European branches will be cut in half by 2020
Half of Europe’s bank branches could be obsolete within the next seven years, according to new research by property advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle.
The research found that inherent customer loyalty is diminishing as online and mobile technology become ever more firmly established as the primary means of contact. In 2008, 56% of consumers worldwide trusted their banks. That figure had fallen to 40% by 2012.
This rise in technology is driving a greater emphasis on quality customer service in branch, while banks must also contend with the threat of disintermediation by non-banks, such as America’s National Life Group. These changes are caused in large part by the power of the internet, which has empowered consumers by making them more knowledgeable and confident, tipping the balance of the relationship in their favour.
Smaller branch networks are a necessary response, the report argues. Branch focus will be on service, sales and relationship building as transactions are pushed online or through call centres. Competition for prime retail space will be a “fact of life” and many banks will lose out to retail brands and more aggressive competitors on the high street. The challenge will be to make branches relevant for customers in the internet age.
The report estimates that developed markets will see more ATMs, more kiosks in high traffic flow zones, and ‘premium’ bank branches in business districts. In the future, banks may be found in locations close to the target customer, such as on the second floor of an office building, rather than on the high street serving pedestrians. In addition, there will be more segmentation, with branches focusing on selling to high value customers while low value transactions will be handled by ATMs. There will also be entirely cashless branches.
Other branches will focus on high-technology, minimising staff and serving customers through tools such as video conferencing. The Bank of Moscow is currently rolling out video conference technology and giving customers access to call centre staff 24-hours per day. The rise of video banking was recently picked out by a Celent report, which argued that banks must embrace the technology to survive.
Banks will also need to develop more specific mobile apps, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, for services such as forecasts, payments, billing, accounts and invoices. Mobile cash transfers and bill payments will become more important, while peer-to-peer payments using ‘bump’ technologies such as touching two smartphones together are also expected to rise – an area already being explored by ING Direct and Barclays.
“Disintermediation is well underway, and it will happen very quickly,” warned the report. It added that PayPal is already half the size of Citigroup’s global transaction services business, while the document also predicts Facebook’s online currency will gain traction among 18-30 year olds.