Monday, July 5, 2010

What is the Future of the Branch?

When was the last time you went into a branch to do any banking outside of opening a new account, closing an account, getting a mortgage or doing a mystery shop? Better yet, did you even go into the branch to establish your last financial services relationship? For me, I most recently opened a Virtual Wallet Relationship and never saw a banker in person. What was amazing about the experience is that I was 'cross-sold' a savings account, debit card, online banking, auto save and bill pay without ever feeling like I was sold or talking to a banker. I did it myself . . . all online.

So, what is the future of the bank branch? According to a channel preference survey conducted by the American Bankers Association (ABA) last August, 25 percent of consumers preferred to bank online as opposed to any other channel.
For the first time, this channel preference exceeded the desire to bank in a branch office. And, while consumers over 55 clearly preferred to use a branch, every other demographic group preferred the speed and convenience of the Internet.

It is interesting to note that even though the mobile channel is definitely a area of significant investment and interest in our industry (as noted by my blog on June 7), the adoption rate was only 1% in the survey, with much of the activity still being transactional in nature. Despite this, Bank of America has opened more than 4 million mobile banking relationships.

In a recent set of blogs by industry pundit Brett King entitled, Branch Networks: Where Do We Go From Here? (Part 1 and Part 2), he makes a very strong case for banks reorganizing to make their organization structure channel agnostic. In much the same way that most industry experts believe product silos should be torn down in favor of customer segment management, King makes the case for having channel managers all as equal peers with the focus on the customer and an eye on how money is actually transferred among the channels, how the channels are used and how revenue is generated.

King also indicates that the branches as we know them today need to change in both form and function. With a core function of the daily branch operation concentrating on check processing, and with the number of checks written dropping while technology such as business and personal Remote Deposit Capture is increasing, something needs to change. We are already seeing the architecture of new branches change, with more specialized sales/service offices surrounding a smaller transactional lobby. But even these sales and service offices could be remote, and most of the transactions done today are too costly to be handled using expensive real estate.

Eventually, we will probably see different channel strategies such as Huntington Bank's strategy of expanding branch hours on weekdays and opening on Sundays or possibly branches that resemble an Apple retail store where the focus is on customer engagement and specialized service and where transactions are more of a by-product. The focus on new strategies is even part of this Fall's BAI Retail Delivery Conference where there will be a Multi-Channel Strategy Summit led by representatives from Novantis and M&T Bank.

Whatever strategies are selected, it appears the days of expanding branch networks are gone and we will see an emphasis on consolidation, optimization and the leveraging of new technology to integrate the branch as part of a broader and improved customer experience. As Brett King said in his recent blog, " . . . it's time to start to think out of the box".

How is your bank changing their delivery channel emphasis?

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