Asian Vendors Looking to Pivot

Asian Vendors Looking to Pivot
I’ve just returned from a two-week swing through Asia, with stops and roundtables in Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney. Along with my colleague Neil Katkov I was fortunate to meet a large number of clients and market participants, both banks and their ecosystem partners, in a series of more than two dozen meetings. In each country Celent hosted a half-day session on digital innovation. Attendance was good and discussion spirited; digital and omnichannel is a topic that every bank across the region wrestles with. Their service providers, too, are keenly interested in the topic. What struck me as particularly noteworthy, however, was that a large number of providers are trying to reposition themselves in the marketplace. Their (legacy) brands are extraordinarily strong, which is a blessing and a curse. Brand strength is great, but when it’s associated with a technology that’s in decline, and not yet associated with new areas of investment, then vendors are put in a difficult position because they don’t get the calls associated with that new fintech. A common question for us was, “how do I get the message out about this new solution I’ve developed?” There’s no one answer, but I’d suggest to banks that they cast a wide net when looking to address their new technology problems; many of their historical partners are learning (or at least trying to learn) new tricks. That their marketing (broadly defined) has yet to catch up shouldn’t dissuade banks from seeing what new solutions they have to offer.

Oracle’s three modes of Progressive Transformation

Oracle’s three modes of Progressive Transformation
I was able to attend Oracle’s Open World at the end of September, and although it conflicted with Sibos, it was an extravaganza. While there I sat down with some of the folks involved with core systems; they outlined the interesting way they’re thinking about progressive transformation (briefly, how to migrate core systems gradually; the opposite of a “big bang” approach). Oracle agrees with the consensus that a big bang for any sizable bank is going to be problematic. What interested me was that they outlined three different approaches for progressive transformation:
  1. Replace a vertical slice
  2. Replace a horizontal slice
  3. Create a new target state architecture off to the side
Without going into great detail, I’ll describe how Oracle has at least started the journey in three different banks around the world.
  1. Vertical Slice. Suncorp in Australia has started the process of moving off its Hogan core by focusing on unsecured lending; its next stop will be secured lending.
  2. Horizontal slice. KeyBank, based in Cleveland, announced at Open World that it intends to use non-core systems components of Oracle Banking Platform (“OBP”) to enhance and modernize its mobile and online channels. To be clear, KeyBank has not committed to a core transformation. The project is in its very early stages; it’s one we’ll watch with interest
  3. Target architecture. National Australia Bank’s new entity, UBank, is a digital-only bank that NAB created as part of its bank transformation using OBP. Its goal is to change the customer experience, and uptake has surpassed initial expectations.
Celent’s perspective is that progressive transformation (or whatever various name different vendors use for the same basic concept) is a way to purchase a real option as banks think about how to modernize their systems and accommodate the increased demands that digital access place on their technology. It lets banks begin a journey without committing them to course of action that might not be appropriate down the road as the world changes. Time will, of course, tell how successful each of these projects will be, but thinking about the different ways to approach a phased core transformation is useful for any bank with core on its strategic agenda (which should be…almost any bank).

Facebook Banking: Don’t Bank on it

Facebook Banking: Don’t Bank on it
On May 5th 2014, La Caixa, one of Spain’s largest financial institutions, officially announced the launch of a Facebook app that provides users access to online banking features through the Facebook platform. It’s just the second bank in North America and Europe to launch a Facebook banking app, and, as far as Celent is aware, the seventh globally. In the weeks following the announcement, I was able to speak with a few different banks about the news, and surprisingly, while they were aware that Facebook banking existed, most were unaware how many banks around the world supported it. This couldn’t come at a better time, as Celent’s recent report, Banking on Facebook: An Overview of Banks with Transactional Facebook Apps, provides detail and analysis of the current offerings, highlighting interesting use cases and opining on the broader applicability of Facebook banking apps in financial services. Efforts are in the early stages, and even the most mature Facebook banking applications have not come close to replicating what’s possible through mobile apps. But are customer customers ready to adopt Facebook as a channel? Not really. In the figure below, taken from a Celent consumer survey last year, only 1% of respondents favored Facebook and Twitter as methods for engaging with their financial institution. In 2012, Citibank asked users about Facebook banking. The response was a resounding ‘NO.’ Users made it clear that they were not ready, echoing long-held sentiments about the perceptions of social media, and illuminating the challenge banks face in developing the channel. Consumers Preferences For Engagement Do Not Include Social Media Untitled Source: Celent US/ Canada Consumer Survey, July 2013/ November 2013; If you had an important topic you would like to discuss with a banker, how would you prefer to do so? N=1028 Celent believes that Facebook banking is only going to be the right choice for a very small group of institutions, given the following:
  • Banks don’t have unlimited resources to dedicate to throwing things against the wall in order to see what sticks
  • Most banks have a long way to go in other channels
  • Social media popularity is a guessing game
  • Despite the popularity of social media, consumers and banks are still uneasy about conducting transactions over social channels
This isn’t an indictment against innovation in social media. Social media is becoming a bigger part of financial services, and many, including Facebook themselves, are investing in social transactions. Social media and banking have a bright future together, however many in the industry are having a hard enough time developing functionally rich and well-designed mobile or tablet apps. Institutions should prioritize those investments for the time being. Banks like ASB Bank, DenizBank, FNB Bank, GTBank, ICICI Bank, La Caixa, and Tangerine (ING Direct Canada) have made Facebook banking applications an integral part of a broader social media strategy. FIs will gain the most value not by mirroring these applications, but by looking at what these institutions have done through social media. Celent found that banks supporting Facebook banking tend to have robust and highly innovative social media strategies. ASB Bank hosts a virtual branch through Facebook, GTBank allows for ‘instant account opening,’ and FNB Bank has created a social media persona that unifies the customer experience across all social platforms. The convergence of social media and banking marches on, despite the uphill battle that many institutions face validating some of the concerns consumers have, and the inherent challenges of each platform. Facebook banking isn’t going to work for all (probably most, at least for now), but lessons can be learned from the ways in which these banks have crafted solid social media strategies. Institutions looking for social inspiration need only visit their pages.

