Towards a branchless banking society?
The objective of bank distribution decisions is the same as that of the consumer goods manufacturer -- that is, to select channels that will maximize the firm's profit position over the long run. For the bank this would involve providing optimum service and coverage at a minimum cost. Customers do business with those banks which make the products available in a place which is convenient to them. Of course, place utility is only one variable in the marketing equation, but in an industry which sells virtually homogeneous products, it is a strategically vital variable. Hence banks have traditionally established large branch networks.
Today, a bank may indeed have branches, but with increasing technological advances it may also be represented by a telephone in the customer's home, a plastic magnetic stripe debit card, or a self-service cash dispensing machine on the street. In the light of these developments, one needs to question the future of bricks-and-mortar branches. Since 1984 the New Zealand financial sector has become significantly deregulated, resulting in increased competition for customers. One of the methods of obtaining and retaining customers is for banks to provide increased convenience in banking via self-service technology at the customer interface. Indeed, the New Zealand financial sector is considered by many to be at the state of the art in terms of self-service technology.
Bank Branches versus Electronic Self-service
A bank branch serves two main functions: it extends the service level for customers by providing access points in a number of different locations and it acts as a place of money (i.e. cash and cheques) transfer: that is, the physical movement of cash and cheques from senders to receivers.
There are three key self-service technologies in New Zealand which are affecting the traditional functions of the bank branch: ATMs (automated telling machines), EFTPoS (electronic funds transfer at the point of sale) and telephone banking. The adoption of all of these technologies is rapidly rising. For instance, the majority of banking customers in New Zealand "regularly" (i.e. at least once a month) use an ATM and, while only around one third of these same customers use EFTPoS regularly, usage rates are climbing rapidly. ATMs are machines, often located off bank branch premises, which distribute cash and provide information services to customers on presentation of a computer-readable card and keying of PIN (personal identification number). The first ATMs were introduced in New Zealand in 1979 and since this time they have become well established.
EFTPoS was first introduced in New Zealand in 1983. EFTPoS, which involves making electronic payments at the point of sale by entering a computer readable card into an EFTPoS terminal, is reasonably well established despite an uncertain beginning. EFTPoS can have a major impact on retail operations.
Retailers can potentially gain from EFTPoS not only in terms of improved sales, but also in terms of improved inventory control, consumer marketing and security. EFTPoS terminals will increasingly authorize payments, verify accounts and extend credit. They will also decrease the amount of time needed to complete a transaction, and they will monitor inventory surpluses and scarcities. Retailers will be able to keep abreast of changing consumer trends. Further, traditional crime -- a costly problem for many retailers -- may decrease with increasing use of EFTPoS.
Retailers will also be able to improve their collection procedures, with funds transferred automatically from a consumer's account to that of the retailers. In addition, retailers will be able to assess a consumer's credit standing within a brief period of time.
Some banks have established telephone banking systems, and others are experimenting with the technology. Telephone banking is a relatively new innovation to New Zealand, with only a limited number of banks offering the service. With telephone banking, customers use a numeric password on a push-button telephone to access banking services. Typically it involves "non-cash" transactions such as ordering an account balance, ordering a cheque book, transferring funds between accounts, and obtaining general bank information. They key advantage of telephone banking is that customers can conduct banking within the comfort of their home.
The summarize, three key technologies have key functions which overlap with the functions of the bank branch:
* off-branch ATMs, which are used mainly as a cash dispenser;
* telephone banking, which enables customers to access bank information from their home and perform "non-cash" transactions;
* electronic funds transfer at the point of sale (EFTPoS), which reduces the need for paper (cash and cheques) altogether.
Potentially, therefore, there is less need for the conventional bank branch.
The specific objectives of this research were to:
* review the literature relating to the future of bank branches;
* identify expert opinion on the form and function of bank branches in New Zealand to the years 2000 and 2010.
Literature Relating to the Future of Bank Branches
Arthur Anderson and Co. conducted personal interviews with both banking executives and technology suppliers in Australia, in an attempt to ascertain the shape of technology and the branch network in the 1990s. These experts (the exact definition of which is unknown) were chosen on the basis of availability.
