Will Banks Eventually Lead in Retail Digital Sales Growth?

I subscribe to Marcus & Milichap’s research blog. Getting my head out of banking from time to time is refreshing and provides useful perspective. A recent blog post commented on the changing make up of commercial property construction as a result of the continued growth in digital commerce. The completion rate of new construction (measured in millions of square feet) has been roughly a third of its pre-2008 boom. Dramatic indeed!

No big mystery, however. As retailers close stores (Macy’s is a recent example), property developers must re-adjust their development to sustain revenue growth. As large merchants exit, they’re being replaced with smaller service providers – restaurants, medical practices, financial planners and grocery stores – mostly services that are less likely to migrate online. Digital plays a role in my healthcare, for example, but I’m still going to see the doctor next week for an annual physical. It helps to do that indoors.

That got me thinking. Three years ago, Celent predicted a steep decline in US branch density based on an analysis of branch dynamics in other developed markets and changes in store densities in other retail categories. In part, we argued that reductions in store densities have been non-uniform across retail categories for a reason. In the final analysis, as commerce becomes more digital, fewer brick and mortar stores will be needed to fulfill the same level of demand. We argued that two variables play an important role: the susceptibility to digital self-service and the degree of product differentiation. Arguably, retail banking is highly susceptible. Loan rates are easily compared online, but you may want to try on a new pair of pants before buying.

Danger Zone for RetailSo, why is the reduction in US branch density occurring more slowly than other retail categories? In part, because industrywide retail banking sales mix lags other retail categories in its migration to digital. How do we know this? Through June 2016, digital commerce accounted for 13% of all US core retail sales. How does that compare to retail banking? According to a survey of Celent’s Branch Transformation and Digital Banking research panels, US banks and credit unions lag considerably, with roughly 90% of sales occurring in the branch or contact center.

sales channel mix

Here’s one reason I think this is so (see below).

shopbuyuse

Banks have invested heavily in migrating transactions to self-service (the “use” part of financial services) with polished transactional capabilities in the digital channel, but have paid comparatively less attention to making shopping for and buying financial services digitally frictionless. That’s now a high priority for a rapidly growing number of institutions at present. Good thing!

As banks do so, they will be rewarded with rapidly growing digital sales. In the past 12-months ending in June, total non-store retailer sales grew 14.2% YOY according to the U.S. Census Bureau and Marcus & Millichap Research Services.  Over the same time period Bank of America’s digital sales grew 12% YOY, representing 18% of total sales according to its July financial results presentation.

So, will banks eventually lead in retail digital sales growth? Absolutely – Bank of America is already there!

Cash isn’t dead..and unlikely to be either

My first post in this focussed on a survey from the US which suggested that cash would be dead in the US within a generation. And as my blog points out, that is highly unlikely for many other reasons, not least because millions of US citizens can only use cash currently.

This second post was triggered by a report hosted on LINK’s website, (the UK ATM operator) that had some interesting numbers in it. Some of the data was incorrectly reported in places as signifying the death of cash in the UK. To be clear, that isn’t what LINK or the report claim.

I think we need to step back from the figures first, and see what they’re actually saying.

By volume, cash represents 45% of all transactions in the UK. That is a significant shift, in a relatively short period of time – indeed, a drop of 6% last year, around 1 billion transactions lower than in 2014. This is what caught the eye of many people, and why they made their predictions.

But let’s look at the figure another way – at 17 billion transactions, that’s both more than nearly all the other payment types added together, and 70% more than the payment type with the second highest usage (debit cards).

That's not to say we shouldn’t dismiss the changes. In 2005, cash accounted for 64% of transactions by volume. By 2015 that had dropped to 45%; by 2025, the forecasts suggests just 27%. I think that's a triffle low, but we're only differing by a percentage point or two.

However, we still have to put that number in context. With a forecast drop of over 1/3rd over the coming decade, it would still leave the volume of cash transactions with a greater combined total of Faster Payments, CHAPS, Direct Debit and Direct Credit that we see today. It's therefore as much that the other payment types are growing as payment types falling.

Once you scratch below the surface, it becomes clearer.

One concept I have talked about in my reports  Noncash Payments: Global Trends and Forecasts, 2014 Edition is that of payment occasions and payment frequency. The occasion is why you make the payment – utility bill, mortagage payment etc – and the frequency you make it.

One of the reasons for the large decline in share of payments has been in the growth of contactless payments, and in particular, their usage for the London Transport system. This is a good example of how occasion and frequency make an impact. Until recently, most commuters in London would use an Oyster card, with cash rarely used (and indeed, banned on many buses). This took a large volume of cash transactions out of the mix – previously that saw 2 transactions a day, times every day commute, equalling approximately 550 cash transactions a year.

With Oyster, that became a card transaction to top up the balance on the oyster card, rather than a per journey transaction. Even estimating topping up once a week (more likely to be monthly I would imagine), that’s 52 transactions a year maximum.

