Getting to digital while missing the point

Getting to digital while missing the point

Digital banking is so hot right now – for good reason. The recently published research sponsored by the Federal Reserve, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016, reported that 87% of the U.S. adult population has a mobile phone and 77% of them are smartphones, up from 71% in 2014 and 61% in 2013. Admittedly, it is getting hard to find a phone that’s not internet-enabled. But consumers are acquiring them for a reason – and it’s not telephony. The same report documented the rise of mobile banking: 43% of all mobile phone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking in the past 12 months, up from 39% in 2014 and 33% in 2013.

Digital Banking Not surprisingly then, the significant majority of US financial institutions now offer digital banking capabilities to their customers. But, most were designed to migrate transactions away from the more expensive branch channel to lower-cost self-service mechanisms. A worthy objective, but it misses the point (more on that later).

Celent has research in the field now designed to understand just how far US banks and credit unions have come in achieving digital channel adoption targets. The short (however preliminary) answer: not very far. It’s not for lack of trying, however. Two-thirds of responding institutions said they have specific, measurable digital channel adoption goals.

Digital adoption goals Mar 16
Source: Celent Managed Research Panel, March 2015, n=32

Beyond Transactions More recently, a growing number of banks and credit unions are thinking beyond transactions toward digital sales and service. Another worthy objective, particularly among the large number of institutions that are, frankly, desperate for revenue growth. A minority have specific , measurable goals to increase digital customer acquisition. We expect that to change as more banks embrace the imperative for omnichannel delivery. Institutions thinking beyond transactions are paying close attention to the state of digital customer acquisition – for good reason. About three-quarters of banks in Celent’s survey track completion rates, but far fewer systematically follow up on incomplete applications. This is a problem! The apparent disconnect seems to reflect a bias towards digital delivery. If cost reduction is the primary objective (it rarely is) than good. But if revenue growth and customer engagement are what banks are after (I believe that to be the case) then many are missing the point.

In my opinion, the objective of omnichannel banking shouldn’t be tied to migrating an arbitrary percentage of customer interactions to the digital realm – whether transactions or sales. Consumers are becoming increasingly digitally-driven without bank’s involvement! The point of omnichannel delivery is to offer customers consistent and convenient ways to engage with your bank whenever and wherever they so choose, not to achieve some arbitrary channel mix.

The fact is, most consumers don’t want to open accounts on their mobile devices, even though they are very likely to be researching banking products and services online. That’s why banks need to offer a variety of low-friction ways to engage with customers and prospects. Click-to-call and digital appointment booking are two examples. Digital appointment booking (DAB), in particular, has emerged as “low-hanging fruit” among banks seeking to better integrate digital and in-person engagement. Although impressive results can be obtained from relatively modest effort, few institutions have taken this step.

Digital Appointment Booking First and foremost, DAB is not about driving branch traffic or somehow prolonging its relevance as some have suggested. Rather, DAB is about improving omnichannel customer engagement. Best practices suggest it is not a silver bullet either, but one of many customer engagement mechanisms that leading financial institutions are learning how to orchestrate to better serve customers. DAB is also not simply about booking appointments. When integrated with lobby management systems, DAB solutions help customers efficiently and effectively accomplish what they want and when they want it. Done well, DAB is very much a win-win. This is the point, isn’t it?

I’ll be presenting on best practices in digital appointment booking at American Banker’s Retail Banking 2016 in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon April 6th. The presentation is part of Innovations for Credit Unions from 1:00 – 4:00 in the afternoon. If you’re planning to attend, feel free to stop by and say “hello”!