The study found that branches are still the primary means of product delivery. However, branch costs continue to rise, mainly in the areas of "bricks and mortar" capital costs, operational costs (comprising largely staff costs) and processing inefficiencies. Bank experts in the study suggested several ways in which they planned to control costs in the future:
* Bricks and mortar costs: Banks planned only modest reductions in the size of their branch networks in the short term, preferring instead to increase productivity through revised clerical procedures and use of technology.
* Operational costs: Banks planned to have a two-tiered branch structure. Suburban branches would make greater use of remote technology to deliver services to the mass consumer market (however, the branch will still have some human staff). High net worth individuals, who require more specialized banking relationships, will be serviced by branches at a regional or area level. These branches will have less technology and more highly trained staff.
* Increased automation: More back-office functions would be automated.
* Improved marketing capabilities: A number of the experts were concerned with the poor marketing capabilities of branch staff (especially in the area of cross-selling) and suggested that in the 1990s staff will be provided with product information facilities as part of the increased intelligence of the future branch workstation.
* Institutions will begin placing more and more of their ATMs in-lobby, as they try to attract customers back to the branch.
Experts pointed to the emergence of non-cash lobby devices to reduce branch costs and focus staff resources on selling products.
Roth and Van Der Velde conducted a study relating to the future of banking in the USA. Mail surveys were sent out to 1,244 American retail banks, with a response of only 117 (10 per cent). Questionnaires were directed towards the senior executives in retail banking. The aim of the study was to ascertain how industry leaders plan to invest in technology and the branches in order to remain competitive. A rather surprising finding was that, during the 1990s at least, bankers anticipated that upgrading and increasing bricks and mortar branches would dominate their capital expenditures.
Rule and Sedgwick reported on two Delphi studies conducted by Arthur Anderson and Co in the USA and Europe. To meet the increased competition banks planned to reduce the number of branches. The remaining branches will be turned into "one-stop" convenience centres where the emphasis is on cross-selling.
A study by Catherine Smith obtained information by means of personal interviews with experts in the UK. Experts from 28 technology companies and 22 banking institutions were interviewed (however, rather than obtaining combined opinions, separate questions were targeted at the two groups). The experts were asked how important the conventional bank branch will be in the delivery of bank services in the next five, ten, and 20 years. Expert opinion suggested that branches will remain important in the short term. In the medium term, their significance in bank delivery systems will decrease. However, they will not become insignificant. Self-service machines and automated branches will be an addition to the network, not a replacement.
In summary, the literature suggests that while the future may see a reduction in branch numbers, in the main self-service technology will be a complement to, rather than a replacement for, bank branches. This is because there will be an increasing emphasis on cross-selling bank products within the branch environment in order to justify the existence of both human tellers and the bank branch.
In order to identify the experts' opinion on the future form and function of bank branches in New Zealand, the Delphi technique was used. According to Linstone and Turoff, Delphi may be characterized as:
...a method for structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with a complex problem.
To accomplish this "structured communication" there is provided: some feedback of individual contributions of information and knowledge, some assessment of the group judgement or view, some opportunity for individuals to revise views, and some degree of anonymity for the individual responses.
The central aim of Delphi is to eliminate any direct confrontation between the experts and to allow their projections to reach a consensus based on increasing amounts of information becoming available. The number of questionnaires varies, but Tersine and Riggs suggest that a minimum of three is necessary to achieve a reasonable consensus of opinion. The first questionnaire may state the primary problem in general terms or specific terms -- specific terms is desirable but not always possible. The second questionnaire is formed from the composite of responses from the first questionnaire, along with any misconceptions on the part of respondents, and some measure of central tendency (usually mean or median) and interquartile range. Each individual expert is then asked to revise his/her opinion based on the new data from his/her peers. Should an expert's opinion/estimate fall outside the range, he/she should either conform or give justification for this deviation. These justifications are distributed to remaining experts in the next round so that they have the opportunity to voice their disagreement if necessary. A similar process is repeated with the third questionnaire, which is formed from the composite of responses from the second questionnaire. By providing feedback it is hoped to achieve convergence of opinion.
