Drop in at a branch of OneUnited Bank and you will see staffers roaming branches armed with iPads loaded with real-time information about their walk-in customers — their recent calls to the call center, open loan referrals, and online, mobile, branch and ATM transactions. With all that information right at their fingertips, the bank's sales representatives are able to quickly identify each person's recent complaints or any potential financial needs that have not been met, and make relevant suggestions.

It's a new approach for OneUnited, a Boston-based bank that has offices in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles. Using new technology from industry heavyweight Salesforce, the $616 million-asset bank is counting on this expanded view of customers to help it drive sales, speed up decisions and respond more quickly and efficiently to customer problems.

Banks have long considered the so-called "360 degree view of the customer" a Holy Grail of sorts, especially for branch staff. Way back in 2008, Umpqua Financial in Portland, Ore., produced a "branch of the future" video that envisioned a world in which, among other things, branch staff could instantly call up a complete background on a customer on a tablet, then interact with a customer entering data from her mobile device to get a loan application completed and signed.

This 360-degree view has been elusive, though, because integrating all digital channels along with core transaction data is difficult for most banks. For one thing, many don't have real-time access to transaction data because their transactions are processed in batches overnight. And the connectors between core banking, online banking, mobile banking, the call center, and ATMs have yet to be built in many cases.

Salesforce, with its reach into many banks and existing integrations with core systems, has done some of this work already. It also is bringing vendor partners into its ecosystem; so far, nCino and Deloitte have allowed their loan apps to work with the latest technology, which it calls Salesforce1 for Financial Services.

"Salesforce appears to take aim at a vexing, increasingly crucial problem: personalization," says Mark Schwanhausser, director of multichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research. "Financial institutions have done a commendable job of arming customers with convenient technology that that enables them to bank in their pajamas late at night, while they're on the go, while they're in the shopping mall. The irony is that the industry has basically armed consumers with self-service tools that push customers further away, put bankers in reactive 'how can I help you today' mode, turn banking into a commodity business of holding, storing, and moving money -- and that puts banking relationships at risk. The challenge -- the crucial need -- is to find ways to use technology to put bankers into a proactive position, where they understand their customers on an individual basis and can initiate contact, interactions, and relevant sales on a regular basis."

 The ability to understand a person's financial needs and concerns can make all the difference between a cross-sales attempt that feels annoying or intrusive and one that feels helpful. The advent of mobile devices brings an in-person immediacy to this goal. As you walk into a bank branch, a wireless sensor could detect your arrival and automatically send all relevant information about you as well as your photo to a nearby employee, who would greet you by name and start addressing your specific needs. Westpac New Zealand is already developing a mobile app that does this in conjunction with Apple's iBeacon sensors.

Wells Fargo is also starting down this path. It's built teller software that runs on tablets and receives real-time information from nearby ATMs, allowing staff to troubleshoot any cash dispensing problems immediately.

Microsoft and the major core banking providers all talk of offering "360-degree view" apps for branch staff. Microsoft's advantage is its software is already used in some branches and works smoothly with its own Surface tablet. The core banking vendors have an edge in their easy access to the everyday transactions bank reps need to see.

Salesforce 1 for Financial Services is designed to connect all digital channels — including mobile, online, and social — and show all customer interactions in one place. It's meant to show referrals and leads alongside transaction data as well as posts the customer has recently made to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. This could theoretically alert branch staff to pretty much anything — an impending move to another city, a recent large funds transfer to a competing bank, the birth of a child who might need a college savings account.

Salesforce launched Salesforce1 late last year and on Thursday it rolled out a version that's specific to financial firms.

OneUnited Bank, a Salesforce CRM customer since 2005, first started using Salesforce1 in November, when it rolled out a secured card program called Unity Visa. The African American-owned bank serves low-income areas and is on a mission to help people improve their credit standing. The bank built a direct-to-consumer credit card application process on Salesforce's Force.com platform (Salesforce's development environment for creating customized applications that work with its software).

The bank at first used Salesforce1 to monitor the success of the Unity Visa rollout, delivering web and marketing analytics through the app.

"We gave the Salesforce1 mobile app to our executive management team so they were able to keep their finger on the pulse of what was happening," says James Slocum, chief information officer of OneUnited Bank. The analytics let the execs see what was and was not working about the new program. "We used that as our launching pad into a re-engagement of how to use Salesforce."

Now it plans to use Salesforce1 in all its branches, to demonstrate products, greet customers and pull up their records during conversations.

"All the call logs from the call center, all the online interactions that are happening, the information we're collecting from our online website forms, all that's coming into Salesforce and we're taking all of that information and power of the rich customer profile in Salesforce and extending it out to mobile devices in our branches," Slocum says.

Much of the needed data is already in Salesforce, so integration efforts to date have not been too extensive, Slocum says.

Branch staffers are currently being trained on Salesforce1 and the bank hopes to have the new app up and running in a branch in each of its regions by the end of the month.

As for Salesforce's vision of combining customer records with social media feeds, OneUnited is not quite ready for that yet. For now, the bank is using a different tool to manage social media.

"As we move forward and get past the things we want to do in the branch, we may look to Salesforce for that," Slocum says. "I can see the value of getting that into Salesforce; I would just need to understand how I control it." 

Penny Crosman is Editor in Chief of Bank Technology News and Technology Editor of American Banker.

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