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DOES THE BANK BRANCH STILL MATTER?

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DOES THE BANK BRANCH STILL MATTER?

Tony Virdi, VP and Head of Banking & Financial Services, UK & Ireland, Cognizant

The number of branches operated by major banking groups in the UK has halved over the last 20 years. In fact, Britain’s banks closed more than 600 branches across the UK between April 2015 and April 2016. This is hardly surprising as more and more people move online, often mobile-first, to complete most of their banking transactions and check their accounts. The rapid adoption of virtual banking and self-service has led many to question the role of the bank branch and whether it is still needed today. Of course it is, but potentially in a different guise to that of the past, and even for different uses as banks still want to play an important part in helping their customers access services the way they choose to. Amazon, for example, has partnered with Barclays to use its branches as collection points, showing how bank branches are diversifying.

Tony Virdi

Tony Virdi

Rise in mobile banking accelerates branch transformation

While customers visited their bank branch 427 million times last year, this represents less than half of the 895 million logins to banking sites on a mobile app, according to consultancy business, CACI. Forecasts actually suggest that the number of branch visits is expected to fall to 268 million by 2020, while mobile app usage is set to reach 2.3 billion logins by the same year.

This rise in mobile banking has not only changed how we bank and for many people, removed the need to visit a bank branch often, but it has also changed the times that we do so. Gone are the days of nipping into the bank branch during your lunch break or early Saturday morning before it closes. According to RBS, the busiest hour for banking by its customers is between 7am and 8am (before most branches open), when customers access their mobile banking account on their commute to work.

This flexibility to bank from any place at any time has completely transformed the banking sector and how bank branches are set up. ATM’s are a great example of this flexibility as in the UK you can draw money from any banking ATM not just the one you bank with, without charge.

The ongoing shift to a mobile-first approach means banks are developing dedicated mobile products to improve the customer experience and complement other services. For example, many banking apps allow you to pay your contacts using their mobile number rather than an account number and sort code and will also send you alerts and reminders when payments are due. For banks today it is all about enabling the most optimal customer experience.

The role of the bank branch today

According to HSBC, in the last four years the number of customers visiting branches in Britain has fallen by about 40 percent and more than 90 percent of customer contact with the bank is now conducted via the phone or internet. However, the use of digital technologies and the rise of omni-channel services will not make bank branches extinct but will accelerate their transformation to digitally-led customer advice centres. 

We cannot underestimate the continued demand for visiting bank branches. According to a survey by ComRes, approximately 70 percent of Britons still say it is important to have a branch close to where they live. Aside from demographics, this comes down to the fact that banks hold a very important possession – money – and we do not want to be left without someone to talk to and to discuss potential loans or transaction issues.

In fact, RBS and NatWest are expected to spend £400 million on branch refurbishments this year –and the look and feel of these branches will be very different to those in the past. Barclays have introduced a Biometric reader in branches which allows corporate clients to access their accounts through their fingerprint rather than password or pin. And, as some banks continue to invest money in bricks and mortar, branches are dramatically changing their role to become centres for sales-oriented advice, or complex transactions that are not suitable for self-service rather than service-oriented transactions. Nowadays, we speak to bank staff equipped with tablets able to access bank accounts and answer queries instantly, rather than sit down and fill out paper forms to open a new account or check transactions.

But this is not the only way technology has transformed the bank branch. Today, rather than meet in store, mortgage advisors, for example, can discuss complex financial services with customers in-person via video.  Rather than book an appointment at a branch, the customer – at a time of their choice – can be guided through an application using their preferred method of communication; e.g. tablet or phone whilst they can be sitting on a sofa at home.

However, interestingly while some banks are preparing for bank refurbishments, others have put different measures in place to continue to offer customers face-to-face contact. For example, HSBC has formed a partnership with the Post Office and Barclays is working with supermarket chain ASDA to offer banking services outside of the traditional branch.  This is similar to ways of working in Europe, where banking services can often be found in in coffee or book shops.

As we look to the future, the continued adoption of automated self-service systems, biometric technology and video and voice recognition software will dramatically change the bank branch in the years to come. Banks need to act now and plan their bricks and mortar strategy accordingly to ensure they do not fall behind the digitally-focused competition. Without doubt, convenience, effectiveness and quality service will still contribute to banks winning in the digital age.

