Citi’s geolocation move

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".

Branch Tech Usage

Pretty far I'd say!

Why are credit unions changing vendors at a higher rate than banks?

Credit unions are almost twice as likely to change vendors as banks, with competitive churn rates of 7.6% compared to 2.7% for banks.  Churn Rate measures the number of institutions in a given time period that either change or drop a vendor contract.  Churn is broken down into two components: competitive churn, which measures the rate at which institutions are opting to change vendors, and consolidation churn, which measures uncontrollable factors like acquisitions or liquidations. The figure below (powered using data from FI Navigator) references total churn for the year ending March 31st, 2016.


The figure reveals significant differences in churn between banks and credit unions.  But why is this difference so large? There are two possible drivers:

  1. Customer centricity: A focus on the customer could be a driver for higher churn. Banks and credit unions operate differently, and Celent has explored the variations in blogs and publications.  The mission statement of the credit union market has historically revolved around extreme customer centricity.  Over the last decade, mobile has become a critical component in quality customer service.  Emphasizing the needs of the customer could be driving credit unions to take more concerted efforts to maximize mobile/ digital, exploring competitive options more frequently than banks. Credit unions are low margin businesses that often give higher interest rates for products like auto-loans or deposit accounts through non-profit tax breaks.  Being member-owned, most of the smaller profits also go back into the business.  This creates a natural incentive to streamline the back-office, and credit unions have adopted cost effective technologies at higher rates. Thin margins combined with a focus on customer service could mean credit unions are more likely to evaluate provider options more frequently.
  2. Solution providers: Another perspective is that it’s the vendor market, not the CUs that are driving the churn. The vendor spectrum for credit unions in the US is much more diverse, with 43 vendors compared to 22 selling to banks.   This would reinforce the argument that competitive dynamics are more intense, and it would be reflected in sales cycles. With cost pressures that originate from their smaller size and lower margins, credit unions are more likely to look for alternative ways to provide products and services, leveraging mechanisms like Credit Union Service Organizations (CUSOs) to enhance the business.  Other similar joint ventures leverage cooperative arrangements to develop homegrown software products.  Consortiums not present in the banking market would introduce more competitors into the market, and as a result impact competitive dynamics.

Credit unions skew much smaller than banks (the mean credit union asset size is  $200 million vs. banks with around $2.5 billion), leading to a noticeably higher consolidated churn. Celent examined the pressures on credit unions here. As minimum viable institution size continues to get bigger, smaller institutions will be challenged to stay afloat. Vendors will face the risk that their customers are becoming targets for M&A activity resulting in more vendors competing for a shrinking demographic.

Credit unions need to think about how to best streamline their operations to remain viable.  This includes a mix of cost-effective customer service technologies like mobile banking.  Vendors need to have a better understanding of the competitive landscape into which they sell, as competition is intense.  Better data and detailed benchmarks can help vendors plan their strategy.

Celent is collaborating with FI Navigator to analyze the mobile banking market in financial services (in fact, FI Navigator wrote a great piece about credit unions and banks last year).  FI Navigator assembled a platform that leverages a proprietary algorithm to track every financial institution offering mobile in the US, as well as nearly 50 vendors.  Beginning with the first report at the end of April, Celent will be releasing a biannual examination of the mobile market. FI Navigator will also be making the platform available for further custom reporting and data analysis.  For more information on the nature of the collaboration and availability of data, go here.

Digital banking is ready to take off in Latin America

Digital is the new reality in Latin America. In a recent Celent survey 100% of the participants recognized that a scenario where all financial products get digitized needs to be addressed sometime in the next 7 years and 59% of them believe it needs to be addressed immediately. There is also a general consensus that most banks are entering into Digital late, despite some are already moving in that direction. Threat of fintechs is also a reality. Over 80 fintechs in Brazil and 60 in Colombia are a good sense that the industry is already being challenged beyond incumbents.

In other geographies Banks have responded to this threat by becoming extremely digital and also neo-banks have been launched to attract those customers seeking for a more friendly and digital relationship with its financial institution. Atom Bank in the UK, Fidor Bank in Germany, and mBank in Poland are only a few to mention. In Latin America the major milestones in Digital development we had seen were Nubank (Brazil – Market Cap $500M) and Bankaool (Mexico – ~$142M in assets), until March of 2016 when Banco Original (~$1,67Bn in assets) launched in Brazil.

While Nubank is focused entirely in offering a credit card with a customer friendly personalized real-time view of expenses and modern contact channels (email, call or chat), Bankaool is mainly focused in a checking account with a debit card, SME loans and investment vehicles.