Cardless ATMs and disappointing mobile wallet adoption

Cardless ATMs and disappointing mobile wallet adoption
While I’m an outspoken advocate of financial services technology, I have been a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to mobile wallets. My skeptical attitude reached an apex when I dropped my smartphone in a glass of merlot several years ago and hasn’t recovered. Had my smartphone been my mobile wallet, embarrassment would have been the least of my problems. Said simply, I just don’t see a compelling use-case for most consumers. Until they arise, I expect industry press to continue to publish stories of lackluster adoption. There have been many. One in particular caught my eye. A recent article in Digital Transactions makes my point in its opening statement, “The introduction of cardless ATMs, which rely on a financial institution’s mobile wallet instead of a debit card to make an ATM withdrawal, could help further the adoption of mobile wallets and mobile payments.” Said another way, if the industry offers consumers enough reasons to configure and use a mobile wallet, adoption may eventually result. This doesn’t sound remotely compelling to me. I can hear the rebuttals now. In defense of Bank of America, BMO Harris, Chase, Peoples Bank and other institutions that have invested in cardless ATM access, physical debit card usage at the ATM could pose an annoyance to mobile wallet adopters, few that they are. With ATM usage roughly twice the customer penetration of mobile banking (below), the last thing banks need is a reason for customers to be dissatisfied with their ATM experience. In my opinion, that’s a more compelling rational for investment than some vein attempt to bolster mobile wallet adoption.

US P12M Channel Usage 2014Source: Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015, U.S. Federal Reserve, March 2015

In the article, one banker summed up the challenge associated with mobile cash access this way: “We found the biggest struggle is explaining what it is and the benefit it offers.” If the biggest struggle is communicating a compelling value proposition, then maybe the value proposition isn’t compelling. I don’t think it is – at least not yet. Please don’t misunderstand, I think cardless cash ATM access is a reasonable initiative, but not for the reason stated in the article. I applaud efforts to better integrate retail delivery channels, and ATM cash access is a baby step in that direction. Combine cardless ATM access with other capabilities such as broader P2P payment mechanisms, geo-location and a merchant-funded rewards program, and mobile wallets begin to look compelling. Until then, banks have a bevy of higher priority initiatives to deliver in my opinion. But, even if my bank enabled cardless cash access, I still wouldn’t abandon my physical wallet. In the event of another tragic merlot mishap, traditional ATM cash access might be a real life-saver.

Customer engagement: how little things make a big difference (one analyst’s experience)

Customer engagement: how little things make a big difference (one analyst’s experience)
Typically, analysts opine based on analysis of industry data, informed by product demonstrations, telephone interviews and occasional focus groups. This time, I simply share my own experience at a top-5 US retail bank to illustrate how even seemingly little things may have significant customer impact – both favorably or unfavorably. This past weekend, I had a document needing to be notarized. Both my spouse and I had to sign the document and we had a busy weekend agenda. Recalling that as an account holder at a top-5 US bank, notary public services would be free of charge, I planned to visit a convenient branch in-between Saturday morning events. What could be easier? Recalling this bank was one of the relatively few that offered digital appointment booking, I thought it brilliant to book an appointment, rather than taking my chances upon our arrival at the branch. Plus, I was looking forward to getting up-close and personal with the appointment booking workflow. The bank’s appointment booking application was marvelously easy to navigate, but to book an appointment; one had to select an area of interest. This is a reasonable and beneficial requirement, because selecting an interest area ensures the subsequent meeting occurs with someone with requisite knowledge. The problem was that notary services wasn’t listed in the drop-down menu of interest areas. No appointment for me! Without the ability to book an appointment, I sought to make sure the branch nearby to our other activities would be open when we were available. Back to the bank’s website. Easily done, except for the repeated “Make an Appointment” buttons staring at me upon nearly every mouse click, which at this point served as an irritant. It caused me to think. On one hand, well-done to the bank for making the ability abundantly obvious. On the other hand, why no appointments for notary services. Are such needs rare, or does the bank only invite appointments for direct revenue-generating activities? The closest branch was no longer offering Saturday hours, so we trekked to another branch that was a bit out of our way, arriving just past noon. Being a Saturday, I expected it to be busy, but was unprepared for what I saw. Three staffed teller positions were active. All offices were conducting meetings and there were four people waiting in the lobby – complete with restless children which we were happy to entertain. To “speed service”, I was invited to check-in. The process wasn’t exactly high-tech. It consisted of a clipboard resting on a small table with space to write my name and time of arrival. Most of the previous names were scratched out with a combination of black and blue ink, so I figured our wait time would be acceptable. User impressions aside, I was struck with the notion that this very large bank had no consistently gathered information about why customers visit their branch, if they were actually served or not, or what their wait times were – unless some poor soul transcribed all our scribbles into a database. Not likely. Maybe that’s why they don’t offer appointments for notary services. After about a 10-minute wait, we were greeted by a well-dressed young man offering to assist. He quickly affirmed his ability to perform notary services and asked what it was that we needed notarized. I presented him our 1-page quit claim deed, whereby he apologetically replied that, while he was a notary, the bank was not able to notarize deeds. If only we had another sort of document, he would have gladly helped us. At least, he offered an alternative for us – driving back to the UPS Store next to where we hadbeen. No wait + $2.00 and we were done. We didn’t even need an appointment. I learned an important lesson that day.

