Brett King

Posts Tagged ‘Branches’

How to reduce your branch footprint in an orderly manner (Ron Shevlin version)

In Branch Strategy, Future of Banking on May 4, 2012 at 17:49

I guess with a title like Branch Today, Gone Tomorrow it’s no surprise that a lot of people think I’m anti-branch. I’m not anti-branch, I just don’t drink from the branch kool-aid fountain that goes something like “if only we could find the right formula we’d reverse this trend of not visiting the branch and customers would flock back to our physical space”. I think most Bankers and Credit Union executives, instinctively feel there is a change in the importance of the ‘channel mix’, but as often as I hear questions about how quickly this is going to occur, I hear executives talking about how customers used to behave.

Why customers think they want branches
There is some valid behavioral data at work here that comes out through qualitative research supporting the role of the branch for legacy customers. That is, that there are still plenty of customers who say they want a branch – that doesn’t mean they will visit it, but they like to have them around. In Branch Today I examined the data and reasons for the recent rapid decline in branch activity, both from a visitation and transactional measure, but the question is why some customers still say they want to visit a branch?

There’s really only three things that drive a customer to a physical branch:

  1. I need a physical distribution point to deposit cash (primarily for small retail businesses)
  2. I need advice or a recommendation for a product or need I don’t fully understand, or
  3. I have a humdinger of a problem that I couldn’t solve offline, so I’m coming into the branch to get relief.

Branch bankers hang on to #2 for dear life, hoping that this will somehow keep customers coming back, helping justify those massive budget line items dedicated to real-estate; sadly it just isn’t happening that way. And yet, when you ask customers what determines their choice of ‘bank’ relationship, often the convenience or availability of a local branch, remains a stalwart factor.

Since the mid-80s, branches the world over have generally been transformed into streamlined cost/profit centres. The industry has attempted to reduce cost and improve efficiency to optimum levels and in this light customers have been forced to trade off between either big bank efficiency and utility, or the personalized service of a high street, community banker interaction without all the bells and whistles.

Despite this drive for efficiency there’s still a lingering psychology of safety in physical banking place and density, which stem from long memories over epidemic ‘runs’ on the banking system during the great depression. So what remains are two core psychologies that play to the need for physical places which reinforces the safety of a “bank” where they’re going to entrust their cash :

  1. I recognize that I visit the branch less and less for banking, but I’d like it to be there just in case I need to speak to someone face-to-face about my money or I have a problem, OR
  2. The more branches you have, the less likely you’ll go under in the case of a ‘run’ on the bank

But who is going to pay for the space?
The big problem with this, of course, is that as customers more commonly neglect the branch in favor of internet, mobile, ATM and the phone (call centre), the economics of the real estate and branch staff is no longer sustainable. So how do you have a space that still ensures the confidence of those customers that require the psychological ‘crutch’ of a space they might need to go to, but who aren’t willing to pay more for the privilege and won’t change their day-to-day banking habits back to the branch because the web and mobile are just so much more convenient?

The answer is two-fold.

The Flagship Store
If you need to instill confidence in the brand, then the best way is to build a new, large square footage space that screams new-age, tech-savvy branch banking with coffee and comfy chairs! Think the opulent Airline loyalty lounges that started to emerge in the late 80s. Think Virgin Megastores or the “Gold Class” cinemas of the 90s. Think Apple Stores today.

Brand spaces that inspire confidence. Enable a connection with your customers. Spaces that tell customers you’re all about service, advice and solving their banking problems – not about tellers and transactions.

Jeff Pilcher at FinancialBrand.com regularly covers the best of these new Flagship and Concept Stores, so head over there if you want some examples to work from. However, this is not exactly going to lower your bottom line around distribution. If anything it’s going the other way. Knowing that you’re going to have to downsize, the average FI will only be able to support a handful of Flagship stores in key, high-traffic, high-visibility location. So how do you equalize the ledger?

The Satellite Service Space
Supporting the Flagship stores at your secondary locations (i.e. anywhere that is not your best, most densely populated geography) will be very simple, cash-less brand presence stations. These will be small spaces in prime traffic locations like shopping malls, without any teller space, but the space to service the pants of a customer who needs that advice or help with a sticky problem. If they want cash, there will be an ATM. If they want to deposit notes or checks, the ATM can do that too, or you might incorporate a dedicated check deposit machine in the space too. In fact, the bank representative in the space could just use his iPad for that – although it’s better to move them to the ATM and go no transaction in the service space.