In the researchers' application of Delphi, preliminary brainstorming sessions with banking and technology experts, in addition to the literature, assisted in developing the content for the first questionnaire. This questionnaire was then pretested on a pilot group of experts (with a number of them re-completing the same questionnaire at a later date to check for reliability). The questionnaire was then distributed to the full group of experts in the study, and the subsequent results were combined and represented by interquartile ranges and means. This information was fed back to the experts in the second round, and they were invited to revise their original estimates. "Dissenters" were asked to state their reasons. This process resulted in a narrower range of estimates. The same process was repeated for the third and final round. The questionnaire also asked the experts to give a rationale for their estimates, and an estimate of his or her competence/confidence to answer the question (a self-rating competence scale was provided with a range of 0-5. A response of 0 indicated that the expert had no competence to answer the question and a response of 5 indicated that the expert had much competence to answer the question).
The Delphi Sample
To qualify for the research, the experts must have:
* been in a management position or above;
* been in the industry for at least five years;
* at some stage in their career been involved in the research and development, or marketing of technology in banking.
These expert criteria were sent to the general managers of marketing, strategic planning, and information technology in all 16 of New Zealand's retail banks, and they were asked to send the researchers a list of employees who met these expert criteria. All of the banks responded positively to this request by sending the researchers a list of employees. The researchers also asked one large bank and one small bank (as measured by size of branch network) to identify the names of technology-supplying companies they had been in contact with in the past ten years. Forty-seven such companies were identified. Letters were then sent to the managing directors in all 47 of these companies, requesting them to send the researchers a list of employees who met the expert criteria. All but one of these technology-supplying companies responded positively by sending the researchers a list of employees who met the criteria. Discussions with bankers and suppliers also led to the identification of a number of "constituent" experts who operated in areas indirectly related to retail banking technology (such as the bankers' trade union, the computer society, etc).
All of the experts (i.e. the banking experts, technology-supplying experts, and constituent experts) were then sent a letter asking them to send the researchers a returnable form which indicated their willingness, or otherwise, to take part in the research.
As a result of the number of experts who agreed to take part in the research, five panels were developed:
* Panel A: experts from large financial institutions (i.e. 150 or more branches) from the department of information technology.
* Panel B: experts from large financial institutions (i.e. 150 or more branches) from the departments of marketing and strategic planning.
* Panel C: experts from small and medium financial institutions (i.e. less than 150 branches) from information technology, marketing, and strategic planning departments.
* Panel D: experts from technology-supplying companies.
* Panel E: experts from organizations outside of financial institutions and technology-supplying companies, who still have the ability to impact on the future of banking technology in New Zealand.
Table I summarizes the responses to each round of the Delphi study.
The first Delphi questionnaire was distributed with a covering letter requesting that the questionnaires be returned within six weeks, after which reminder phone calls were made. Out of the total of 141 questionnaires sent in the first round, 114 were returned completed. The second round of questionnaires were tailored for each panel, i.e. for each panel the second questionnaire contained means and interquartile ranges as they related to their panel only. Of the 114 second round questionnaires sent out, 93 were returned within six weeks, with reminder calls once again being made after the six weeks. The third round questionnaire was also tailored for each panel. Ninety-three third round questionnaires were sent out, and 81 replies were received after six weeks.
Table I. Delphi Responses Number Number of experts of experts agreeing to Round Round Round meeting complete 1 2 3 Panel criteria research replies replies replies A 33 27 22 19 17 B 41 31 27 19 18 C 32 28 24 21 21 D 49 39 31 25 16 E 17 16 10 9 9 Total 172 141 114 93 81
It is of use to consider the size of each panel. It has been found by previous researchers that average group error drops rapidly as the number in the Delphi group is increased to about eight to 12. After reaching a number of about 13 to 15, the average group error decreases very little with each additional member. Thus a Delphi user could feel fairly safe in choosing a group size of ten to 12. However, it must be recognized that each Delphi study is unique, relating to specific areas and types of experts. Whether or not the results of the research by Fusfeld and Forster could be generalized to other Delphi studies is debatable.
