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Take a trip to the bank of the future

RFID, digital pens and biometrics will help banks find out when their important customers are visiting and how to sell more products.

As you are walking into a bank branch office, a member of staff you've never seen before rushes over to greet you by name.

He or she leads you to the counter where you fill out a slip using a digital pen--the information appears on a screen in front of you and you confirm that it is correct.

Standing in line to cash your checks, you pick up a leaflet on personal loans and start reading. As you pass, a plasma screen on the wall starts showing a video on personal loans, providing more details. You put the leaflet in your pocket.

When you get to the clerk you cash your check, using your fingerprint to prove your identity. He mentions that as a valued customer you can get a special rate on personal loans--if you want to sign up now...

Welcome to the bank of the future.

For all the talk of the Internet killing off the branch network, around half of a bank's customers will visit a branch at least once a month. That's three times the number that will visit the Web site. So banks are taking another look at how to boost sales through their branch network.

The trick is to use cutting-edge technologies to capture new types of data that can be used to improve a bank's ability to sell to customers, according to Michael Redding, director of research at Accenture's technology labs.

Radio frequency identification technology, digital pens and motion-tracking cameras could all be added to the arsenal to help banks find out when their most important customers are visiting and how to sell them more financial products.

Bank cards could be fitted with RFID chips that would allow banks to react faster when important customers visit the branch--for example, by sending someone to meet and greet them as in the scenario above.

Alternatively, screens in the bank could display a message advertising products that customers might like to buy, based on their profile. If the bank knows Mr. Smith has two teenage kids, then when he comes into the branch the screens could advertise student loans.

Accenture's Redding said one bank in Latin America wants to roll out RFID-chipped cards to its VIP clients. "They are trying to make it a status symbol," he said. "By making it an object of desire they can get people to elect to take part."

RFID chips could also be embedded in leaflets, and these chips could trigger videos on in-house screens to provide further information. The information could be combined with the information from the RFID chip on the customer's card and sent to the counter staff, who could then use this to cross-sell.

Digital cameras could also be used to track how individuals move around the bank, helping banks see which layouts work best.

This vision of the branch of the future isn't just sci-fi whimsy, Redding said. All of these technologies are "being used somewhere by a bank. All these things are happening in a piecemeal fashion."

Different technologies are being tested by banks to see which fit best, he said. "You don't have to do things on a massive scale until you have validated the economics."

While some people might be concerned about carrying around so many RFID chips, Redding is confident they will be accepted. "It's not a question of will people do it," he said. "It's a case of how many ones will they carry."

Many customers will see such technologies as bringing advantages--trading off some of their privacy in return for shorter lines or better services, he said. "It's about letting the customer choose. Forcing the customer is not a good story because people won't accept it."

Steve Ranger of reported from London.