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 .  

What Does the BBVA Acquisition Mean for Simple?

The financial world is abuzz about the recent acquisition of Simple by the Spanish banking giant BBVA.  The news is surprising, but not unusual for a banking group that has invested in other innovative companies such as Freemonee, SumUp, and Radius.  The deal also legitimizes a financial start-up that has garnered quite a bit of skepticism among some in the industry, despite a small yet dedicated and growing customer base.  Banks are clearly considering these innovators to be significant enough to validate their acquisition.  Simple is a brand, not simply a product offering. It has recognition outside of the industry, and the effect on existing customers makes this acquisition different from the norm. As the relationship unfolds, it will be interesting to see how Simple responds to the following:
  • Will Simple really remain independent? The statements released by both parties claim it will. Recent acquisitions of Nest by Google and WhatsApp by Facebook also made similar claims of maintaining autonomy, but that doesn’t mean it will remain the case.  Yahoo acquired Flickr in 2005 with similar promises of independence, yet in the subsequent years drove an up-and-coming innovator straight into the ground.  The fear for Simple customers is that the unbeatable user experience and exceptional customer service that made it so appealing will slowly be lost as the two companies integrate. Accounts will remain at Bancorp bank for the time being, but the inevitable move to BBVA must be graceful, or a once innovative product is liable to lose the only edge it had in the market
  • Does this deal allow Simple to become more complex?  The big attraction of this deal for Simple is that it gives them access to the resource of BBVA, a massive multinational financial institution with a clear penchant for funding innovation.  The main complaint with the start-up since launch was the limitations that came with not actually being a bank.  Simple didn’t do mortgages, it didn’t do investments, and there were no credit cards.  For the PFM features to be truly useful, users would have to go ‘all in’ with Simple.  More resources could allow for more development into a more diverse set of products and financial offerings, increasing the potential of the already well designed PFM platform.  The test will be the following: will Simple be allowed to continue its own brand with its own products, or will it simply become (pun intended) a funnel to push BBVA’s core business?
The acquisition of Simple, no matter what happens, is a good sign for financial start-ups, especially those that compete directly on Banks’ turf.    The industry could learn from the way BBVA has taken a page from tech giants and big pharma. There are hundreds of innovative Fintech companies out there, and great ideas don’t always have to come from internal development—in fact for large banks they rarely do. But Simple has now become part of the traditional banking world they used to decry.  Will the financial services industry’s challenging record of financial innovation rub off, or will the resources of a megabank allow Simple to grow into a true disruptor?  Only time will tell.

Are Spanish Bankers More Farsighted?

When Citibank announced they were moving from an internally developed core system to Systematics, I wondered why a bank would take all the trouble of doing a core banking migration, but not moving to a modern real-time system. http://bankingblog.celent.com/2010/02/citis-core-migration/ The answer was that there would be too much operational risk in both moving to a new core system and changing the operations of the bank from batch to real-time. I just attended an announcement from BBVA and Accenture describing the deployment of the Alnova core banking system at BBVA Compass, the US subsidiary. The news is stunning. BBVA Compass has gone live with an overseas, real-time, modern core banking system for all deposit products. While savings and loans and credit unions have been running real-time core systems for years, commercial banks have stayed on batch / memo post. This has huge implications on both the customer experience and back-office operations. Banks no longer have the ability to sort transactions because they are processed as soon as they arrive. This will change overdraft revenues for those banks that sort from largest to smallest transaction before processing in the overnight batch. Processing in real-time also dramatically reduces or eliminates back-office overhead. One and done is the rule. Celent has noticed that credit unions have dramatically lower efficiency ratios than banks of the same asset size, and one of the contributing factors is that the credit unions are running running real-time systems. Please see the Celent report EfficienCU: An Examination of Bank and Credit Union Efficiency Ratios by Asset Tier, November 2011 for more details. BBVA is thinking boldly about the US market. They believe that underinvestment by US banks in modern core banking technology has created an opportunity for them to exploit. Virtually every commercial bank in the United States has a batch memo post system with product siloed (as opposed to customer centric) architecture. Each channel is managed separately and plugs into the core independently. BBVA believes that by creating a business that is customer centric, multichannel, real-time, with straight through processing and related lower cost, they can make even greater inroads into the US banking market. The goal is to have an improvement in their efficiency ratios of 10% in the midterm. This is shy of the efficiency advantage credit unions have over banks:  

Credit unions enjoy an efficiency advantage over banks.

  They already have a top 25 US bank. If BBVA is able to reduce costs through real-time processing and better deployment of cost-saving channels, other banks will be in trouble. If BBVA can also develop customer centric pricing and use that to gain share, other banks will be in deep trouble. This announcement puts Accenture in the cat bird seat. They own the Alnova software asset and have demonstrated the ability to deploy the overseas real-time system in the United States at a commercial bank. This is not easy. There have been notable failures by other vendors in the recent past. Any bank looking to make the leap to a real-time customer centric system will likely look very hard at Accenture. Another bank, famous for its real-time core processing is Santander, BBVA’s Spanish competitor. They have an internally developed core system called Parthenon that they deployed quickly in the UK after acquiring of Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. This rapidly drove down operating cost in the UK acquisitions. Santander owns Sovereign Bank in the US which is moving at least in part to the Parthenon system. It seems that these two Spanish banks understand the value that modern technology can play in making a bank cost effective and customer centric. They learn these lessons in Spain, but will be teaching them in the US.