Why is it that more and more bank CEO’s I meet are happy to deliver piece-meal patched up solutions to their network challenges that paper over the cracks, deliver a short-term buzz and the potential for long-term inertia? Why is it that as a humble consultant, I can see the error of this thinking, but they as business leaders cannot?
I met a potential client recently, who shall remain nameless, who asked me to work on a branch re-design project for them. On the face of it, this project looked pretty exciting. A large flagship branch in a prominent location, with a well known bank brand is always good for the portfolio. However, much like the ‘Digital Dancing Bear’ I speak about in earlier articles, once the excitement had died down and I had a chance to reflect on what I was actually being asked to do, I realised that I was being briefed to conduct an exercise in papering over the cracks and not one which addressed the underlying problems the organisation faced... in other words, I was being asked to put ‘lipstick on a gorilla’.
The winds of change have blown over the financial services sector. As you learned in my previous article ‘Think Big’, customers want a physical presence so they understand their bank brand is there when they need it and not just in cyberspace - which makes a lot of sense. Yet, in my experience, organisations like the one I mention above consider what the physical space looks like (the format), where it is located (high street, university, airport, mall etc) and how it functions (how to deliver on promises, what technology needs to be used, how to plan for the future and what is the branch purpose or reason for being), individually and in isolation from one other. To succeed in the future this needs to change.
Where I believe banks have got it wrong is that they ask consultants to focus on one or two branches - a handful at most - when they should be focussing on their network as a whole. Thinking strategically to optimise customer experience, optimise physical locations, optimise design, optimise in-branch functionality, optimise staffing models and optimise the technical backbone - in other words, getting prepared for a Phygital (a combination of physical and digital) future. That is if they want to cut costs, be competitive, engage customers and grow their business.
Take ‘optimising in-branch functionality’ as an example. I was in a market in Asia recently, where I saw a bank promising - in large letters on a billboard - that they are the bank of the future (which of course meant branches were full of lots of digital gadgets and gizmos that nobody used), that customers could visit, open an account and be out of the branch in 10minutes ready to transact - a big promise. The reality was somewhat different. The environment looked ‘nice’ and the staff were friendly and attentive however, it actually took 10minutes to complete the account opening procedure (if there were no other customers in the bank), and a further two weeks for the account to be usable... a promise broken.
It is sad to report, that very few organisations take an holistic view of their network until they are faced with profit challenges. This is a major mistake. The world has already changed and if the banks are going to keep up, they need to start thinking beyond single branches and start looking at the whole experience holistically. If the do not approach solutions this way, focus solely on making pretty branches with no intelligence behind them, no infrastructure planning and they continue to break promises, they will only be putting ‘lipstick on a gorilla’, papering over the cracks... and failure will be around the corner.
My top six tips to help CEO’s avoid putting ‘lipstick on a gorilla’
Think big - think network
Think experience - make it unique to who you are and relevant to your customers
Think technology - never over promise and plan for the future
Think staff - get the right people in your organisation and empower them to flourish
Think customers - they demand convenience, service and consistency
Think innovation - do not be afraid to change, after all, we didn’t know we needed an iPhone until Steve Jobs told us we did - push your customers to embrace newness