As I travel across the country, visiting financial institutions in the midst of their annual planning cycle, it is like a trip down memory lane. While the technology and distribution channels have changed, banks and credit unions are still faced with the many of the same strategic challenges we talked about 20 years ago.
As a long time banker and friend, Michael Bencic said, "Improving the customer experience, embracing change, deriving value from data, building strategic partnerships, leveraging technology, ensuring privacy and security, cutting costs and generating fees is like deja vu all over again."
I agree. While the details behind these goals have changed, why have the overarching themes stayed the same? Is it because the planning process usually begins with broad financial requirements and many involved in the process simple dust off last year's plan and hit the restart button? Or is it because, despite a lot of talk around embracing change, the industry (and the regulators) frown upon the potential risk associated with innovation and doing things differently?
In a new report just published by KPMG entitled, Reshaping Banking in a Dynamic Business and Regulatory Climate, the author emphasizes the importance of getting out of 'survival mode' and embracing change, creating new strategies, crafting new infrastructures and focusing on the customer. While there is no denying the importance of each of these issues, this report is not much different than similar reports I read in the 1990's. The primary difference is that the risk of ignoring these issues has far greater implications.
Dusting off last year's planning document and making small alterations is not enough. It will take more than simply finding ways to 'do more with less', cost-cutting and operational improvement. According to Brian Stephens, national leader of KPMG's banking and capital markets practice and author of the report, "There must be acceptance among the entire leadership team that the rapid, unpredictable, and profound change we are witnessing is structural -- not cyclical." He continues, "The debate in not about the need for change, but what changes should be made."
As in the past, the issues that must be addressed are many. The difference is that today, while the issues may look similar to the past, the issues are more interconnected than ever before and the environment where these changes need to be made is evolving at breakneck speed.
The KPMG report provides a perspective into the following critical areas as banks and credit unions plan for 2014 and beyond:
- Culture of embracing change – In today's environment, change is constant, so banks must be nimble and innovative. "Banking leaders must choose to adapt and evolve, or risk irrelevance," says KPMG. "In the future, when banks look back on this time of change, an organization's resilience will not be measured by how much adversity it endured throughout the financial crisis and this period of recovery; rather, it will be measured by how well it adapted to it." The challenge is a tradition of rigid internal resistance to change and a consequent inability to execute. The change in culture must come from the top, starting with the board and senior leadership. And it must me more than just words.