By Leah Hutcheon, CEO, Appointedd

THE high street as we know it is changing almost beyond recognition with bank branches closing at an unprecedented rate as consumers switch to banking online.

PwC’s 2017 Digital Banking Consumer Survey found that 46 per cent of consumers use only digital channels today – a 27 per cent increase over the past four years. For 18 to 24-year-old smartphone users it’s 82 per cent, while 60 per cent of all smartphone users use mobile banking in some way.

Alongside the uptake in digital, global investment in fintech, as it is known, is also on a steep incline. KPMG reported $8.4 billion for the second quarter of 2017 alone. Some in the industry are targeting specific products and services in the traditional banking model. Many of these are start-ups who are embracing innovation to automate manual tasks to allow the banks to offer value to consumers at a fraction of the time and the cost.

Another area that is ripe for further change is wealth management. An intriguing concept from Future Advisor is the introduction of “robo-advisors”, digital platforms that provide algorithm-driven financial advice on funds and investments. Recently Edinburgh-based Aegon UK, the pension, insurance and investment company, detailed how it has adopted a robotic process to handle simple customer requests.

But although the concept of robo-advisors is exciting, it is important to highlight that many consumers value real, human interaction when it comes to managing their money. But the only avenues the customer currently has to arrange a telephone or face to face appointment are:

1, Over the phone (cue the hold music); 2, Filling out a form on a website and waiting for a response – typically up to 48 hours; 3. Via online chat, if the option is available.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if customers could go online at any time and book an appointment at a time that suits them to have a call with customer services, or arrange a face-to-face meeting with a financial advisor, via a truly online booking system that could match the bank advisor’s availability with that of the customer?

In fact, you can. The technology exists today and is used by companies across a range of sectors.

And it’s not just about saving time for customers; it’s about reducing cost for companies and freeing up resources that are otherwise tied up in what is essentially diary management. It is estimated that there are around 15.2 million appointments made for wealth management and mortgage products in the UK each year. On average it takes 15 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing on email and phone calls to make an appointment for a customer. This equates to a staggering £27,360,000 each year spent just on booking appointments, and that’s if we base our calculations on the Living Wage of £7.20 an hour, which is likely to be a conservative estimate.

When you consider these astounding figures, it’s easy to see how making the relatively small change of streamlining scheduling has the potential to send ripples through the whole financial services sector.

Allowing customers to self-serve those appointments cuts their waiting time from 15 minutes to less than one minute – saving time and money while enhancing their customer journey. It also allows banks to invest more in innovation and truly reinvent the traditional view of financial services.

Using technology leads the way in supporting, communicating with, and retaining clients to suit their busy lifestyles and be part of the growing digital sector. Automation should not be seen as a negative – it should be viewed as a necessity to grow and safeguard for the future.