Debrief from India: It’s all about DIGITAL

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.

Why the branch banking controversy will continue

Why the branch banking controversy will continue
The branch is dead, long live the branch! Controversy around the wisdom (or not) of investing in the branch channel amidst rapidly growing digital banking adoption is showing no signs of letting up. Consider three articles published in the past week:
  • 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
  I’ve observed that most advocacy is binary; either branches are next to worthless or the branch is king. Where is the middle-of-the road position?   I’d like to offer one. For starters, retail banks serve a diverse market with diverse needs and preferences. Why then do so many critics insist banks must react to digital banking’s growth in lock-step? How many times have you heard the comment, banks are lemmings? Well, this time they’re not. Get over it! We will continue to see a diverse response to the digital ascendency.   But, I do struggle with the sustainability (or even desirability) of the current branch density in many markets – particularly in the US. I don’t think it will be defensible for very long. Let’s put it into perspective. Between 2000 and 2010, US bank branch density grew from 230 to 270 branches per million. Celent looked at a dozen other retail categories and couldn’t find a single one (except banks) that grew store density over the same period. Just the reverse happened, even though digital commerce remains less than 20% of total retail sales.
Source: US Department of Commerce, FDIC, Datamonitor, Celent analysis

Source: US Department of Commerce, FDIC, Datamonitor, Celent analysis

Like retailers, banks have certainly embraced digital channels. But, unlike retailers, banks have not invested in digital engagement. Until recently, digital channels weren’t about sales and servicing (that’s what branches are for…) but about facilitating transactions. Rare is the retailer of any size that does not have a digital presence designed to conduct commerce. But, the significant majority of banks do not yet have that capability. And, in some cases, the user experience is poor. Why? In part, because banks have focused on transactions, not sales and service in the digital channels. As this changes (and it is), I believe we will see a corresponding contraction in branch densities – just like in most other retail segments. Until banks demonstrate the ability to sell and service customers digitally, they will be overly reliant on the branch channel.
Source: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156

Source: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156

The next few years will be telling. What do you think?

A preview of Innovation and Insight Day

A preview of Innovation and Insight Day
Celent’s Innovation and Insight Day is about a month away, and I couldn’t be more excited. We have great external speakers bookending the day, and we’ll be exploring exciting technology implementations with 18 Model Banks in five categories (plus Celent’s Model Bank of the Year):
  • Digital
  • Omnichannel
  • Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation
  • Innovation and Emerging Technologies
  • Payments
Our first speakers, Betsy Hubbard and Debra Jasper, are from Mindset Digital, an online social media training firm. As financial firms grapple with their approaches to social media, Betsy and Debra’s perspective, delivered in a completely different style than what most banks are used to, will provide ample food for thought and some concrete next steps. Suresh Ramamurthi, Chairman (and CTO!) of CBW Bank, will tell the story of how a fintech entrepreneur bought a small ($13 million in assets, 7 employees) bank in Kansas and is in the process of turning it into a bank of the future. You may have seen the bank profiled in this story in the New York Times. Registrations are running well ahead of last year, and our Carnegie Hall venue may well get to Standing Room Only (although you won’t be able to buy tickets at TKTS on Monday morning). We hope to see you there on March 23rd; to learn more and to register, please visit our I&I day site.  Model Bank Logo

