The past five years have been awful for most European retail banks. The financial crisis, and the resulting recessions in most of Europe's economies, nearly destroyed some banks and crushed the profitability of many of the remainder. Worse than that, it was a problem that was partly or largely of (some) banks' own making. Banks are being forced to shrink their balance sheets, sell off non-core businesses and cut costs (i.e. fire employees) just to survive. And Europe's ongoing financial crises are far from over as banks' fortunes are closely entwined with those of their indebted governments.
There's one small silver lining among these dark clouds. Over the past 15 years, eBusiness has evolved from providing an electronic brochure to become a fundamental strategic function within retail banks. One of the effects of the financial crisis has been to force most European banks to focus on how to generate profits in their core retail banking operations by serving customers efficiently. Digital banking is a big part of the answer. So, despite the bleak economic outlook, most retail banking boards know that they must continue investing in digital channels. Digital strategy is an increasingly important component in overall strategy.
I'm still surprised when I find heads of eBusiness who remain marginalized within their firms, reporting into IT or marketing rather than a centralized distribution channels function alongside branches. The leading banks no longer make that mistake. That has greatly increased the power and influence of digital banking executives, but also their responsibility for the overall success of their businesses.
Here's our view of the top five priorities for eBusiness and channel strategy executives at European retail banks:
There are a number of firms that we watch closely at Forrester because they stand out for sustained innovation. Behind the technology giants like Google and Apple, there are a number of established firms that are using technology to adapt rapidly and successfully to changing customer behaviour and needs. One of them is Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Over the past four to five years CommBank has introduced a series of digital innovations to serve its customers better including:
Finest Online. In the course of its "Finest Online" project from 2007 to 2009, CommonwealthBank of Australia redesigned its NetBank Internet banking service with the objectives of building an excellent customer experience and driving online sales. The bank implemented new content and functionality to support the customer journey and integrated new secure site sales processes with in-person channels and the bank's multichannel customer relationship management (CRM) system. The two-year, cross-organizational project boosted online sales, increased customer satisfaction, and improved the bank's image. (Forrester clients can read our case study.)
One of the things that continues to surprise me about many banks’ multi-channel strategies is how little most banks have integrated their ATMs into those strategies. Cash machines are by far the most commonly used banking channel. According to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics data, 74% of adults in Western Europe use a cash machine at least once a month, far more than use either branches or online banking that often.
Despite the introduction of Windows-based operating systems and colour screens, most banks aren’t doing much to engage customers on this most-frequent touchpoint. Most do little more than promote the product of the month to all comers. Only a few leaders, like Singapore’s OCBC Bank and Spain’s La Caixa, have integrated ATMs into their CRM systems, which lets them do clever things like remembering customer’s normal withdrawal amount, wishing customers a happy birthday and making products offer that are relevant to that particular customer.
Most of us have already heard that Sybase will become part of SAP — or, to be more precise, that SAP and Sybase announced that SAP's subsidiary, SAP America, Inc., signed a definitive merger agreement to acquire Sybase. When this acquisition takes place, there will be various impact areas across SAP and Sybase’s combined portfolio. Rather than discussing this big picture, I would like to focus on SAP for Banking.