UK retail banks’ multi-channel ambitions will flounder without a core Web service that offers transactions, financial management and advice, according to a new Report from Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester advises that financial firms must restructure their channel management around the PC, with other access points — including branches — taking a supporting role.

“Retail banks that are expanding services across platforms won’t win customers with me-too multi-channel strategies,” said Forrester analyst Charlotte Hamilton. “Even today’s PC-Web offerings won’t meet firms’ expectations for moving transactions online. While banking customers have access to multiple electronic devices, mobile and iDTV access overlap heavily with the PC, and new platforms don’t measure up for online banking.

“Open Finance will offer customers best-of-breed products combined with rich advice and the electronic movement of money. But few firms today offer services beyond basic functionality like transfers and bill payments. Banks haven’t expanded into third-party products and don’t attract customers with aggregation across accounts or decision support.”

UK banks are rushing to launch services on both handheld devices and iDTV, but mobiles don’t match the PC Web for online banking, and most firms will find that platform costs make iDTV banking prohibitively expensive. While WAP adds little value today for banking, firms must explore mobile’s core functions of portability, messaging and telephone services, and offer simple callbacks by telephone, build loyalty through timely messages and enable location-based information with WAP. Larger firms that offer iDTV banking should focus efforts on customers not using the PC Web. Banks must use iDTV advertising for building their brands and product launches, and they should join retailers to create content for iDTV, offering education on financial services. iDTV sites must still refer multi-device customers to the PC for financial management and advice.

In 2005, PC services will dominate UK retail banking, offering customers financial management and advice alongside electronic transactions. Therefore firms must enable a full range of financial transactions online, and as competition increases, banks must offer a personalised online environment for customers to manage their finances. But they should go further and assist customers in making online decisions across their financial portfolio with automated advice. Both the telephone and branch networks must support online service. The branch must become a meeting place where customers discuss their finances with advisory staff as kiosks take transactions away from branch cashiers.

“While today’s call centres help take transactions out of branches, firms must use telephone services to move customers online,” Hamilton added. “Banks must base their call centre systems on the Web platform so that agents can talk callers through online tools in real time. As transactions move onto the PC Web, banks must focus branches on sales and advisory services while they familiarise customers with online banking kiosks. As banks seek customer migration online, banks’ traditional channel management must evolve to support customer relationships based on the PC. Firms must align their existing channel management with new managers for transactions, Personal Finance Management (PFM) and advice. These new roles demand that channel managers support customer migration online for better service.”

For the Report “Streamlining Multi-Channel Banking”, Forrester spoke with 30 UK retail banks and building societies to understand their plans for expansion across multiple channels. Additionally, Forrester spoke with 25 vendor firms supplying the UK financial-services sector.