Over the past five years, the banking industry has had an extraordinary and appropriate focus on expense reduction.
Delivery systems were horrendously expensive relative to competitors'. We could not serve and retain customers economically.
As a result, some consultants made oodles of money helping banks to shed their fat and cut work forces by double-digit percentages.
Unfortunately, in the process many banks found that they had also cut into their muscle. They hurt their ability to generate revenue and could no longer achieve growth.
Today revenue growth has become the No. 1 challenge. Though we need to continue to be vigilant about costs, that strategy is finite. The real gains will be through revenues.
Yet it is puzzling that we are not seeing revenue increases. Why is this need for top-line expansion not translating into real profits?
The reason does not lie in lack of opportunity. Most banks have cross- sales ratios of two to three products per customer. This means that the other 13 financial products that are held by the average person are with other institutions.
The opportunity exists to consolidate those relationships because it appears that many customers, especially the coveted high-net-worth segment, are now more interested in doing this. In addition, we have all heard about the wealth-transfer opportunities associated with aging baby boomers and with Generation X entering its borrowing cycle.
The energies misplaced on cost-cutting are harming revenue growth. So is the failure to execute sales management, one customer at a time, 100% of the time.
Many of our people find sales activities distasteful and even humiliating. This is not surprising, given that we typically hire people more for their math skills than their interpersonal ones. Our managers do not have much experience coaching sales people. Our customers need advice and support in making their financial dreams come true. Banks have not risen to the occasion, and revenue-generation has been hurt.
Simply beefing up sales ranks to compensate for earlier cuts is no solution. No amount of front-line staffing would get the job done without total, unwavering commitment to needs-based selling, one customer at a time.
That is a challenge requiring flawless execution by many people of activities that may be new to them. A first step is recognizing that making sales and making customers happy are the keys to growth. Acting on this is the ultimate solution. Ms. Bird, an executive vice president of Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.