Chase is rolling out a virtual banking service in 2021 to 'meet clients where they are.' An exec explains how it's part of the bank's long-term strategy.

  • Chase will begin rolling out a new virtual banker program in January, allowing clients to talk to bankers online about savings goals and budget questions
  • The move comes as banks are looking to offer high-touch but virtual services to their clients, differentiating themselves in a crowded field of mobile and digital competitors 
  • Chase has hired around 150 new bankers in its Ohio hub, and are planning on doubling their team of virtual bankers in 2021 by hiring in places like Chicago and Phoenix
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

There's no shortage of options for those looking to bank online, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has made mobile functionality and high-touch digital services essential for banks.

But for questions that can't be answered easily on an app or in a chat box — from saving money for college to setting up an emergency savings account — it's not always easy to visit a bank branch, particularly this year. 

It's something Chase hopes to address with a new virtual banking tool that lets existing customers video conference with bankers remotely.

The program, which has been piloted for about two years nationally, will begin an official roll out in January, Gerrod Parchmon, head of virtual banking at Chase, told Business Insider.

It's the result of an effort to further "meet clients where they are," even if that means at home, said Parchmon. "We're going to continue as a firm to make investments that help in the digital space. But we're not losing sight of the fact that great things happen when you talk to your clients," he continued.

Read more: Digital-only banks have doubled their consumer bases and raised $4.6 billion in funding this year. Here's how startups like Chime, Dave, and Acorns are making big strides in 2020

Outreach for the pilot program so far has involved making "hundreds of thousands" of calls to customers to tell them about the virtual banking feature.

Chase envisions the service as a new tool working alongside its mobile app and branches that allows clients to transition between the three depending on their needs and questions, said Parchmon. Clients book appointments online through Chase's Meeting Scheduler tool, which then occur via Zoom.

The virtual bankers will complement local branch services, not replace them, according to Chase. Customers will still have the option to visit their branch or follow up on virtual conversations in person. 

The move deeper into virtual banking comes as major banks like Chase and Bank of America, despite having larger customer bases than online-only competitors like Ally and Chime, continue to face pressure to develop their remote capabilities.

And while Bank of America customers can currently chat with Erica, an AI-enabled virtual assistant, Chase is betting that the new, face-to-face tool — one that builds on their already expansive physical-branch network — will be a differentiating factor.

This isn't JPMorgan Chase's first entrance into the virtual advisory world

The push into remote advisory at Chase follows a similar one announced in August by JPMorgan's US wealth management division, which launched a virtual financial advisor unit. JPMorgan landed former Vanguard executive Boaz Lahovitsky to lead the new initiative and is planning on staffing up financial advisors across the country.

It also comes at a time when client demand for mobile banking has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and when customers are changing their approach to banking because of the pandemic, according to Chase.

Read more: How JPMorgan's Kristin Lemkau is planning to turbocharge the firm's $500 billion wealth business, from a rebrand and ramping up advisor training to new tech

One internal Chase survey that was recently released noted eight in 10 customers have made changes in how they budget as a result of COVID-19. As a result, the bank has seen the greatest success in having these sort of savings conversations with clients, Parchmon said.

"As we've talked to clients both prior to the pandemic, and particularly during the pandemic, the conversations have become a lot more intimate, a lot more real, around 'How do I get better at managing my cashflow?'" he added.

Chase has added nearly 150 bankers in Columbus and plans to double their virtual banker force

As Chase rolls out the program in areas where the bank already has a sizable branch footprint, the bank plans to double its current virtual banker staff, which stands at 150, over the next year. The hiring will start chiefly in the Chicago metropolitan area, where the bank has more than 300 branches, while Chase also plans to expand in the Phoenix area, where there are more than 150 branches.

Chicago is a market that "is important to us," Parchmon said. "We're going to use that as a blueprint for other geographies across the country as we scale."

To date, Chase's hiring for the program has mostly been concentrated in its regional hub of Columbus, Ohio, and also in the Philippines, where employees handle client questions during extended hours. 

As for what the landscape for virtual banking might look like in a post-COVID world, Chase is betting that the demand for its remote product is likely to persist even when customers do feel safe going to bank branches again, mainly because it gives customers greater control over when they can talk to advisers. 

"People want to get a control of their time and they want guidance in some of the financial matters that help them to control their lives. And as long as those two constants are in place, I think that this is a definitely a long-term solution," said Parchmon.

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