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From branches to big data: Five predictions for 2017


It’s that time of year again—time to put away the ball in Times Square and polish up our crystal ball for 2017. What do we think will be the key trends for the industry? Here we present our picks for distribution, innovation, technology, and compliance.

1. Banks will open 1,000 new branches.
 OK, perhaps this sounds counter intuitive. Yes, there are too many bank branches and the total number will decline. Furthermore, more banks will take advantage of sale-leasebacks, which will get them out of the real estate business and allow them to free up capital for investment in new channels that better meet changing customer needs. 

But banks are still opening 900-1,000 new branches a year. One thing we’ve learned over the years: there is no “build it and they will come” (except in fictional sports movies with the word “Dreams” in the title). It takes the right location—supported by the right marketing and the right staffing—to create success. Maybe those attributes were always important, but they will prove even more so in today’s environment with changing customer channel usage.

2. Rebirth of the call center as virtual branches.  The customer contact center assumes even more importance in an omnichannel environment. Customers now use more channels than ever before but they expect consistency across them:  and centralized contact centers are well positioned to provide this. 

Banks use their contact centers for video conferencing with product experts, remote teller management for low transaction branches or online chat to simplify access. More banks are moving toward centralized services, where small business and investment experts can be instantly available instead of mixed into the branch network as circuit riders for a group of branches. The result? They are rarely in the right place at the right time.

But realizing the potential of these new Customer Experience Hubs requires different management strategies and operational metrics.  New training, knowledge management and simplified customer interactions, designed for more complex cross-channel interactions, will be required.

3. FinTech, FinTech, FinTech!
 We used to think they were competitors. But more and more, we see them as partners. The reality is that FinTechs possess particular skill at creating a frictionless and intuitive customer experience.  Many offer faster payment processing. Others provide simplified, instantaneous business loan processing by connecting directly to information sources for verification, instead of relying on the customer to gather and provide paperwork.  

Where do we see the most effective partnerships?  Roboadvisory and small business loan processing are natural fits. The models are tested and have high consumer acceptance. Furthermore, the speed to market achieved by partnering with FinTechs runs at warp pace, compared to the typical in-house or major core provider bank implementation. And that means banks can deliver new products and services to market in a few months, versus years of sitting in the IT pipeline.

4. Regulators aren’t going away.
Yes, we can expect some rollback of the Wall Street reforms and consumer protections that took effect when Dodd-Frank was signed into law in 2010. More constraints will likely be placed on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under the new administration as well. But it will take time before these changes are codified into regulation and create practical impact. 

What’s more, new regulatory concerns may offset any easing. Cybersecurity is clearly on the minds of both regulators and lawmakers and we expect even more attention to this area.   

Furthermore, the CFPB’s new compliance bulletin on sales incentives requires banks to strengthen their compliance management, step up board oversight, review training, and review incentive programs. According to the CFPB, “The risks these incentives may pose to consumers are significant and both the intended and unintended effects of incentives can be complex, which makes this subject worthy of more careful attention by institutional leadership, compliance officers and regulators alike.” 

5. Big Data will transform marketing.  Marketing drives sales, but with even more diverse marketing channels, it’s hard to tell whether we spend too much or too little in specific digital and traditional media—or understand exactly which programs and investments really drive sales. The old adage is particularly relevant:  “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted: The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”  

But now we can know. New data analytics can truly tell us with a high degree of predictability  how to optimize the overall marketing mix—and this has resulted in savings of up to 30 percent without loss of sales. 

These models used to be affordable for only the largest marketers, but are now cost efficient for community banks. We expect more to shift from the agency driven “rule of thumb” and experience to “Moneyball” style customer, channel and marketing analytics.

Will our predictions turn out accurate? Time will tell. We’ll keep our eyes on the ball, crystal or otherwise, until the next ball drops in December.

David Kerstein is president of Austin, TX-based Peak Performance Consulting Group, which specializes in banking strategy. He can be reached at [email protected].