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Strategic Planning

A businessman is consulting a crystal ball to foretell the future.

So begins a new year, a new administration and new possibilities in the ways banks will approach business and operations


This article was originally published in BAI Banking Strategies .


It’s that time of year again—time to put away the ball in Times Square and polish up our crystal ball for 2017. What do we think will be the key trends for the industry? Here we present our picks for distribution, innovation, technology, and compliance.

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I was reading the obituary of Paul Amos, who founded American Family Life Assurance Company with his brothers. You know the company – it’s the one with the talking duck who repeats the abbreviated name “Aflac.”


Here’s what struck me in the NY Times obituary:


While most insurers sold policies by knocking on doors, Paul had the company emphasize cluster selling and worksite marketing. Instead of making presentations to individuals, the company’s sales representatives often went to companies to make sales pitches to groups of employees. Today, most of Aflac’s United States policies are bought through payroll deductions.


Sounds like Bank at Work, or perhaps Insurance at Work. Aflac built a $121 billion company on this strategy.


We’ve been saying for a long time that Bank at Work can be a highly effective and efficient acquisition channel by reaching prospective customers at their workplace. And it’s a natural fit for banks that have commercial relationships with employers, or credit unions based on their historical SEG (Select Employer Group) heritage.


But before you charge headlong into this program, read our articles and presentations: Ten Myths about Workplace Banking, Keys to a Successful Workplace Banking Program, and Banking on Bank at Work.


And to know more, reach out to Paul Corrigan who is one of the leading experts on Workplace Banking. He managed the very successful programs at Citibank and RBS Citizens, and has consulted with credit unions, community banks, and national banks in the United States, Canada, and around the world. His expertise with Workplace Banking initiatives covers the full range from strategy to execution and includes considerable experience in program implementation and channel management. Paul can be reached at paul.corrigan@ppcgroup.com




How can you get the highest value from the time and effort spent on annual strategic plans? Most financial institutions will invest significant energy conducting business unit and corporate strategy reviews in preparation for their annual budget, but few senior executives believe this process delivers sufficient pay off for the time invested. The most frequent complaint: lots of business updates on past progress, but too few implementable new initiatives that will really drive the business forward.


How do the best performing organizations do it?


  1. Avoid incrementalism, the “last year plus 10%” syndrome. Start with the goal you aspire to achieve, and work backwards to determine the strategies required to accomplish it. The most effective organizations don’t just identify and fix known problems — they identify the future results they desire and create solutions to achieve them.
  2. Once you have made the commitment to change, be realistic. You can’t make the changes necessary, or assign the resources required, without an objective assessment of the market opportunity, financial potential, internal capabilities and resources required.
  3. Remember that focus is the essence of strategy. It’s not just what you decide to do, but also what you decide not to do. In most organizations the greater problem is usually deciding which good ideas are of lesser value and should not be implemented, or which current activities should be stopped in order to re-direct resources to insure that higher value opportunities have appropriate resources.
  4. It’s all about execution. Fortune reports that only 10% of strategies are effectively implemented. The best performing organizations implement rapidly and effectively. They recognize that a good plan effectively implemented is far superior to a great planning document which is not a living part of your business. Identify accountabilities for key objectives and make sure they are on track. Update your plan regularly to insure it is relevant and effective — after all, your business is not static but dynamic and changing.
  5. Identify risks. Do a “pre-mortem” – step into the future and write the obituary, the reasons why the plan failed. Then establish strict controls over the risk factors you identified.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Everyone needs to know what the goal is, what their part is in accomplishing the objective, and how effective the organization is in achieving results

This article was originally published in BAI Banking Strategies on February 15, 2013


As customer transaction activity declines in branches, hyper-local sales and marketing strategies are required to bolster branch network profitability.


Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase “all politics are local”, expressing the need for successful politicians to understand and reflect the concerns of their local constituents. And the same sentiment couldn’t be more true for banks and bankers. In this era when consumers and small businesses are migrating away from physical bank branches, it is even more critical for banks to be relevant to the communities they serve.