The difference today is that many people now use their contactless debit cards instead of an Oyster card, resulting in a card payment every day – so from 52, to more than 200 a year.

The net result is cash usage drops significantly, with a corresponding smaller increase in card volumes, followed by a larger increase in card volumes. Yet still just one payment occasion.

The point in highlighting this? Reducing cash will have to be done on an occasion by occasion basis. There are some big wins out there – even just making all transportation cashless for example – but the challenge is that there is a very long tail of occasions that rely on cash.

The second challenge is whether the Government even allows cash to die. The case for removing cheques is much easier to make, and far easier to do, yet the Government has told the industry that it can’t. On that basis, it’s difficult to see under what circumstances that the Government would ever allow even a discussion about cash retirement.

Cash lives. Long live cash.

Blockchain Use Cases for Corporate Banking

Corporate banking has long been a relationship-based business, with large global banks having the distinct advantage of being able to provide clients with a comprehensive set of financial services delivered through integrated solutions. Distributed ledger technology, often referred to as blockchain, threatens to disrupt the sector with its potential to improve visibility, lessen friction, automate reconciliation, and shorten cycle times. In particular, corporate banking use cases focusing on traditional trade finance, supply chain finance, cross-border payments, and digital identify management have attracted significant attention and investment.

Traditional Trade Finance: Largely paper-based with extended cycle times, DLT could eliminate inefficiencies arising from connecting disparate stakeholders, risk of documentary fraud, limited transaction visibility, and extended reconciliation timeframes. DLT could finally provide the momentum needed to fully digitize trade documents and move toward an end-to-end digital process.

Supply Chain Finance: SCF is commonly applied to open account trade and is triggered by supply chain events. Similarly to traditional trade finance, the pain points in SCF arise from a lack of transparency across the entire supply chain, both physical and financial. DLT has the potential to be a key enabler for a transparent, global supply chain with stringent tracking of goods and documents throughout their lifecycle.

Cross Border Payments: The traditional cross-border payment process often involves a multi-hop, multi-day process with transaction fees charged at each stage. There are potentially several intermediaries involved in a cross-border payment, creating a lack of transparency, predictability and efficiency. DLT offers an opportunity to eliminate intermediaries, lowering transaction costs and improving liquidity.

Cross Border Payment Flows

KYC/Digital Identity Management: Managing and complying with Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations across disparate geographies remains a complex, inefficient process for both banks and their corporate banking customers. For corporate banking, the DLT opportunity is to centralize digital identity information in a standardized, accessible format including the ability to digitize, store and secure customer identity documentation for sharing across entities.

Both banks and Fintech firms alike are experimenting with DLT solutions for various corporate banking uses cases. In what seems like unprecedented collaboration between financial institutions and technology providers, consortias are working on accelerating the development and adoption of DLT by creating financial grade ledgers and exploring opportunities for commercial applications.

The maturity cycle for the various use cases depends on a number of factors, not the least of which are financial institution requirements for interoperability, confidentiality, a regulatory and legal framework, and optionality. We outline both capital markets and corporate banking uses in more detail in the Celent report, Beyond the Buzz: Exploring Distributed Ledger Technology Use Cases in Capital Markets and Corporate Banking. In addition to key use cases, the report discusses the key needs of financial institutions driving DLT architectural and organization choices, the current state of play, and the path forward for DLT in capital markets and corporate banking.

Building the Collaboration Muscle: Optimizing the Bank / Fintech Relationship

At Celent we’ve long said that banks must become better at partnering. And Fintechs have come around to the realization that it’s going to be the rare beast that can compete head-on with incumbent financial institutions – most will fare better by figuring a way to cooperate with them instead.

Eastern Bank, Celent’s 2016 Model Bank of the Year, took this idea one step farther by building Eastern Labs within the bank – an in-house Fintech. While most institutions won’t be able to replicate this (it’s really hard!), there are nevertheless some lessons for banks as they consider best how to engage with smaller, nimbler firms.  The diagram below shows the complementary strengths and weaknesses that banks and fintechs bring to a joint endeavor.

1603Master Slides for Eastern Model Bank Final_009

When they get together, some weaknesses of fintechs are mitigated (e.g., they now have access to data and a brand), while many of the disadvantages of a bank persist (e.g., slowness and risk aversion). Additionally, new complications arise: goals diverge, information may not be completely shared, the cultures are wildly different, and handoffs can be agonizingly slow.

So what are the lessons when a financial institution engages with a fintech? We’d suggest concentrating on four key challenges.

  • Focus on individual goals to ensure that they’re compatible, even though they’ll be different
  • Be as transparent as possible and build that transparency into processes from the beginning
  • Recognize cultural differences and address them at the outset; be realistic about the challenges
  • Set expectations about achievable timelines

Although other complications will undoubtedly arise, partnering is a muscle that banks haven’t exercised much. With practice and training, that muscle will get stronger, and with enough dedication, it will play a vital role in propelling the bank to the next level.

