Despite the proliferation of online and mobile banking, YouGov research has shown that the proximity of a branch to a person’s home is the top factor in selecting a bank in many parts of the developed world, cited by 33 per cent of respondents. Interestingly, a recommendation from a family member comes third after the list of services offered.
This suggests that the branch remains important to brand identity and is also a key channel for retail banks looking to attract new customers in a market where churn is traditionally notoriously low. It also illustrates why many members of a family may end up banking with the same financial institution. However, within a family unit you are likely to have a child opening their first savings account, a teenager who is addicted to his / her mobile, parents who use multiple channels, and grandparents who like the security of human interaction – whether that is in person or on the phone.
This represents a significant challenge for a bank to meet the individual and collective needs of these differing customer segments.
Segmentation, design and distribution
In recent years retail banks have invested significant time, effort and resources trying to better understand who their customers are in an effort to design the right products and services to meet the varying needs of each customer segment. However analysing the vast amount of data at their disposal is only the first step. Whilst retail banks have made significant improvements in their approach to targeted marketing and cross sales; their distribution strategy (delivering the right product, through the right channel, at the right time – consistently and efficiently) is still what many banks are striving to achieve.
Part of the challenge stems from the fact that our buying habits are changing. Customers are now more comfortable starting a journey online or on a mobile device and then finishing in-branch or through another channel. This makes it much harder for a bank to maintain its core values and provide consistent, relevant, customer journeys. As banks fully embrace a multi-channel environment, it is critical they address this issue.
Responding to the digital explosion
Rapid developments in technology are changing the game across all industries. Within the retail space, digital transformation has become a central part of e-commerce operations, with 74 per cent of consumers purchasing goods and services online in 2014. With the adoption of digital channels growing rapidly, particularly mobile, banks have been slow to react relative to other sectors, and are now playing a game of catch-up.
This in part stems from the fact that banks have historically enjoyed a privileged position where the cost of entry has tended to inhibit competition and, as a result, limited the amount of innovation that has occurred in product distribution. However, the rapid emergence of digital channels has radically changed the way in which consumers want to interact with their bank as well as enabling new, niche, competitors to enter the market. As a result, banks are having to fast forward the development of their digital strategies to meet the demands of the modern day consumer. This digital transformation does not stop at just the mobile and on-line channels, but extends into the heart of the branch environment. Banks are having to develop new customer journeys that reflect and integrate with digital services as well as restructuring the branch channel to provide value adding services that are more advisory based.
For the consumer, it’s all about choice. While the internet, telephone and mobile banking enable consumers to bank how they want, when they want, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of consumers will still go to their local high street or shopping centre branch to access financial services. When customers are looking to purchase financial products, they are reassured by the personnel interaction that a branch provides. While there is a strong demand for mobile and digital banking services, customers still want the option of leveraging other channels that better suit their needs at a point in time.
The future for high street banks
So what does the future look like? The desire of the UK government to increase competition in the market and the emergence of challenger banks will inevitably lead to a new wave of niche financial service providers targeting specific customer segments. Whilst this isn’t necessarily new – think FirstDirect and egg– these largely digital institutions will drive new levels of customer experience through their chosen channels.
However whilst there will always be niche competition within the industry, most financial institutions face the same challenges. Firstly they need to recognise the needs and requirements of their different customer segments and then integrate their channels in order to deliver a seamless customer journey. In a market which offers true customer choice, delivering the right service to your customer, regardless of the channel, is crucial.
 Deloitte report 2014
 Deloitte 2014 report
UK banks face savings glut on road to pandemic recovery
By Iain Withers and Lawrence White
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s big four banks amassed more than 200 billion pounds ($277.52 billion) of new deposits last year as customers reined in spending through pandemic lockdowns, far outstripping extra lending to struggling businesses and households.
Full-year earnings reported by HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest last month revealed the extent to which lenders’ finances have been upended by the crisis.
The banks now face a glut in savings, a Reuters analysis of the banks’ results show, as domestic customers of the four lenders deposited 221 billion pounds of extra cash.
By contrast, despite banks doling out billions of pounds of state-guaranteed finance to companies since the pandemic hit, their net lending growth in the UK overall was 53.4 billion pounds – a quarter of the growth in deposits.
The more limited lending growth can be explained by a fall in appetite for some lending, particularly consumer credit, where separate Bank of England data has shown Britons paid back 13.8 billion pounds in the last year.
More deposits help shore up bank finances, but are not necessarily good news for lenders when central bank interest rates are near zero, making it hard to lend profitably.
