According to the FDIC, there were just over 94,000 domestic bank branches at the end of June 2015: a net reduction of almost 1,400 branches from end-June 2014, and a decline of more than 6,000 branches since the U.S. passed the 100,000 branch threshold in mid-2009.
The recent decrease in the number of branches is being driven by a number of factors, including banks’ focus on cutting costs in recent years. In addition, the emergence and strong growth of online and mobile banking usage has led to consumers significantly reducing their use of branches for transaction processing. So how are banks adapting their branch networks to this changing channel environment? An analysis of presentations by leading U.S. banks at the recent Barclays Global Financial Services Conference identified a number of ways that banks are restructuring, repositioning, redesigning and restaffing their branches to ensure that this channel survives and thrives into the future.
Continuing to pursue branch consolidation. While banks continue to emphasize their commitment to the branch channel in general, they have cut their overall number of branches in recent years, and will continue to do so. At the Barclays conference, KeyBank reported that it had cut its branch network by 10% in the past three years, and envisages a further ongoing reduction at a rate of 2-3% per year.
Selling off (and acquiring) branch networks. Most leading banks believe they need to have critical mass in particular markets. If they feel that they cannot achieve this goal, they may decide to exit the market entirely. Citi is exiting a number of markets, as it seeks to focus on just 6 major metro markets. Fifth Third recently announced that it is ending its branch presence in Pennsylvania. These branch sell-offs create opportunities for other banks who want to grow their presence in those markets (BB&T acquired Citi’s branch network in Texas, and F.N.B is buying Fifth Third’s 17 branches in Pittsburgh).
Developing a hub-and-spoke approach. Rather than having a dense network of similarly-sized branches, some banks are looking to establish a hub-and-spoke approach in specific markets. This approach typically features a flagship branch as well as a reduced number of small branches. At the Barclays conference, Synovus claimed that it was applying a hub-and-spoke system. Other banks with flagship branches include Bank of America and Citibank, which now has flagship branches in four of its six target U.S. metro markets.
Redesigning and re-staffing branches. As the branch channel’s primary role shifts from transaction processing to sales and service, leading banks are overhauling store layouts and are replacing tellers with product experts. In addition to closing or consolidating 400 branches in recent years, PNC reported that it has converted 300 branches to its universal banking model (featuring concierge stations and reformatted teller stations). In addition to providing enhanced sales and services to branch visitors, PNC claims that these branches cost 45% less than traditional branches. In terms of staffing, Bank of America reported that it has added nearly 1,200 financial solutions advisers and small business bankers over the past two years.
Growing in-store branch networks. Banks like Huntington and U.S. Bank have significant in-store or on-campus branch networks, and remain committed to this channel. Huntington Bank recently announced that it was adding 43 in-store branches in Michigan via its relationship with Meijer Stores.
Incorporating new functionality into online and mobile banking services to drive branch traffic.Bank of America reported that its clients used the bank’s online and mobile apps to schedule an average of 14,000 branch appointments per week in August 2015. And in September 2015, Bank of America announced online and mobile banking enhancements, which included enabling clients to make same-day financial center appointments.
Applying guerrilla marketing tactics. Banks are becoming more creative in how they establish a physical presence to better interact with clients and prospects. Leveraging its relationship with the Green Bay Packers, Associated Bank has set up a virtual branch in the parking lot of Lambeau Field to target tailgaters.
While the overall number of branches is likely to continue to decline, most banks appreciate the key role that branches play in sales, service and branding, and remain committed to the channel. However, banks will continue to adjust branch density, design, layout, staffing and integration with other channels, in order to control costs and adapt to new consumer preferences and behaviors in how they interact with their banks.
The quarterly reports of the leading U.S. banks revealed a number of important channel trends:
Mobile banking is continuing its strong growth. Three of the leading U.S. banks provided quarterly updates on active mobile banking users, and each reported double-digit y/y growth in 1Q15: Chase +22% to 20.0 million; Bank of America +13% to 16.9 million; and Wells Fargo +19% to 14.9 million. According to eMarketer, more than half of adult mobile phone users are expected to use mobile banking in 2015.
Consumers are transitioning to self-service channels for a growing range of transactions. PNC reported that 50% of its consumer customers used non-branch channels for a majority of their banking transactions in the first quarter of 2015, up 7 percentage points y/y. PNC also reported that the non-branch (ATM and mobile) channel share of deposit transactions doubled from 20% in 1Q13 to 40% in 1Q15.
Many banks are slowly shrinking their branch networks. Leading banks who reported significant branch reductions in the most recent quarter include: Citibank (down 61 during the quarter, as its pursued its strategy of consolidating its presence in 7 U.S. markets), PNC (-37 branches), Regions (-33) and Chase (-31 ). Although Bank of America has closed more than 800 branches over the past three years, the net branch decline fell to 20 in the first quarter of 2015.
Some banks are growing branch numbers…and in-branch sales staff. In spite of the general perception that the branch channel is in the process of terminal decline, some banks are in fact acquiring or opening branches in order to capture growth opportunities. Huntington Bank reported the addition of 43 new in-store branches in Michigan. And even though Bank of America reduced branch numbers by 260 over the past year, it grew sales specialists by 5%.
Banks remain committed to the branch network as consumers use multiple banking channels. While electronic self-service channels have a dominant share of everyday banking transactions, branches still play a key role in areas like new account generation, customer relationship management (including cross-sell), and branding. Wells Fargo claims that its most loyal customers are not those who have the most products, but rather those who use the most channels most often. It reported that mobile banking sessions rose 38% in 2014, while branch visits remained steady.
Recently, Principal Financial Group released results of their study, the Principal Financial Well-Being Index: Advisors, in which they surveyed a variety of advisors across the country about the state of their practices, the industry, and client trends. Among the key takeaways:
22% of the advisors’ clients live beyond their means, 15% don’t save enough and 11% do not start to save early enough in their careers.
Over half (52%) of the respondents said that only 25% of their clients start saving early enough to achieve the recommended level of retirement savings.
Only 18% of the advisors surveyed target Gen Y clients.
This suggests a very real opportunity for product providers and distributors to help advisors facilitate meaningful relationships with pre-affluent millennials during their most formative years.
Product providers, particularly those in the defined contribution world, should work with plan sponsors to help educate employees and encourage saving. Product providers can:
Create and distribute educational, client-ready content that sponsors can share with newer employees.
Develop tools for sponsors – such as a one-page reference guide, brochure or video – that will assist them in using the client-ready content to start conversations with new employees about their saving options and the benefits of the plan.
Initiatives like these can help providers build long-term trust and brand equity with their clients and their clients’ employees. They will also help the company gets the most out of the plan, which can further enhance brand/product loyalty. Finally, there’s a secondary benefit for product providers: Getting plan participants on the path to financial security means they will be better positioned to consider a broader set of investment and retirement solutions later in life (e.g., life insurance, annuities).
Product distributors relying on large advisor networks should provide tools to help advisors connect with existing clients’ next of kin. Studies show that more than 95% of heirs change advisors after they inherit assets. Distributors should arm advisors with:
Educational, client-ready content they can share with their clients as appropriate
A one-page guide for advisors on how to use the content effectively
In addition, distributors should be working to educate advisors on the business case for pursuing Gen Y and how reducing that generational turnover. By creating a low-cost, scalable solution that has a low impact on advisors’ time but a high impact for long-term relationship-building, distributors can increase mindshare and build loyalty in the intermediary channel.