The challenges of the new neo bank

The challenges of the new neo bank
Since the launch of neo-banks like Moven, Simple, and GoBank, financial institutions in the US have been avidly monitoring their popularity. Some have written them off as non-starters; others have praised them as disruptors. In recent months, however, the neo-bank model has hit a few stumbling blocks that call into question the promise of the digital-only model, and gives credence to the sceptics. GoBank recently announced that it was going to stop allowing account opening via the mobile device. Users will now have to purchase an account opening “kit” from a store, adding significant friction to the process. Simple has experienced a number of issues related to payment scheduling, the “safe-to-spend feature,” and service outages or delays. Moven received $8 million to begin moving their app overseas in an effort to garner higher adoption. The promise of these new start-ups was a drastic improvement on customer experience, ditching traditionally stale financial services with improved digital offerings, social media integration, and a familiar/casual communication style. Yet these recent issues serve as a reality check for the neo-bank model—when your value proposition is customer experience, technical issues look 10x worse. It´s far from clear what will happen to these new market players, but Celent envisions a couple of different paths over the next few years.
  • Neo-banks are acquired and rolled into larger digital channels offerings: I wrote earlier this year about banks acquiring technology companies, thereby acting more like tech companies than traditional banks. The neo-bank model and acquisition of innovation are not that dissimilar, and BBVA´s acquisition of Simple is the conflation of both strategies. Through acquisition, BBVA is able to jump the steps of creating a culture for digital channels innovation, establishing a customer base (albeit small), and aligning internal resources required to launch a new service. There aren´t many neo-banks, but digital channels start-ups are numerous. This could be the way forward for institutions that are struggling with adapting the existing operating model to digital financial services.
  • Traditional institutions begin offering their own neo-bank, digital-only services: Fundamentally, there`s nothing truly disruptive about a neo-bank. There´s no secret algorithm, intellectual property, or disruptive idea at work, and many banks are more than capable of offering similar levels of service. Indeed some of them have already begun offering digital services through a separate digital brand. Examples globally include NAB´s UBank, ASB BankDirect, Banamex´s Blink, Hello Bank by BNP Paribas, and Customer Bancorp’s new mobile brand. With new brands, and often new platforms, these banks are testing the digital model. This should satisfy a growing number of digitally driven consumers, as well as provide a clear path for banks looking to move accounts to more digitally-focused services.
  • Neo-banks never become viable stand-alone business models, but they influence the way banks think about digital channels: Currently, most neo-banks aren´t banks–they rely on other institutions to handle the deposits, making them simple prepaid services with additional functionality. The reliance on third-parties is becoming a bottleneck for delivering the value neo-banks have come to represent. Without diversified financial offerings that encompass the entire financial need of the consumer, these “prepaid” services are pressed to create enough value to validate adoption. This is a major question when assessing viability.
There´s even a fourth scenario that could play out over a longer period of time: neo-banks become the primary way digital natives interact with financial institutions as they mature into adulthood. No matter which scenario plays out, neo-banks have undoubtedly moved the conversation around user experience and digital channels forward in a way that would not have happened otherwise. They are setting the bar high, with the big question being whether they will be able to gather the adoption needed to make their services sustainable. What do you think? Will the concept of neo-banks have a place within traditional banking?

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.

Bemoaning the Decline in Branch Foot Traffic: It Could be Worse!

Bemoaning the Decline in Branch Foot Traffic: It Could be Worse!
Banks and credit unions have been bemoaning the decline in branch foot traffic for some time now. In part, this is a result of widespread and accelerating consumer preferences for digital channel interactions. In a 2012 Celent survey of North American financial institutions (an effort we intend to repeat in 2014) , nearly half of respondents expected a 10% to 25% runoff over the next five years. Many expect a higher rate of decline. Transaction Migration 2012 Source: Celent survey of NA financial institutions, July 2012, n=132 Data collected by Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI) among its sizeable client base of small and midsize financial institutions suggests an annual decline of around 3% over the past three years. Declines are likely steeper among large banks resulting from significant digital channel investments. It Could be Worse…If banks are struggling to accommodate declining branch foot traffic, other retail segments have it much worse. According to ShopperTrak, a leading analytics vendor to the retail industry, even as U.S. retail sales rose about 3% over the November – December 2013 holiday period, foot traffic declined 15%. December 2013 was particularly hard-hit, with foot traffic down 18% from December 2012. Why this is occurring is no mystery. The good news for retailers is that sales growth has returned, somewhat. The long-term picture, clearly driven by economic trends, is cautionary, with year-over-year growth rates eroding since the early 1970’s. Retailers got only about half the holiday traffic in 2013 as they did just three years earlier, according to ShopperTrak, which uses a network of 60,000 shopper-counting devices to track visits at malls and large retailers across the country. The larger retail picture makes banking’s misery look modest. foot traffic comparison Source: FMSI, ShopperTrak National Retail Sales Estimate(NRSE ®) used with permission So what will the future hold? Where are we on the inexorable transition from brick and mortar shopping? Look at any forecast; omnichannel banking has just begun. What banks should do in response will be the subject of my next blog.