Learning from mBank’s branch channel investment

Learning from mBank’s branch channel investment
The recent article in Finextra, mBank to spend EUR17 million on new network of ‘Light’ branches, prompted this post. At first read, I thought this was a story about a celebrated direct bank building a branch network. Well, not exactly. About mBank mBank is no stranger to Celent. It has received two Celent Model Bank awards. In 2014, Celent recognized mBank’s digital platform redesign and in 2015, Celent recognized mBank’s Bancassurance initiative. For those unfamiliar, mBank is a Polish direct bank brand established by BRE Bank in 2000 as one of the first of its kind in the country. Thanks to the mBank’s business achievements and potential of the brand as first and the biggest internet bank in Poland, BRE Bank Group decided in 2013 to change company name to mBank. Thus mBank became a mature brand with an offer addressed to mass customers, affluent personal and private banking clients, as well as businesses, from microenterprises to the biggest corporations. Through 2014, mBank has grown to more than 4.7 million customers, 6318 FTEs, and deposits totaling $20.6 billion. It’s currently the fourth largest bank in the country. Before It’s Time Long before the Simples, GoBanks, Movens or Hello Banks of the world sought to capitalize on the shift in consumer behavior, there was mBank – serving customers where they want, when they want and through an innovative direct approach that, in its day, was one of the first of its kind. Rather than copying other financial institutions, mBank sought to deliver a best-in-class digital experience inspired from the world’s best retailers. For example: • Its Virtual Store inspired by Zappos • Advanced search functionality inspired by Google • Merchant funded rewards inspired by Cardlytics • Research and advice inspired by Amazon and Mint • Video banking inspired by Skype and Google Hangouts • Gamification and social media integration inspired by Foursquare, Like and Love In 2014, seeking further growth, mBank leveraged its new digital platform to introduce a complete digital transformation of insurance delivery to retail and SMEs, under its Bancassurance model. The platform is offered under an omnichannel environment, accessible through online, mobile, phone, video, or branch, all supported by a real-time, event-driven CRM engine. mBank enables the entire process to be handled electronically, while decision making and purchasing can be started and completed through different channels at the customers convenience. As a result of its efforts, the bank built the 5th largest insurance business in Poland aimed solely at existing checking account holders. Considering this represents only 7% of the market, the result is compelling. Starting from the overhaul of its digital delivery in 2013, and then extending into insurance services, mBank is a model for how digital can transform an institution, enabling innovative applications that can substantially grow the business. A Branch Network – Really? An undeniable digital success story, this celebrated “direct bank” wants a branch network? It already had one…sort of. Bart of the BRE bank family of brands, mBank had always been a direct bank. But in 2012, BRE bank announced it would simplify its branding and brand all its banks as mBank. That initiative effectively made mBank a universal bank franchise. In my opinion, this is itself significant – a universal bank operating in three countries adopting a direct bank’s brand for the enterprise? Imagine BBVA adopting Simple as its global brand. You get the picture – except mBank grew to many times the size of Simple. So, this isn’t really a story about a direct bank building branches. But, it is a story about a fabulously successful universal bank investing heavily in its branch network. To some, that still may seem nonsensical. mBank knows that point of sale is important and needs to be done right. Its’ new “light” branches will no doubt be right for its brand and its markets. Retailers across most all segments get this too. The latest published statistics from the US Census Bureau (November 2015) tells the story with great clarity. Despite two decades of steady growth, industrywide e-commerce comprises less than 10% of total retail sales. ecommerce trendsAs important as the digital channels are, the branch will remain central to retail delivery for some time. Celent’s Branch Transformation Research Panel gets this too. In its first survey (June 2015) we asked panelists how important branch channel transportation is. After all, the topic was virtually all talk and little action for years. But, 81% of the panel confirmed that branch channel transformation is not simply important, it is imperative. Branch Imperative Because of this, Celent intends to thoroughly research the topic over the coming year. One initiative is our Branch Transformation Research Panel. Celent is accepting additional requests for membership in panel and expects to field ongoing research through 2016 at semi-monthly intervals. To request to be on the panel, visit: http://oliverwyman.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_cx9ir9zpWcRgyix .  

