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Banking

What will become of our banks and their channels in 2021?  

From distrust to love/hate – are fintechs and banks starting to get along?

By Mark Aldred, banking specialist at Auriga

As we embark on the new year, 2020 will hopefully become distant but sobering memories, it is time to step back and consider the lessons learnt and look to the trends likely to emerge in the banking sector in the year ahead. To stay relevant and to differentiate themselves in the current digital age, banks need to demonstrate a solid understanding of the current landscape and stay aligned with customers’ changing habits and expectations. COVID-19 may have accelerated trends that were already in play but whether they continue at the same pace is yet to be decided.  It will be those that evolve rapidly that will get ahead and stay ahead. More than ever, it is not only about competitive advantage but, for some, it may be about survival.

Sharing ATM infrastructure

ATM infrastructure sharing is an active trend in markets such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, and Indonesia. In Belgium, an initiative known as Batopin, means that a network of bank-neutral ATMs, previously managed by its four biggest banks will from 2021 run on a single software platform. In the Netherlands, a similar exercise started two years earlier. There the major banks have merged their ATMs under the ‘Geldmaat’ label. These bank-neutral ATM estates are one of the responses to challenges of owning ATM and branch estates in a world where banking is more accessible and competitive than ever. This is one way banks can guarantee continuous access to cash to their customers without the cost burden of running channels, which their new competitors do not even offer. Through pooling, the industry landscape is changing, and banks’ costs are reducing.

Other technology-led approaches are delivering value, including increasing adoption of cloud-based technologies, removing the need to rely on massive on-premise infrastructure, skills, and services.  The pooled ATM business model provides many benefits and as discussions progress in different markets, banks, and ATM deployers will certainly be watching with interest the progress made in Indonesia and Belgium, when considering next steps. There needs to be more use cases that prove this model can indeed reduce costs while maintaining access and improving customer experience.

Cashback for all?

Mark Aldred

Mark Aldred

Loss of access to cash when ATMs disappear has the potential to be a national scandal and an embarrassment to ATM deployers. Offering cashback at retailers of all sizes is one way of softening the blow. In Germany cashback limits and the requirement to make a purchase have long been lifted. Whilst in the UK new schemes to address this are on their way as we move into 2021, the government revealed that consumers received £3.8 billion of cashback when paying for items last year – making it the second most used method for withdrawing cash in the UK behind ATMs. This suggests that properly implemented cashback, with support from retail, could help reverse the unwelcome reductions in the accessibility of cash in remote and rural communities in particular.

That said, it is important not to fall into the trap of shifting the burden onto small businesses. They are already under their own pressure because of changing consumer behaviours and, of course, the pandemic. The benefits to the retailer should be more footfall and lower costs of cash handling. Small stores full of consumers only wanting access to cash for which the retailer cannot charge is an outcome that will not help revive communities.

Community-led initiatives

Bank branch closure rates and ATM losses keep on accelerating but we have not reached peak yet. It is predicted that there will be a continued decline in the penetration of UK branches over the next four years.

To compensate for the loss of ATMs, LINK (UK’s national switch, owned by the ATM deployers themselves) has founded a delivery fund to enable all communities to request help with accessing cash. Any member of the public can get in touch directly with LINK or via their MP or local council to argue the case for an ATM to be sited (or re-sited) in their area. This is bringing out the best in some communities and several have already successfully argued that they need an ATM.

Equally, there are regional and national initiatives aimed at re-banking areas where legacy banks cannot profitably operate a branch (or even an ATM). Many of these are attracting interest and investment but the road is long, and the re-opening of branches or ATMs in many remote communities will be made to wait while some of these bodies build their alternative banks. The barriers to entry are vast, not least the requirement for a banking licence, which means the model favoured by many cannot be expected to be live much before 2024.

