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  The Herman Trend Alert

June 15, 2022

Banking: An Industry in Upheaval

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, a good friend of mine called me while she was waiting for her husband to make their monthly deposit of rent checks. Though there are four branches in Beverly Hills, none was open that day, and the closest open branch was miles away. When they arrived at the open branch, the line to receive service was around the block, It took over 30 minutes of waiting in line to be served. That experience prompted me to look into this matter and what I discovered actually shocked me.

Digital Banking: A Blessing and a Curse
For the big banks, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo digital banking has been a blessing and a curse. For individual consumers the phone apps and other technological advances like ATMs have been a godsend; for small businesses, they are not. Imagine you are a landlord with a 20-unit apartment house. Every month, you have a stack of 20 checks to deposit. Using the app means that you must line up each check precisely to take the required pictures of the fronts and backs. Is it any wonder that these entrepreneurs would rather take their deposits to their local branches?

A Multi-Faceted Problem
When COVID-19 hit the United States, like many businesses, banks closed their doors. Many laid off workers at all levels, reduced their hours of operation, and even closed whole branches ostensibly temporarily. Then came the Great Resignation and many folks working in banking and finance re-examined their values and attitudes and left their long-time jobs in favor of more "meaningful work.""

A Revived Economy does not mean Better Service
In fact, the situation is just the opposite. Now, after the economy has resumed its faster pace, these financial institutions no longer have the people to staff their many local branches. Their solution was to create "flying squads" (a retail term) of workers who would be stationed at one branch when it was open and another branch when that one was open. And sadly, their solution did not include letting the workers know where they would be two weeks in advance. The employees were/are only told one week at a time. My own experience with one of the majors is that on any given day at my local branch, there is one employee at a desk and a couple of tellers. When I asked if they were closing the branch, the answer was "No."

Getting Anything Done at a Local Branch is a Nightmare
Whether you are changing authorized signers or simply changing an address on a business or non-profit account, the process will take you more than an hour and probably more than two. It does not matter if the fault is multiple required authorizations or simply ignorance, the process will seem endless. Is it any wonder that consumers chose to opt for digital banking during the Pandemic? (another reason for banks to shutter their branches)

The Perfect Labor Storm
Years ago, my friend Ira Wolfe coined the term and wrote the book, The Perfect Labor Storm. Ira was talking about the confluence of the economy heating up, the Baby Boomers retiring and the fact that there would be fewer people in Generation X to fill the newly vacated positions. Around that time, my partner and I wrote a book called Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People. All of us forecasted a significant shortage of people. However, then came the Great Recession of 2008 and the projected shortfall never happened. Now, for real, the Perfect Labor Storm is here---with some differences. Instead of the Baby Boomers retiring, we have The Great Resignation and instead of the reduction from the size of the Generation X, we have the COVID Pandemic which has left organizations scrambling to fill their empty slots. And the third factor having an impact on the banking sector is that many workers are re-evaluating their jobs and looking for remote work.

Disruption will continue for the Foreseeable Future
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for what ails the banking sector. Banks will need to seriously up their game with more than benefits and money, if they want to successfully compete for people. And as I have said so many times in so many places, without good people to serve their customers, banks will be in a seriously compromised position. what will it take? It will take outstanding leadership throughout their enterprises and a level of empathy that has traditionally been more associated with credit unions. The banks also need to train their people better and fight with the government to reduce the numerous compliance issues that create a nightmare for bankers and consumers alike.

For more about bank closures, read the article at

Next Week's Herman Trend Alert: Continuing Decline in College Enrollment
For years now, there has been a disturbing trend in higher education. Post-secondary enrollments are down, way down. What's going on is another Perfect Storm of trends coming together. And what these mean for the future is very upsetting, especially if you are a college or university administrator. Not only will I talk about what is going wrong but how one university is bucking that trend in interesting ways.

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