Why ‘Branch of the Future’ must be a Priority

Why ‘Branch of the Future’ must be a Priority
Bank Innovation published a piece written by Brett King this week entitled, Can we Stop Talking about the ‘Branch of the Future’? In the article, King cites the industry’s use of the “branch of the future” terminology as evidence of “one of the key hang-ups that banks have over changing distribution models”. In other words, an inordinate amount of effort expended to “save” an obsolete delivery model. He argues that pursuing a “branch of the future” strategy, banks avoid the real work of improving customer engagement via digital channels. I think that’s nonsense. These assertions may resonate with one heavily invested in Moven, a digital-only bank happily growing by serving a niche market. Most retail bankers know the world isn’t as simple as King asserts. The fact is, banks have more than one challenge ahead of them. Specifically: 1. Right-size the branch network. There are two important aspects to this imperative: first is to redesign the branch channel for its emerging purpose: selling and servicing, and away from its legacy — transactional delivery. The second is to reduce branch network costs (both densities and corresponding operating costs) to enable investment in digital channel development. 2. Learn how to sell and service using digital channels. Migrating low-value transactions to self-service channels is no longer adequate. Digital channels must become more self-sufficient. One important aspect involves learning how to engage customers virtually. In-person must no longer require a branch visit. 3. Catalyze growth in self-service channel usage. For the second mandate to have maximum effect, banks must influence digital channel usage. Branch transformation simply isn’t optional as King suggests. Far from it! Why is Branch Transformation Imperative? Many reasons, but two are central in my opinion: 1. Most banks serve a diverse customer base, with widely varying and continually changing engagement preferences. 2. While customers increasingly transact digitally, they PREFER to engage face-to-face. Celent separately surveyed US and Canadian consumers in the fall of 2013, finding similar results. Contrary to what some would have you believe, young adults do visit branches. Both surveys found a rather weak correlation between age and channel usage – except for the mobile channel, which displays a strong relationship between past-30 day usage and age. channel usage by age But, past 30-day usage is mostly about transactions, not necessarily engagement. The same two surveys asked respondents, “If you had an important topic you would like to discuss with a banker, how would you prefer to do so?” Responses to that question paint a very different picture – one that explains precisely why most banks derive the majority of their revenue from the branch network. Most consumers – regardless of age – prefer face-to-face interaction on important topics (at least for now). Interestingly, preference for online appointment booking was much stronger in Canada. Not surprizing, since several of the large Canadian banks have been offering (and advertising) the capability for nearly two years, while the same capability in the US is nascent. preferred engagement by age But that’s where the puck is. Where the puck is going is towards more widespread digital channel usage – and engagement – across age and income demographics. That’s why mobile channel development is the #1 retail channel priority in most North American banks. It should be. Those same banks, however, neglect the branch channel at their peril. Banks Aren’t Alone in This The Wall Street Journal published an excellent article this week that provides some much-needed perspective on the branch channel debate (Seriously, why is there still a debate?). Citing data from ShopperTrack, the article asserts a -5% CAGR in store traffic across a broad mix of retailers. Sound familiar? And, banks aren’t the only retailers enjoying the majority of sales from stores. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, online sales now make up about 6% of total retail sales and are growing at more than 15% per quarter. SIX percent! We can argue about the precision of this figure, but the reality is unavoidable – after two decades of digital commerce growth, in-store shopping still dominates. Why no debate about the “store of the future”? Probably because, unlike banks who have largely neglected the branch channel for a few decades, most stores continually invest in optimizing their retail delivery model. Moven can neglect the branch channel because it chose a delivery strategy that alienates the majority of consumers that value in-person engagement. That’s a fine strategy for a niche player. Mass market institutions don’t have that luxury.

Why Small Business RDC Matters

Why Small Business RDC Matters

Celent recently completed the analysis of some small business research among a random sampling of 500+ small business owners with annual revenues up to $2.5 million. The universe of U.S. SMBs excluding those making less than $50k/year is roughly 25 million.

smb-distribution

The research underscored the centrality of check payments among small businesses – like it or not. For example, 90% of responding SMBs accepted checks compared to 70% accepting cash, 33% credit cards, 31% debit and 28% PayPal (with large variations depending on type of business). And when asked “If you could be paid the same way each time by every customer –how would you choose to be paid?” Check (38%) and cash (33%) were the two favorites. This will change over time, of course, but for the mid-term, checks will remain commonplace among SMBs.

All these checks are producing a good deal of branch activity. In the same survey, businesses were asked how often they made check deposits and how many checks were in each deposit. The results were logical – the larger the SMB, the larger the average check deposit and the more frequently they deposited. smb-deposit-frequency About two-thirds of all SMBs in the sample had less than five checks per deposit, making them suitable candidates for low-cost remote deposit capture (RDC) solutions. smb-checks-per-deposit Why is small business RDC important? At least two reasons. Approximately 20 million small businesses are accepting checks on a regular basis and depositing them at local branches and ATMs. RDC represents an obvious convenience for these businesses. The second reason is the favorable impact RDC can have on branch traffic and the resulting cost to serve these customers. Using the surveyed deposit frequency shown above, the collective activity amounts to 3.6 billion bank deposits annually. Assuming these deposits were distributed equally among the nation’s 119,000 bank and credit union branches, each branch could see 30,400 fewer deposits annually if SMBs were enrolled in RDC en masse. That averages 117 branch deposits per day, or roughly a single teller per branch based on a teller efficiency of 18 transactions per hour. Larger banks that serve the majority of small businesses would enjoy the bulk of the savings. Financial institutions would do well to leverage RDC’s popularity by offering desktop and mobile RDC freely to small volume depositors, and aggressively selling more capable solutions to the third of SMBs with more substantial check deposit volumes. This needs to happen alongside realistic RDC risk assessments and a corresponding broadening of eligibility requirements and raising of deposit limits. Otherwise, RDC will remain a niche product that under delivers customer needs as well as product revenues.