A good example of this sort of space would be the likes of smaller UPS franchise stores, or the BankShops of the TESCO variety in the UK. Small footprint of no more than 300-500 square feet, but enough space to represent your brand and tell customers they can still come and see if you if they need a solution.

UPS Franchise Stores

Spaces don’t need to be big to provide service

The ratio of flagship store to satellite spaces will probably be at least 10 to 1, if not greater. You don’t need every branch to be “big” in the new reality; to give your customers a level of comfort that you are safe enough to put your money with them. In fact, as the likes of UBank, ING Direct and Fidor show, for some customers you don’t need any spaces. But for those that still want a space ‘just-in-case’ then this strategy is a great transitional approach.

One day soon, within the next decade, we’ll need less than half the branches we have today. But as we make that transition, the need for a space to be available to provide service and support remains a key component of what we call financial SERVICES. It just doesn’t have to cost us the earth.

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What’s your banking instinct?

In Customer Experience, Future of Banking, Strategy on November 18, 2011 at 12:43

Without thinking consciously about it, over time core behaviors change producing different instinctive reactions. When a phone rings today, we go to our pocket or purse, not running to a device on a desk or on the wall. When we are interacting with a mobile phone that is not our own or an ATM machine, we’ll instinctively touch the screen to navigate, even if it is not a touch screen device. When you go from reading on a Kindle or iPad to a real book, the pages are frustratingly manual to turn. When we need to take a photo with friends, increasingly we reach for our phone, even if we have a camera stuck somewhere in our bag.

What was our instinct in banking?

The earliest instincts around banking was a safe place to store your assets, and in many ways that is still the case. However, banking in its infancy didn’t necessarily involve a bank or money at all. The earliest forms of banking involved the deposit of commodities or valuables that were traded, and often they were deposited in temples or palaces, the safest physical locations. It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that organized banking started to emerge globally, particularly as the wealthy tried to keep their assets safe during the dark ages. Even then, banking was still exclusive. It really wasn’t until the 20th century that banking became more mainstream and people started considering storing their savings in a bank.

Since then banking has been an instinctive part of the lives of most people in the developed world.

It wasn’t long before it became instinctive to pull out our cheque book to pay for a large ticket item. Some would also use lay-away or lay-buy plans, but these largely disappeared over the last decade or so. Over time those instincts changed to use credit cards, and more recently debit cards at the point of sale.

In the past our instinct when we needed cash was to think about where the nearest branch was and figure out when we would need to go to withdraw cash. Over time that instinct changed to using an ATM machine, and we went from planning when we’d withdraw cash, to just picking the nearest ATM machine when the cash in our wallet was getting low.

In the past our instinct when paying a bill was to write a cheque and send it in the mail, or to go down to a post office or office of the utility company and pay the bill in person. Today, that instinct has changed to where we pay online in an instant.

It’s ironic that we think of banking as a slow and steady institution that doesn’t really change, but in reality the utility of our money means that our behavior in respect to banking has always been changing.

The future instincts of banking

So what will your instincts for banking be in the next decade?

Not a place you go, something you do…

Firstly, we won’t instinctively think of banking as a place you go. The concept that a branch is at the centre of our banking relationship has been central to retail banking for over 800 years. This is the primary instinctual shift that will occur in the next few years.

Instead of looking for a place to store your money, we’ll look for a trusted brand that is safe to store our money, but equally important will be a brand that offers strong utility and a seamless connection to the things we do with our money. A safe and trusted banking partner will be a bank that offers me access to my money and access to financial services when and where I need them. A bank that demands or prefers a physical interaction, will increasingly be avoided instinctively as too hard to work with, as irrelevant to my daily life, and as slow and unwieldy.

On rare occasions for the minority of us that have complex asset allocations, trust structures and so forth, we’ll look for a physical place to go where we aspire to get the high-touch service of a personal banker who recognizes our status as a special class of banking customer – but this will not be an overriding instinct day-to-day, it will be incidental to our general banking experience. The majority of the time, even for the high-net worth client, instinct will simply dictate a much more efficient engagement of the ‘bank’.