Why diversity abounds in new branch designs

Why diversity abounds in new branch designs
Branch channel transformation is a complex and expensive undertaking. For all its complexity, however, there are at least two certainties. Namely:
  1. It is no longer optional
  2. There is no single blueprint
It is the rich diversity in approaches taken to the important task of improving branch channel efficiency and effectiveness that makes this topic so fascinating. Retail financial institutions need to possess a number of core competencies to remain successful. Among them is omnichannel delivery. For this reason, Celent launched two research panels in 2015, one devoted to digital banking and another focused on branch transformation. No Longer Optional In its first Branch Transformation Panel survey, 81% of financial institutions regarded branch transformation as an imperative. After roughly a decade of talk but little action, we are encouraged by banks’ embracing the need to get going. They’re not alone. Retailers of all shapes and sizes are wrestling with how to deliver a compelling and differentiated omnichannel experience, what that means in their stores and how to manage a rapidly changing cost-to-serve. The rapid pace of change increases both the uncertainty and sense of urgency. One only needs to consider the meteoric rise of mobile engagement (Figure 1). Things are not what they were just three years ago. Channel systems designed ten years ago aren’t the answer to tomorrow’s challenges! mobile usage chart No Single Blueprint While institutions may be aligned on the importance of getting on with branch channel transformation, there is much diversity of thought around what this actually means. Most banks appear to associate branch channel transformation with “radical changes” in the branch operating model. Arguably, for many banks, radical changes are needed. Not everyone sees it this way (Figure 2). branch meaning This diversity of opinion is to be expected. It stems from diversity in a number of factors: an institutions’ brand equity, desired customer experience, target market, legacy system capability and a host of other factors. The most distinguishing factor may be the willingness (or not) of each institution to intentionally disrupt its business model before someone else does. If you liked banking because it was slow-moving and predictable, the next few years will be stressful for you! Celent is accepting additional requests for membership in the Branch Transformation Research Panel and expects to field ongoing research through 2016 at semi-monthly intervals. To request to be on the panel, apply here.  

Why digital appointment booking will be commonplace in three years

Why digital appointment booking will be commonplace in three years
A friend of mine is a successful small business owner in his forties. Like so many in his demographic, Bryan developed a longing to own a Harley Davidson. He could easily afford a Harley, but chose to seek financing instead. Getting this business should have been a walk in the park for his bank. Bryan is a digitally-driven consumer who values convenience. With some frustration in his voice, he shared with me his disappointment that he couldn’t simply arrange for a loan on his bank’s mobile app. With resignation, he stopped by a local branch only to find the staff members engaged with other customers. After a few moments of impatient waiting, he chose to leave and return the following day. His second trip met with an identical outcome. With increased frustration, Bryan called his bank while en route to a business appointment, hoping for a straightforward way to quickly close on a loan. Instead, the cheerful staff member explained that Bryan could simply visit any branch at his convenience to close on the loan in about an hour. Bryan’s bank lost his business to a credit union. Bryan’s experience is probably not unique. His bank would have won his business easily – had they simply offered him an opportunity to engage with them on his terms. While certainly no panacea, digital appointment booking would have been exactly that. And, it would have been exactly what Bryan expected from his bank. After all, he makes appointments to see his accountant, healthcare provider and barber and books dinner reservations similarly. But, few financial institutions offer their customers this ability (Figure 1). The idea has recently caught on among the largest North American banks, while 40% of surveyed midsized institutions say they are “considering” the idea. Meanwhile, 70% of community banks (assets less than $1 billion) have no plans to implement. That’s going to change. OAB adoptionSource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156 The benefits of digital appointments are manifest. Among them:
  • Convenience: Customers avoid unnecessary waiting for service by scheduling an appointment on their terms and at their convenience while online – where much shopping occurs. A worst case scenario is the customer who, after a lengthy wait, discovers the bank resource with the requisite skills and licensing to meet their needs is not on site.
  • Capacity planning: Sales and service interactions have historically been more difficult to forecast than teller transactions. Digital appointment booking provides a much-needed view into future demand for sales and service resources and improves an institution’s ability to plan accordingly.
  • Sales impact: Automated product origination platforms have been effective at facilitating self-service enrollment of simple products, such as checking and savings accounts. But many institutions see an opportunity to improve close rates of more complex sales such as mortgage loans or investment products that began with customers interacting with the bank online. Knowing that many customers would be more comfortable with in-person discussions in these cases, digital appointment booking offers a concrete next step for interested prospects.
A perhaps less obvious benefit of digital appointment booking is its favorable impact on institutions’ face-to-face interaction. Said simply, frontline employees are better equipped for sales and service interactions when they know who is coming and for what reason. More commonly, bankers must offer an impromptu response to walk-up interactions. A minority of institutions equip frontline staff with a “customer snapshot,” or optimally a “next-best action” recommendation, but that information is not available to staff until customers authenticate. With essentially no time to react to the information, consistency of service delivery is a tall order. To coin an overly-used expression, it’s not rocket science.