Reflections on NetFinance 2014: It’s about relationships

Reflections on NetFinance 2014: It’s about relationships
NetFinance 2014 just finished in Miami.  Celent spoke on “Engaging Mobile Customers through Content, Display, Alerts, and More,” which generated a number of follow-on conversations on how to execute on the notion of engaging with customers, and a great question on how long today’s innovation stays differentiated. Our answer: “not very.” I’ve mentioned before that customer-centricity is becoming a key concept that many banks are highlighting as a key point of their retail strategy. What NetFinance crystallized for me is that the necessary follow-on to this customer-centricity is this simple idea: The best defense against continuing commoditization is a solid customer relationship. Technology, clearly, can go a long way to enhancing that relationship. A number of vendors at the show (like AdRoll, Backbase, Domo, EarthIntegrate, Ektron, Epsilon, IgnitionOne, Leadfusion,  Liferay, Message Systems, Message Broadcast, and Personetics, among others) focus on helping banks touch customers at the right times, or giving them an omnichannel view of all customer touch points, or enabling customers to start a transaction in one channel and continue it in another. But for these technologies to be effective, customers need to be receptive.  And they’re going to be more receptive if they think, and feel, and believe in their gut, that their bank is going to do the right thing by them. All the technology in the world can’t replace some very visceral customer feelings. To engender these feelings with their customers, and stop them from transacting with one hand holding their wallet so their pocket doesn’t get picked, banks should consider some potentially radical ideas (simple concepts?):
  • Not every touch needs to be a sale.
  • Foregoing short-term income for longer term gain can (in many instances) make sense
  • Surprising customers on the upside can yield long-term benefits
Now, the natural reaction to this is that it potentially puts banks into a (short-term) revenue hole. And that may be true, but when the real game of ongoing commoditization is long-term, banks need to thinking beyond the next quarter.

