We’re in the midst of the digital revolution in banking – more and more transactions and interactions between customers and their banks keep moving online. And the pandemic was possibly the greatest crisis for retail banks in many years, as a PwC report noted.
As branch transaction volumes have dropped, the individual profitability of branches has also declined. Accordingly, bank managers have moved to reduce headcount and even the number of operating locations. Simultaneously, it has become more difficult than ever to recruit and retain the best associates – who are becoming expensive.
Nevertheless, the branch still remains the front line for the retail bank. But the branch model remains caught in a crossfire between the high demands of the customer and the push from headquarters to cut costs. This current situation requires a response today – a two-pronged approach of cost-cutting and operational changes that will enable branches to improve on poor or substandard execution. This is what will ultimately help improve the bank’s bottom line and future competitiveness.
Branch Workforce: Stretched Thin
Today’s most prominent branch pain points include:
- Unprecedented associate/manager stress: Branch associates are under more pressure than ever before. Banks are trying to cut costs, even as they ask staff to perform more tasks. But associates have trouble prioritizing tasks and juggling the many activities required to keep bank operations running smoothly, especially as they try to spend as much time as possible with customers. As for managers, they, too, are facing stress, trying to mentor associates while running their branches or regional networks. They also struggle to focus on the most important tasks, such as serving customers and enforcing corporate directives.
- Growing exceptions/events: Given our unpredictable banking environment, any hiccup in execution (or scheduling) can cause major disruptions in a branch workforce already spread thin. Once a branch realizes it has a problem, staff must perform ad-hoc fixes, often without corporate guidance. One issue – such as a cash shipment delay or check fraud – can cascade to eat up valuable time and energy, adding to the pressure on associates and managers.
- Inadequate managerial controls: No matter the challenges to the workforce, all branch activities must be executed in compliance with bank policy. Branches must also conform to local, state and federal laws or the bank faces penalties. These regulations often change, and the directives require special guidance and training.
- Heterogeneous legacy systems: Today, managers must toggle through various systems and screens to perform tasks. These include verifying and validating compliance for everything from alarm systems to safety deposit box and wire activities. This costs time and requires a lot of effort, making execution even more difficult.
- Slow reporting: Branch performance reporting processes tend to be slow moving and deliver actionable data that is already stale. This tends to delay corrective action and allows problems to persist longer than they should. For instance, a manager might discover too late that a branch has exceeded its scheduled hours. Ultimately, regional and corporate leaders can’t reliably see into branch activities, meaning the reports are inadequate for effective, rapid decision making.
- Decentralized, multichannel communications: Frequently, associates and managers communicate among themselves on non-sanctioned and unsecured platforms. Also, the majority of branch employees have seen personal identifying information be shared over text or a messaging platform. There typically is no gatekeeping with the messaging systems. This means it can be hard to reach employees in case of an emergency and ensure they have seen and read important corporate-generated messages.
- Maintaining headcount: If you don’t have the right people, you can’t execute in the branch. In this fast-paced and uncertain environment, it is extra hard for managers to replace last-minute callouts. Even finding coverage for an associate that gives advance notice requires time and effort by someone. Typically, the field leader is the one who has to stop what they’re doing to navigate through text chains, calls, and voicemails to fix the schedule.
Streamline and Improve Branch Opps
Luckily, there are proven task, communications, execution and workforce management solutions available to address these issues. These on-demand, mobile-first, enterprise strength technologies are highly effective in retail and other industries and consistently boost compliance and task completion rates. They can also automate the process of finding replacements for callouts. These modern software platforms are also gaining traction in banking because of their ability to support:
- Task execution – These solutions offer branch managers a prioritized single view of must- complete tasks on a daily basis. Managers and associates can quickly run through task checklists and the systems can tell them how to prioritize work assignments, flag exceptions, and ensure the quick resolution of recurring problems. Ultimately, this enables employees to do more, intelligently, and on the fly.
- Effective centralized communications – These systems can serve as a single, reliable and secure communications platform for banks across all branches. They can share updates, tasks, messages and content, as needed, and ensure all important updates reach the right person. They can even filter out unnecessary messages so as not to spam employees with notices that don’t apply to them. Associates can also receive these messages through mobile tablets or their own smartphones (in accordance with corporate policy).
- Auditing/inspections: Leveraging a comprehensive task and communications platform, managers can quickly perform audits to make sure everything is done according to policy. Any issues can be marked for follow up. And systems with business intelligence capabilities can proactively look for exceptions and ensure employees have executed bank directives. This reduces the time managers must spend performing in-person branch or regional follow-ups and enables the highest levels of compliance with reduced effort.
Are these types of technologies the “end all, be all” solution? Time will tell. But they are certainly the right place to start. With modern technology solutions in place, branch managers can move quickly today to boost execution and improve employee and customer satisfaction rates.
If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to my team and me anytime. You can also find additional insights in this white paper: