The future of retail banking has rarely been murkier — and predicting it has rarely been more important for banks.
The economy and new regulations have made it increasingly difficult for banks to turn a profit from the old bread-and-butter business of taking deposits and lending money. At the same time, competition for this business is mounting. In recent weeks, banks of all sizes have tried to rethink their branch strategy, their staffing costs, their technology offerings and their alternate sources of consumer banking revenue.
"New regulation and … low interest rates have forced a change in the profit model for retail banks," Bill Demchak, the president and soon-to-be next chief executive of PNC Financial Services Group (PNC), told analysts earlier this month.
"In the new normal, we need to look at all of our customer relationships to improve profitability by cross-selling our diverse product mix, increasing share of wallet and where appropriate, redefining the fair value exchange with our customers. Think about that in the retail space as repricing retail," he added.
Demchak will be one of several senior executives gathering in Carlsbad, Calif., this week for SourceMedia's annual Best Practices in Retail Financial Services Symposium. He will be joined by Wells Fargo (WFC) CEO John Stumpf, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) Consumer Banking CEO Ryan McInerney and Zions Bancorp (ZION) CEO Harris Simmons, among several other leaders. Some of those executives are also be attending the Consumer Bankers Association's annual conference, which began Monday.
At both gatherings, senior retail executives are wrestling with many of the thorniest questions facing bankers today. Here are five questions they should ask.
1. How many branches should we close?
Banks including Citigroup (NYSE:C), PNC and SunTrust Banks (STI) are accelerating their branch closures, as they try to cut costs and rethink how to best compete for deposits. Demchak last week said PNC plans to close 200 branches, or 6.5% of its domestic network, during 2013. SunTrust, which closed 43 branches last year, is pruning back even more; CEO William Rogers said last week that the bank will close another 40 branches this quarter and is planning future cutbacks.
At Citigroup, CEO Michael Corbat in December announced plans to close 84 branches, including 44 in the United States, as part of a broader restructuring effort. He said last week that he is prepared to generally cut back even more if necessary: "If we don't execute on our plan, we'll not be afraid to take further actions to restructure the business," he told investors at a conference.
2. How many new branches should we build?
Even as some banks close some brick-and-mortar locations, they are building others elsewhere. JPMorgan Chase last month laid out its plans to reposition its branch network, closing some offices but ultimately increasing its net number of branches by about 100 annually, or 2%, over the next two years. Many of those branches will be devoted to selling affluent customers either mortgages or wealth-management services; McInerney told investors and reporters at the company's investor day that JPMorgan Chase already does business with 80% of affluent U.S. households, and that it wants to continue building branches close to where such wealthy customers live.