Is your institution leading or lagging?

Is your institution leading or lagging?
This question comes up often. As a research and advisory firm, Celent fields ad-hoc research with regularity. No matter how well thought out our surveys, however, we nearly always wish we could have asked additional questions. This led us to launch two research panels focused on topics representing significant and growing interest among Celent clients. The purpose of the effort is to look deeply into the objectives, priorities, risks, barriers, and likely outcomes of two seminal retail banking topics in North America. Specifically: • Digital Banking • Branch Channel Transformation Both panels consist of bank and credit union leaders with significant interest and involvement in one or both of these topics, willing to invest in bi-monthly surveys and interactive webinars in return for complimentary access to the resulting Celent reports. Many are not Celent clients and would not otherwise have access to the research. Why are they doing this? We asked that question in a recent survey. Virtually all panel members are involved primarily as a benchmark to see how their institution is doing compared to the industry overall. It’s highly useful and timely insight for those involved (see below). Perhaps you’d like to join us. You could have compelling and timely benchmarks for your financial institution. Celent is accepting additional requests for membership in the Branch Transformation and Digital Banking Research Panels and expects to field ongoing research through 2016 at semi-monthly intervals. To request to be on one or both panels, apply Here.  
Why banks and credit unions participate in Celent's research panels

Why banks and credit unions participate in Celent’s research panels

Banks are asking the wrong customer engagement question

Banks are asking the wrong customer engagement question
I have heard banks ask, “How to we use digital channels to bring traffic into the branch?” The rational is straightforward. After years of promoting self-service channels, branch foot traffic is declining – along with the sales opportunities that foot traffic represents. It’s a logical question, but the wrong question. A better question would be, “How do we enable effective customer engagement on their terms regardless of the channels involved? Rather than seeking to influence customer channel preferences, banks should be all about maximizing the effectiveness of each and every engagement opportunity, regardless of channel. They don’t seem to be. One no-brainer example is digital appointment booking – the ability for customers to book an appointment with a banker at a time and place of their convenience – using the bank’s online or mobile platform. Doing so represents convenience for the customer, a logical indicated action as part of online product research and an opportunity to improve branch channel capacity planning (because of the added visibility the mechanism provides). But, the most compelling reason to offer digital appointment booking in my opinion is because doing so maximizes the effectiveness of branch engagement. How so? Done well, frontline staff know who is coming and for what purpose. Consequently, they’re better prepared for the conversation. Banks that have implemented digital appointment booking are seeing significant improvements in sales results. Digital appointment booking should be commonplace – but isn’t. In a October 2014 survey of NA financial institutions, just 8% of respondents offered this capability. Most were large banks. OAB adoptionSource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156 Even better would be to extend the appointment booking option to digital channels, as a phone or telepresence conversation. Engagement doesn’t have to be limited to face-to-face interactions – but is, in all but the largest banks. In the same survey referenced earlier, just 20% offered text based chat online, 12% offered click-to-call and 2% offered video chat. Online Channel Engagement CapabilitySource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156 So, while banks offer abundant digital transactional capabilities, engagement remains largely something only offered at the branch. That dog won’t hunt for long!