It is clear that customer still value branch presence. Almost two thirds of consumers identify branch convenience as the primary reason for choosing their bank. But it is also clear that channel preferences are changing. Transactions conducted in bank branches are declining 5% to 6% per year due to direct deposit, debit, electronic bill pay, remote check capture and other methods of check displacement. And shrinking branch traffic means fewer sales opportunities, with new accounts opened per branch full-time employee (FTE) declining year over year.


While retail branches may have diminishing value for transaction processing, they remain the primary driver of customer acquisition and consultative sales. Most new household relationships are still opened face-to-face, not through remote channels. Business customers are also dependent on branch-based services.


There is a valid argument about optimal branch network configuration, i.e. the appropriate number of branches and the mix of self-service vs. in-person delivery. But there is no doubt that physical presence to serve geographically defined communities and trade areas is still basic “table stakes” for being in the game.

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Despite all the changes in the way customers use bank branches, and the talk about “death of branches”, the reality is they aren’t going away. Yes, consumers and businesses are writing fewer checks, and that means teller transactions are down. Yes, our customers are rapidly increasing their use of mobile and other electronic channels. But the branch network is still the key distribution channel, preferred by 68% of consumers and small business.

But branches will change:

  • Branches will be designed differently. They’ll be smaller, and fit into typical retail footprints. There will be fewer free standing branches (less need for large branches with drive-ups).
  • Branches will be staffed differently. There will be greater utilization of universal staff who can handle sales, service and transactions — we won’t need as many tellers.
  • Branch managers will need improved market management skills. With fewer teller transactions, branches will be more like sales centers, and this means greater micro-market knowledge and calling skills to improve trade area sales penetration.
  • Banks will implement tighter cross-channel integration with hub branches and call centers, especially for expert support and customer advisory functions. Leading banks are already experimenting with video conferencing and similar technologies.
  • Successful financial institutions will have more robust front-line relationship management technology to enable staff to deliver better customer service, stronger profitable cross-sell, and achieve greater share of wallet.

What should you be doing now? The most successful financial institutions – large and small — are already working on their staffing, market management, and front line technology. Are you reviewing your teller staffing models? Have you already begun training universal branch staff? Have you upgraded your front line relationship management technology?

During any period of change, some wait for the fog to lift and the path to become clear, while others start testing new pathways forward. In many respects, the path is clear — we just don’t know how fast these changes will happen. Now is the time to start preparing for the changes you know are coming.


My wife is one of the smartest people I know. I’m not saying that just because it’s our anniversary in a few weeks, but I’ll admit to taking the opportunity to get a complement in when I can.


We were leading a strategic planning session for a bank – it was a large group, with the entire Board and all of senior management in attendance. The bank was having some issues achieving its’ plan, and there were various opinions about how to move forward.


I was facilitating the discussion and Colleen was taking notes, observing, and giving me feedback& coaching on the dynamic in the room, especially the side discussions and body language that I couldn’t see when I was writing on the flip charts.


At the end of the first morning break she told me “Here’s the problem: they have Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder. They’ll never succeed unless they focus.”


There it was. An entire MBA course in Business Strategy summed up in one sentence.


And here’s the point.


Business strategy is not just about deciding what to do. It’s also about deciding what not to do. It’s about focusing on a few things that really matter — and having a disciplined management process to get them done.


So how did it all turn out? We’re on draft 4 of the Plan and it is coming together very nicely. What started as a seemingly unattainable goal- increase capital and increase earnings – now seems firmly within reach. It’s all about picking a few things that matter, gaining consensus, putting in place Action Plans with specific accountabilities.


We use a Rapid Assessment Planning Model that starts by establishing the end-goal and then moves backwards, step by step, to ensure a successful outcome. It’s a disciplined approach that we’ve used with numerous financial institutions with great success. “Best planning session we ever had” was the feedback from a recent client.


Want more information: please contact us– our experts can help you unlock the key to additional profitability and efficiency.


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