It’s simply not enough to be ‘on the high-street’ – it’s about being ‘in the high-street’, being embedded in the community and showing you are a force for good.

By Kelly Ogley

There’s been a lot of chatter in the national press recently about the value of the branch model in banking – and it got me thinking about how it applies to insurance.

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The trouble is that the argument is often polarised. On the one hand, you’ve got the advocates of switching to digital and mobile communication – those who believe the high street is unsustainable.

And on the other hand, you’ve got Dominic West hamming it up in adverts as boss of a fictional bank closing branches – satirising the notion of the virtual bank and underscoring the value of the high street.

The reality is that it’s always going to be horses for courses.

But in adopting these either-or positions, some of the importance nuance is missed.

My experience of running lots of high street branches tell me it’s simply not enough to be ‘on the high-street’ – it’s about being ‘in the high-street’, being embedded in the community and showing you are a force for good.

Whether that be charity work, local recruitment, business development or supporting Business Improvement District (BID) initiatives, being an integral part of the community becomes a virtuous circle – not only does it help the community grow and flourish, but it also improves brand awareness and strengthens brand reputation which, in turn, builds assurance and trust.

We all know how critical these factors are for people making important decisions about where to buy their insurance.

All of this, plus the free local window advertising, can keep acquisition costs down, encourage repeat business and strengthen loyalty, but only if underpinned by a strong service model and delivery on promises – not least when the worst happens and a claim needs to be made.

Throwing off the old-fashioned label

Being local doesn’t mean being ‘old fashioned’. Community brokers need to evolve, continue to stay relevant and, importantly, embrace technology.

Last month, I talked about AI in insurance and how it can enhance our service proposition, manage our cost base and make us more sustainable.

It is solutions like these that brokers need to consider as they work to meet modern-day client needs. For example, with the use of tech and data, small local branches can be extremely efficient and resilient whilst providing a valuable service to their local community.

I know clients won’t visit their local broker for every transaction – in fact, some rarely come in at all – but feedback and research tells us that they like knowing that their broker is there when they need them.

And, of course, it’s essential to provide all the support we can to vulnerable customers, who will generally need more assistance and have a greater need to deal with someone face-to-face. This all speaks to trust and the reliability that a physical community presence has.

As I said earlier, we know this model isn’t for everyone. Some people prefer to go on a price comparison site and only ever engage digitally. But what’s great about our industry is that we have a distribution solution for all client preferences – we meet their needs and don’t just serve our own preferences.

Banks that close branches often say it’s because of a lack of local need but, if this were true, we wouldn’t be seeing an increase in banking hubs and Post Offices.

The reality is it is often less about lack of demand and more about economic viability – and, to me, that says that banks have not evolved their model sufficiently to be “in the high street”.

As an industry, we should feel pride in providing choice – but there’s simply no substitute for giving local people, with local knowledge the professional, friendly and first-rate advice they deserve.