What banks can learn from airlines

What banks can learn from airlines
Celent thinks that banks can learn a lot from other industries.  Since I spend a lot of time on planes, I’ve gotten to thinking about the similarities between banks and airlines.  They have a lot in common when we think about the way that they interact with their customers.  They are both: 1. A means to an end. Just as no one says, “Let’s go to the bank for fun today,” no one says “let’s pack ourselves onto a metal tube with a bunch of strangers for several hours” (frequent flyers making year-end mileage runs notwithstanding). People bank so that they can have a safe place to store their money, pay for things, and borrow. Similarly, people subject themselves to flying in order to get somewhere a lot more fun than the airport. 2. Typically not held in high esteem by their customers. While this is certainly strongly related to the point above, it’s also the case that even when banks and airlines perform perfectly, customers aren’t excited.  “How was your trip?” “Oh, fine” meaning that the airline did what it committed to do.  Rarely does someone who hasn’t been bumped up unexpectedly say, “That was a fantastic flying experience.” Rather, it’s a case of, “That was uneventful,” or “that was as good as can be expected.” Banks, too, suffer from the curse of being unappreciated (as do, for that matter, utilities).  Only when something goes wrong do people pay attention. 3. Involved with their customers in a very intimate way. Banks know many details of their customers’ personal finances. Airlines put travelers in very close proximity to perfect strangers for hours at a time. This intimacy engenders strong feelings in customers and lays the groundwork for strong feelings to flow. Despite how much worse the US airline experience has gotten for most customers, airlines are nevertheless returning to profitability. Bankers may want to mull some of the tactics that airlines have used, if not for outright emulation, than at least for lessons that they might provide in a banking context. Five key areas come to mind: 1. Pricing fairly 2. Being human 3. Setting expectations and being transparent 4. Recognizing valuable customers 5. Providing value-added services 1. Pricing fairly Unbundling products and services is one element of pricing fairly. Charging fees for baggage is the most prominent example of unbundling a service that used to be included in the price of a ticket. Customers squawked, and behavior changed in ways anticipated and not (have you ever squabbled about overhead bin space?), but they adapted and paid up, opening up an annual revenue stream counted in the billions of dollars. Even as the typical airline seat shrinks, airlines have added rows of more comfortable seats that they either give to their frequent fliers or sell on a variable-priced basis. Airlines are segmenting their frequent fliers and letting other customers self-select with respect to what they’re willing to pay for extra comfort. The lesson: demonstrate the value in the services that you provide, then charge customer segments appropriately. 2. Being human Because of the intimacy I mentioned above, it’s critical that firms let their employees act as people rather than automatons or faceless bureaucrats. Three key areas help ease the pain of a long flight or a mistake on an account. Foster personalities and connections: Having a person-to-person conversation, rather than focusing only on the business at hand, can drastically change the tone of an interaction. A simple “are you heading to or from home?” from a flight attendant makes me feel better about the flight, and the feeling is a critical part of the customer experience. Thank people for their loyalty: When an airline actually thanks me, it again helps with the good feelings. Similarly, the airlines send me coupons that I can give to staff who’ve performed exceptionally – the corporation has given me the opportunity to be human, too. Develop a brand personality: Airlines are required to give a safety briefing at the beginning of the flight. Some personnel simply read their manual in an incredibly bored (and boring) tone; others personalize it and manage to make it sound interesting. Some, like Delta, even have genuinely funny video briefings (see a YouTube version here: http://youtu.be/eduNjwNvcH4). 3. Setting expectations and being transparent It really helps to makes rules and expectations (in both directions) clear and easy to understand.  Once those mutual obligations are set, then the firm has to stick to them – think about boarding by rows. When someone in group 4 tries to board with group 2, gate attendants who politely ask them to wait are reinforcing the mutual obligations that everyone on the flight has assumed. And you’ve got to be transparent about what’s going on; airlines still have some ways to go, but they’re making some progress in explaining why, for example, a flight is delayed. 4. Recognizing valuable customers Banks have recently begun doing a better job of segmenting their customers, but they can still learn a lot from the ongoing refinements that airlines continue to make. Airlines give passengers goals (elite status levels), keep them apprised of their progress, and have devised ways to monetize the desire to achieve those goals.  “Mileage runs” are a topic of discussion on frequent flier community sites, and some airlines have dispensed with that and will simply sell miles at the end of the year to allow people to achieve their desired status. Providing differentiated service to valued customers is very basic, but airlines do it transparently and consistently while laying out the benefits different elite segments stand to reap. Incidentally, this isn’t to say that banks aren’t doing some of these things now, but if and when they are, it’s not necessarily widespread. 5. Providing Value-Added Services The basic function of an airline – getting a passenger from one airport to another – is pretty commoditized. Airlines try to differentiate on all the elements that we’ve just discussed, but they also try to make themselves stand out by offering a variety of value-added services.  These are often driven by a web of partnerships that the airline has developed. Some of the most basic include:
  • Building a network of partners (e.g., Delta and Starwood) whose members enjoy reciprocal benefits
  • Booking hotels or renting cars through the airline site
  • Redeeming miles for a variety of goods or services offered through the airlines network of partners
  • Describing the weather at the destination (easy to do, not necessarily a huge value, but a nice touch)
There are a host of other value-added services that airlines offer. Rather than going into an exhaustive list, I’d simply point out that banks should examine what kind of additional value they can offer to their customers on top of the increasingly commoditized product suite on offer today. There are undoubtedly other salient comparisons that I’ve missed – please comment on what other areas airlines (or other industries) can provide lessons for banks.  

2013’s most popular banking reports (Innovation rules!)