Move and Pay, Safely and Efficiently

When it comes to day-to-day interactions, the emphasis on the movement of our money will be speed and security. Inevitably in the short-term our instinct will be to pull out our phone at the point-of-sale to pay for goods and services. We’ll do this not only because it is much faster than using cash or a card, but because our money management will be articulated through this personal device – we’ll see our balance, what our monthly expenditure is, what upcoming expenses we have and be able to understand the context of this payment on our financial life in an instant. The same would have taken much more effort with cash, our cheque book or our card.

Your instinct for payments is changing again

Security of our cash will be also a primary reason for the shift to digital money. Increasingly we’ll look to the technology of encryption, geo-location tagging, biometrics and active identity management to secure the flow of our funds. We won’t trust a piece of plastic or a piece of paper that can be easily corrupted or stolen, and the technology of ‘hacking’ our cash from a secure device will require a level of expertise and high-performance computing that make it far less frequent than the compromise of traditional physical ‘payment’ artifacts.

At the point that it is simply no longer safe to do things with cash and plastic, our instincts will quickly change to keep our finances safe once again. Being able to see what has been happening with our money over time, will also drive us to increasing digital management of our money.

Core instincts are at the heart of the change in bank modality

First and foremost our instinct for banking is keeping our money safe, secondly is the need for the utility of our money. Neither of these core instincts will lend us to continue to support the physical elements of banking and payments that we’ve been used to in the last 100 years. We will measure ‘safety’ in the trust of a brand, not in the bricks and mortar of branches. We will measure ‘utility’ in the seamless access to our cash, and the availability of the bank in our life when and where we need it.

Our instincts are rapidly changing. We don’t store grain and gold in Temples or Palaces anymore. Already most of the world doesn’t use cheques anymore. If you’re heavily invested in branches and the physical, you don’t understand the core instinct that banking is.

How Steve Jobs Killed the Branch…

In Customer Experience, Future of Banking on August 25, 2011 at 04:37

As the news of Steve Jobs’ resignation rocks the world today, it’s almost like we’re reading his obituary rather than the news that a Fortune 50 CEO has moved on. The impact of Steve’s resignation will be felt hard on Apple’s share price no doubt, and even potentially hit the very fragile US market at a time of uncertainty. Although Apple’s leader has had a question mark over his health for some time, the eventuality of the departure of such an iconic leader was always going to hurt.

When we look back at the amazing career of Jobs, the creation of Apple, his messianic return to Apple in 1997, the 200 patents filed under his name (although he has no formal engineering qualifications) and the meteoric rise of Apple Stock – from $7 a share in 2003 to around $400 today – we see the evidence of something amazing. But how has Steve Jobs influenced financial services, and how will his legacy continue to influence the sector?

The Graphical User Interface through to Multi-Touch

Although largely attributed to the team at Zerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), Apple was the first company to commercialize the Graphical User Interface. The GUI led to the modern computing interface, the creation of the mouse, and the concepts of human computer interaction and usability that are so widespread today. These are at the very core of our understanding of the way individuals interact with devices today.

For almost 10 years (1988-1997), Microsoft and Apple were locked in a legal battle over the apparent IP infringement of “Windows” in respect to the LISA and Apple Macintosh GUIs. Regardless of the eventual outcomes of this battle (which ended in a private settlment between MSFT and APPL in 97) the fact is Jobs’ team (that included much of the PARC team) were credited with the first mass market GUI implementation. Since then the GUI has been a basic element of our computing. The VT-220 green-screens of old have long ago disappeared, thankfully!

However, Apple totally upped the ante in 2007 with the introduction of multi-touch. Combined with Nintendo Wii launch in 2006, multi-touch saw the emergence of a range of direct input innovations. Microsoft followed soon after with Kinect, incorporating gesture based control. Multi-touch was the first incorporation of human control that was direct input, as opposed to a mouse and a keyboard. Even the Wii was an evolution of the input device – multi-touch eliminated an input device all together. This development has forever changed our expectations of device interaction.