Banco Original is the 3rd step in this digital only bank strategy in the region, becoming the 1st universal digital only bank in Latin America.  As part of its strategy to position the bank as different and innovative they launched this advertising campaign featuring Usain Bolt. As part of a strategic definition in 2013 the bank started a ~$152M investment over the period of 3 years to become a digital bank. They launched in March of this year . The bank has no branches and the interaction is 100% through digital channels and a call center. This move was central to its strategy of becoming a universal bank moving away of being solely focused in agribusiness.

While most of neo-banks and fintechs looking to change the customer experience in financial services have adopted in-house development to support their digital strategy, this is not the case of Banco Original which relied in a 3rd party Open API solution. Commercially available solutions that can support a digital only bank means that as an industry we are ready to take off. There is no reason now why other banks should not follow, and software vendors will do their part pushing their offering into banks of all sizes.

I believe that we are in a tipping point were banks in Latin America will need to re-think their investments and strategies towards digital: the threat is now real.

Two upcoming reports will be covering Digital and a couple of disruptive scenarios in the banking industry in Latin America, so expect to have more information soon if you are a Celent customer. If you would like to become a Celent customer please contact Fabio Sarrico (


Mobile in the time of digital

Bank of America recently announced that it would triple spending on its mobile app. While no exact dollar amount was given, it made me wonder: what exactly does that entail? In the past, Celent has praised the Bank of America mobile banking apps as some of the best out there. The bank has been going strong with its digital strategy for years, even closing branches and reducing overhead to drive adoption. Bank of America recently added features like touch ID, debit card toggling, two-way fraud alerts, and more to its app, and has been outspoken about the desire to personalize the digital experience. Its commitment to new features and functionality is reflected in the comments and ratings on iTunes and Google Play. Shown in the graph below, the bank´s mobile banking adoption has been steadily growing, with a growing share of deposits. Pictureforblog                     Source: BofA Annual Reports/ Investor Presentations So again: what does “tripling” mean when talking about an app that has obviously been well-funded for quite some time? As digital assumes a larger role with the business, the funding required to build a digital customer experience will extend beyond the reaches of mobile. The capabilities many consumers demand can be difficult if not impossible without significant effort on the backend to align technology. Banks are starting to realize this, building out unified digital platforms that streamline the architecture and better position institutions to offer truly modern, data-driven, and value-added consumer experiences. These kinds of initiatives can often run in tandem with larger cultural and multi-channel efforts. In the press release for the announcement, Bank of America said it was launching a digital ambassador initiative which, similar to the Barclays Digital Eagles program, will see front-line branch staff reskilled to be able to assist with digital channels. The bank is also launching cardless ATMs later this year. I´m assuming the coincidence of these announcements is anything but, and that the funds for “mobile” will largely be dispersed over (or fit into) a wider array of strategic digital initiatives. Institutions need to create a solid digital base within the institution, bringing in culture, personnel, and technology across all channels and lines of business to start transforming digitally. Banks are being challenged by the notion of “becoming digital.” Many have reached the point of recognizing the inevitable digitization of the business model, and are in the throes of decision making that will determine how equipped they are to appeal to the new digital consumer. Most institutions are experiencing these growing pains, and very few have committed to digital at the level demanded by customers. If Bank of America is indeed tripling its budget just for mobile, then I´ll be very interested to see the kind of features the bank develops over the next few years. Yet there´s a lot that goes on to make the front end look good and spending more on the front will mean more spending on the back. Mobile banking is a significant part of digital banking, but remember that it’s only ONE part. While new functionality gets the headlines, it’s what’s under the hood – culture and backend – that truly matters.