2013’s most popular banking reports (Innovation rules!)
I looked at 2013 to see what the readers of Celent’s banking reports were most interested in. Here are the top 10, ranked by the number of downloads, and the date they were published. Innovation is clearly of interest to our subscribers, as are top trends. What do you think will be hottest in 2014? We’ll be giving you our perspectives shortly.
10/25/2013 What’s Next: The Search for Disruptive Innovation
03/4/2013 Banking Presentations from Innovation & Insight Day
12/13/2012 Top Trends in Retail Banking 2013
02/27/2013 Model Bank 2013: Case Studies of Effective Technology Usage in Banking
01/7/2013 Top Trends in Retail Payments: A Year in Review
02/18/2013 Big Data: A Guide to Where You Should Be, Even If You Don’t Know Where You Are
01/8/2013 IT Spending in Banking: A North American Perspective
04/8/2013 Mobile Banking Vendor Solutions
01/22/2013 IT Spending in Banking: A Global Perspective
01/29/2013 Mobile Banking Trends in China

Learning from Apple Store’s Mistakes

Learning from Apple Store’s Mistakes
Apple is often cited as an excellent example of how bank branches should be – Apple Stores that is. I couldn’t disagree more. Far from a thorough analysis, let me support my disappointment with the Apple Store customer experience. I recently had need for a simple transaction. All I wanted was a new iPhone. What could be simpler? I recently lost an iPhone to an unfortunate (and easily avoidable) vacation accident. It was less than a year old and I had no upgrade credit yet with my wireless carrier. My colleague Jacob Jegher suggested that exchanging it for a new phone at an Apple Store might be the best way forward. The nearest store was 19 miles away and located in the center of a large retail mall. In Atlanta, 19 miles is a long ways away! Early afternoon round trip time was 90 minutes not including time spent in the store. I’m an advocate for lower branch densities – but not this low!
Apple Store – Perimeter Mall, Atlanta, GA

Apple Store – Perimeter Mall, Atlanta, GA

Wisely, I called the store before making the trip. The extremely friendly and knowledgeable Apple rep on the phone politely reassured me that I could have a new phone for $199 + tax as long as I still had my previous phone and was willing to leave it at the store. All I had to do was make an online appointment and check in at the Genius Bar once there. Simple enough, but why didn’t the Apple rep make an appointment for me while I was on the phone? I strategically planned an appointment on a Thursday afternoon, thinking it best to avoid weekends, particularly for a retail mall based store before Christmas. Arriving at the store, I found it a bee hive of activity. The relatively small store must have had 60 people in it. After checking in, I was asked to sit at an apparently random bar stool. Ten minutes later another Apple employee greeted me, verified my identity, confirmed the purpose for my visit and politely asked me to move to a second bar stool deeper into the store. Why couldn’t the first person meet my very simple need? Apple Store 2 After another 10 minute wait, a third Genius greeted me and repeated the information exchange I had recently engaged in with his two colleagues. He did this while multitasking – he was also helping a young lady with some technical problem. A short time later, he returned with a new phone and proceed to enter serial information into his system using, of course, an iPad. I was struck at how manual the transaction was. The box was bar coded. It could have been trivially scanned in the back-office. After agreeing to terms and conditions, the chap was ready to part with the phone in exchange for my payment. After three unsuccessful swipes on his separate iPhone based POS terminal, a re-boot was necessary. Finally, I was finished. Total elapsed time: 40 minutes. There is much for banks to learn from Apple: Apple Table

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!

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 more things (in core) change, the more they remain the same…

The more things (in core) change, the more they remain the same…
On September 10 Forbes contributor Tom Groenfeldt wrote an interesting piece titled “Core Banking Replacement Remains Locked in the Future.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomgroenfeldt/2013/09/10/core-banking-replacement-remains-locked-in-the-future The article started by citing a 2003 Celent report, Core Banking Replacement Strategies: The Time Has Come. In the intervening 10 years, there have been only a handful of successful Tier I core replacements. Tom’s point wasn’t to make Celent look foolish – he could have picked any number of analysts who’ve been delivering the same message over the last decade – but instead to highlight the slow pace of core migration. We stand by our rationale of ten years ago – the need for flexibility, customer-centricity, real time, and efficiency, together with the added demands of mobile, all point to the need for banks to upgrade their antiquated core systems.  The big difference is that today a wholesale rip and replace effort isn’t the only game in town.  Progressive migration, middleware additions, and even starting new banks to serve, in part, as a migration destination are all strategies to defer (not avoid) an eventual core replacement. In Celent’s most recent core report, Global Core Banking: Steady But Unspectacular Growth, we highlighted the challenges, both technological and cultural, that large banks face in making the decision. Very few large U.S. banks will act in the very near term: banking systems are complex, change is costly and time-consuming, and for many, the competitive push has yet to materialize.  It’s no accident that Australia has seen two Tier I core replacements – once one firm goes, particularly in a concentrated market, it raises the cost of inaction for its competitors. Further, as is the case with many cases of change and innovation, the downside is huge and the upside is limited. Core replacement is going to be much more realistic for smaller banks in the near future. Until large banks have role models of successful pioneers to follow, they’ll be reluctant to act.  In our conversations with banks around the world, however, we hear that the pressure’s building to tackle the core, rather than tinker around the edges.