Steve Jobs - Branch Killer, Innovator and Visionary (Photo Credit: Apple)

Of course, as banks we’re already massive deploying iPhone, iPad and Android Apps for mobile banking, but we’re also incorporating other direct input methods such as gesture recognition and biometrics into the experience. Recently bank branches have started deploying touch screens, media walls, Microsoft surface tables and even facial recognition in signage displays. Itau bank in Brazil has developed an ATM that uses gestures and 3D to control interactions. But the biggest change was not around input, but a shift in the value of the bank in our day to day life.

Detaching Banking from the Bank

This is not the sole legacy of Steve Jobs and the team at Apple, but when we look back on banking in 10-20 years time when branches have disappeared, we will attribute the destruction of the traditional value chain of banking to the death of the ‘store’. Not all stores are destroyed, of course, but where you have goods or services that can be easily digitized or where distribution does not absolutely require physicality, then the value chain is disrupted. The two big upsets in this evolution of the store were really Amazon’s destruction of the book store, and iTunes destruction of video and music stores.

iTunes was the more significant disruptor for banking, because the “App” has disrupted the retail financial services distribution platform by changing ownership of the customer experience. Today banks who want customers to have access to their banking through a mobile “App”, no longer have direct access to customers. Customers download the ‘bank’ from Apple or from Google, and banks need to meet the criteria of the ‘store’ before customers can get access to that functionality.

In the future the destruction of the physicality of banking from branches, cheques, cards and cash will all be attributed to the emergence of the iPhone. The smartphone with Apps, supported by an App store in the initial instance was the trigger for a whole evolution of interaction on-the-move. Then the mobile wallet and distributed, pervasive, engaged banking through a device that enables payments and connects customers with their bank everyday, will eliminate the need for “the bank”, but not banking products and services.

Gone, but not forgotten

When historians look back at the massive shift in banking and the rapid decline in branch activity, the death of cheques, plastic and cash – the inflection point will be the creation of the App Phone. This is perhaps Steve Jobs’ greatest legacy for banking today.

He has changed the way our customers behave, he’s changed the way we think, and the way we demand service. Thanks to Steve Jobs’ vision – banking of the future will be about banking embedded everyday into our life, a true utility, and no longer a place you go.

In the end when the dust settles, there will still be banks at the backend owning the wires, payments networks and carrying the risk, but they won’t own the customer. The customer will hardly notice banking embedded in their daily life as they go shopping with their phone, as they buy a new car or home, or as they travel overseas or send their kids off to college. It will just be a part of our everyday life, and my kids won’t even remember the days when you used to have to go to a building before you could do this stuff.

6 things Banker’s shouldn’t be saying…

In Bank Innovation, Future of Banking, Strategy on March 17, 2011 at 23:20

Banking is changing forever. Organizations like Britannica, Blockbuster, Borders, and even Bank of America (hint: don’t start a business with ‘B’) all suffer from the same collective challenge. When your business is built around a specific distribution model, how can you adapt when that distribution model is no longer relevant?

The inertia behind existing processes and distribution systems is an almost impossible force to break. It takes real planning a foresight to be able to reform your business around these massively disruptive mechanisms, and in most cases it sees a complete sea change in respect to the dominant players. Who would have thought that one of the largest sellers of books in the world in 2011 would be Apple? This is not due to publishing or distribution capability, but a change in how books are read. It’s all about behavior.

In this context, when you hear stupid statements being made by bankers, it is because they are too embedded, too focused on the detail, and aren’t stepping back looking at the bigger picture of the behavioral shift.

Things bankers say that concern me…

# 1 – Branches are here to stay…

This is not actually the point. By arguing that branches are here to stay, you are essentially either trying to defend your existing business model, or you are discounting the value of other channels like mobile, the web and ATM.

Customers are simply looking for the most efficient way to do their banking, and they’re fiercely channel agnostic. When we evaluate potential branch locations, the primary consideration is convenience – if that location will generate the required traffic and custom to be profitable. At an average investment of US$1m plus, there is a fine art to ensuring a branch is able to generate real return. The only problem is, the branch is not the most convenient channel today. So when your primary metric for your physical network can’t be supported when measured against digital channels, you’ve got a problem. You need to start thinking differently. The branch is just one channel, not THE channel.