Omni-Channel Roundtable in Toronto — the Summary

Omni-Channel Roundtable in Toronto — the Summary
We recently held a banks-only roundtable at our offices in Toronto to discuss “New Imperatives for Omni-Channel Delivery.” With representation from Canadian and US financial institutions, we had a robust conversation around the movement from “multi-channel” (old and siloed) to “omni-channel” (integrated and mutually reinforcing). Some of the attendees had interesting – and fairly recent – titles: “Director, Multi-Channel Experience” and “Director, Multi-Channel Strategy” were two that were particularly noticeable, while two others had “Channels” in their title.  Taking an integrated view of the channels portfolio appears to be catching on in Canada! Some interesting observations surfaced.
  1. Banks are rolling out channels and touchpoints without necessarily teaching the customer how to best use them.  When ATMs (or ABMs, north of the border) first came out, bank personnel would walk customers over to them and give them a basic tutorial. There is precious little analogous activity in our new digital channels; we simply assume that customers will pick up on how to use them.  Apple has trained us to think that really good experiences need no tutorial, but that’s not necessarily the case in banking, particularly when it comes to security concerns.
  2. The session didn’t address Personal Financial Management (PFM) directly, but when we touched on it, the group took off on a twenty-minute tangent!  There’s clearly a lot of interest in PFM despite anecdotal adoption rates that continue to hover around 10%.
  3. Piggybacking off existing infrastructure, e.g., the AppStore ratings engine and comments section, is a great way to garner customer feedback. The key, obviously, is to listen and act on the comments that customers provide, and at least one bank watches its ratings assiduously and uses the feature requests and complaints as a key driver of release improvements.
  4. As in the U.S., the fate of the branch network is an important strategic issue. One component that will have some bearing on this is video banking, whether through hardpoints or consumer devices (laptops or tablets). Bankers are clearly keen to determine how video can supplement other channel experiences.
  5. A sneak peek of a Celent survey of Canadian banking customers showed their behavior to be remarkably similar to Americans’.  While there were a couple of exceptions (to be detailed soon in an upcoming report), there were no huge disconnects.  Despite some of the differences in the structure of our two banking systems (oligopolistic vs. fragmented, and cooperative on infrastructure vs. wildly independent), our consumers tend to view and use their banks similarly.
We’re looking forward to additional roundtables in 2014.  If you’ve got specific topics you’d like to see addressed, or cities you’d like us to visit, please let us know!

Accepting Nominations for Celent Model Bank 2014

Accepting Nominations for Celent Model Bank 2014
ModelBankLogo Now in our seventh year, Celent is seeking nominations for its Model Bank awards. Each year, we honor a hand-picked selection of financial institutions who model excellent utilization of technology in banking. Celent Model Bank 2013 winners represented 19 financial institutions across 12 countries. All received recognition at our annual Innovation and Insight Day this past February in Boston, MA. Are there excellent examples of technology innovation at your institution (or one of your clients if you’re a technology provider)? Banks and credit unions self-nominate, while technology providers may nominate a client on their behalf and with their consent. Share your story with us using our online nomination form below. A panel of analysts will review all nominations based on three criteria: 1. Degree of innovation 2. Degree of difficulty, and 3. Measurable, quantitative business results achieved Success stories are welcome across the spectrum of financial services disciplines, from: infrastructure and architecture, product development, marketing/sales, distribution / channel management, transaction processing, loan processing, customer service / support, and security and risk management. Nominations can be made online at: http://www.celentmodelbank.com. If you’d like, e-mail me and I’ll send you an excerpt from last year’s report, Celent Model Bank 2013: Case Studies of Effective Technology Usage in Banking. A PDF of previous Celent Model Bank winners is available here, and selected video case studies are available here. Bring on those nominations!

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?

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!