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1.2.4 Thought Trap: The Customers Will Come to the Bank

Customers are visiting bank branches less often. And indeed why should they? The growing use of online banking and other digital offers allows the customer to receive comprehensive financial advice online, which has led to a constant decline in customer frequency in branches. Customer frequency has even declined slightly in the self-service areas of branches. Cash can be withdrawn much more easily at petrol station tills and in supermarkets. The well-known quote, attributed to Bill Gates: “Banking is necessary, banks are not” is becoming more and more a reality (Die Zeit 16.12.2013).

Despite this, the sales and branch concepts of many banks continue to be based on the basic assumption and the possible thought trap that customers like coming into branches, and that they deliberately seek personal contact with their advisor. This assessment is still likely to apply to some customers, even in the future. Nevertheless, particularly in view of the high fixed costs of branches, and in light of the growing online community, it is necessary to reflect critically on the fact that online channels are becoming ever more significant, and to examine how an “omnichannel concept” might look for one's own bank.

Just a few years ago the banking world was simple. There was classic advertising in newspapers, radio and television, and with a bit of luck the advertising worked and customers got in touch with their advisors by telephone or by visiting their local branch. These days, that is very seldom the case. Current touchpoints are in the places where customers spend their everyday lives: in the interplay between the physical and the virtual world, on the one hand in the office or at home, on the other hand online or in social communities. A decisive success factor of modern touchpoint management is to clearly link this wide variety of touchpoints between online and offline, and to create a balance between customer benefits, economic effectiveness and rules.

Another thought trap implies that customers will continue to cover their cash requirements from banks. Cash is a centuries-old foundation of the customer relationship—a sacred bond between the customer and the bank. These days, however, the retail trade is increasingly taking over the supply of cash to the customer.[1] Some banks in Asia and America are already preparing for a future with less cash and time-saving cash services in the retail trade. They have introduced cashless ATMs to their branches and into shopping centres. Coupons are issued instead of cash notes, which can then be used in retail stores to pay for goods or exchange for cash. In addition, it is also possible to make cash lodgements in retail stores (Nextmind 2013). This might seem strange at first glance, but on closer inspection we recognise the logical rethink and the preparation for a future with cash-less banks. In future, cash will be less associated with banks, but instead with the retail trade. At present, however, some banks in Europe are still very passive in the face of this development.

A study by the opinion research institute Forsa on behalf of the fund industry association BVI arrived at a shocking result: Germans prefer going to the dentist than to the bank (Hiller von Gaertringen 2011). 88 % of those surveyed make regular appointments with the dentist. In contrast, only one in 10 meets regularly with his or her bank advisor. This is an alarming finding when we consider that almost all banks regard themselves as being customerand sales-oriented. Germany's retail bank customers are increasingly dissatisfied with their financial institutions. According to another study by Sinn et al. (2012), customer satisfaction wallows at minus 13 % on a scale from plus 50 % to minus 50 %. Minus values indicate that more customers are dissatisfied than they are satisfied. Other sectors fare much better in comparison. In the automobile industry, customer satisfaction lies at plus 23 %, while even among computer manufacturers it is plus 15 %. The dissatisfaction of the customers certainly indicates a severe crisis of confidence, says the study. Compared to the previous study in 2006, customer satisfaction sank by 10 %. The large banks were a particular focus of criticism. More than 40 % of customers are critical of them, with satisfaction at minus 27 %. Customers of savings banks (Sparkassen, minus 17 %) and cooperatives (Volksund Raiffeisenbanken, minus 7 %) are somewhat less dissatisfied.

The most satisfied are those customers of direct banks, at plus 13 % (Doring 2012). These values are far removed from the ideal strategic targets aimed at by most banks. We can conclude that customer much prefer and are more satisfied with direct banks without branches and with no personal advisors, and they are more likely to recommend them than local banks from the region. That is a slap in the face for every bank that focuses on personal advisory services. This phenomenon reflects a trend that is already familiar to the banks from the area of self-service. In surveys of their own customers, banks were rated much higher and customer satisfaction grew significantly after they had introduced self-service terminals for cash withdrawals and other transactions. One might be tempted to insinuate that the less contact there is between advisor and customer, the more satisfied the customer is likely to be.

  • [1] In Germany, cash can be withdrawn from a current account at the supermarket chain REWE, for example, with purchases over 20 (Tarifomat 2013); this is offered in Switzerland by the Migros Bank to their customers in Migros retail stores (Migros Bank 2013)
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