#2 – Checks (Cheques) will be here for a long time to come yet…

Really? Why? The data shows that in every developed economy where checks exist that they’re in rapid, permanent decline. It is just a matter of time. Some argue that we still might have 10-15 years before checks disappear in the US. The problem is, if this really is the case, then the US is even more screwed than we previously believed because not only are they behind the rest of the world in respect to payments, but they are resisting changes that promise efficiency gains, reduced costs and greater customer satisifaction.

In the UK this is how the Payments Council announced the closure of central cheque clearing in the UK.

“The Payments Council Board has agreed to set a target date of 31st October 2018 to close the central cheque clearing. Cheque use is in long-term, terminal decline. The Payments Council was faced with the choice of either managing the decline to ensure that personal and business cheque users have alternatives easily available to them; or to stand back and let the decline take its course.”
UK Payments Council, Dec 2009

If you are in banking, rather than arguing checks are here to stay, you should be looking at alternatives and making the transition as orderly as possible, not being faced with a critical issue in the near-term. For example, why are we still issuing checking accounts when we start a new customer?

# 3 – NFC won’t get adopted for decades because the POS infrastructure isn’t there yet…

Apart from eliminating plastic, NFC has a bunch of other potential implications. Firstly, we’ll be able to integrate the retail experience a great deal more. For example, a customer will be able to use their phone to scan a product and get a real-time price, or see if there are competing offers from other retailers where he’s shopped before, and if his bank is prepared to offer a special low interest purchase plan or financing.

Individuals will be able to do seamless phone-to-phone transfers by just touching their phones together. This form of P2P will dramatically reduce the use of checks and cash just because it is so simple. Try selling me a checking account or a physical debit card when I can simply punch in how much I need to pay you into my phone and we touch phones. The behavior is the driver, and you won’t need POS infrastructure to do a bunch of this type of sexy NFC stuff.

What behavior will do though is raise expectations on the payment side very rapidly…

# 4 – I don’t get social media, where’s the ROI?

Wrong question. You might not get it, but billions of people are still using social media. The question is how should you be using it?

The issue with social media right now is not the ROI, but the hit you will likely take as a result of not being a part of the conversation. Right now today many of your customers are on social media talking about your brand, defining your brand image in a new way, and if you’re asking about ROI it means either you are looking at social media as purely a marketing channel or you can’t work out how to control the social media ecosystem. Both which show a core misunderstanding of the multi-modal nature of communications in the SM space.

The biggest risk to a FI today is reputational risk because you are not fully engaged with your customers in the social media space. Do you have a head of social media? You should do – and he needs to be a very senior resource.

#5 – Our customers don’t use mobile banking

I’m going to just say the obvious here. That’s probably because you don’t provide an App…

By 2015, the single most interacted channel for retail banking will be the mobile channel. Does your P&L reflect that reality? If you think you should wait until then to invest, then you’re in more trouble than we thought. I can use my phone as a boarding pass, but I can’t get my account balance or make payments because you don’t support it. My expectations of my phone in respect to utility is massive.

#6 – We have lots of time to get this right…don’t worry

If you aren’t worried, then don’t worry…you won’t have much to worry about in the very near future 🙂

What The Beatles’ success on iTunes means for Banking…

In Customer Experience, Economics, Media, Retail Banking, Strategy on November 26, 2010 at 03:01

The Beatles are arguably one of the most successful bands of all time, but their foray into the digital music space has long been frustrated. In their first week on the iTunes store, however, the Beatles amassed a staggering 2 million individual song downloads and over 450,000 in albums sales. Not bad for a band who stopped recording music 30 years before the iPod was even invented. Their success is evidence of something else entirely, and it should terrify banks mired in physical methods of banking.

Apple versus The Beatles (also Apple)

The fact that The Beatles held out on launching their ‘content’ into the digital space for so long is sadly typical of many very traditional businesses confronted with changing modality and business models. The Beatles conflict intellectually with the digital space actually commenced as a legal battle between Apple Computers and Apple Corps (The Beatles Holding Company) that started more than 30 years ago in 1978. At that time The Beatles filed a lawsuit against Apple Computers for trademark infringement. In 1981 the initial case was settled for just $80,000. Conditions of the settlement were that the two “Apples” would not infringe on each other’s businesses, i.e. Apple Computers would not enter the music business, and Apple Corps would refrain from selling computers. Thus, in 1986 when Apple allowed users to record songs to their computers, it was perceived they were in breach of that agreement. The legal jostling continued until February 2007, when a reported settlement of some $500 million was reached over the trademark dispute in favor of Apple Corps.

