O' Mother, where art thou?

JAY6935-300x295I have an adequately tech savvy mother. I’m still undecided as to whether this is a good or bad thing. She has the ability to ‘like’ and comment on absolutely each and every piece of content I post to Facebook — bad. Her face appears on Skype after moments of fumbling behind a loading screen, paired with subtle curse words — good. 

However, not everyone’s mother has the confidence to say yes to technology, and this creates a divide, which is growing larger by the minute as companies embrace this evolution of social wizardry. When guileless minds were armed with iPads, a bizarre kind of techy beau monde was born. This merging of technology and business is erasing traditional processes; processes that you and I will be happy to see the back of, but it’s not just about you and I, is it?

Last month I visited the experimental branch of Mashreq bank in Dubai Internet City to see how it had embraced technology to ‘revolutionise’ the in-branch experience for its customers. Customers are becoming more and more inclined to do everything from home; shopping, booking travel, even watching live concerts, thanks to YouTube. However, banking is a sensitive sector and people are still wary about how much information they share over the Internet when it comes to banking. As a result, there are still a few scenarios where people, reluctantly at best, will have to visit a local branch.

What Mashreq has done, or objectively, shall I say, tried to do, is embrace technology in-house in order to change the experience of traditional banking, changing the stigma of physically visiting a branch. My immediate concern here was that I always felt that traditional, personal banking experiences were necessary for the older generation or those who don’t happen to have much confidence in technologies which are placed in the hands of the uninitiated. Whenever somebody in this industry tells me that they’ve got something that will revolutionise the way I live, I always ask them, can my mother use it? Secondly, I ask, is it necessary?

When I walked into Mashreq, the first thing I saw was my own body on a very big screen. As I approached the screen it simulated smashing, which made me jump out of my skin. So the first technical experience I had gave me a mini heart attack, and that was before I even made it into the branch. My mother probably has a higher blood pressure than I do, therefore this is dangerous. Also, in the branches located inside shopping malls they’re not allowed to play out audio, so this unnecessary feature then becomes redundant. Part one; pointless.

Upon entering I was taken to another screen which was, again, interactive. This screen had another talking person on it which walked me through banking opportunities, loan options, credit card choices, basic things that the Internet could tell me. Turn around, you are presented with eight tablets. These are Windows 8-run with digitised banking forms — I’m ok with this. This is a decent investment — physical forms are annoying; the pens are always tied to the desk and chewed, and tablets are just far more professional. This should have happened some time ago. However, these tablets are also equipped with Windows apps which are apparently a great way to entertain children. Sure, but when I come into my branch I want to get out in quick time. This can’t be done if young Toby is heavily invested in Temple Run.

“A tablet will always be available,” I was told. “But what if one isn’t, can I kick the kid off?”

“A tablet will always be available,” was repeated to me. I wasn’t convinced. What was wrong with the abacus?

The final piece in the puzzle, prior to reaching an actual desk (all of which were vacated) was a video call centre. Mashreq lured me all the way to my local branch, sat me down and made me talk to someone in another state. Fooled.

It was exciting, don’t get me wrong. But I’m a technically stimulated chap — I am excited by these things. My mother isn’t. She goes to the branch for face-to-face engagement and trusted advice, not to be guided through a labyrinth of holograms and interactive sensor-activated adverts. This is the divide that consumer technology is creating. This kind of fruitful, futuristic banking branch leaves people, like my mother, with nowhere to go. This evolution is upon us and will continue to show itself more and more as traditional and personal services disappear. I can handle it, but your poor mother, well that’s another story.

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