Results of Delphi Research
The experts were asked to estimate the year that staffless branches, which are staffed predominantly by self-service technology, will exist in all the main city centres (main city centres in this case refers to those cities with a population of 60,000 or more). The results are shown in Table II.
The panels agreed that all the main city centres will have staffless branches before the turn of the century, with the most optimistic panels being Panels C and E. Across all panels there was a spread of only two years for the mean. Panel A had the highest level of competence (3.056).
Panels A, B, C, and D cited a number of reasons as to why the main city centres would have staffless branches before the turn of the century, the main one being that the technology is already available and banks are experimenting with it now. Other reasons included the need to get a competitive edge and the cost of bricks and mortar branches. Comments included:
Table II. Staffless Branches Interquartile Average Panel Mean range competence A 1999 1995-2000 3.056 B 1999 1996-2000 2.882 C 1998 1995-2000 2.857 D 1999 1995-2000 2.483 E 1998 1996-2000 2.750
The cost benefits of staffless branches will become increasingly attractive as self-service technology acceptance increases in the public. Technology costs will fall and user-friendliness rise.
Staff costs are still the major overhead in retail banking and predominantly self-service technology branches will become increasingly popular with banks.
A minority group of experts suggested that these type of branches would not be popular, because customers prefer to deal with humans in banking.
The experts were asked to estimate the year that "platform automation", where human tellers have personal computers which both themselves and customers can use to obtain product profiles, will be available in at least 50 per cent of the branches. The results are shown in Table III.
Again, all of the panels estimated that at least 50 per cent of the branches would be utilizing platform automation before or by the year 2000. The most optimistic panel was Panel D and the least optimistic panel was Panel B (which also had the highest level of competence).
All panels suggested that this technology is developed and being piloted by some banks. The wide availability of technology such as ATMs will relieve human tellers of some of their normal duties. This will give them time for cross-selling, which can be greatly assisted by platform automation. Comments included:
My bank already has this facility. It's just a matter of when the others catch up.
Table III. Platform Automation Interquartile Average Panel Mean range competence A 1999 1995-2000 3.318 B 2000 1995-2000 3.500 C 1998 1995-2000 3.273 D 1997 1995-2000 2.926 E 1998 1995-2000 2.889
The technology is developed, is cost efficient and allows improved sales and service environment.
The concept is well used overseas. All NZ retail banks are attempting to move from transaction processing solely, to sales and service. The objective being to consolidate existing relationships in a nil growth market, typified by increasing competition.
Focus will continue to be on quality service at tellers. Cross-selling by tellers will evolve once cash dispensing technology is introduced.
The estimates for Panels A and B, the larger, more established retail banks, were somewhat less optimistic since some of these experts considered that the traditional view of human tellers being processors or order takers, rather than sellers, will endure for some time.
The experts were asked to estimate the year that self-service machines in the branch vestibules, which would be accessible after hours, would be available in at least 50 per cent of the branches. The experts' estimates are shown in Table IV.
Three of the panels estimated that self-service machines in the branch vestibules would be available in at least 50 per cent of the branches by the year 2000. Only one panel (Panel A) estimated that this would occur after the year 2000. Panel A also had the highest level of competence. (3.250).
All panels agreed that one of the key success factors for banking in the future will be convenience for customers -- in both a time and place sense. Also, with adoption of ATMs now moving towards the late majority (who tend to be sceptical and cautious), some effort must be made to enhance the security of machines -- something which could be achieved by placing them in the vestibule of a reputable bank. Comments included:
Table IV. In-branch Technology Interquartile Average Panel Mean range competence A 2004 2000-2010 3.250 B 2000 1999-2002 2.824 C 1999 1995-2000 2.955 D 1996 1995-1997 2.545 E 1998 1995-2000 2.400
Convenience is the key to service. Competition will demand it.
A good way to retain customers and give after-hours service.
Panels A and B were less optimistic in their estimates because they thought that considerable construction and remodelling of existing premises was required to accommodate equipment and security.