So, while bank branch closures continue, and alternate providers build their propositions, the only way to mitigate and manage this is to consider new, lean, and agile models. The next generation bank branch must be cheaper to run, smarter, smaller, automated, full-service, and available 24/7 to pay its way in the community.

A great example of how this could look is the way Millennium BCP in Portugal has deployed new model branches built around their MTM devices (Millennium Teller Machine).  As part of its long-term plan to modernise its business and balance the books, Millennium recognised that many branches built on the legacy model could not support themselves. They recognised that consumer behaviours and habits meant that new sites should be considered for their new branch models. So, it created a new kind of customer-centric branch format for the future – a 24/7 branch supported by remote banking overnight. This resulted in greater footfall and, before COVID-19, the new style branches delivered productivity gains and increased deposits. As transactions were managed by personnel by day and remote teller assistant by night, the branch was cheaper to run – this model is now deployed around cities in Portugal to improve customer loyalty and retention score.  As we emerge from the pandemic, further development of this model to accommodate new behaviours are expected to achieve great results for Millennium and its customers, who rate in the best for customer service in Portugal.

If banks do not produce lean, smart, remote, around the clock branches somebody else will – whether it be community-based or even independent ATM deployers – the principle of white labels is absolutely part of this new future.  If this model is adopted, then in future it is also possible that we will see branch sharing.

In the UK there are already Business Banking Hubs set-up, a shared space providing business and corporate customers more flexibility to manage their day-to-day finances. In shared branches the user experience can “follow the customer”. Sharing the space with a third party commercial or community enterprise should lead to an upswell in community hunger for this.

AI continues to thrive

Artificial intelligence will continue to be a key business investment as financial institutions seek out amplifications of the technology. In 2021, expect the continuing slow adoption of AI to do repeatable and predictable processes.  Already AI is deployed to provide cash predictions to forecast when and where cash is needed. Predictive tools are time and cost-effective, they can also be used for preemptive equipment maintenance. This facilitates the scheduling of engineering calls before a failure, improving availability, and reducing costs. We may also begin to see AI being used to monitor the mood of customers using facial recognition. This could allow banks to determine how to address the customer, what services they should promote, and when.

What next for tele-banking?

As has always been the case, the customer journey cannot be neglected. Banks need to have a good channel mix; a digital platform is not enough as they are susceptible to IT disruptions and failures. Tele-banking has always proven to be an important lifeline and back-up. Without it, customers could become disenfranchised.

Over the years, the banking experience has changed through the adoption of technologies designed to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.  In fact, the unintended consequence has been that they have become more and more impersonal. Over 50 years ago, ATMs took us outside the branch. Tele-banking provided customers with remote interaction. Most recently, internet and then mobile banking mean that some demographics never engage in person with their bank and the distance between the supplier and customer even during engagement can literally be thousands of miles. This lack of human touch has reduced customer loyalty.

On the topic of channels, like many others, a first in and first out policy is seldom the right one. Banks need to evaluate each channel and see its value to customers and provide choice. Older channels, such as tele-banking, should not be the first to disappear, and in fact it could see a revival alongside video-banking in the new 24-hour branch model.

In fact, as online banking gives way to a mobile banking one could argue the case that this is the channel that might start to disappear sooner. Channel choice will differ by generation, demographic, and other factor but it remains key that choice is available and that there is always a reliable alternative available.

Branch and ATM, marriage, or divorce

Legacy ATM infrastructure needs an upgrade. Without it, the channel will not be able to modernise and play a role in the next generation of delivery channels. ATMs and assisted service devices offering a full range of banking services, not just cash, need to be in the mix. Automating all teller functions using self-service technologies, supported by video- and tele-banking, is likely to accelerate.

2021 is all about making consumers’ lives easier as they decide for themselves how they want to engage safely with their banks. Each customer journey should be able to become bespoke. Access to cash is an on-going issue but the stakeholders will need to work harder than ever to find viable solutions given the impact of COVID-19 across all industries.

Global Banking & Finance Review

 

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