Why digital appointment booking will be commonplace in three years

A friend of mine is a successful small business owner in his forties. Like so many in his demographic, Bryan developed a longing to own a Harley Davidson. He could easily afford a Harley, but chose to seek financing instead. Getting this business should have been a walk in the park for his bank. Bryan is a digitally-driven consumer who values convenience. With some frustration in his voice, he shared with me his disappointment that he couldn’t simply arrange for a loan on his bank’s mobile app. With resignation, he stopped by a local branch only to find the staff members engaged with other customers. After a few moments of impatient waiting, he chose to leave and return the following day. His second trip met with an identical outcome. With increased frustration, Bryan called his bank while en route to a business appointment, hoping for a straightforward way to quickly close on a loan. Instead, the cheerful staff member explained that Bryan could simply visit any branch at his convenience to close on the loan in about an hour. Bryan’s bank lost his business to a credit union. Bryan’s experience is probably not unique. His bank would have won his business easily – had they simply offered him an opportunity to engage with them on his terms. While certainly no panacea, digital appointment booking would have been exactly that. And, it would have been exactly what Bryan expected from his bank. After all, he makes appointments to see his accountant, healthcare provider and barber and books dinner reservations similarly. But, few financial institutions offer their customers this ability (Figure 1). The idea has recently caught on among the largest North American banks, while 40% of surveyed midsized institutions say they are “considering” the idea. Meanwhile, 70% of community banks (assets less than $1 billion) have no plans to implement. That’s going to change. OAB adoptionSource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156 The benefits of digital appointments are manifest. Among them:
  • 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.
A perhaps less obvious benefit of digital appointment booking is its favorable impact on institutions’ face-to-face interaction. Said simply, frontline employees are better equipped for sales and service interactions when they know who is coming and for what reason. More commonly, bankers must offer an impromptu response to walk-up interactions. A minority of institutions equip frontline staff with a “customer snapshot,” or optimally a “next-best action” recommendation, but that information is not available to staff until customers authenticate. With essentially no time to react to the information, consistency of service delivery is a tall order. To coin an overly-used expression, it’s not rocket science.

Is the branch the newest digital channel?

The branch is an important channel is every bank, but the rise of digital raises two questions: what’s its role in with a digital engagement model, and how should banks think about its value? First, consider some of the challenges of the traditional branch for the modern, digital consumer:
  • Branches suffer from lack of talent availability. The best person for the job is not always going to be in the right location at right time. Yet mobile is driving “right time, right place, instant” contextual interactions, and consumers are increasingly expecting this level of service.
  • Many of the frontline staff are underpaid and undertrained, yet are the face of the institution. They often aren´t trained properly or paid enough to care about delivering the kind of customer service banks are trying to deliver through digital.
  • It’s difficult to distribute foot traffic across locations. Some branches suffer from massive queues, while employees at other locations are killing time on Facebook. This adds cost, lowers efficiency, and is incompatible with demand for instant service from consumers as well as modern IT delivery.
Digital has allowed industries to overcome some of the barriers facing other customer experiences. The challenges facing branches are no different. Virtualizing the workforce, aggregating talent, and allowing customers to access them remotely, either in a branch environment or from a personal device, is at least one path forward. Banks need to start thinking about the branch as a digital channel. Some institutions like Garanti Bank in Turkey, ICICI in India, and Umpqua Bank in the US are already starting to think in terms of remote delivery. As video service becomes more mature (i.e. video advisory through tablets), user experiences across devices will begin to blur, and the branch of the future will look even more like a digital experience. In the new environment, the branch becomes another presentation layer. Vendors like Cisco are already starting to move in this direction, combining telepresence, remote signature, displays, and other infrastructure to allow banks to facilitate remote interactions using context information. Others in the market are beginning to follow suite. The branch of the future has been a topic of discussion since the advent of online banking and mobile. While some meaningful progress has been made in branch transformation, some large institutions have launched numerous pilot ideas and concept branches that have amounted to little more than PR stunts. The role of the branch is changing, but it’s obvious that many aren’t exactly clear what that role is going to be. By talking about the branch as a digital channel, institutions may be better able to craft a true omnichannel strategy for customer experience.

Predicting the future

Monday was the UK bank holiday, so some of us just came back to work after a long weekend. Many across the country used the extra time to do a bit of spring cleaning. I also found myself rummaging through some old materials and came across an interesting paper on how financial markets might look in 2020. Let me share a few quotes:
  • “The basic financial functions […] will not change, although how we perform these functions will change.”
  • “By 2020, a true global marketplace will be established, with everyone – individuals, companies, investors, organizations and governments – linked through telephone lines, cables and radio-wave technology. With the touch of a button, people will have access to other individuals and vast databases around the world. Such access will be readily available through phones, interactive television, workstations or hand-held “personal digital assistants” that combine all these functions. […] There will be no special need for retail financial branches because everyone will have direct access to his or her financial suppliers through interactive TV and personal digital assistants. […] True “global banking” will have arrived, as every household will be a ‘branch.'”
  • “A key feature of 2020 is that nearly everything could be tailored to a client’s needs or wishes at a reasonable price, including highly personalized service from financial companies. Firms will be selling to market segments of one.”
  • “Supplying financial assistance will be a free-for-all. It will not be limited to those calling themselves “financial institutions” […] That means an organization that specializes in financial matters may at times find itself competing directly with its clients.”
  • “The progress is geometric because each element – computation, availability of data, communications and algorithms – feeds on the others.”
If you attended any recent conferences on digital banking, this will sound very familiar – just replace “personal digital assistants” with “smartphones.” However, these quotes are not from a recent conference presentation. They are from a paper given by Charles S. Sanford, Jr., serving as the Chairman of Bankers Trust at the time, at the Kansas City Fed’s economic symposium. The date? August 20, 1993… Many of these predictions ring true, although we are not quite there yet, 22 years after the paper has been delivered with only five more left to go. Why? The clues might also be in the paper:
  • “Human nature will not change. […] A very basic element of that nature is a hunger for security – law and order, job security, retirement security, decent and affordable health care and financial security.”
  • “Dishonesty will be around in 2020 as it is today. Voice recognition, DNA fingerprinting and secure data encryption will instantly verify transactions, preventing today’s scams. But new forms of “information crime” will appear.”
  • “Technology will never replace the subtlety of the human mind. People will be the most important factor in 2020, just as they are now. We must learn how to grow wise leaders from the ranks of specialists, a difficult task.”
As humans we also bring the baggage of unpredictability, irrational behaviour and desire for comfort and the familiar. We should bear this in mind next time as we contemplate how technology is changing our lives and what the future might bring. P.S. The entire paper is available here.

