Saturday, 15 September 2012

Customer Profitabilty in Banking: Do you do it?

According to an ABA survey (see table), I doubt it.

I am speaking at the upcoming ABA Marketing Conference next week. Well, maybe not as much speaking as appearing. Mary Beth Sullivan and I are appearing as guests of Susquehanna Bank's Susan Bergen, in an Oprah like talk show format. I suggested Saturday Night Live's Point-Counterpoint format, but it was rejected. To appease my objection to appearing on Oprah, they orchestrated my entrance to a Pitbull song. I did not know who Pitbull was.

Our discussion will revolve around an ABA survey done this summer regarding actions banks have taken, or intend to take, to improve profitability. One question that didn't make the cut in the interest of time, was the one represented in this post's table: Does everyone in management know profitable versus unprofitable customers the bank serves today?

If you were in the corporate headquarters of McDonald's, you would be alarmed at the results. If you are in banking... not so much alarmed as happy that so many others remain as in the dark as you. I think lack of knowledge of profitable customers comes from three things:

1. Getting such a number requires investment in resources your FI currently does not have:
2. The regulators don't require the information; and
3. Even if you had the information, what would you do about it anyway?

All are related. FIs earn money on the spread. In order to create spread, FIs focus on creating a basket of the highest yielding assets within risk parameters, while funding them with a basket of the lowest costing funding. Why do you need some fancy profitability information to tell you that?

Problem: Various assets and liabilities take differing amount of operating expenses to accumulate. Also, based on risk, different assets and liabilities require different equity allocations. If your attitude is that the "incremental" cost of chasing this business or that is minimal, you may very well be mis-allocating your precious resources to low profit customers.

For example, we have a client that served the bar/restaurant business in a college town. These establishments brought decent balances to the bank. The problem: we found employees that spent half their day sorting through the bag-fulls of cash delivered every day. Could the bank allocate that operating expense to a campaign to acquire and serve higher profit customers? Without determining the profitability of those customers, we would never know about the opportunity lost.

I think it's time to change the paradigm from acquiring the highest yielding assets and the lowest costing liabilities based solely on interest earned or cost of funds. We should instead focus on acquiring and serving baskets of the highest profit customers. Doing so will efficiently allocate resources, improve our profitability, and enhance our FIs value.

~ Jeff

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