Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015

Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015
This last week the American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015 was going on in Austin, TX. As expected, it was a great way to read the temperature of the banking industry. The conference was well attended, with broad representation from all institution sizes and markets. There were a couple of overarching themes throughout the event. Competitive pressures on smaller institutions were top of many bankers´ minds. The conference was full of community bankers discussing evolving business models and the pressures its placing on their ability to gather deposits. Customer centricity is forcing a convergence of traditionally segregated value propositions. Large banks are now trying to compete on serving the customer and they´re positioning themselves to look and feel like a community experience. New entrants and delivery models are also opening up the competitive landscape. Consumers are no longer limited by geography when choosing a bank, and they have a growing number of alternative financial options from which to choose. Smaller institutions are finding it hard to overcome some of the barriers of resources and marketing that arise as the competitive landscape broadens. Many presenters discussed developing non-traditional revenue streams. With interest rates low and new regulations following the financial crisis, banks are running incredibly thin margins, and traditional revenue sources are no longer viable. Presentations focused on targeted marketing for “moneyhawks”, new P2P models (e.g. P2P lending), and new payment schemes. A few thoughts on some of the talking points:
  • Breaking down omnichannel applications for financial services: Omnichannel within banking was a popular talking point between attendees and among presenters, and it´s obvious there´s still more than enough ambiguity around its application in the context of banking. One of the presentations used non-FI examples to look at how banks can approach integrating omnichannel into customer interactions. Home Depot was an interesting case study. The retailer combines the in-store and app experience to enhance the customer buying process. Customers can browse the app and make a list of the materials they need. The app shows only what´s in stock at the nearest physical location, and each item is given a corresponding aisle number for easy location on arrival. While in the store, customers can scan QR codes on each product to bring up specific measurements and statistics. This is the essence of an omnichannel experience. It´s not about doing everything from every channel—it´s about optimizing the customer experience across the variety of methods used to interact with the retailer (or bank).
  • Community banks differentiating from large institutions: This was a common thread running throughout the presentations. How do community banks grow deposits in a climate of shrinking deposit share? Presenters proposed some solutions. One spoke of the need to market correctly. A recent study found that despite problems with megabank perception, 73% of those asked said a recognizable brand was important in choosing a financial institution. A regional bank poll of millennials found that not one could name a community institution in their area. These institutions find it hard to inform consumers about the value they provide, and often lacking the resources and experience to do so. A few small institutions spoke about shifting towards serving small businesses. Despite only having 20% of deposits, community banks are responsible for 60% of small business loans. Focusing on small businesses could be a way for small institutions to remain viable, without having to drastically alter their businesses.
  • eCommerce and Merchant Funded Rewards (MFR) through mobile banking to help consumers save:  During one of the sessions, a banker made a good point: consumers don´t need help spending, they need help saving.  The comment reflected a number of discussions about the role financial institutions can play in helping consumers save money, but was echoed across a handful of presentations on digital commerce. US Bank discussed Peri, its eCommerce app developed in cooperation with Monitise, while other presenters spoke about card-linked and MFR propositions.  These initiatives are definitely innovative, but is conflating the ideas of saving and driving commerce shaping the conversation around a fundamentally misaligned approach?  First, will a bank´s eCommerce app be able to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google?  Banks often do not have the customers, data, or pricing competitiveness to match big online retailers, and they seldom win on brand favourability. Second, even when these initiatives are successful, do they really help people save?  For many, the data isn´t targeted enough for banks to offer deals on purchases a consumer was going to make anyway.  For example, based on one bank´s demo, a customer would go to make a purchase at a retailer and the bank app would push out a geo-located card-linked offer for a nearby restaurant. This requires additional spending.  Without the right data, these programs are mostly playing off impulse purchasing, not saving.
Do these themes resonate with your experience? Feel free to leave comments about how your institution is tackling these challenges.

Upcoming Celent discussion at the American Banker Retail Banking conference

Upcoming Celent discussion at the American Banker Retail Banking conference
Next week I will be moderating a panel discussion at American Banker´s Retail Banking Conference in Austin about the competitive pressures of community institutions. It’s an important topic that Celent discussed in a report published last year: And Then There Were None: The Disappearance of Community Banks. The figures below outline the decline of banks in the US, going from 11,462 at the end of 1992 to 5,809 in 2014. Picture1Picture2 The challenge for many of these institutions has been organically growing their deposits despite shifting consumer demands and new alternatives to traditional financial services (e.g. prepaid services, P2P lending, etc.). The business model of banking is changing, and viability is increasingly dependent on tech investment. Consumers now expect a certain basic level of technological capabilities driven by their experiences across other industries. To accommodate, financial institutions are pressed to implement products such as customer analytics, mobile, CRM, etc. Yet these challenges come at a time of decreased interest margins and broadly defined regulations that require community banks to increase compliance spending and capital reserves at pace with large players. Online banking platforms are often basic, many have no mobile apps, and business platforms like treasury management are severely outdated. Even labor saving technology (e.g. video teller) often does not lead to short term cost savings, and new services typically run in tandem with other operations, adding operating expense to already thin margins. These conditions have made it difficult for community institutions to compete and have challenged the viability of many. Community institutions, however, operate in an extremely diverse landscape of micro-localities with varying competitive dynamics and local needs. This often carries with it a number of advantages over large multinationals with few local connections and an often impersonal understanding of the community. Small banks won´t be able to go head-to-head with large institutions on tech spending, but identifying the organization´s value proposition will enable a tighter strategic direction for meeting consumer demands while delivering a competitive community experience. In Celent´s upcoming panel, we´ll be exploring what community institutions are doing and some of the lessons that others can learn.

Why Wholesale Lockbox Belongs in the Headlines

Why Wholesale Lockbox Belongs in the Headlines
The American Banker published an unlikely article this morning. In its article written by Jackie Stuart, Maryland Bank to Use Wausau Lockbox Service, the article waxed eloquent about the benefits Sandy Spring Bank will realize with its outsourced wholesale lockbox solution. Really – wholesale lockbox making headlines? A 50 year-old product? I was encouraged to see the article for two reasons. Wholesale lockbox (WLBX) is traditionally associated with the largest banks. Sandy Spring Bank is a $3.7 billion asset financial institution. Not long ago, wholesale lockbox would be a rarity among banks of that size. Image workflow and check truncation changed all that. Now, a number of solution providers offer flexibly outsourced solutions making a wholesale lockbox product offering viable for small banks. Observing this opportunity, all leading remittance processing software platform vendors now offer outsourcing services. After all these years, the market opportunity for wholesale lockbox services remains significant. While the majority of large corporations already use bank WLBX services, WLBX adoption falls markedly with the size of business – particularly among businesses with annual revenues below US$250 million. wlbx-oppty Processing efficiencies from image workflows and hub and spoke processing models enable lower price points than a short while ago. Moreover, since extraction and image capture can be geographically separated from lockbox processing, competition among outsource processors knows no geographic bounds either. This is good news for banks and fits well with the idea of WLBX adoption moving down market. With checks likely to dominate business-to-business payments for the medium term and WLBX is here to stay.