I found myself in interesting chats this week with many bankers at the NCBS conference. One of the hot topics was a story that ran in American Banker a couple of days before the conference.
One of the goliath banks announced that it wants to open about 2,000 new branches over the next 5 years.
I was interested and a little amused at different folks' takes on that news. I joked that I believe some folks were unreasonably panicked by that story. And members of the "branches will always rule" tribe were unreasonably comforted.
In no particular order, I asked them to consider the following. First, an announcement by the mega-bank doesn't cost a thing, but it gets inside the heads of its competitors.
Second, does anyone believe that any 5-year plan will be changed any less than 10 times?
Third, even if that proposed expansion does happen, the risk to a multi-trillion dollar bank is less than a community bank rolling out another branch or a few ATM's. When a poker player has a taller stack of chips, he'll attempt to make you place a bet that he can afford, but you really cannot.
Fourth, whether or not you believe the historic role of branches is endangered, it's hard to argue that the effective geographic coverage of a branch has not expanded significantly. When branches were used for day-to-day (or week-to-week) transactions, branch ubiquity was a huge advantage.
In a world in which customers use branches less frequently, two branches may effectively "cover" the same area that once required three or four. Yes, a bank with a smaller network may not receive the "billboard effect" of one with ubiquitous branches.
But those are some incredibly expensive billboards.
And sure, if all things are equal, the guy with the most locations may have an advantage. My question to bankers not interested in a branch "arms race" is, "Are all things equal?"
Is one of the other guy's branches pretty much the same as yours? Is there too little differentiation in the quality of our strategies, execution, and leadership to make this something other than simply a numbers game?
How would you respond to a competitor dropping new branches right into your backyard? Regardless of whether or not that happens, is there a good reason to put off doing right now the things you'd do to protect and grow your market share if it did?
Through the years, there are few topics that I've felt more compelled to revisit with managers in columns and speeches than the impact that a lack of punctuality has on their culture.
I found myself with plenty of time to reflect on the topic this week.
My family returned home late on Sunday, tired from a weeklong trip. My younger son was signed up for a "rock and roll" day camp in Houston the next morning. The website informed us that new campers needed to be at the facility by 8:00 AM on the first day in order to perform for the teachers. This would help place them into appropriate groups.
With traffic being heinous in Houston at that time of morning, we left our home (sleep deprived) at 7:00 AM, arriving at 7:45.
The building was open, but no registration tables were set up. At 8:10, folks started showing up to sign us in. When I asked about the 8:00 AM start time, I was told that the website was wrong. They'd start at 9:00.
Several parents and I weren't pleased. But mistakes happen.
It was when there were 40 or so kids in the auditorium at 9:00 AM, and the head counselor cheerfully informed us that we'd give the folks who weren't there another 15 minutes to arrive, that I felt my inner "Time-Hulk" stir. ("Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.")
I matched his cheerfulness and asked him how much extra do folks have to pay to have everyone else wait on them. If it was a free service, I wanted to sign up for it for the rest of the week.
He faked a chuckle but apparently got the point. The program started at 9:02. Several parents thanked me for saying what they were thinking.
I've frequently joked with managers that they need to get over feeling "un-cool" for expecting folks to be somewhere when you ask them. I’m not saying that things don't happen on occasions that make people late.
But how many of us have been in meetings waiting on late folks, some of whom walk in carrying Starbucks cups? Niiiiice.
Behavioral psychologists will tell you that folks learn more from what they experience than what they are told. When we regularly say something will happen (meeting will start at a certain time) that doesn't, folks can be forgiven for doubting your other future assertions as well.
Time is a limited asset that we each have the same amount of. Are you giving yours and your team's the proper value?