The Enduring Importance of Physical Engagement in Retail Financial Services

I take no issue with the growing importance being placed on digital in financial services. Indeed, it does not take extensive examination to see, in Wayne Gretzky’s words, “where the puck is going”. Digital needs to be a top technology priority among financial institutions – particularly in highly digitally-directed markets such as North America and Western Europe. But, that doesn’t mean physical engagement is unimportant. In my opinion, in-person (physical) engagement will be of lasting importance in financial services for at least three reasons:

1. Most consumers rely on brick and mortar for commerce and will continue to do so.

2. Most retail deposits still take place at the branch.

3. Most banks do not offer a decent digital customer acquisition mechanism

Most Consumers Rely on Brick and Mortar for Commerce

This week, comScore released its most recent measurement of digital commerce. It was truly exciting, with Q4 2016 m-commerce spending up 45% over 2015! But, even with that astonishing year-over-year growth, m-commerce constitutes just 21% of total e-commerce. And, with two decades of e-commerce, total digital commerce comprised just ten percent of total commerce in 2015. Plenty of consumers still like stores. * FRB Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2011 – 2016, Percent of smartphone users with bank accounts
** US Department of Commerce, Internet Retailer, Excludes fuel, auto, restaurants and bars
***comScore

Digital is not equally important across segments. Books and music, for example, are highly digital. Not so much for food and beverage. I’m being simplistic for brevity, but the data suggests that most commerce will remain tied to the store experience – at least in part – for the foreseeable future. I don’t think financial services will be an exception.

Most Retail Deposits Still Take Place at the Branch

Banks are keen to migrate low-value branch transactions to self-service channels, and there is perhaps no better low-hanging fruit than check deposits. Yet, with a decade of remote deposit capture utilization behind us, a January 2017 survey of US financial institutions (n=269) clearly shows that the majority of retail deposit dollar volume still takes place in the branch. Like it or not, the branch remains a key transaction point for many consumers and small businesses. Sure, the trend lines support digital transaction growth (thank goodness), but we have a long way to go – farther than the hype would suggest.

Most banks do not offer a digital account and loan origination mechanism

Even as banks would love to acquire more customers digitally, most aren’t well prepared to do so. Unlike most every other retailer on the planet, most banks initially invested in digital banking for transaction migration, not sales. That is changing, but not quickly. The mobile realm needs the most work. In a December 2016 survey of North American financial institutions, Celent found that large banks, those with assets of >US$50b, had made noteworthy progress in mobile customer acquisition capability since the previous survey two years ago. Smaller institutions lag considerably. For these reasons, branch channels are getting a make-over at a growing number of financial institutions, with the objective of improving channel efficiency and effectiveness – effectiveness with engagement, not just transactions. Celent is pleased to offer a Celent Model Bank award in 2017 for Branch Transformation. We’ll present the award on April 4 at our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston. In addition to presenting the award trophies to the winners, Celent analysts will be discussing broader trends we’ve seen across all nominations and will share our perspectives why we chose those particular initiatives as winners. Make sure you reserve your slot here while there are still spaces available!

Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions

This is the third article in a weekly series highlighting trends and themes from Celent’s Model Bank submission process. Dan Latimore and Zil Bareisis led off with two great pieces on the evolution of the Model Bank Awards.  Articles from this week on will explore some of the broader themes within each category. Customer experience initiatives are typically the most numerous.  While this makes the category more difficult to judge, it offers immense insight into what’s happening in the market. The standards of customer engagement are constantly changing, and banks are experimenting with new ways to drive increased satisfaction, higher revenue, and greater loyalty.  Three themes stand out this year. Digital banking subsidiaries: Many banks are finding that existing systems are too rigid to accommodate a truly digital experience.  A number of customer experience submissions this year focus on building out separate digital subsidiary brands within traditional institutions. Banks are typically going in two different directions.  The first is a digital subsidiary as an offshoot of the parent bank.  These brands are basically separate products that offer a digital-first experience to a certain demographic, but are closely tied to the main bank. Brands are similar and products/ services are frequently cross-sold. The second type is a completely separate brand ring-fenced under a different technology stack, operating under the umbrella of the parent organization but effectively a separate entity.  These banks may leverage the parent for product support, but are usually sandboxes for “testing” digital.  Submissions were a mix of the two approaches. Fintech partnerships: The shift from disruptive to collaborative relationships between financial services and Fintech startups feature prominently in this year’s award submissions.   They range from standard B2B vendor relationships to more advanced functional partnerships where portions of the Fintech’s offering is exposed within the traditional institutions digital UI.  Initiatives reflect the growing acceptance among the industry that banks can’t be all things to all people.  Institutions are acknowledging the valuable and complementary role Fintech can play in providing a modern, innovative customer experience. AI and bot technology: Bursting out of the gate in 2015/16, Banks have begun a mad dash towards AI and other bot technologies.  This is a broad spectrum of projects that include everything from simple bots to cognitive computing.  Submissions this year show institutions spreading their resources across many different applications.  Like any emerging technology, most institutions are in a “test and learn” phase.   These technologies are at varying levels of maturity, but the potential to revolutionize the customer experience through AI may be truly transformational, and Celent was pleased to see so many projects in this space. This is just a taste of what we’ll have in store at the 10th annual Innovation and Insight Day on April 4th in Boston. We’ll be diving much deeper into the various topics, revealing the winners of all the awards, and discussing how they combined serious innovation with tangible business benefits to stand out from so many strong contenders. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Fintech’s Beneficiaries: Two Approaches to Regulation

