BBVA USA Retail Banking: Blending the best in branches and digital
BBVA USA Head of Retail Banking Çağrı Süzer has been in his role for just over two years. In that short amount of time, he has made significant strides in transforming the bank’s branch network, ensuring the 4,000 person team has a laser focus on embracing digital as the means to a better end for customers and themselves.
In a segment of the industry that many think is dead - or at the very least on death’s doorstep - considering brick-and-mortar as the next big thing in digital may seem counterintuitive. But take it from Süzer - who is himself a millennial - brick-and-mortar not only isn’t dead, at BBVA USA it’s thriving and people who blend the best of human touch and digital are why.
Consumer banking is in the midst of an industry-wide transformation, mainly as a result of the advent of digital. What does this mean for traditional branch banking?
Branches must adapt to this change, combining digital and branches, in order to be relevant to customers that are increasingly using their mobile app for straightforward transactions. Recognizing that, we need to continue focusing on becoming a financial solutions provider, and not simply a provider that cashes and deposits checks.
The opportunities to make this transition are numerous, as more transactions are moving to digital channels. This means we have more time to talk to customers and understand their needs.
In the 21st century, branches should no longer be considered ‘traditional.’ Is brick and mortar an older channel than others we now have? Yes, of course, but we innovate in branches both in products and how we use digital to help our customers in their financial journey.
Ultimately, we are people serving people, and I am a strong believer that human touch will continue to be a key part of banking interactions in the digital age.
How has BBVA USA consumer banking adapted to the transformation? What are we doing the same as or different from others?
At BBVA USA, we are blending the best in digital and branches for success in consumer banking. Our branch team knows that customers who use our digital platforms are more engaged, with attrition that is less than half of non-digitally engaged customers. So, like those of our peers, BBVA branches are focused on onboarding the majority of new and existing customers to our digital platforms.
We are also investing in branch training so that team members’ financial product knowledge is solid, allowing them to have more in-depth conversations with customers. For example, we are transitioning our tellers to become sales and service advisors who can provide both transactional services and financial advice to customers.
Time with customers to have these conversations is valuable, and to maximize it, we are building better processes in branches that decrease processing time for basic services like origination and increase the amount of time available for dialogue with our customers.
We also invest in robotics and automation as one path to a better customer experience. For example, mortgage is a complex consumer lending product, and our origination NPS for it was low in 2017. Using robotics and automation, it jumped 30 points in 2018.
Finally, we are working on building seamless digital experiences where our customers and prospects can apply, get approved and start using our products within minutes. For example, using digital, it can take less than five minutes to get a credit card with BBVA USA.
Globally, BBVA is known as an advanced digital financial group. What has this meant for BBVA USA’s consumer banking unit?
BBVA is a global bank with a presence in more than 30 countries, approximately $800 billion in assets and more than 125,000 employees. We are part of a big group that invests a large amount every year in IT infrastructure. Europe’s no.1 and no. 2 ranked banking apps belong to BBVA Spain and BBVA Garanti.
This clear commitment to technology and digital transformation has helped us quickly understand our opportunities, learn best practices and access data. As a single global team, we continuously share and learn, and transfer resources when needed.
There have been many reports saying that branch banking is effectively dead because of digital. Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
I disagree with this assessment and believe that digital helps branches to be more productive. The two are not mutually exclusive - far from it. For example, as BBVA disclosed in its earnings presentation, US branch productivity increased by 40 percent in the last two years, while the digital share of total production similarly increased, depending on the product.
To me, it is clear that branch banking isn’t dead, though with in-branch transactions declining and opportunities for digital sales increasing, it is changing. Banks must understand this and take advantage of the opportunities that can be found in the combination of in-branch visits and digital engagement.
It sounds like, at BBVA, branches and digital are complementary forces, not competing. Can you explain how one works with the other?
Let’s say a BBVA customer used a digital channel to open an account. We immediately assign that customer to a branch assuming he/she is within a certain distance. These customers have two products with us on average. On the other hand, out-of-footprint customers have just over one product with us. The difference between the two is significant.
This is a simple example of how these complementary forces work. Digital helped reach prospects faster than is humanly possible but, once we reach them through digital, the human touch in branches creates value and results in a deeper, trust-based relationship.
How important are branch employees when it comes to customers and customer growth?
We had a customer last year that visited one of our branches and had a health issue while our team was handling his transaction. One of our team members provided first-aid and kept him alive until medical services arrived. The customer lived. This is the human element a digital platform can’t touch.
When it comes to customers, branch employees are the human touch behind building trust, giving advice and person-to-person interaction. Digital, data, automation and AI will help us to be better in what we do and eliminate many operational tasks, but they are not alternatives to human touch.
Another example: We initiated an activity that we call “Sea of Blue” a couple years ago that now generates 30 percent of our checking account originations. We simply go to businesses and present our products to their employees in this initiative. Without this effort, our growth would have been less than half of what it is today. See? Human touch. I can’t say it enough. Branch employees and branch activities are key to our growth.
Finally, what would you tell other people about the importance of branches in the digital age?
I can simply underline the message that we are people serving people and independent of how branches will look in the future, human interaction will always be of primary importance.
BBVA USA Head of Retail Banking Çağrı Süzer moderates the bank's 2018 Mid-Year Retail Summit. In 2018, BBVA USA's retail banking unit, a 644-branch network, achieved its best year ever – it doubled customer growth, achieved record profits, ramped up productivity, improved workflow, topped NPS levels and tripled in-branch mobile banking demos.