Banking

‘Act big’ now to save economy, worry about debt later, Yellen says in Treasury testimony

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'Act big' now to save economy, worry about debt later, Yellen says in Treasury testimony 1

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Janet Yellen, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, urged lawmakers on Tuesday to “act big” on coronavirus relief spending, arguing that the economic benefits far outweigh the risks of a higher debt burden.

In more than three hours of confirmation hearing testimony, the former Federal Reserve chair laid out a vision of a more muscular Treasury that would act aggressively to reduce economic inequality, fight climate change and counter China’s unfair trade and subsidy practices.

Taxes on corporations and the wealthy will eventually need to rise to help finance Biden’s ambitious plans for investing in infrastructure, research and development, and for worker training to improve the U.S. economy’s competitiveness, she told members of the Senate Finance Committee.

But that would only come after reining in the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 in the United States, and the economic devastation it brought.

Yellen, who spoke by video link, said her task as Treasury chief will be to help Americans endure the final months of the pandemic as the population is vaccinated, and rebuild the economy to make it more competitive and create more prosperity and more jobs.

“Without further action we risk a longer, more painful recession now and longer-term scarring of the economy later,” she said.

Yellen said pandemic relief would take priority over tax increases, but corporations and the wealthy, which both benefited from 2017 Republican tax cuts “need to pay their fair share.”

She raised eyebrows of some senators and Wall Street when she said that Treasury would consider the possibility of taxing unrealized capital gains – through a “mark-to-market” mechanism – as well as other approaches to boost revenues.

DEBT BURDEN

She also that the value of the dollar should be determined by markets, a break from departing President Donald Trump’s desire for a weaker U.S. currency.

“The United States does not seek a weaker currency to gain competitive advantage and we should oppose attempts by other countries to do so,” she said.

Wall Street stocks rose on Tuesday in reaction to Yellen’s call for a hefty stimulus package, as well as to positive bank earnings updates. Oil prices also rose, while Treasury yields fell slightly on her comments that parts of the 2017 tax reform should be repealed.

Biden, who will be sworn into office on Wednesday, outlined a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal last week, saying bold investment was needed to jump-start the economy and accelerate the distribution of vaccines to bring the virus under control.

Asked what outlays would provide the biggest “bang for the buck,” Yellen said spending on public health and widespread vaccinations was the first step. Extended unemployment and nutrition aid, better known as food stamps, should be next, she said.

“Neither the president-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big,” Yellen said.

She said even though the amount of debt relative to the economy has risen, the interest burden – the amount the Treasury pays to service its debt – has not, due to lower interest rates. She said she will watch that metric closely as the economy recovers.

NEW CLIMATE POST AT TREASURY

Yellen also called climate change an “existential threat” to the U.S. economy and said she would appoint a senior official at Treasury to oversee the issue and assess systemic risks it poses to the financial system.

She added investment in clean technologies and electric vehicles was needed to cut carbon emissions, keep the U.S. economy competitive and provide good jobs for American workers.

Yellen said China was the most important strategic competitor of the United States and underscored the determination of the Biden administration to crack down on what she called China’s “abusive, unfair and illegal practices.”

Asked whether China had committed “genocide” in its treatment of Muslim Uighurs as the Trump administration declared in a last-minute proclamation, Yellen said China is “guilty of horrendous human rights abuses, yes.”

Biden’s transition team urged the Senate to move swiftly to confirm Yellen. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who will lead the Finance Committee after Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, said he would push for a confirmation vote on Thursday. Republican Senator Mike Crapo said he would work towards an “expeditious” confirmation for Yellen.

She also received the endorsement of all former Treasury secretaries, from George Schultz to Jack Lew, who urged senators in a letter to swiftly confirm Yellen’s nomination to avoid “setting back recovery efforts.” A spokeswoman for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who steps down on Wednesday, did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, Ann Saphir and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons, Andrea Ricci and Kim Coghill)

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Banking

Open Banking: the perfect pandemic tool – Equifax comments

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How the application network unlocks open banking’s future

With COVID-19 related financial fallout set to dominate the credit landscape in 2021, Dan Weaver, Open Banking Expert at Equifax UK, believes Open Banking solutions can provide lenders clarity in a sea of uncertainty: 

“With lockdown once again in place across the UK, it’s clear 2021 will be a year of extreme financial flux. While the vaccine roll-out programme will provide an economic boost and eventual easing of restrictions, forbearance measures, such as mortgage holidays and the government furlough scheme, will be wound down. This will lead to income shocks for many, and the potential for a nationwide surge in personal debt.

