Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's Time for Banks & Credit Unions to Embrace Change

As I travel across the country, visiting financial institutions in the midst of their annual planning cycle, it is like a trip down memory lane. While the technology and distribution channels have changed, banks and credit unions are still faced with the many of the same strategic challenges we talked about 20 years ago.

As a long time banker and friend, Michael Bencic said, "Improving the customer experience, embracing change, deriving value from data, building strategic partnerships, leveraging technology, ensuring privacy and security, cutting costs and generating fees is like deja vu all over again."

I agree. While the details behind these goals have changed, why have the overarching themes stayed the same? Is it because the planning process usually begins with broad financial requirements and many involved in the process simple dust off last year's plan and hit the restart button? Or is it because, despite a lot of talk around embracing change, the industry (and the regulators) frown upon the potential risk associated with innovation and doing things differently?

In a new report just published by KPMG entitled, Reshaping Banking in a Dynamic Business and Regulatory Climate, the author emphasizes the importance of getting out of 'survival mode' and embracing change, creating new strategies, crafting new infrastructures and focusing on the customer. While there is no denying the importance of each of these issues, this report is not much different than similar reports I read in the 1990's. The primary difference is that the risk of ignoring these issues has far greater implications.

Dusting off last year's planning document and making small alterations is not enough. It will take more than simply finding ways to 'do more with less', cost-cutting and operational improvement. According to Brian Stephens, national leader of KPMG's banking and capital markets practice and author of the report, "There must be acceptance among the entire leadership team that the rapid, unpredictable, and profound change we are witnessing is structural -- not cyclical." He continues, "The debate in not about the need for change, but what changes should be made."

As in the past, the issues that must be addressed are many. The difference is that today, while the issues may look similar to the past, the issues are more interconnected than ever before and the environment where these changes need to be made is evolving at breakneck speed.

The KPMG report provides a perspective into the following critical areas as banks and credit unions plan for 2014 and beyond:

  • Culture of embracing change – In today's environment, change is constant, so banks must be nimble and innovative. "Banking leaders must choose to adapt and evolve, or risk irrelevance," says KPMG. "In the future, when banks look back on this time of change, an organization's resilience will not be measured by how much adversity it endured throughout the financial crisis and this period of recovery; rather, it will be measured by how well it adapted to it." The challenge is a tradition of rigid internal resistance to change and a consequent inability to execute. The change in culture must come from the top, starting with the board and senior leadership. And it must me more than just words.
  • Focus on customers, not products – To increase revenue, banks must determine the appropriate customers to target and how best to package the products and services for which they are willing to pay. The challenge, related to the first issue above, is that banks have a legacy of talking to the masses and giving services away for free. Without better segmentation and an understanding of what customers will pay for, the impression of any revenue initiative will be negative. Alternatively, bundling services such as mobile bill pay, alerts, ID protection, payment services, etc. using a customer-centric perspective can results in a win-win.
  • Deriving value from data – Banks and credit unions that can extract more value from all available data sources to develop a better understanding of customer needs can serve customers more effectively and profitably, while developing a competitive advantage and staving off threats posed by new market entrants. The challenge is that all internal product-centric data silos (retail deposit, credit card, small business, mortgage, commercial, etc.) must be integrated to provide a single customer view. Once data is integrated, the customer insights need to be leveraged for better product development, new cross-sell and revenue opportunities and reduced risk.
  • M&A/Alliances – Despite many predictions around increased M&A activity in the past that have not come to fruition, the environment today is prime for consolidation due desires for geographic expansion, product enhancement and cost reduction. The immediate issue is that organizations need to strategically evaluate whether they are a buyer, a seller, or neither, while also examining the possibility of developing alliances where strategic fit warrants.
  • Technology – At a time when costs are being cut, the appetite for investment in technology is usually tainted by the memories of previous IT upgrades that never met expectations. Nonetheless, the ability to effectively support the integration of new delivery channels and a customer-centric view leaves most banks no choice but to upgrade aging infrastructure. "The promise of harnessing technology advances can help banks streamline operations to reduce operating costs, connect future and existing customers across a multitude of new and emerging channels, tap new revenue streams, enhance customer loyalty, and build better defenses against cybercrime and denial-of-service attacks," says KPMG. In the end, ignoring or putting off the inevitable is a risky strategy, especially with the risk of noncompliance, losing market share or not being able to support an ever more important mobile strategy.
  • Cybersecurity – The increasing scope, frequency, and sophistication of cyberattacks on banks means institutions need to be better prepared to address a risk with implications that both enormous and unknown. With the public's trust in banks finally recovering from the impact of the financial crisis, this trust can be shattered if life savings (or even access to funds) are at risk. In addition, there are some who believe that we are at the tipping point in the acceptance of mobile banking (and mobile payments) without greater ID protection and mobile security in place. 2014 will be a year when most of these issues need to be addressed (if not sooner).
  • Capital & Compliance – Banks will continue to need to prepare for stress testing, while also monitoring various capital adequacy and liquidity requirements and associated staffing and compliance costs. For many banks, the issue of capital adequacy may be secondary to the ongoing costs and internal 'friction' that is associated with the added staffing associated with meeting regulations
  • Accounting for Credit Losses – Banks will need to understand revisions to accounting for credit losses on financial assets and other rules. These changes could not only have a significant impact on an institution's reported earnings, but also on its capital ratios due to the need to carry larger loan loss reserves.

While the list of issues may not be new to any banker who has been in the business more than 6 months or more than 20 years, the risk of not proactively addressing these issues has never been greater. So, if you are in the midst of planning for 2014, make sure your team is just not listing these in a SWOT analysis without building strategies to address the risks and opportunities. If you are 'done' with the formal strategic planning process, it may make sense to review the strategies and tactics planned for 2014 to make sure some version of 'status quo' is not your plan.

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  1. Jim.

    Great post--thanks for sharing your timely thoughts. When it comes to change and strategic planning, banks and credit unions must remember the principles of "Strategy & The Fat Smoker." Someone who is overweight and smokes a lot KNOWS what to do. However, their challenge is in having the resolve to actually make the changes.

    It's the same way with banks and credit unions.Financial institutions often KNOW what to do; their challenge is actually DOING it. There is a knowing-doing gap.

    The best outcome from strategic planning isn't necessarily greater insight: it's greater resolve. Is your bank or credit union resolved to do what it takes to implement change?


    1. Great thoughts around the difference between 'planning' and 'doing'

  2. One of the key principles lacking in many organizations is the measurement of the outcome. Too many focus on the "what", be it new products or new technology offerings. When the strategy is crafted, there needs to be a measurable component to it. For example, if a financial institution is going to add mobile banking as part of its strategic plan, it also needs to be able to measure results. Why are they doing it? To gain customers, to convert branch visits to online visits, to appeal to a younger audience? The goal needs to be quantified and measured over time, or the strategy is likely to be implemented one day, and forgotten the next, as the organization slips right back into business as usual.

    1. Measurement of impact and results is one of the missing links for most banks. Instead, many take the word of others blindly. An example is the acceptance of 'cost savings' numbers without realizing the savings are only realized if you cut staff, sell back office equipment, close branches, etc. banks and credit unions need to measure long term impact of initiatives or they risk making more bad investments.

      Thanks for your thoughts.