Insights on Innovation: Best of Believe in Banking

In this special summer episode on banking innovation, Sean and Gina look at change in financial services at the institutional and industry level. With data and insights gathered from the financial services sector’s most influential gatherings, they discuss new ways that banks and credit unions usher in upgrades to meet customer expectations, while driving more efficiencies in the branch network. They discuss deploying digital solutions and ITMs that go beyond omnichannel, into a total experience journey, and share examples of forward-thinking organizations focused on future-proofing and growing their institutions.   

Text Transcription

Speaker 1: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers and leaders featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking Podcast. I’m Sean Keathley, CEO of Adrenaline. For our podcast this month we’re doing a special summer episode called Insights on Innovation, where Gina and I discuss numerous ways banks and credit unions foster and facilitate change, both in their institutions and across the industry as a whole. We look back on some of our best conversations about all the ways banks are transforming experiences to meet the modern consumer demands, including the importance of brand and driving business and branch and building loyalty. We talk about new ways of bridging digital and human delivery beyond omnichannel and into more of a total experience journey with smart strategies for branch networks that include deploying ITMs for efficiency and market presence. Finally, we address the kind of culture shift it takes for leaders to create a challenger mindset that is so essential to innovating and future-proofing their organizations.

Gina Bleedorn: People are ready to grow and they are ready to make moves. There was a sentiment of innovation readiness that really permeates everything, and we actually conducted our own research. And one of the takeaways, more than 50% of the industry said they were seeking total brand transformation. And what I spoke about at that event was a keynote around brand being business strategy. Branding is not just a nice-to-have thing, it is an inherent and integral part of business value.

Another takeaway from our research, 75% of the industry said they understood that brand critically impacts business value, but 24% say they consider their brand as peripheral to business performance. So those are contradicting statistics. And in my keynote I spoke about stories of business transformation that brand change enabled. All of the banks and credit unions I spoke about needed to create new relevance to either new markets or new people within current markets. And that is what brand change enabled them to do and grow.

Sean Keathley: Gina, the other thing that happened, which even gave you a better sense of what’s going on in the industry, those workshops that we did, what was unique about that format, it was a workshop versus a keynote. But you got to meet almost 300 community bank CEOs from Miami to Portland, Oregon, and everywhere in between. Can you talk a little bit about how perhaps even with the more community-minded organizations, these themes still apply? And I think there also, you kind of uncover maybe why the brand conundrum of is it business critical or not? That was interesting as we talked to all these people.

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah, we found that so many of them were not maximizing either their brand or their branch network in the way they could. And with digital transformation needing to be and continuing to be something that all financial institutions need to be doing, the things that already are there, that exist, your brand and your branches, it’s time to leverage those. And that message seemed to be resonant to so many. In fact, I don’t know if there was really a single workshop attendee that didn’t think either their brand or their branches needed to be transformed in some way.

Along those lines, on the branch side, on retail delivery, understanding some of the larger institutions use the word retail to mean branch network. The future of retail delivery was a panel that I moderated alongside some incredible industry experts from US Bank, from Cenovus, from PSCU, and from Deloitte. And the topic was about balancing human and digital delivery. And really the tenor of the entire conversation was that the humanization of banking cannot be lost. Digitization must occur, but especially considering digital journeys are not near what most institutions want them to be. In fact, only 9% of bankers said in a BAI Banking Outlook survey last year that their digital customer experience was excellent. So especially considering the state of digital transformation for most, the human factor, that’s what you do best. So use humans for what they’re good at and leave transactions and the mundane things that digital can do to digital.

Gina Bleedorn: A member of our team that used to be a banker, Ben Hopper, headed up a retail strategy for First Horizon Bank and then he moved to USAA and took on an omnichannel job and really he missed the human part of banking. So he came to join our team at Adrenaline for that reason and now leads retail strategy for our clients. What Ben has said is that we need to move past omnichannel. We’re moving into a more total experience journey that is channelless so that you’re blending, taking the best from physical and infusing it into digital, taking the best from digital and infusing it into physical for creating an optimal customer experience regardless of channel.

Sean Keathley: And we’ve said before, but it’s worth repeating, the reason the financial industry has to have a blend is because money is emotional. It is just very different than how you get your groceries and that’s the reason for the balance.

Gina Bleedorn: Ben actually says if omnichannel is a bowl of fruit and the different channels are the different fruit, a more advanced approach means put the fruit in a blender and make a smoothie. One of the panelists actually referred to omnichannel as the O-word because it’s such a big, scary, undefined thing. Nobody really knows what it is or how to do it. What it really means is let’s just balance human and digital service delivery. And nearly 50% reported at our onsite survey that bridging digital and human delivery was in fact their top priority.

Sean Keathley: Gina, part of these upgraded facilities, they’re including more and more technology these days. And we’ve mentioned it and I think you should maybe talk about ITMs in smaller formats and not only what we think, and we’ve got a great research paper out there, what our clients and everyone’s saying, but certainly this was a hot topic at future branches.

