In my recent book I posited that I wasn't against branches and that rather than advocating the wholesale closure or departure from branch networks, that I was interested in seeing branch focus/form adapt. The reality is though, the more and more I look at
what is wrong with the whole retail banking business in respect to imperative for innovation and change, the more that branch-led distribution thinking is killing the ability to innovate because of bloated legacy cost structures.
Branch networks have to shrink
Let me put this out there on the table right now. The current network of branches for most retail behemoths has absolutely no chance of survival in the near future. I'm not talking 10 years out here... I'm talking in the next 2-3 years. Which is why I was bemused
by the following piece of news a couple of weeks ago in the WSJ:
The New York bank, No. 3 in U.S. deposits as measured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., wants to expand the Chase name. Some expected an acquisition. Instead, Charlie Scharf, the head of retail operations, said J.P. Morgan would build 1,500 to
2,000 new branches over the next five years--an expansion equivalent to the entire branch network of a large regional bank.
Wall Street Journal: JP Morgan Sees Long-Term Payoff In Huge Branch Expansion, David Benoit (Dow Jones Newswires), Feb 16, 2011
JP Morgan is hoping to add $2Bn dollars in pre-tax earnings by 2025 off the back of this move. Are they serious??
Let's just look at a few of the facts:
The action is all in channels, not in branches.
Bank visitation and utilization is in decline, cross-sell effectiveness has leveled off, and there is massive debate over what the branch should look like? Bank's aren't building deeper, richer customer relationships through branches - despite what they
might wish. Branch usage is in decline, costs of branch distribution infrastructure is increasing and ROI is decreasing, the skill mix of staff required is changing and the new resources required to differentiate are expensive and difficult to find and train.
The future of branch looks pretty bleak.
Why are big banks slow to change?
The bigger the bank brand, the more they already have invested in physical real-estate. The most powerful individual in the retail bank, besides potentially the Head of Retail, is going to be the guy with the biggest bucket - the Head of Branch Distribution.
In this environment, strategy is led by those with the most power and leverage internally and much of that is still down to P&L. In this environment, the instinct of the banker is to fall back on old established habits and to lead with a branch distribution
strategy when there is spare cash for growth, rather than experiment on something new like Mobile or Social Media. It's why a bank like JP Morgan Chase, HSBC or Bank of America will spend 90-95% of their "channels" budget on branches still today, flying in
the face of all logic to diversify channel expenditure in a major way. It's why very few of the bigger banks still are yet to appoint a head of mobile or a head of social media.
Sure digital channels are cheaper to run, and you can't just close half your branch network overnight, but the mix of investment is simply wrong. If you don't start by reinventing the engagement of customers across every channel, then one day you are going
to be stuck with an irrelevant business.
One positive example of adaptation is the recent appointment by TD Bank of Brian Haier to the role of Head of Direct Channels and Distribution Strategy. Brian's background was leading the Retail
Distribution business for TD Canada Trust with a salesforce of 25,000 frontline staff. I guess TD figured out the best way to solve the budget problems was to take one of the Branch guys with the biggest buckets and simply put him in charge of Direct Channels
so there would no longer be any argument about where the future of the bank lies.
For JP Morgan Chase, on the other hand - if I was a shareholder, I'd be offloading stock, quickly...