Private banking: Don't believe the techno hype – the branch model is not dead

By:
Helen Avery
Published on:

Technology versus branches. Is it either/or? Euromoney data correct some misconceptions about sources of growth in the industry and the Europe-US divide.

The branch is dead and clients will prefer to interact via technology. This is what we have been led to believe is the future for the private-banking industry. Not so. 

Data from Euromoney's survey paint a different picture. The majority of the thousands of bankers who responded say the number of bank branches will increase this year, or stay the same at the very least. Only in North America does branch presence seem to be waning as a medium to reach clients. 

Over the next five years how do you expect the importance of a branch/store presence in your country to change?
Increase Stay the same Decrease
Western Europe 40.85% 34.65% 24.51%
North America 18.95% 46.32% 34.74%
Asia 43.67% 30.34% 25.99%
Latin America 67.92% 26.42% 5.66%
Source: Euromoney Research

It's a tale of two halves. Western European respondents say they will mostly be adding branches. Société Générale Private Banking, for example, formed a partnership with its retail bank in France and added some €2 billion. The branch network played a large role in that. 

As part of the partnership, qualifying private-banking clients in the retail bank were asked whether they wanted to stay with their day-to-day branch, with access to all the private bank’s experts, or whether they would prefer to be with a specialized private-banking centre: 95% opted to stay where they were. 

"Proximity is key," says Patrick Folléa, deputy head of Société Générale Private Banking and CEO of the French private bank. "Our private-banking services are now available in the 2,300 branches of the SG branch network in France."

Therefore, the value of the branch is not as dead as one would think. Yet in North America almost 80% of respondents expect branch numbers to remain the same or decrease. 

Phil Di Iorio, CEO of JPMorgan Private Bank, believes that face-to-face interaction will always be important in the private-banking industry, but says clients want more autonomy around basic services. 

"We have started investing in digitizing some of the basic banking services," he says. "That’s the easy part though. It’s the enhancements that are challenging. 

'Significant investment'

"For example, delivering intellectual capital that is personalized to clients’ needs. And also ensuring that the client experience doesn’t suffer as a result of increased regulation and therefore increased paperwork. How can you deliver the disclosures and information they need simply and conveniently?"

Phil Di Iorio, JPM
Phil Di Iorio, CEO of
JPMorgan Private Bank

Di Iorio adds: "The winners in the industry in the next three to five years will be those that provide an adviser-led in-person relationship complemented with digital capabilities. That is going to require significant investment from the industry."

JPMorgan Private Bank has been increasing its technology budgets over the last five years, not only to improve its internal processes but also the client experience. "Being the firm that can help clients aggregate information and provide advice across their balance sheet is in big demand," says Di Iorio. "Much more customizable performance reporting is also something very interesting to us.

"It’s a combination of partnering with people and firms that have built unique capabilities in specific areas, and then hiring our own  technology experts to try to learn as much as we can. This industry is evolving from delivering products to solving problems. We have been looking at partnering with firms with digital capabilities around performance reporting and data aggregation, as well as making investments in mobile trading platforms."