Since my coverage areas include branch and ATM channel technologies, I often get asked, “What distinguishes successful branch channel transformation initiatives?”
Questions like this cut to the chase. Spare me all the charts & graphs, Bob, just tell me what successful institutions are doing. Fair enough. But, don’t we all want easy answers? How many diets are out there being promoted? They all sound pretty easy. If only…
But, I got to thinking… There are at least two hallmarks of successful branch transformation initiatives, despite there being a diversity of approaches and outcomes. Here goes:
1. Two, Not One
Except for the smallest of community banks, branch channel transformation involves two, concurrent initiatives – the current network and the future network. Why’s that?
Most banks appear to associate branch channel transformation with radical changes in the branch operating model. Arguably, for many banks, radical changes are needed. At the same time, very few North American financial institutions appear to have a clear vision of what they’d like to build. The “branch of the future” is not yet in focus. This is understandable given the cacophony of vendor voices urging banks to adopt a growing variety of physical designs, automation approaches, and paths to superior customer engagement. Banks should, in Celent’s opinion, embark on an ambitious branch of the future project with deliberate caution and methodical rigor. Proceeding in this manner — even with swift internal decision-making — will take several years. And implementation is rarely a “big bang.” Instead, new designs are rolled out over time, taking years to reach their eventual maximum impact.
The problem with this approach is two-fold. First, it tends to justify inaction until a clear future branch vision is embraced. After all, how can one begin a journey unless the destination is clear? The second problem is more significant — it confuses developing a future branch design vision with preparing the existing branch infrastructure for those new designs. For example, physical design is clearly a new branch design element. By contrast, underlying software platform choices and how new loans and deposit accounts get originated can impact both current and future branch designs.
I’ve spoken with too many banks who, for example, postpone a teller image capture initiative on legacy branches until their “future branch” design is finalized. Most institutions are under pressure for short-term results. Most branch transformation efforts won’t produce a near-term ROI. Two projects are needed – one on the current network and another focused on the future network – with close coordination between the two. Something like this:
2. Lead with Human Capital, Not Technology
The second hallmark has to do with when human capital plans are implemented – prior to, coincident with, or following future branch initiatives. Strongly-held opinions abound. What appears to resonate broadly is this: branch interactions are becoming more about sales/service and less about transactions. This invites new, more highly-trained roles with a different skill mix.
The prevailing argument for positioning human capital strategy at the tail end of the journey is typically cost-focused. No one wants to pay the price to recruit, train and compensate Universal Bankers – only to spend much of their day playing the teller role.
The prevailing argument for leading with human capital is user experience-focused. In the final analysis, what differentiates a branch experience from the constantly improving digital experience, if not face-to-face engagement? Leading with human capital may indeed be a more costly experiment. But every financial institution I’ve interviewed who did so are glad they did. Conversely, every institution I’ve interviewed who didn’t (many of them) wishes they had.
Now that I have your attention. Let me be clear: I hate passwords, particularly when they are increasingly required to be longer, more complex and frequently changed. Apparently, I am not alone in this sentiment.
At a conference in 2015, a small start-up, @Pay, a low-friction mobile giving platform, offered attendees a free t-shirt in return for seeing a brief demo. I must confess that I was more interested in the t-shirt than @Pay’s product demo. The line went out the door! Here is the t-shirt.
Working from a home-office means t-shirts are staple part of my daily wardrobe. I have tons of them. None of them, however, engender such predictable responses from complete strangers than the one above. Responses range from a simple thumbs up or high-five, to an occasional, “You got that right!” Passwords do suck. I have so many to manage, I use Trend Micro’s Password Manager to ease the pain.
That’s why I am excited to see more institutions migrate to biometric forms of authentication. Dan Latimore blogged about the rapid increase in the number of US financial institutions employing biometrics within their mobile apps here.
Banks shouldn’t stop there, however. In a June 21 New York Times article, Tom Shaw, vice president for enterprise financial crimes management at USAA was quoted as saying, “We believe the password is dying. We realized we have to get away from personal identification information because of the growing number of data breaches.”
I agree with Tom’s sentiment, but if passwords are dying, it appears to be a very slow and painful death. Here’s one example of why I say this. The chart below shows surveyed likelihood of technology usage in future branch designs as measured by Celent’s Branch Transformation Research Panel in late 2015. More than two-thirds of surveyed institutions thought the use of biometrics in future branch designs was “unlikely”.
Authentication and identity management may always involve a trade-off between security and convenience, but the industry’s overreliance on personal identification information is failing on both counts.
- At ATMs – it contributes to skimming fraud
- In digital customer acquisition – it contributes to unacceptably high abandonment rates
- In the mobile channel – it contributes to its slowing rate of utilization growth
- In the branch – banks deny themselves the ability to delight customers with improved engagement options made available by skillful digital/physical integration
We’ll be looking into the topic of authentication and identity management in our next Digital Banking Research Panel survey in the coming weeks. If you’re a banker and would like to participate in this or future Digital Panels, please click here to fill out a short application
American Banker just ran an interesting article about Citi’s foray into the use of geolocation (beacons) as it pilots several use cases in its “smart branches.” Several thoughts immediately came to mind as I read Tanaya Macheel’s well-written article:
- The use of beacons for cardless access to branch ATMs after business hours was the lead use case cited in the article. But, that’s just one of a growing number of potentially very useful applications for beacons in retail financial services.
- Banks have barely scratched the surface in more usefully integrating digital and physical channels as they seek to maximize customer engagement.
- Geolocation, in particular, is under-utilized by retailers (especially banks) and remains largely experimental.
My hat is off to Citi for its purposeful investment in developing expertise in this area and to American Banker for writing about Citi’s work. In my view, the most impressive aspect of this initiative isn’t so much Citi’s pushing the technology envelope; it’s the organizational effort that was likely required. Getting its branch operations, mobile product management, IT and LOB leadership aligned represents real commitment to innovation.
How far ahead of the industry is Citi?
Here’s one data point. In Celent’s inaugural Branch Transformation Research Panel survey in (June 2015), we sought to establish a benchmark on just how far and how fast NA institutions were pursuing branch channel transformation. Of course, several questions addressed planned technology usage. Out of a dozen examples of technology usage, geo-location ranked dead last in terms of the liklihood of usage in future branch designs – just 27% of surveyed institutions thought the use of beacons would be "somewhat likely" or "very likely".
Pretty far I'd say!
- It is no longer optional
- There is no single blueprint
- 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.
- Bank Innovation covering Associated Bank branch closures to fund digital channel initiatives.
- BTN coverage of Wells Fargo branch/digital convergence alongside the banks’ steadfast advocacy for maintaining its massive branch presence.
- Brett King’s Op Ed in Banking Exchange, critical of the recent FDIC report, Brick-and-Mortar Banking Remains Prevalent in an Increasingly Virtual World
But the approach to service differs considerably between the two models. Bank of America deploys ATMs with Teller Assist in its new Express Centers. Tellers still exist in Bank of America’s model, but they are located centrally and engage customers via real-time video. During business hours, tablet equipped staff can also assist. After hours, it’s all video. Wells prefers all customer interactions to be with in-person branch staff in its Neighborhood Stores. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to branch transformation. There will likely be a variety of design within banks and among banks. Both initiatives appear to be “test and learn” approaches, and may evolve as both banks gain experience. That’s exactly how it should be done in my opinion.What do you think?