Branch Transformation: Are Bank of America and Wells Fargo on the Right Track?

Branch Transformation: Are Bank of America and Wells Fargo on the Right Track?
In a word, yes – and not a moment too soon. As thousands gather for Money 2020 in Las Vegas this week giving ear to a bevy of start-ups promising mobile payments nirvana, a small but growing number of retail banks are addressing those same consumer dynamics with much needed right-sizing of their branch networks. Celent has long asserted the need for a do-over of the traditional branch operating model that served the industry well for so many years and recently argued that a significant winnowing of US branch densities (among other things) will result over the next decade. The challenge for retail banks (and it’s a big one) is that while consumers are increasingly choosing to transact digitally, they engage banks in-person. This was seen clearly in recent Celent consumer research and the resulting report. Will this dichotomy persist? At least for a while and to varying degrees depending on one’s target market. The implications are profound. While most revenues are tied to the branch network (artificially in some cases) foot traffic is in steep decline. Celent identifies a triumvirate of multichannel imperatives arising from the growth in digitally directed consumers. Specifically 1. Right-size the branch network. Most branch networks were designed for a different consumer in a different era. They need to operate more efficiently and effectively. Celent has published extensively on this topic. 2. Learn how to sell in the digital channels. This is new territory for most banks. It starts with embracing digital channels as a key opportunity for customer engagement, rather than merely a vehicle for low-cost transactions. 3. Catalyze growth in self-service usage. This too requires new digital channel capabilities along with well-coordinated efforts to communicate those capabilities and why they’re relevant to consumers in order to maximize enrolment and usage. That a branch channel right-sizing is necessary is hardly debatable. How this right-sizing gets done is the subject of much debate. The Bank of America and Wells Fargo initiatives show similarities: • Both combine transaction automation with fewer, more highly trained “universal bankers”. • Both offer extended hours for most routine transactions. • Both are considerably smaller and less expensive than traditional branches.

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. Branch Oct 2013 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?

The Importance of Branch Staff Ownership in Technology Initiatives: Learning from Alamo

The Importance of Branch Staff Ownership in Technology Initiatives: Learning from Alamo
A growing number of banks are embarking on branch transformation initiatives. This is important work that is long overdue. In researching the topic of video banking for the recently published report Video Banking: Lights, Camera, Transaction?, I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of banks and credit unions in various stages of implementation. While there was fascinating variety in why and how video banking was pursued among these financial institutions, two important pieces of wisdom emerged.  1. If you Build it, they won’t come – consumers are a fickle lot, and old habits die hard. Even the most elegant initiative is destined to fail without a purposeful and well-executed plan to enrol customers in the new way of things. One credit union deploying personal teller machines (PTMs) in drive-through lanes stationed employees outside the branch to explain the PTMs to approaching members, encourage their use and answer questions. They did this for several weeks. Later lobby deployments used a similar approach. People often need encouragement to try new things.  2. None of this happens without branch-level ownership.  Several banks and credit unions enjoying successful initiatives spoke of the importance of a sound change management plan – one that inspires ownership broadly throughout the organization. As Stephen Covey asserts in his best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, without involvement, there is no ownership. With this in mind several early adopters of video banking devised a variety of ways to inspire involvement in the new initiatives:
  • Distributed customer testimonials solicited during an early pilot
  • Organized an internal Q&A web presence so the curious (as well as the detractors) could get questions answered
  • Sponsored happy hours (after close of business) in newly reconfigured branches. Employees working in traditional branches were invited so they could see things up close and personal and ask questions. One credit union spoke about how transformative this one effort was; how many entered sceptical and critical, but left thinking the new branch was pretty cool.
The end result of several of these efforts was an excited and energetic team at the branch level. And it was the enthusiasm of the frontline staff perhaps more so than the technology that led to successful initiatives. Alamo As an example of how not do launch new initiatives, consider Alamo. It installed self-service kiosks in most of its airport rental locations, with the objective of better serving customers as well as doing so at lower costs (sound familiar?). While I can’t comment on the results broadly, I did see them in action a short while ago while traveling through Boston Logan airport. It was early on a Saturday afternoon. The place was packed, with a queue of 15 to 20 waiting in line for counter service. Meanwhile the three kiosks had no activity. I was tempted to try the kiosks, but was fascinated by their lack of use. I decided to wait in line so I could chat with the Alamo staff. Perhaps I could learn why no one was using the kiosks.
Alamo offers self-service kiosks that nobody uses