That explains the heavy focus on wealth management in banks’ strategy updates last month, as they race to earn more from fees to compensate for low lending margins.
Banks have said they expect a customer spending splurge as Britain comes out of its latest lockdown in the coming months, which may go some way to eating into the deposits pile.
Graphic: UK deposits grew much faster than lending in 2020
The bulk of UK bank profits are made on the difference between the interest gained on lending and paid out on deposits.
The crunch in consumer credit therefore severely dented lender income, compounded by the fact the Bank of England cut benchmark rates to an all-time low of 0.1%.
This double whammy can be seen in sharp drops in income at the two domestically-focused banks – NatWest and Lloyds – where income fell 24% and 16% respectively last year.
The fall was a more modest 10% at HSBC, which benefited from a more international footprint and exposure to markets in Asia that proved more resilient over the year.
Barclays bucked the trend entirely, with income overall edging up 1% thanks to a stellar year for its investment bank in pandemic-driven volatile markets that offset woes in retail.
Graphic: Bank income crunched, Barclays lifted by trading arm
The big unknown for the banks remains how severe a hit the crisis will deal to their loan books, once government stimulus packages to support consumers and businesses are phased out.
The four banks have set aside nearly 19 billion pounds worth of provisions between them for loans expected to go bad due to the crisis.
These provisions were largely front-loaded in 2020, with the bulk taken in the first half of the year – as lenders are required to book ahead of time under forward-looking accounting rules known as IFRS9.
Despite the torrid economic backdrop, the provisions in the last two quarters were back to pre-crisis levels at at least some of the banks – a reflection of the impact of ongoing government stimulus.
Britain’s Finance Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to extend support again on Wednesday when he lays out his annual budget plan that is expected to pile more borrowing on top of almost 300 billion pounds of COVID-19 spending and tax cuts.
Banks know there is a great deal of delayed pain to come and it is unclear whether their provisioning to date is sufficient.
Graphic: Bad loan provisions were frontloaded in 2020
Solving this conundrum will be key to jump-starting British banks’ share prices, which have languished in recent years over fears about Brexit and near-constant restructuring that has crimped profits.
Optimism over vaccine rollouts has seen the lenders’ shares climb back towards pre-pandemic levels since the autumn, but that still leaves them near 12-year lows.
Graphic: Bank shares since pandemic hit UK
(Reporting by Iain Withers and Lawrence White; Editing by Susan Fenton)
Data: the much-needed procurement adrenaline shot, helping banks remain competitive in the race for innovation
By Toby Munyard, Vice President, Efficio Consulting
Like a flip-switch, the pandemic saw many industries pushed over the innovation tipping point, accelerating digital transformation efforts at a pace never seen before. After all, consumer behaviour has changed dramatically – a lack of face-to-face contact with businesses has meant that organisations are having to turn to digital methods in order to keep customers engaged. Meanwhile, the sudden shift to remote working has put immense pressure on organisations to digitise internal processes.
For the world of banking, the need to continuously drive innovation has been a key pressure point for many years. And now, that pressure is building. Challenger banks, such as Monzo, Revolut and Starling, continue to cause huge waves within the financial services industry, due to their digital-first approaches. These, often start-up brands, have the advantage of operating nearly solely online, with none of the legacy systems in place to hold them back from innovation. However, even these brands haven’t been immune to the vast impacts of COVID. Consumers are getting increasingly tech-savvy, and operating on a digital-first model is no longer enough in its entirety. In today’s increasingly competitive environment, banks must modernise their entire technology functions to support both the front and back ends of their businesses.
That said, in such a competitive environment with rising cost pressures, innovation of this kind can feel out of reach for banks. After all, banks are often a low-growth environment, and optimising the cost of operations can typically take at least five years or more. Another key sticking point for banks when pursuing innovation is the added complexity and costs surrounding regulation. Unfortunately, regulation is part and parcel for any financial service. And new innovations and product offerings will only increase the need for compliance.
So, with myriad challenges facing the industry, how can banks compete in the race to innovation?
To be able to invest in a digital-first future, the journey begins with the procurement function. Whilst it is impossible to have complete control over revenue, one thing a business can control is cost.
Effectively optimising operational and business costs will be key to freeing up valuable liquidity to fund new digital initiatives. But this requires a proactive approach to supplier management. Rather than relying on supplier rebates once a deal is done, the CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) must effectively influence and ensure efficiency from the beginning of a relationship to achieve significant savings.
