This design or that design. Digital, pods, low square footage. All the talk around the branch of the future is about design, staff levels, square footage, and technology.
Yet the people that carry balances, the boomers and older, can't figure out where to go when they come in for a teller transaction. And the younger generation want help managing their budget, using the improved technology tools, and applying for loans.
Sorry youngster. But look at our cool design!
The slimming of our branch networks, both in number, square footage, and number of staff was used to increase our technology spend, compliance costs, or dropped to the bottom line.
Well I propose something different.
A Different Branch Model
I have a habit of asking almost every head of branches I encounter if they experienced, at any time in their career, a support center person transferring to a branch. In all of the years I've been asking, only one said yes. Because of a toxic boss in the support center. Otherwise, crickets.
Why? Why doesn't anyone transfer to branches? Why is the branch so important to the execution of strategy, yet nobody wants to be there?
The reasons I hear most are: hours, pay, accountability. They want to transfer to the back office for greater pay, regular hours, and little accountability.
And I have personal insights because I was once a branch manager. Granted in the mid 90's. But still. Then as now, it was a stepping stone for me. No intention of remaining in the branch. The pay wasn't enough. And it was organizationally a thankless position. No thank you.
Has it changed?
But I propose it should. Because what I hear in community bank strategy sessions, the branch is an important if not critical portion to an enduring future. Why? That one-on-one relationship can't easily be replicated by technology, a bot, or a phone call (when not accompanied by an in-person relationship).
Survey after survey continues to show that a local branch is important for customers or would-be customers, no matter the age.
Yet we're blowing it.
We continue to make the branch a waypoint for our most promising employees. So here is what I propose:
1. Increase the pay- At least two branch employees should earn household breadwinning pay. Right now, the way we pay branch managers, either they are supplementing family income or are young without the outsized financial responsibilities of supporting a home and family. We think increasing teller pay, in the face of rising wages led by larger banks, is enough. It's not. It's branch leadership that needs to earn breadwinning pay. This may increase compensation expense in branches. According to my firm's profitability database where we measure hundreds of community bank branches, each branch generated 2.19% in total revenue as a percent of deposits (spread plus fees). And the median branch deposit size was $61 million. To cover the extra costs, that $61 million branch would have to be $65 million. Would greater talent with the ability to deliver on what people want a branch for in today's environment get you there? I think so. And then some.
2. Rethink the hours- Nothing that customers say they want branches for requires 44 lobby hours and an additional eight drive-thru hours. How about 7-3 M-T, and 11-7 Wed-Thurs and 9-5 on Friday? That allows time for early morning people to bank and after-work people to bank and see your bankers for their more sophisticated problems. Put an inter-active teller machine (ITM) in your man trap or drive up for doing transactions during other hours. This would allow branches to have four FTEs, assuming one is absent at all times for training, customer visits, PTO. You can make up some of the costs of paying people more by having fewer people. Floaters can cover crunches.
3. Design should match emerging needs for branches- Taj mahals are not necessary unless you are using a hub and spoke where the hub is in larger towns, and spokes in lower footprint branches such as the 1,000 square footer. But pay attention to design to make sure you convey the look and feel consistent with customer needs and what you want them to think about you. Check out Associated Bank's design (a couple pictures from their annual report). They took part of the savings from reducing their number of branches by investing in the look and feel of the remaining branches. Check out my post from nearly four years ago on branch décor for more on this. And oh yeah, don't spend money on making your branch a destination. Because people don't want to hang out in bank branches.
4. Automate support functions- Want to save money? Look at HQ. The promise of AI looms large.
If we believe in strategic alignment, that our day-to-day actions should be consistent with our strategy, then we need to re-think how we feel about branch staff. Because I don't know many banks that want their branches to be staffed with our lowest compensated, highest turnover employees.
Yet here we are.
The bank branch is dead. Long live the branch.
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Chase Branch Design