British Prime Minister Theresa May visits the United States this afternoon to address a gathering of Republican lawmakers in Philadelphia, followed by a visit to the White House tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s meeting is noteworthy, as Prime Minister May will be the first foreign leader to meet with President Trump since the latter’s inauguration only last week. The timing is also interesting, as only two weeks ago outgoing President Obama’s National Economic Council (NEC) released a new whitepaper called A Framework for FinTech.  The NEC, a policy advisory unit of the White House established in 1993, proposed 10 high-level principles designed to move the US fintech industry forward. The FinTech whitepaper resulted from the White House’s FinTech Summit in June, 2016 that brought together a wide range of bankers, policy makers, and other interested parties, and subtext of the whitepaper was that cooperation between all stakeholders would yield greater innovation in financial services, as summed up below..
“[A] policy strategy that helps advance fintech and the broader financial services sector, achieve policy objectives where financial services play an integral role, and maintain a robust competitive advantage in the technology and financial services sectors [will]  promote broad-based economic growth at home and abroad.”
Innovation in financial services has been on the agenda of the British government dating back to 2002, when the UK Competition Commission concluded that lowering the barriers to entry in the provision of financial services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for competitors would improve service and lower prices paid by SMEs.  The 2002 report spurred on additional studies by various UK regulators regarding the impact of industry consolidation in banking on the outcomes for retail and SME customers. Fast-forward to February of 2016, when HM Treasury published a report of the Open Banking Working Group (OBWG) that essentially mandated many of the recommendations made by the 2014 Fingleton Report that talked about use cases and potential benefits of open APIs to drive innovation in banking and expand competition.  A blog entry by my colleague Patty Hines represents an excellent summary of this report. So while both the US and the UK governments promote innovation and growth in  fintech, they come at it at a slightly different angle, as is seen in the August, 2016 follow-on report of the UK’s Competition and Market’s Authority (the successor regulator to the Competition Commission).
“[O]lder and larger banks do not have to compete hard enough for customers’ business, and smaller and newer banks find it difficult to grow. This means that many people are paying more than they should and are not benefiting from new services.”
Even as this statement hints at subtle differences in policy goals, thankfully there’s no need to take one side or the other, as ultimately innovation in financial services can achieve both goals.  Whether creating customer advantage is a stated goal or merely a collateral benefit of fintech, the movement towards opening up the banking system through more accessible APIs will ultimately benefit not only the consumer, but the financial institutions themselves. Clearly, banks need to continually work on sharpening their game in the use of emerging technologies in order to maintain their competitiveness, but for the moment the dance floor remains open for those who choose to embrace innovation rather than fear the change that is to come.

Three Common Mistakes Banks Make

In my work as a research analyst, I run into three particularly common mistakes. Banks aren’t the only ones that make these mistakes. I make them too and have to be vigilant to avoid them.
1. Failure to appreciate diversity of needs or preferences
2. Failure to appreciate the shrinking half-life of facts
3. Failure to skate to where the puck is going
Let’s look at each one briefly…

Failure to appreciate diversity of needs or preferences This is utterly common. You see it in headlines all the time. “Millennials this…”, “Small businesses that…”, Community banks are…”. The trap involves extrapolating limited data to an entire population. Two current examples illustrate: The Use of AI in Banking is About to Explode. Apart from confusing AI with predictive analytics (which is more broadly used), the article asserts “explosive” future adoption of AI right around the corner. I’ll just say that this assertion vastly overstates planned adoption of AI among North American banks based on recent Celent research. Bank on Changes. Among other things, this pleasant article states “Smaller community banks like Edison, which emphasize personal service, said they have no plans to scale back drive-through or other services at brick-and-mortar locations.” While referring to a small number of community banks interviewed for the article, it projects those results on the entire community bank population.