Currently there are around 1,500 full service retail bank branches in New Zealand, but the increasing availability of remote banking technology may suggest that this is too many. The experts were asked by what year they expected the branch network to be reduced to 1,200 and 1,000. The responses are shown in Table V.
All panels agreed that the reduction to 1,200 branches would occur before the year 2000, and the reduction to 1,000 branches would occur after the year 2000. Panels B, C, D and E suggested that these changes would occur quicker than Panel A, which suggested a reduction to 1,200 branches by the year 1998, and a reduction to 1,000 branches by the year 2005. Panel A also had the highest level of competence.
Table V. Branch Numbers Interquartile Average Panel Mean range competence A: 1200 1998 1995-2000 A: 1000 2005 2005-2010 3.381 B: 1200 1996 1995-1998 B: 1000 2002 1998-2003 3.080 C: 1200 1999 1996-2000 C: 1000 2002 2000-2005 2.900 D: 1200 1996 1995-1998 D: 1000 2000 1998-2001 2.591 E: 1200 1996 1994-1999 E: 1000 2001 1997-2006 2.250
Four forces are at work in the environment which will ensure a reduction in branch numbers will happen within a relatively short time period. In order of importance they are:
(1) New Zealand is currently over-banked;
(2) mergers and takeovers will see rationalization;
(3) bricks and mortar branches are very expensive;
(4) the availability of electronic and remote banking will reduce the need for branches.
(The technology suppliers, Panel D, tended to place more importance on the last factor than the other panels.)
Bank amalgamation will augment the availability of remote automated facilities. Community banks (e.g. Trust Banks) will be slow to reduce their network.
Full-service branches will be trimmed as increasing competition shrinks profitability, but banks want to retain visible outlets.
Knowledge is a result of both practical experience and formal education. In order to gain an insight into the "collective wisdom" of the experts in this study, it was considered appropriate to ask the experts to state how long they had been in their organization, how long they had been in the industry, their age and their educational qualifications.
Apart from Panel E, the majority of the experts in each panel had been in their current organization for at least ten years (more than half of Panel E had been in their current organization for two years or less). The majority of the experts in all panels had been in the industry for more than 15 years. It appears, therefore, that the experts were well qualified in terms of practical experience. When it came to formal education, more than 50 per cent of all the experts had a tertiary educational qualification. None of the experts were aged less than 20 years, which is not unexpected given that, in order to qualify for the study, the experts needed at least five years industry experience.
Overall, it could be said that the experts in this study were well experienced in terms of time spent in their organization and industry, and were supported by good educational qualifications.
In the short term, the bank branch in its current form will remain very important. In the longer term, while the bank branch will still be very important, one can expect changes not only in the number, but also the form of branches. This finding is similar to that of Arthur Anderson and Co. who found that Australian banks planned only a modest reduction in the number of bank branches in the short term. However, these findings are in contrast to that of Roth and Van Der Velde who found that in America bankers anticipated that in the 1990s the upgrading and increasing of bricks-and-mortar branches would dominate their capital expenditures.
The New Zealand banking environment is currently over-branched. As a member of Panel A said:
There are too many banking outlets for the size of the New Zealand market. It is still based on a regulated system. Technology will enable greater rationalization, but this will take some time to achieve.
Not only is the cost of the physical branch and its labour rising, but the cost of technology is falling. Therefore, one can expect some branches to disappear completely, while remaining branches will be more automated.
The main city centres will supply customers with staffless branches -- a branch which is dominated by self-service technology, rather than human staff. Again, this change will be cost driven, rather than meeting any recognizable consumer demand. These branches will be a complement to the conventional branches, not a replacement. Smith's research also found that in the UK experts predicted that unmanned branches will be slow to come. However, when they do they will be an addition to the network, not a replacement.
In branches which are still dominated by human staff, tellers will be provided with platform automation, i.e. personal computers which both themselves and customers can access in order to obtain product profiles and other information. The presence of platform automation will assist front-line staff greatly in the task of cross-selling. The provision of platform automation for staff was also found in a study by Arthur Anderson and Co. in Australia in their interviews with bankers. They found that in the 1990s staff would be provided with product information facilities as part of the increased intelligence of the future branch workstation.