Gina Bleedorn: Yes, it was probably the most talked about topic, ITMs and both, in a way, the biggest question and challenge in determining how to address them and what to do. And everyone seems to be in varying stages of either their actual experience with ITMs or in an initial pilot stage trying to figure out what to do. Everyone knows they need to be at least thinking about them as an option. And actually the research we conducted recently published in our white paper on ITMs revealed really two-thirds of institutions are in either partial or full adoption. And those that are even in initial stages of adoption are planning to move to full adoption over the next three years or so.

Gina Bleedorn: So it does seem to be something that’s taken off. And really what we have learned is a few things about ITMs. One commonality among really anyone that’s deployed them is that they are taking longer to be adopted. Most notably, training is more extensive than anticipated, training of staff to help customers adopt. However, once they are adopted, and I heard one financial institution at the event say, “You have to force them,” meaning customers. But once you have them experience it, then they like it and the experience is largely favorable. And our consumer research revealed that as well. Even though awareness of ITMs as a thing and understanding of what they can do is not very high among consumers, the ones that have used them and experienced them do like that experience.

That said, we also found there was a bit of a gap between how well financial institutions think the experience is and how much consumers like it. So there is room for improvement, however, they will keep using it once they begin to a adopt it. And that seems to be the case throughout different size institutions and different ages of consumers.

Sean Keathley: Gina, agree with all those comments. I will say, however, I don’t think the curve is going to be maybe as steep as technology adoption has been in the past when ATMs entered the market. Much, much different. This is not pre-internet, pre iPhone and now millennials are middle-aged. You’ve got people in the prime of their careers that have grown up with technology in their hand. And I do think that once the idea of convenience when you learn that there is a big set of things from the teller line that can be accomplished and especially as people deploy these, not just next to a branch, but in spokes, it’s going to raise the awareness. And I think there’s best practice. We know very well, like a lot of things, you need to market, you need to train.

Sean Keathley: Just one little example. One community bank, now, they’ve always done cookouts at their branches. They’ve got a big barbecue trailer and they drive it around on Saturdays, maybe there’s college football games. But what they’re doing is as those roll through the communities, they’re inviting those ITM bankers from the call center and they show up. So there’s a human component. So now Sean is introducing, “Hey, Jerry. I see you on the video every Thursday.” And it humanizes. So I think there are a lot of things people can do to make these deployments more successful. I think though, with all the things we’ve talked about, efficiency, convenience, the ITM strategy, if deployed correctly, can be game-changing. And we’re seeing that in the interest from organizations.

Gina Bleedorn: And you touched on this, Sean, but the name of the game is that idea of perceived convenience really as you’re thinking about optimization and how to take cost out but still be present, not unlike consolidations and closing two and opening a better one. Perceived convenience is the number one driver of acquisition as well as advocacy, loyalty, and preventing customer attrition. ITMs are kind of a beautiful way to do that. You can get smaller, you can even go to staff less in some cases with remote ITMs, you can project outwards kind of like a super ATM and do so for a fraction of the cost of larger facilities and get more than a fraction of mind share, of perceived convenience for what it is portraying outwards to the community and to customers.

Sean Keathley: We’ve long talked about this trend of smaller branches and bigger signs, perhaps no better example of how to execute that than an ITM canopy that’s a remote spoke.

Gina Bleedorn: Another example of a bank that is a challenger in many ways, IncredibleBank. They, yes, adopted a fintech partnership mentality in that IncredibleBank began as a digital-only web bank and then they rebranded the entire bank under that name. And as such, they have customers in all 50 states and an incredible digital reach. But beyond that, they are doubling down on creating unique in-person experiences. It permeates every way they serve with customers and it makes all the difference. They are re-imagining service delivery in the way of the drive-up and new technologies throughout the branch experience. And they have interesting niche lending areas like RV finance where they are dominating individual categories because they’re doubling down on what they’re good at and what they know.

Sean Keathley: Well, Gina, these examples, these are in a lot of ways, I think of them as super community banks. They really have the challenger mindset, the nimbleness of a community bank, but, boy, they’re doing a lot more than a typical community bank. And the asset size can range from pushing two billion to eight or nine billion. But we’re seeing this mindset permeate through other clients that are ranging in different asset sizes. And we mentioned the examples are different because your challenges are different.

Another example I really like is Comerica Bank. When you think about Comerica Bank, they are in seven of the 10 largest US cities. So their footprint is vast and their challenges can be different yet again from a super community bank. We helped them last year roll out a mobile branch. Then you start thinking about the strategy on these types of venues that are on wheels. The idea of the Comerica Bank mobile branch is more about connecting to communities, actually doing educational events, showing up at the Girls and Boys Club of American chapter in Florida to talk about financial education. They’ve got their ITM and ATM online can be an education center as they’re rolling out those kind of features in markets. So you start thinking about how you think differently and how you apply strategy to challenge your mindset and connecting to community. It can manifest itself in very different ways.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking, a podcast series created to empower decision-makers, influencers and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site,