspect of their reputation, banks should invest in their reliability across every aspect of branches’ operations. Connectivity-wise, they should be shooting for zero-downtime connectivity, allowing no room for gaps in service.
To do this, banks can deploy Gigabit-class 4G LTE (LTE Advanced) or 5G adapters that bridge to a traditional ethernet connection, providing a wireless option to the wired-line router. Then, in the rare scenario where wireless connectivity is down, at least one of the WAN connections is always guaranteed to be live. The router has the autonomy to determine when failover is necessary.
Better still, the reliability of modern Gigabit 4G LTE and 5G connectivity now means that failover is often unnecessary. A branch can, therefore, run its network independent of a wired-line connection and benefit from the security and agility of a resilient wireless network, while still providing enterprise-grade connectivity.
Branch network reliability, in this way, will support the bank’s reliability as a whole. In turn, this will fuel the higher standards of customer experience needed to compete with more agile digital-only banks.
Supporting social-distancing measures
One issue that arose during the pandemic, and that has affected all industries, is ensuring the safety of in-person contact. The first organised response to stop the spread of the virus around the world was social distancing. Even in locations where it’s impossible to maintain distance from one another, transparent screens have been erected guarding every possible transmission route.
The overarching effect of these measures has been a loss of communication capabilities. And this will affect banks like it has everywhere else, if not more as a space where interaction is so important.
Applying for a mortgage or loan, for example, are important moments in people’s lives. They need to feel valued and respected; they need to feel supported in their choice. When branch staff weren’t wearing masks and could sit around a table with prospective borrowers, this was easy. Now, it’s much more difficult to instill confidence.
A need to enhance communication methods will come as a result of this, and IoT devices will be at the core of the enhancements. Digital signage, kiosks, and surveillance cameras will all contribute to improved communication and security, and a better customer banking experience.
But to enable such extensive use of IoT devices operating on a single network, banks must ensure they can accommodate such high levels of data transfer. Using Gigabit 4G LTE connectivity to extend its services beyond traditional network infrastructure, banks will achieve the required levels of bandwidth.
Cloud management and air gaps
With high volumes of data being transferred across the network, security and availability should be at the top of the agenda when digitising bank branches. But these are not always easy to implement, especially in an environment with several complex networks of endpoints.
For example, marketing teams need to push personalised content to customers on digital signs and IT teams need to set visitors up on a guest WiFi network. These operations require the guarantee of security and availability, with trust and the customer experience at the core.
Wireless networks excel in this aspect as they can employ the benefits of a cloud-based management system. Cloud-based systems make it easier for bank staff working from home, who can access the same assets and applications from their sofa as they would otherwise have in-branch. The service is the same.
Cloud management systems also provide improved network visibility, giving IT teams endpoint information from across the network as it happens. With security patches being updated on devices simultaneously, leaving reduced time for opportunistic attacks to exploit known vulnerabilities.
Equally, by using a hybrid Gigabit 4G LTE network in tandem with a wired connection, businesses can achieve simplicity from an otherwise complex challenge. The primary wired network can be used to transmit any sensitive information securely, while a separate network using the Gigabit 4G LTE connection runs other in-branch operations. The branch’s network, in this way, is ‘air-gapped’. The secure data being processed by the operations team runs on an essentially separate network to that of the marketing team’s content. The network will also increase its ability to process more information, with its workload spread out.
The simplest solutions are often the best. In this case, exploiting a hybrid network can address the complexities of security and availability when employing enterprise-grade connectivity.
Pathway to 5G
Overcoming existing challenges should be a priority for banks. But the need for change should also be used as an incentive to digitise branches.
Unlocking the power of 4G LTE will ultimately improve in-branch customer experience. But laying the pipeline for the upcoming 5G revolution will revolutionise it.
For bank branches to achieve this, they must: harness the full spectrum of connectivity, from 4G LTE to 5G; make use of the full spectrum of low to high band 5G connectivity; ensure their solution provides complete lifecycle management; enable carrier-class connectivity; and use a hybrid wired-wireless connection.
In this way, standards for security and connectivity will rise. By exploring the solutions available, those banks that move fast and adopt emerging technologies will thrive in the new business environment.
By Graham Brooks, strategic account director, Cradlepoint EMEA