Alamo offers self-service kiosks that nobody uses

  After a wait of roughly 15 minutes, I was well-served by a pleasant and knowledgeable Alamo associate. Moreover, I enjoyed personalized assistance finding my car and loading our oversized luggage (we took our tandem bicycle with us on vacation). The self-service kiosk mystery was also speedily solved with one simple question posed to the Alamo associate. “Hey, how come no one uses those self-service kiosks over there? The place is packed, yet everyone seems content to wait in line to see you.”  His thick Boston accented response was telling. “Yea, corporate installed those a while ago. I guess they work all right, but no one seems to use them.” Four Alamo staff worked busily behind the counter that day. If one of them had stepped out from behind the counter to introduce the long line of customers to the new self-service kiosks, it could have been a very different Saturday for its customers. That would have required branch-level ownership.

No “Big Bangs” in Branch Transformation

No “Big Bangs” in Branch Transformation
Glen Fosella wrote a good piece for Bank Systems & Technology this week, where he suggests: “While many banks are rethinking their long-term strategy for expensive branch networks, there are steps banks can take now to reduce costs and inefficiencies in the branch while providing a better customer experience.” We couldn’t agree more. Like it or not, banking (along with every other retail segment) must adapt to address seismic changes in consumer preferences and usage of digital channels. The trends are real, inexorable and accelerating. The trends are also global, with Nordic countries well ahead of North America in terms of internet usage, digital banking usage and right-sizing of the branch channel. For example, ABN AMRO saw more customer mobile banking logins than internet banking logins in early 2012. The Mobile banking channel now represents over 60% of all customer non-branch interactions. It currently operates 400 bank branches in the Netherlands. It once operated over 800. The branch channel needs to be more effective and efficient. But, what exactly is the “branch of the future”? Celent sees a marvellous variety of operating models and physical designs being deployed, but no one gets there in one “big bang”. To Glen’s point, while banks develop their long-term omnichannel delivery plans, there are great benefits to making incremental changes to the network NOW. In fact, Celent finds that approach largely common among banks with highly evolved branch infrastructures. The figure below shows the journey taken by a large number of banks globally. Baby Steps Gradually, most bank branches will look and operate very differently than most do now. But, getting there is difficult, expensive and risky. In our opinion, wise banks get there through a series of measured steps, while testing and learning as they go. But, do get going!

A Future for In-branch Self-service?

A Future for In-branch Self-service?
The idea of offering self-service solutions inside the branch remains a strangely controversial topic among North American bankers. This need not be. Self-service is rapidly growing across multiple retail market segments and has been a staple of Western Europe bank branches for a decade. Resistance among North American financial institutions is likely more cultural than pragmatic. As one community bank EVP stated in a recent research interview. “I’ll be damned if my customers are going to interact with a machine in one of my bank branches!”. O.K., so the topic is polarizing. But, is there a future for in-branch self-service in North America? We think so. Based on a Celent survey of North American financial institutions fielded in July 2012, in-branch self-service is destined to become somewhat commonplace – particularly among credit unions, who appear to be roughly twice as likely to adopt compared to banks. This should be a wake-up call to the curmudgeons who see no future in self-service based on the mistaken notion that consumers won’t be fond of the idea.