Same-day ACH: is anyone excited?

Same-day ACH: is anyone excited?
This week’s NACHA vote in favor of mandatory rules changes enabling same-day ACH settlement is no surprise. Some of the press coverage suggests this represents some sort of significant achievement. Really? By March 2018 (when the network is currently expected to be able to fully support systemwide changes) I predict there will be industrywide consensus on the inadequacy of the measure. Even proponents of the measure suggest the vast majority of ACH traffic will remain the next-day float-neutral type – for good reason. The majority of payments will not see a change for the same reasons the ACH has served the industry so well for so long. Specifically: • Dependability • Low-cost With this vote, we’re now going to burden this lowest cost of payments networks with perpetual, systemic cost increases for all participants. And we’ll do so for a very small percentage of network volume. NACHA’s own estimates predict that by 2027 (I don’t make predictions that far into the future) a whopping 1.4 billion same-day payments. That’s 6% of 2014 ACH network volume – presumably a much smaller percentage of 2027 volume. NACHA estimates industrywide implementation costs of $118 million initially and $49 million annually. So, by 2027, the industry will have spent nearly $500 million so banks can offer customers a premium priced same-day payment option using the ACH when other, faster options already exist. I think the NACHA volume estimates are optimistic and find the characterization of same-day ACH as “modernizing the payment system” curious. What’s modernizing about running the same batch system a few times each day instead of once each day? If demand is for real-time payments, this initiative will be found sadly lacking. It’s like installing more pay phones as a way to compete with mobile devices. Am I missing something?

More comments on the “branch is dead” debate

More comments on the “branch is dead” debate
*As mentioned in an earlier blog, the persistence of the “branch is dead” debate seems to be to betray the deeply invested interests on each side of the debate. In many financial institutions, digital and physical channels still have separate reporting structures (Figure 1). In Celent’s October 2014 survey of North American financial institutions, we found that less than a third of responding FIs have a single person responsible for all delivery channels. Interestingly, this appeared to be more likely among large banks. Channel Org Another observation is that much of the debate is deeply polarized – all or nothing – as if banks serve a static and homogeneous market. Neither is true. Most banks serve a diverse client base whose needs and preferences are in a state of change. Niche players, such as Moven, can take a more polarized (or shall we say extreme) position. A third (and my favorite) observation is that all too often, inaccurate assertions are made about channel usage as if demographics were a sole and causal determinant. We hear it all the time; “Millennials don’t use branches.” “Old people don’t use digital channels” and so on. In March, the US Federal Reserve published its third instalment of comprehensive consumer research on the topic, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015. It makes for insightful reading. One myth the report busts is that digitally driven consumers have little use for other channels. Nothing could be farther from the truth – at least for the present. The survey (an online survey administered with a managed panel of nearly 3,000 consumers designed to be representative of the U.S. eighteen and over population) sought to understand how mobile banking users (35% of the panel, up from 30% in 2013 and 26% in 2012) used other channels. The results may surprise you. A few tid-bits:
  • Between 2011 and 2014, mobile banking usage has grown strongly across all age groups. Among 60+ consumers, usage has nearly tripled.
  • Hispanics reported the highest incidence of P12M mobile banking usage (53% of those having bank accounts, compared to 39% in the overall sample).
  • While mobile banking users are using the platform frequently and consistently, they also interact with their banks through more traditional branch and ATM channels. 72% of mobile banking users frequented a branch in the past month.
Channel Access Chart *1 Of those who used channel in past 12 months *2 Of those who used channel in past month Separately, respondents were asked to rank the three main ways they interact with their bank or credit union. 21% of mobile banking users ranked the mobile channel first. 13% ranked the branch first. Two implications from the diversity of channel usage that characterizes today’s consumers:
  1. Omnichannel is a legitimate pursuit. All channels need to be optimized.
  2. Banks neglect the branch channel at their peril.