For existing suppliers, a step change may be required in order to steer this initiative. Getting the right supplier onboard and having forward-looking conversations about new trends in the market will be pivotal. After all, these suppliers will be key to driving digital plans forward. Suppliers providing products and services where demand is declining should not be neglected. Chances are that because of the trends in the market, they are keen to maintain and gain as much business as possible, meaning preferable deals may be available.
In addition to effective supplier management, a review of internal systems is urgently needed to aid cost-reduction on a long-term basis. Traditional banks are often made up of a range of complex legacy systems that allow for very little flexibility in a new digital age. The key here will be to simplify these systems, whilst integrating solutions such as robotics, AI, and SaaS to ensure they are running as efficiently as possible.
Data – procurement’s secret weapon
To be successful on any cost-reduction mission, however, the CPO must be aided by accurate, up-to-date, intelligent data. Without it, the long-term, sustained change needed to outmanoeuvre new market entrants, simply cannot be achieved.
After all, the intelligence derived from good, high-quality data provides the CPO with much-needed visibility in which informed decisions over cost-reduction can be made. It is only with this visibility that organisations can identify opportunities and deliver efficiencies that lead to sustained cost savings.
Architecture that can effectively connect to anything, anywhere, will be an essential tool to ensure the CPO is presented with all the relevant data – for example, linking enterprise databases, data warehouses, applications, legacy systems, and Cloud services to comparable systems at partners and suppliers. Integrating with apps, wearables, and mobile devices at an individual user level, and using an enterprise mobility strategy to link to employees and contractors and third party ‘big data’ sources, will also help to provide a complete view.
Harnessing the power of data
Whilst a necessary tool for procurement, being faced with a mountain of data can be overwhelming and actually hinder performance if it is not captured and interpreted correctly. Typically, within financial services, there is a huge amount of data being captured within Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other finance-based systems that is not being analysed. As a result, efficiencies are missed, and the organisation remains stagnant in the digitalisation journey. To truly harness the power of data, the procurement team must ensure it has access to the right skills and have the right talent in place. This may require additional training, or consultancy to leverage data effectively and to execute successfully in today’s agile and fast-paced environment.
Ultimately, to remain competitive, banks must put the power back into the hands of procurement. By providing the CPO with the right tools and responsibility, the procurement function can align to the strategic targets set out across the business.
Good data, when teamed with effective procurement capability, will be a much-needed adrenaline shot for finance companies. Whilst challenger brands may only be running a 400-metre sprint in terms of digitalisation, in comparison, traditional banks are running a marathon. Stamina and the need for long-term efficiencies will be pivotal to win in a race of innovation. A
Bank of Ireland limits 2020 loss with strong second half, shares rise
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Bank of Ireland limited its underlying 2020 loss to 374 million euros ($452 million) after a return to profitability in the second half, the bank said on Monday, sending its shares more than 5% higher.
Ireland’s largest bank by assets also announced the closure of one-third of its branches in Ireland, 10 days after NatWest said it would wind down its Irish arm Ulster Bank.
The bank set aside 1.1 billion euros to cover possible loan defaults due to COVID-19 disruption, the bottom of its forecast range and which it expects to capture the majority of credit impairment risk associated with the pandemic.
An underlying 295 million euros second half profit limited the damage as lending and business income improved, trends Chief Financial Officer Myles O’Grady said continued into 2021, even though Ireland was in a long lockdown again.
“It’s clear that there is some impact from this lockdown but the signals overall are encouraging. We do think (the second half) will be a return to a more normalised level of activity,” O’Grady told Reuters.
Shares in the bank were 5.1% higher at 3.6 euros by 0910 GMT.
The bank cut it costs by 4% year on year in 2020, meaning it achieved its 1.7 billion euro annual cost target one year early. It set a new goal of cutting costs further to 1.5 billion euros by 2023.
That will partly be achieved by branch closures, with its Irish network cut to 169 from 257 from September and Northern Irish presence more than halved to 13. It struck a deal with the Irish post office to offer customers access to banking services at An Post locations.
The head of Ireland’s Finance Services Union described the announcement of closures in the middle of a pandemic as a “shameful act” that needed to be reversed.
Bank of Ireland’s core Tier 1 capital ratio, a key measure of financial strength, stood at 13.4% versus 13.5% at the end of September. The bank said it expected capital to remain broadly in line with those levels in 2021.
The bank’s guidance for this year should support the restart of distributions to shareholders in relation to full-year 2021 results, Chief Executive Francesca McDonagh said, adding that future distributions will likely include share buybacks.
($1 = 0.8272 euros)
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Edmund Blair)
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