SOME CRITICAL ISSUES

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  • CUSTOMER SERVICE
    Customer service is perhaps the most important dimension of retail banking. While most public sector banks offer the same range of service with similar technology/expertise, the level of customer service matters the most in bringing in more business. Perhaps more than the efficiency of service, the approach and attitude towards customers will make the difference.
    Front line staffs have to be educated in this regard. A scheme of entrusting a group of important customers to the care of each employee/officer with a person to person knowledge and intimacy can be implemented all sundry advices/notices such as Dr. /Cr. advices. TDR maturity advices, etc. whether signed by employees or officers should be identifiable by the name of those signing, and inviting customers to contact them for further assistance in the matter.
    A customer centred organization has to be built up, whose ultimate goal is to “own” a customer. Focused merchandizing through effective market segmentation is the need of the hour. A first step can be the organization of the various retail branches to enter for different market segments like upmarket individuals, traders, common customers, etc..
    For the SIB (Small Industry and Business) sector banks, the focus should be on identifying efficient units and allocations of loans lo these units. These banks should try Merchant Banking services en a small scale.
    With agricultural output growing at a fast rate and mechanization setting in, banks should try to cater to the credit needs of the people involved in this profession. A wide network is absolutely imperative for this sector.
    Separate branches/divisions should be opened for traders and similar government businesses. Special facilities for cash tendered in bulk and immediate issue of drafts, by extending facilities like “guarantee bond” system, will go a long way in mitigating problems faced by traders who are the major customers for drafts issue. Provision for cash counting machines in these branches will reduce the monotony of cashiers and unnecessary delays, thus resulting in better productivity and ultimately in improved customer service.
    The personal segment is however the most important one. With the urban segment moving away because of disintermediation and competition from foreign banks, retail banks should focus en the rural/semi-urban areas that hold the maximum potential. Innovative schemes like “paper-gold” schemes can be introduced. In the urban areas, private banking to affluent customers can be introduced, through which advisory and execution services could be provided for a fee. Foreign currency denominated accounts can also be introduced for them.
    Nationalized banks compare very poorly with the foreign banks when it comes to the efficiency in services. In order to improve the speed of service the bank should.
  • Improve the rapport between the controlling offices and the branches to ensure that decisions arc communicated fast.
  • Make sure that the officials as well as the staff are fully aware of the rules so that processing is faster.
  • TECHNOLOGY
    In the current scenario, the importance of technology cannot be understated for retail banks which entail large volumes, large queues and paperwork. But most of the banks are burdened with a large staff strength which cannot be done away with. Besides, in the rural and semi-urban areas, customers will not be at home in an automated, impersonal environment.
    The objective would be to ensure faster and easier customer service and more usable information, instantly, economically and easily to all those who need it -customers as well as employees. Proper management information systems can also be implemented to aid in superior decision making.
    Communication technology is especially needed for money transfer between the same city and also between cities. There are inordinate delays in India because of geographical and other factors. Modem technology can make it possible to clear any check anywhere in India within three days. Installation of FAX facilities at all the big branches will facilitate speedy transfer of payment advices. Computerization will be of great help in improving back-office operations. At present, 60% of India’s rural branches can have PCs. These can be used for quick retrieval and report generation. This will also drastically reduce the time bank staffs spend in filling and filing returns. Housekeeping operations can also be speeded up.
  • PRICE BUNDLING
    Price bundling is a selling arrangement where several different products are explicitly marketed together to a price that is dependent on the offer. As banks are multi-product firms this strategy is more applicable to retail banking. Price bundling offers several economic and strategic benefits to a bank. It offers economies of, utilization of the existing capacities and reaching wider population of customers. Bank can get the benefits of information and transacting. In the process of extending variety of services, banks are acquiring enormous amount of customer information. If this information is systematically stored, banks can efficiently utilize this information in order to explore new segments and to cross-sell new services to these segments. Cross-selling opportunities and larger customer base can also be the motive for merger against usually stated advantage of cost savings. Price bundling can be used in order to lengthen the relationship with a customer. It will reduce the need of resources to be put on acquiring new customers and saves time of the bank. Among the strategic benefits, price bundling may cause less aggressive competition; it differentiates its products compared to rivals in the same market where the products are sold individually or in other kinds of bundles.
    Retail banking offers many services and it gives an opportunity to the bank to combine different services in different kinds of bundles. In many cases demand for one service affects the demand for another service, for example current or savings account and payment services are highly related, and here price bundling is a better alternative than individual selling. Banks have to analyze the customer segment and bundle products before applying the pricing strategies.
    The first step in price bundling decision is to select the customer segment. The bundle is targeted to choose a strategic objective. If there are two products (A and B) that are considered to be bundled together, the comprehensive strategic objectives for the different customer segments are:
    • Cross-selling to customers that only buy one of the products.
    • Retaining customers that already buy both of the products.
    • Acquiring new customers when they buy neither product for the time being.

 

  • INNOVATION
    The scope for innovation in financial services is unlimited. Although banks have introduced a variety of deposit and loan products, the basic features of all these products are almost one and the same. Among the delivery channels, ATMs have emerged as ubiquitous money centers. Almost all banks have established their ATMs. India had only 400 ATMs, which increased to 3,600. Out of this 881 ATMs have Swadhan connectivity. It is projected that the number of ATMs will reach up to 35,000 by the end of. The question arises is, are they cash cows? The answer is certainly no. For most of the banks the overhead costs on these ATMs are far higher than the revenue generated by them. ATM operation costs are largely fixed in nature – the cost of the machine, its maintenance, replenishment of currency, and the satellite (network) connection. There should be a minimum number of transactions to cover these costs. Banks have to innovate wide range of services in addition to cash withdrawals. ATMs should allow customers to buy postal and revenue stamps, payment of bills, event tickets, sports tickets, etc. Banks can offer ATM screens for slide show advertising also. However, the advantage of the ATM has always been speed and convenience, probably on introduction of these new services customer has to spend more time at a point. ATMs can guide the customer also. For example, if a customer’s account balance has reached to bare minimum the ATM can give a helpful suggestion that “we notice your balance is low, can we help with a loan?” ATMs can be either within the premises of a branch or at a remote place. On premises ATMs are highly immune to competition, but branches can reduce the staff, on installation of ATM. The scope for wider services through off-premises ATMs is very high; it provides great opportunity for fee revenue. The cost of maintenance of off-premises ATMs is higher in terms of replenishment, cash couriers, armed security etc. In the US, approximately 23 percent of ATMs are offering sale of postage stamps. It is the right time for banks to question themselves whether ATM is a service channel, sales channel, or branding opportunity.
    The future of retail banking lies more in mobile banking. Mobile telephone market is penetrating, and mobile phones are ideal to utilize Internet banking services without customer accesses to PC. By a tacit acceptance India has around three million mobile phone users and this number is expected to reach to eight million by 2003.
    Smart card revolution will further change the face of retail banking. Smart cards can store information; carry out local processing on the data stored and can perform complex calculations. At present, India has around 3.4 million smart card users and it is estimated that by the end of 2004 it will reach 14.7 million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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