Could it finally be time for the banking and financial services industry to get a rest? Bank of America recently suggested “sitting on the sidelines” until digital disruption quiets down, and its peer, Wells Fargo, suggested that the same might be true of the industry’s largest U.S. firms — though not everyone agreed.
Mike Mayo, managing director of CLSA Americas, says that among major lenders, Bank of America “seems to be starting to listen” to customers. And Wells Fargo recently suspended its offer of fee waivers on home equity loans so it could increase its returns.
While both of those firms agree on the need for change in the banking industry, they differ on what that change is and what it takes to enable it. On the credit card front, for example, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — with almost a million combined U.S. credit card sign-ups — have offered customers the option of free domestic phone or internet service as a perk. Last year, the six biggest U.S. credit card issuers netted $2.5 billion in added revenue from these perks, including an estimated $2 billion alone from Citi alone.
In contrast, a Citi spokesman said at the time that the bank “stopped offering new-card sign-ups rewards at the end of 2015.”
And while Bank of America recently indicated that it has cut the number of competing products in its branch network by 30% in the past five years, Chief Executive Brian Moynihan says he’s not satisfied with the pace of technology improvement.
“Consumers don’t want to understand, understand, understand,” Moynihan told investors recently. “They want to live online, and we’re not getting there fast enough.”
On the other hand, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan says that competitors aren’t meeting customers’ expectations to serve them better digitally, and that “it’s still an all-digital world. We’re going to stay ahead of it.”
Earlier this year, Wells Fargo introduced a new pricing plan that would cap the price of unplanned nonemergency banking transactions of less than $1 at $1, providing consumers with an alternative to overdraft fees. “The model continues to evolve,” Sloan told a conference in September.
Indeed, technology providers are offering an increasing array of features, both in digital branches and at an increased pace of new on-line retail locations, aiming to make personal banking more convenient — and less costly.
A new investment firm, BNY Mellon Real Assets, recently began piloting physical branch-free business centers in Tokyo and Chicago, that combine banking and the hiring of employees with digital help. One business center offers expert help on everything from cash management to management and tax matters.
BNY Mellon plans to test the concept for three to five more cities across the U.S. in 2019. The firm is among a string of new entrants to the retail banking space, such as Moog & Co., Peavey Corp., Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase & Co., to land in the physical banking space.
In the meantime, the capital markets division of Royal Bank of Canada, which includes global wealth management and its Canadian banking and wealth management segments, is using blockchain — the technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin — to provide brokers and their clients with faster and more secure trading access to its securities. It was Royal Bank of Canada’s first year of providing trading using blockchain to one client.
Bernard Marr is a senior business correspondent for the website Forbes.com.