Cash is Dead! No. It isn’t! Pt 1

There is an old Christmas tradition in the UK of going to the panto . It's silly, it's fun, and it's all about children. Audience participation is part of the experience, including calls of "He's behind you!" (or "Look behind you!"), and the audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and "awwwww" the poor victims. Another convention is "arguing" with a character – "Oh, yes it is!" and "Oh, no it isn't!"

Survey: Cash is dead!

Rest of the world: "Oh, no it isn't!"

Two announcements caught my eye this week, both seeming to proclaim cash is dead, or will be, in our lifetimes. I think this is great news – it means I’m going to live to be hundreds of years old ;-).

I'm splitting the blog in two, as the sources and claims are very different.

The first is a survey by Gallup of US citizens. The headline is 62% of them thought it likely or very likely that we would be a cashless society in their lifetime.

That would be a massive shift. The Federal Reserve estimate that 40% of all transactions in 2014 were in cash. At a crude estimate, that’s somewhere in the region of 70 billion transactions that would need to convert in the next 30 years or so.

Second, the same Fed research shows that if they were unable to use their preferred payment type, 60% chose to use cash as their second choice.

Most importantly, there are significant social issues to address first. FDIC research shows that c. 7.7% of the US population are estimated to be unbanked, with a further 20% underbanked. That means, crudely, over a quarter of the US population rely on cash. They use it for budgeting (known as "jam jarring"), and they may not even qualify to have a form of electronic payment. Even if they do, such as a prepaid card, the fees and breakage on the card make the card far less attractive than cash, which is free.

This is why most discussions use the term less cash, rather than cashless, and why places like Sweden have actively ensured that cash will remain an option, rather than accelerating its demise.

In short, despite what consumers might think or say, the chances of cash dying in the US is far, far lower and further away than the survey suggests. Removing cash from certain use cases is going to be tricky as it would be perceived as penalising lower income families. Even barring cash for higher value transactions will be difficult, as Germany found earlier this year.

Cash isn't dead. It's not even mildly unwell 😉

Against the Odds: Improving Euro Area Commercial Lending Indicators

Over the past several months the European Union has weathered a number of challenges – Brexit, political turmoil, the migrant crisis, and sluggish GDP growth among them. But surprisingly, the latest European Central Bank (ECB) data doesn’t reflect any negative shocks on credit supply and demand.

The latest Euro Area Bank Lending Survey found that competitive pressures are the main factor behind the easing of credit standards on loans to enterprises, including a narrowing of interest rate margins. At the same time, demand for loans by enterprises is increasing, driven by merger and acquisition activities, inventories and working capital, and continued low interest rates. Although demand is strengthening, alternative financing sources dampened demand for bank financing slightly.

Euro Area Bank Lending Survey

Looking at the top half of this chart, there is no question that banks ratcheted up credit standards like pricing, covenants, cash flow, and capital during Europe’s two recessionary periods. At the same time, businesses of all sizes stopped seeking credit. There is just no appetite for companies to take on additional liabilities during a period when consumers aren’t spending and the economy is shrinking.

More recently, in early 2014 both sides of the credit standards and demand equation crossed the middle point. Since then, credit standards have leveled off while credit demand from enterprises has risen slightly, especially for small-to-medium enterprises (SME).

Despite the ups and downs in credit demand and standards, loan outstandings to non-financial corporations has been surprisingly resilient, even during euro area recessionary periods.

ECB Loans to Non-Financial Corporations

The June ECB reflected slight growth over the past quarter, at the end of which the UK voted to leave the European Union. Time will tell whether Brexit and the expected negative impact to eurozone growth will dampen demand and subsequent loan growth for euro area commercial lending.

The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

MC_728x150Yesterday, my colleague Gareth shared on these pages his first thoughts after the announcement that MasterCard is buying VocaLink. I agree with his points, but also wanted to add some of my own observations. As someone who closely follows the developments in digital payments, one of the questions following the acquisition to me is what happens with Zapp, a […]
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What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

Today, MasterCard announced the acquisition of VocaLink  in the UK. Before I start I should say I have worked for both organisations, and any comments that I make are mine, and nor am I mentioning anything that isn’t in the public domain. In some ways the acquisition is surprising, given all that is happening – […]
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Setting Out a Vision for Customer Authentication

We all know that "passwords suck", as my colleague Bob Meara stated clearly and succinctly in his recent blog. But what's the alternative – is the answer biometrics or something else? We do believe that biometrics is part of the answer. However, our vision for authentication – security measures banks take when providing customers access to their services – is broader than […]
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Faster Than A Speeding Payment: The Race To Real-Time Is Here

tableIt’s been two years since my last reports on real-time payments, and much has happened, not least of which is the perception and understanding the industry has. As a result, the discussions in many countries that don’t have real-time payments infrastructure are now when they will adopt, rather than why would they adopt. Yet in […]
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