Modality shift kills physical music distribution

Confronted with the digital age most of the recording industry bristled. They saw changing modality, a shift to digital music as a threat to their entrenched distribution channels. Rather than embrace digital distribution the likes of the RIAA, when confronted with innovation in their sector, lashed out with lawsuit after lawsuit, starting with the famous case against Napster. The RIAA’s strategy was built on the sole premise of trying to prevent people from using file sharing networks so their existing distribution networks could be propped up indefinitely, and they celebrated Napster’s decline into bankruptcy as a sign of success for this strategy.

Clearly most saw the writing on the wall, but rather than change, the RIAA and the industry as a whole buried their head in the sand, hoping to limp along till change was absolutely inevitable, or worse thinking that they were immune to change. By all accounts, the RIAA was woefully unsuccessful in this strategy. Today, new artists live or die based on their ability to move product in the digital space, and The Beatles move at long last into the digital space singles that the last bastions of support for traditional, physical music distribution is crumbling. In fact, physical “record” sales peaked in 1999 at $14.65 Bn. By 2007 Physical sales of music content were already less than in 1993 having reduced to around $10 Bn, and by then end of 2010 it is expected digital music sales will finally overtake physical sales all together. Clearly the sector was in massive trouble with its decision to resist digital sales and the hundreds of millions spent by the RIAA on legal bills were largely a complete and utter waste of money. Those precious funds should have instead been put into revitalizing the industry digitally. The RIAAs actions in this light were reprehensible.

The RIAAs attempt to kill off digital distribution failed dismally

It’s not just ‘physical’ music that’s at threat

Others have faced similar battles in recent times, including Blockbuster who filled for Chapter 11 in September of this year, clearly signaling the near death of physical distribution of DVDs. Encyclopedia Britannica faced the same type of troubles when Microsoft introduced Encarta to show Windows’ multimedia capability in the mid-90s. This almost spelled the end of Britannica’s 300 year old business overnight.

What is under attack here is not DVDs, it’s not The Beatles, RIAA, Books or CDs and vinyl – what is under attack is Physical Distribution of goods that can easily be digitized. In that sense, the bank sector is in massive trouble because almost everything a bank does can be digitized.

Much of what our banking experience today means is wrapped up in the banking sector’s love of physical distribution. The centre of retail banking from an organization structure perspective in most cases remains the branch, which started life arguably as a physical distribution point for cash. Branch P&Ls exceed ‘digital’ by a factor of 50-100 times in most retail banks of today – an inequity that speaks volumes to ghastly outmoded thinking in bank boardrooms. Cash, Cheques, Plastic Cards, Branches themselves are all inevitable victims of this modality shift.

The Financial Times reported last week the following sentiment in the banking sector:

Banks across the UK, Europe and the US are now bringing service centres back into their local markets and investing heavily in their branch networks. More significantly, many are attempting to restore their battered reputations by putting customer satisfaction at the heart of their business
Financial Times, November 17, 2010

Physical banking is dead (at best dying)

This strategy is massively flawed. While improvements in customer service should be applauded, the fact is, based on distribution metrics, take up of mobile banking, internet banking, mobile payments, and other such indicators, the investment should be going into improving customer journeys, experience and service in the digital space. Most banks need to increase their investment in the digital space ten fold in the next 3 years at a minimum.

Like The Beatles, most banks when threatened with this modality shift, will find it extremely uncomfortable. The reality is, though, if they embrace the change revenues will follow. To give you some indication of the vast gap between shifting modality and the reality of bank distribution strategy, most banks still classify Internet Banking as a ‘transactional platform’ for saving distribution costs. For most customers today, though, they are 30-50 times more likely to visit your bank by logging in to Internet or Mobile Banking than visiting a physical branch. The problem with bank strategy in this respect is, if you come to a branch a core strategy is to try to sell you a new product. Today, most banks don’t sell anything through Internet Banking. If they did, most banks would be shocked to find out that they’d be actually selling more product online than through their entire branch network today.

It’s not branches that is under threat today – it is physical distribution. Banks can take the music industry approach and stick their head in the sand until things are absolutely inevitable, or they can adapt.