Credit unions are leading in in-branch self-service

From our research, when executed well using capable deposit automation and cash recycling devices, in-branch self-service can result in multiple benefits, including: • Reduced cost-to-serve • Extended service hours • Reduced cash handling costs • Fewer errors, fewer exceptions • Demonstrably improved customer satisfaction • Improved sales results ATM Marketplace posted an article extolling the virtues of in-branch self-service at BAWAG P.S.K., Austria’s fifth largest retail bank. There are, of course, many ways to skin a cat. We found the use of in-branch self-service at BAWAG P.S.K. straightforward. More interesting is its use within Austrian Post Office facilities (or is it vice versa?). Celent’s 2012 Model Bank of the Year, RHB Bank (Malaysia), was so honoured for its innovative and effective launch of Easy by RHB, which deployed multiple Retail partnerships to lower costs and deliver prime retail placement. These included partnerships with Tesco and the Malaysian equivalent of the U.S. Post Office, POS Malaysia. That concept (below) also includes in-branch self-service, but the devices are not apparent in the picture. Retail partnerships appear less polarizing than in-branch self-service in banking. Witness the thousands of in-store branches. Honestly though, most implementations are traditional and, well – boring. Easy by RHB offers an engaging and also wildly successful alternative – one deserving consideration as financial institutions struggle with branch channel costs and eroding relevance in the “new normal” of retail banking. Celent is welcoming submissions for Celent Model Bank 2013 through 30 November 2012. Submissions are made online at http://www.celentmodelbank.com.

Branch Transformation: The Line Extension Approach

Branch Transformation: The Line Extension Approach
Celent recently published a detailed case study on Easy by RHB, a leading retail bank in Malaysia seeking to grow market share in the large but under-banked Malaysian mass market. Celent was so impressed with its initiative that it awarded RHB Bank the Celent Model Bank of the Year award for 2012. Ernst & young said this in its recently Global Consumer Banking Survey 2012: “Banks are competing for the business and loyalty of increasingly demanding customers. In response, different models are emerging to serve different customer needs. Some are based on low-cost competition, some on high-touch service and some on accessibility. Large, full-service banks need to defend market share against specialist competitors focusing on particular products or customer segments, as well as new entrants in the payments space. At the same time, full-service banks need to retain the ability to meet a huge range of customer needs.” In this context, I assert there is not a credible argument to be made for the status quo in retail branch banking. Financial institutions simply must evolve their branch networks into more efficient and effective delivery channels – alongside carefully and fully integrating other delivery channels. Doing so, however, is perilously difficult for many banks – particularly full-service financial institutions. There are both perceived and real risks associated with massive branch transformation initiatives – alienating profitable customers that liked things the old way. Thus, to balance the imperative for branch transformation alongside the risk of customer attrition, many banks are moving at a glacial pace. This won’t work either. Therein lies the brilliance of the RHB initiative. Rather than transforming RHB branches to profitably serve the Malaysian mass market (and risk messing up its profitable mass affluent business), RHB launched a new brand, a line extension of its RHB parent. The new brand, Easy by RHB, was launched using an entirely new retail delivery model and a portfolio of four ultra low-cost retail outlet designs. Easy by RHB is: • A stellar branch transformation success story • A new consumer brand (a line extension to RHB) • Simplified products to make them easy to sell and deliver • An entirely new organization – younger, empowered, compensated, and a different culture within RHB (bold, ambitious). • A fully-automated retail delivery model interfacing to RHB’s legacy systems (biometrics, cash recycling, paperless origination, automated underwriting, instant-issue cards, instant disbursement). The figure below shows Easy’s four different retail outlet designs. easy-portfolio In its first two years (through 2011) RHB deployed 235 Easy outlets, taking its retail footprint from a distant #5 to market leadership. Over the period, total RHB customer deposits have grown by more than 50% and assets by 45%. And it has done so with a portfolio of retail outlets that cost, on average, about a tenth of what a traditional branch costs to build and operate. This would have likely been nearly impossible if attempted using existing RHB branches and the legacy RHB brand. Line extensions are common in consumer packaged goods (e.g., Tide with Bleach, Charmin Ultra, Bounty Basic). Line extensions can also be found among restaurants seeking to expand into smaller, faster dining environments such as airport and shopping mall food courts. Pizza Hut express is one such example. Why not with retail financial institutions? Branch transformation has always been about more than just technology. In our view, the line extension approach can be an attractive strategy that deserves a close look. Readers may download an excerpt of the Celent report, Model Bank 2012: Case studies of Effective use of Technology in Banking, June 2012 by clicking here. The excerpt features an abbreviated case study of Easy by RHB.