Fear not. This isn’t yet another post in the long line of recent rhetoric on whether the branch is alive or dead. You may be the one without a pulse if you’ve missed the litany of pundits lining up to support or depose the branch as a viable channel in retail financial services.  But, if you’re like me, you’ve grown weary of all the branch naysayers with their death-knoll drumbeat of how backward organizations are if they continue to invest in brick & mortar. Most of these tarot-reading prophets come from the IT world, or from international climes that don’t connect to mainstreet in any way, shape or form.

To be fair, I will say that they are probably correct with some of their vision. The key to whether or not you drink their Kool-Aid though is tempered in degrees… degrees of shift, degrees of timing, degrees of transformation. As ships sail to far off destinations, captains are constantly adjusting navigation routes to ensure safe and efficient journeys… mostly with just a few degrees of manipulation.

Recently I had the opportunity to converse with quite a number of industry captains in retail financial services – the CMOs and marketing execs of brick & mortar networks. Together, we had attended a conference session where we heard the latest thinking regarding the future of consumers and their financial habits. As you might imagine, it was 100% focused on technology channels. Period. No room for branches. Over and out.

But as we chatted after the session, it became abundantly clear that everyone was like-minded in their response… “interesting, but…”

  • Interesting, but that will never work in my markets.
  • Interesting, but we don’t even have 50% debit card penetration.
  • Interesting, but my median account base is over 45 years old.
  • Interesting, but my branches are packed.
  • Interesting, but in my rural markets people won’t even use online banking.
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And it went on and on. You get the point, as did I, branch banking should continue to evolve. As will wearable internet connections, flying cars and other technology-driven services that I’m not smart enough to even imagine. But it is not going to happen overnight. We all agreed that it will happen in degrees and stages and we talked about various ways to start the branch transformation process. Such as:

  • optimizing the branch network
  • shrinking the branch footprint
  • transitioning from transaction-focused spaces to service-oriented spaces
  • defining culture and brand and then manifesting that definition into brick & mortar
  • creating engagement spaces to differentiate the branch experience
  • employing more technology such as interactive kiosks, tablets and digital signage
  • providing more robust sales and service tools to branch staff

These are the conversations we should be having and not whether the branch is dead or alive. If my sampling of marketers is indicative, it’s the conversation that everyone in the c-suite wants to have.  Nobody wants to miss the sailing ship. The good news is that it’s still in port, so let the journey begin.

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