So, are community banks planning on maintaining their current brick-and-mortar services in their entirety – despite the growth in mobile banking utilization? Some are and some aren’t. the figure below displays results a very question posed in a December 2016 Celent survey of North American financial institutions. “Compared to your current branch count, how many branches do you expect your institution will operate five years from now?” The report is not yet published. The idea is simple: banks serve diverse markets and make a diversity of decisions as well. The diversity of expected response is glaring in this data! So as not to give away too much of the report’s contents, I refrain from graphing the results of that question by asset tier. Failure to Appreciate the Shrinking Half-Life of Facts Assertions abound about customers, what they do, want and value. Some data points supporting these assertions are dated. This is increasingly dangerous. Samuel Arbesman argues for a shrinking half-life of facts in his book, The Half-Life of Facts. Most substantive change takes a while to accomplish – particularly among large organizations. I think many banks are at risk by assuming the facts as they knew them at the beginning of a protracted initiative will remain after the initiative is finished. When it comes to mobile, for example, six months is a long time and a year is eternity.

Failure to Skate to Where the Puck is Going Even those of us who aren’t hockey fans are familiar with the famed Wayne Gretzky quote about skating to where the puck is going instead of where it has been. I saw this up close and personal as part of a research effort exploring the current and likely evolution of retail delivery channel technology. Omnichannel delivery clearly remains aspirational at most institutions (I’ll defend that assertion thoroughly in the upcoming report). Yet, even as most surveyed institutions concede the importance of omnichannel delivery, the significant majority are not yet meaningfully engaged in bringing it about. How could that be? Many banks – particularly those with below industry average mobile banking customer utilization – aren’t feeling the pain yet. They are skating to where the puck has been. When they do feel the pain, it will likely be the result of much damage already inflicted.

Introducing Celent Model Bank 2017 Awards

As my colleague Dan Latimore wrote in the article that began this series, 2017 was the best ever year so far for Celent Model Bank programme in terms of quantity, quality and diversity of nominations. As we went through the judging process, we felt a range of emotions – grateful and privileged to receive so many amazing stories, and daunted by the prospect of having to pick the most worthy award recipients. In the end, we are excited and confident about our selection of winners, yet we are sorry that we could not recognize so many others that clearly also deserve recognition.

Over its ten years of existence, Celent’s Model Bank programme has always changed and evolved. In the last few years we have been awarding multiple initiatives in a small number of categories – for example, last year we had four winners in Digital Banking Transformation, the busiest of seven categories. While all the awards within the category were equal, we knew that some institutions craved for more exclusive recognition. This year, we decided to take it a step further and to introduce specific named awards with only a single winner for each award.

After long deliberations, the judging panel decided to recognise 21 initiatives as winners of the following Model Bank 2017 awards:
  • Consumer Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for consumers. The award is open for traditional financial institutions, digital-first, and challenger banks.
  • Small Business Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for small businesses.
  • Corporate Banking Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for corporate clients.
  • Consumer Banking Channel Innovation – for the most creative use of consumer channels, or the most effective channel integration.
  • Branch Transformation – for the most compelling branch transformation initiative, including branch format innovations and creative use of live agents.
  • Product Innovation – for demonstrating the ability to launch multiple innovative products.
  • Open Banking – for the most impressive API strategy and results so far.
  • Payments Product – for launching the best consumer or business payments product.
  • Lending Product – for the most impressive consumer or business lending or collections initiative.
  • Fraud Management and Cybersecurity – for the most creative and effective approach to fraud management or cybersecurity.
  • Risk Management – for the most impressive initiative to improve enterprise risk management.
  • Process Automation – for the most effective deployment of technology to automate business processes or decision-making.
  • Employee Productivity – for improving employee training or collaboration, incentivising employees, or enabling mobile agents.
  • Payments Replatforming – for the most impressive project to improve payments back office, e.g. payment services hub implementation or cards replatforming.
  • Core Banking Transformation – for the most compelling initiative to transform a traditional core banking platform.
  • Banking in the Cloud – for innovative approaches to implement a banking platform, e.g. deploying in the cloud.
  • Banking as a Platform – for creating an ecosystem of partners via a banking platform that connects and enables third parties.
  • Emerging Technology for Consumers – for creative deployment of emerging technologies for consumers (e.g. AI, ML, API, biometrics, wearables, voice, blockchain, etc.)
  • Emerging Technology for Businesses – for creative deployment of emerging technologies for small business or corporate clients (e.g. AI, ML, API, biometrics, wearables, voice, blockchain, etc.)
  • Most Promising Proof-of-Concept – for the most promising experiment – pilot or proof-of-concept – with emerging technologies.
  • Financial Inclusion – for efforts to bring financial services to unbanked and under-banker communities.
And of course, we also kept our Model Bank of the Year award, first introduced in 2012, which recognises one financial institution that in any given year simply stands out from the crowd and uniformly impresses Celent judges.

