Much of the focus of strategic planning this year has been on the role of branches and how to best leverage the investment banks have made in them. Branches are being counted on for more deposit generation, loan production, fee income, investment sales, and relationship building. Oh, and let’s not forget more efficiency.
There has not been, overall, a great deal of money invested in new branch systems in the last few years. It is amazing how many branches are still running on DOS or Windows 95 – only a few upgrades better than what branch employees were using in the ’90s. This is changing, though, as banks realize that the evolution from an order-taking culture to a sales culture won’t happen with 5-10 year old systems. It is a bit like me buying my daughter a tin whistle at the dollar store and telling her she’s all set to be first seat in the symphony. (OK, so maybe I tried.)
To be fair, there have been good reasons to delay making a big branch system. One is that the newly developed browser versions of these systems are only beginning to get serious installation traction. Much of the new and better functionality was only available in newer, browser-based systems, so it made sense to wait for browser versions before making a serious investment.
In 2004, integrated delivery systems for branches and call centers are getting a lot of attention in technology planning and budgeting. These systems incorporate fulfillment (e.g. new accounts) with sales tracking, sales prompting/scripts, servicing support, event tracking, contact management with notes, and plenty of other features that fall under the much-ballyhooed CRM umbrella.
Investments in integrated delivery systems look to be getting high priority. This year I have seen dozens of demos for these systems, and I have a message for banks (listen up, vendors): We are not paying enough attention to the needs and point of view of the branch employee in the design of these systems. In discussions with vendors about integrated delivery systems, it is important to remember that the real “customers” are the branches and call centers, because they are the ones who will have to use these systems.
GonzoBankers, if you think I’m wrong, try this. First, ask your branches to compile a “top 10” list of what they most need from systems to attain their sales and service goals. Then attend a system demonstration and look at what the “top 10” features are. I find they are usually quite different, and we need to reconcile the disparity between what branches need and what system designers think they need.
At Cornerstone, we are here to help. Solutions are what we’re all about. So, on behalf of your branch employees, here are six rules of design for you and your vendor to follow as you build the next generation delivery system:
The closer employees are to the customer, the fewer systems they should have to learn and use. Most branch employees use one system for deposit opening/servicing, another for consumer loan origination, maybe a third for small business lending, a fourth to sell investments, and so on. As a result, the complexity of systems is in the branches. Wouldn’t it make sense in the long run to reduce the total number of systems your salespeople use? It would probably make systems support harder in the back office, but doesn’t it seem right to have the complexity handled somewhere other than in the sales organization?
If branch employees need to operate on multiple systems, navigation among the various systems must be easy and intuitive. Right now, branches face far too many sign-ons, sign-offs, and re-keying of information to navigate the different systems they use. Aim for one click of the icon to get from system to system.
Make the entire customer relationship easy to access and understand. Branch employees I talk to say they just want to see everything a customer has with the bank – deposits, loans, investments, and other non-bank products. Moreover, they want to see personal and business relationships combined. While it seems a reasonable request, it is amazing how many branch systems are still unable to do this.
Support the long-term sales process as much as the single visit sales process. The design of most branch sales systems centers on cross-sell during the first customer visit. Scripting and prompting are based on the premise that customers will make most of their buying decisions in one visit. However, because branch employees know that people will buy multiple products and services over time, systems should focus on supporting the sales effort that might take several visits over a period of months, not minutes. How well does your system support this point of view?
Seamless integration of branch and call center systems is a must. Both branch and call center employees need to know what the other is doing with customers. They want access to this information quickly and easily, and they don’t want to sign on to a second system to do it. No long-term system design can ignore this. A hard fact banks have to face is that this end result may not be possible unless both groups agree to buy one system from one vendor.
Make systems as easy for branches as you do for customers. A great deal of effort has been put into making it easy for a customer to apply for a loan on line, do account research, transfer money, and perform other self-service transactions. Branches look at these systems and say, “We’ll take the same.” Why not?
No system will be able to meet all these needs, of course. However, if a significant branch system investment is in the cards for you bank, make sure the design picture is the right one. -tr