Platform technology is already well developed and being piloted by New Zealand banks. In fact it is asserted by banks that, while initially (remote) technology forced the customer away from the branch, there is now the need to attract the customer back into the branch in order to cross-sell other services. There are clear benefits to the customer from platform automation. A member of Panel D said:
The focus will continue to be on quality service at the tellers. Cross-selling by tellers will evolve once cash dispensing technology reduces their workload.
There is faster response time on enquires and problem solving, more accurate information about the customer relationship, and better service and sales attitudes among platform personnel.
In-branch technology in the branch vestibules will also become popular. There is much discussion about the security of banking technology, especially the security of remote technology. The experts in the study by Arthur Anderson and Co. also suggested that there would be an emergence of non-cash lobby devices, not so much due to security, but to reduce branch costs and focus staff resources on selling products. As with this research, Arthur Anderson and Co. found the technology suppliers to be more optimistic in their estimates.
In-branch technology is an ideal way of encouraging reluctant adopters to adopt technology, especially those who prefer to experiment with the technology in the security of a branch. As a technology supplier said:
These customers (the non-adopters) won't use a machine on the street. They need the security of bricks and mortar and staff at arms reach.
In-lobby or branch technology also assists in branding the bank, and retaining customer loyalty. A member of Panel B said:
Banks are currently looking at ways to attract customers back to the branch, in order to maintain their hold.
One of the potential problems of remote technology is that it distances the customer from the bank. In-branch technology encourages the customer back to the bank. After all, of what use is a platform automation system designed to sell services if fewer and fewer people are coming into the bank in the first place? Also, in-branch technology helps absorb customers during peak customer times. This has customer service implications with regards to queue reduction.
Banks overseas are already experimenting with "hard" and "soft" areas in their branches -- the soft part of the branch offers machines for routine transactions, and the hard part of the branch offers staff to deal with the more complex transactions, e.g. account opening, loans, etc. This idea was first experimented with by Verbraucher bank in Germany and has now spread to other parts of the world, including New Zealand.
Conclusions and Implications
Is New Zealand heading towards a branchless banking society? The findings of this research would suggest not. The majority of conventional bank branches will remain, despite technological advancements. From a competitive point of view, this is to the established banks' advantage. The branch network of an individual bank represents a major barrier for potential competitors considering entering the retail banking market.
Despite the branches remaining, the role of human tellers within these branches will change. As more and more banking transactions move from human bank staff to self-service technologies (including off-location, in-lobby, and in-branch), human tellers will have a reduced workload. In order to absorb this "free" time, the human tellers will become more involved in selling. Thus in future, the human teller, like the bank branch, will be retained, but their functions changed. Banks also recognize that in order to sell to customers they must first attract them into the branch. Therefore, there will be increasing placement of in-branch self-service technology, to complement the remote location self-service technology.
Bearing these trends in mind, those banks which will secure the greatest competitive advantage in the future will be those which:
* continuously re-evaluate the profitability and customer service levels of the human/technology mix within branches;
* recognize and reward front-line staff displaying selling skills, and retrain those who do not;
* overall, design branches which appeal to both customers and employees, and increase productivity.
Banks which fail in these tasks will not only find themselves operating unprofitable branches, but they will also lose the opportunity of cross-selling more products to existing and new customers.
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3. Anderson, A. and Co., Trends and Issues in Retail Financial Services Technology: Case Study -- Australia, Lafferty Publications (Australia) Ltd, 1989, pp. 46-51.
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8. Tersine, R.J. and Riggs, W.E., "The Delphi Technique: A Long-Range Planning Tool", Business Horizons, April 1976, pp. 51-6.
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10. Prendergast, G. and Marr, N., "The Changing Customer Interface of Retail Banking in New Zealand", Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, Vol. 5 No. 2, 1944 (forthcoming).
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|Author:||Prendergast, Gerard; Marr, Norman|
|Publication:||International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1994|
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