More comments on the “branch is dead” debate

*As mentioned in an earlier blog, the persistence of the “branch is dead” debate seems to be to betray the deeply invested interests on each side of the debate. In many financial institutions, digital and physical channels still have separate reporting structures (Figure 1). In Celent’s October 2014 survey of North American financial institutions, we found that less than a third of responding FIs have a single person responsible for all delivery channels. Interestingly, this appeared to be more likely among large banks. Channel Org Another observation is that much of the debate is deeply polarized – all or nothing – as if banks serve a static and homogeneous market. Neither is true. Most banks serve a diverse client base whose needs and preferences are in a state of change. Niche players, such as Moven, can take a more polarized (or shall we say extreme) position. A third (and my favorite) observation is that all too often, inaccurate assertions are made about channel usage as if demographics were a sole and causal determinant. We hear it all the time; “Millennials don’t use branches.” “Old people don’t use digital channels” and so on. In March, the US Federal Reserve published its third instalment of comprehensive consumer research on the topic, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015. It makes for insightful reading. One myth the report busts is that digitally driven consumers have little use for other channels. Nothing could be farther from the truth – at least for the present. The survey (an online survey administered with a managed panel of nearly 3,000 consumers designed to be representative of the U.S. eighteen and over population) sought to understand how mobile banking users (35% of the panel, up from 30% in 2013 and 26% in 2012) used other channels. The results may surprise you. A few tid-bits:
  • Between 2011 and 2014, mobile banking usage has grown strongly across all age groups. Among 60+ consumers, usage has nearly tripled.
  • Hispanics reported the highest incidence of P12M mobile banking usage (53% of those having bank accounts, compared to 39% in the overall sample).
  • While mobile banking users are using the platform frequently and consistently, they also interact with their banks through more traditional branch and ATM channels. 72% of mobile banking users frequented a branch in the past month.
Channel Access Chart *1 Of those who used channel in past 12 months *2 Of those who used channel in past month Separately, respondents were asked to rank the three main ways they interact with their bank or credit union. 21% of mobile banking users ranked the mobile channel first. 13% ranked the branch first. Two implications from the diversity of channel usage that characterizes today’s consumers:
  1. Omnichannel is a legitimate pursuit. All channels need to be optimized.
  2. Banks neglect the branch channel at their peril.

Debrief from India: It’s all about DIGITAL

I’m on a plane over the Arabian Sea collecting my thoughts after a packed week in Trivandrum, Bangalore and Mumbai. The impetus for my trip was the honor of presenting at Suntec’s User Meet on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. The clients who attended were extraordinarily open about their stories and presented extremely compelling case studies. Learning about the pricing practices of Telcos showed how much opportunity is left for banks in this space. I spoke on Customer Experience Orchestration in a Digital World. It proved to be a perfect set up for the rest of the week, since the clients I met with – old, new and prospective – were extraordinarily consistent in their focus on a single concept: DIGITAL. Like Celent, many of the Indian service providers I visited have defined their vision of digital and begun the process of aligning their offerings to it. The best focused on a customer-oriented foundation (like Celent!) and then described how their combination of technical expertise, product / consulting delivery, and segment concentration combined to help their banking clients fulfill their digital vision. Innovation centers – spaces for client co-creation and brainstorming – continue to be hot: I saw two new ones this trip. Demos trump powerpoint every time, and there was a good focus on this. If you’d like to learn more about my impressions, please arrange for an Analyst Access call; I’d be happy to chat about them in more detail.