“With the third anniversary of its implementation today (13 January), Open Banking is entering a new mature phase of its development. The initiative’s credentials are now widely established, offering creditors the perfect pandemic tool to assess the most accurate picture of an individual’s finances.

“Consider someone who has just returned to the workforce after being made redundant or placed on furlough. Traditional credit bureau or legacy data alone would not always provide potential lenders with the most up-to-date information on their current financial circumstances and ability to repay credit at the point of application. Open Banking platforms, through customer consent, pull live data directly from the user’s bank account, allowing creditors to make an informed, responsible and fair decision about their current affordability on the most recent data available – a game-changing factor amid such widespread financial upheaval and rapid change in people’s circumstances.

“Open Banking is a tool for our times and it’s vital more credit providers, not just big banks and finance but utilities, insurance, auto and telcos companies, accelerate its adoption. Throughout our society and economy in the past year, we’ve witnessed feats of great innovation, executed at rapid speed. In 2021, we need to apply this transformational energy to the Open Banking landscape, slashing the time it takes for creditors to test protocol and fully set up their solutions.

“Three years after its arrival, we’re seeing Open Banking platforms improve digital, real-time income verification rates by more than 25% * – which is no mean feat. If an industry-wide, mass acceleration strategy was successfully achieved in 2021, it would prove extremely valuable and timely, and lead to better customer and creditor outcomes throughout the credit space.”

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Banking

Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank

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Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank 2

Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank 3 The number of Brits with a digital-only bank account has gone up by a percentage increase of 16%

Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank 4 Almost 1 in 6 Brits (17%) plan to open a digital bank account over the next 5 years

Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank 5 The top reason for opening an account was the convenience of banking online for the third year running

Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank 5However, 16% of traditional banking customers who aren’t planning to switch said their bank had been helpful during the COVID pandemic

Currently over a quarter of Brits (27%) say they have at least one bank account with a digital-only bank, according to personal finance comparison site finder.com.

This is a percentage increase of 16% from last year when 23% of Brits said they had an account with a digital bank. It is also over 3 times the amount of Brits who had one in January 2019 (9%).

Finder’s 2019 research found that 24% of Brits intended to have a digital-only account by 2024. However with 27% now having an account, Brits have gone digital 3 years earlier than expected.

A further 17% of Brits intend to join them over the next 5 years, with 11% planning to do so over the next year. This could mean that 44% of Brits could have an account with a digital bank by 2026. If this percentage were applied to the UK adult population, it would equal almost 23 million people.

The top reason for opening an account continues to be convenience that digital-only banks provide, for the third year running (26%). The second most common reason was that users needed an additional account and setting up a digital account seemed to be the easiest option (20%). Customers also wanted to transfer money more easily (19%), making this the third biggest priority.

People wanting a trendy card is still driving signups as well, with 1 in 10 (10%) existing, or future, customers citing this as a reason to get an account.

Despite the increase in digital-only banking customers, the numbers who aren’t considering one have actually risen. Last year, 23% of respondents said they aren’t considering a digital-only bank account, but this has risen substantially to 42% in the latest survey.

This is likely a result of increased customer loyalty, 58% of those without a digital bank account said they felt as though their incumbent bank had treated them well and therefore had no desire to open a digital bank account. Additionally, 16% felt as though their incumbent bank had performed particularly well during the pandemic.

Over a third (36%) of those without a digital bank account said they had not decided to bank with digital providers because they preferred to be able to speak to someone in branch.

Digital banks are still most popular with younger generations, 46% of gen Z say they currently have a digital bank account, with a further 28% intending to get one over the next 5 years. This would mean that by 2026 just under three quarters of gen Z (73%) could have a digital bank account.

To see the research in full visit: https://www.finder.com/uk/digital-banking-adoption

Commenting on the findings, Matt Boyle, banking specialist  at finder.com said:

“This research shows that digital-only banks are here to stay, with the number of users in the UK rising for 3 years straight. On top of this, Starling and Revolut announced this year that they have made a profit for the first time, really demonstrating that digital banks are starting to become a serious part of the banking furniture.

“The pandemic has also played a role in the rapid digitalisation of the banking industry, with those who had never experienced online banking having no other choice but to take their finances online. It seems that Brits are starting to realise the convenience that can come with digital banking and this is reflected in our research.”

Methodology:

Finder commissioned Censuswide on 6 to 8 January 2021 to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 1,671 people were questioned throughout Great Britain, with representative quotas for gender, age and region

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