For the time being, only the nominees will know if they won any of these awards, as we begin working with them to distill their achievements into a series of case studies. We will be announcing all winners publicly on April 4 at our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston. In addition to presenting the award trophies to the winners, Celent analysts will be discussing broader trends we’ve seen across all nominations and will share our perspectives why we chose those particular initiatives as winners. Make sure you reserve your slot here while there are still spaces available!

Channel Strategy for Corporate Banking: Is Your Bank Paying Enough Attention?

According to the GTNews 2016 Transaction Banking Survey Report, 91% of North American corporates are evaluating their cash management partners. Of those, 27% indicated that improving availability of online and mobile banking tools were a major reason for reviewing their bank relationships, and 55% cited the need for an improved customer experience. Clearly, these responses are evidence that large numbers of corporate clients are less than satisfied with the channel tools and the overall digital client experience being offered.  Most of the banks we interviewed for recent research on this topic are hearing loud and clear that clients are looking for more streamlined, convenient, and faster access to banking services and information.  Our recent report, Strategies for Enhancing Corporate Client Experience: The Future of Attended Channels looks at strategies that leading North American and global banks are adopting to achieve the following goals:
  • Build out integrated portals to make invisible the organizational and product silos inherent in corporate banking.
  • Simplify the user experience.
  • Establish an omnichannel approach to providing consistent data and access to transactions across channels.
  • Enhance authentication options, including biometrics.
  • Expand self-service, including the ability to securely exchange documents and open accounts and new services.
While we found broad agreement on importance of the themes described above, we identified other aspects of digital channel strategy that varied widely from bank to bank.  The graphic below summarizes those opportunities for differentiation. Celent recommends that banks take the following steps to optimizing their future investments in attended channels:
  1. Define the Digital Strategy for Corporate Banking, Not Just the Digital Channel Strategy.  In the current environment, attempting to implement a successful strategy for digital channels in the absence of an overall digital transformation strategy for corporate banking is short-sighted.
  2. Understand How Attended Digital Channels Fit into Clients’ Daily Workflow.  Product management and strategy executives at many institutions are driving prioritization in channels based on a set of assumptions about client preferences that may not be valid. Mapping those client digital journeys from onboarding to servicing to managing exception situations for each client persona is critical.
  3. Reexamine the Role of Partners.  In reality, the delivery of services through attended channels has always involved multiple partners, whether the bank has developed an “in-house” solution or offers one or more off–the-shelf vendor solutions. As demands for “non-core” banking functionality grows and technology evolves to enable easier integration with multiple partners, the importance of the bank maintaining control of the user experience layer that is seen and touched by the client becomes even more critical.
The decisions being made today about attended digital channels — whether as a part of a larger digital transformation initiative, enhancing the channel user experience, or establishing a corporate banking portal — will have a significant impact on the ability of corporate banks to attract and retain clients.

Model Bank 2017: Some First Impressions

Growing up, a family Christmas tradition was that my mother would ritualistically proclaim, “That’s the most beautiful tree ever.” It seems that way with Celent’s Model Bank awards, too. In our tenth year we’ve just been through more than 150 submissions, and just like my mother, I can say that this was the best crop […]
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Megavendors and transaction banking: reinvesting in digital corporate banking

Earlier this month, Fiserv announced that it is acquiring Online Banking Solutions (OBS), a privately held provider of niche treasury management capabilities. OBS has seen a great deal of success in enabling community banks, credit unions and some regional banks with the digital capabilities needed to meet the emerging needs of more sophisticated business and […]
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Thoughts on Branch Transformation 2016

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at Branch Transformation 2016, sponsored by RBR. The event was held in London on 6th-7th December. Unlike one once stalwart retail banking industry event in the US, RBR’s attendance has been on a multi-year growth trajectory. This year, attendance was up 20% over 2015 and […]
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Goodbye PFM, Hello PFE (Personal Financial Experiences)

Personal Financial Management – PFM – has been a worthy goal pursued by many providers, yet consumers continue to ignore its possibilities. Rather than trying to incrementally expand the share of 10-12% of PFM users, banks should instead focus on the next stage in the evolution of personal finance: Personal Financial Experiences, or PFE. We’re […]
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