Retail banking, also known as consumer banking or personal banking, refers to the provision of banking services directly to individual customers and small businesses. In retail banking, financial institutions offer a wide range of banking products and services tailored to meet the everyday financial needs of individuals and small businesses. These services are typically designed to be accessible, convenient, user-friendly and focus on the critical masses.
Retail banks play a critical role in financial inclusion, wealth distribution and poverty alleviation strategies at both the micro and macroeconomic levels. Retail banks also serve as intermediaries, taking deposits from savers and lending to borrowers, thus facilitating economic growth and development. With a focus on meeting the needs of individual customers, retail banking aims to enhance customer satisfaction and build long-term value and relationships.
Retail Banking and Current Developments
The world has witnessed unprecedented challenges in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic upsetting social and sectoral norms – including the banking industry in Ghana. Particularly, the retail banking sector in Ghana faces new challenges and opportunities in the COVID-19 pandemic’s aftermath. As Ghana navigates through these transformative times, the retail banking sector must adopt and adapt strategies to meet the changing needs and preferences of customers while addressing environmental concerns with respect to the changing landscape, so as to ensure economic recovery and sustainability.
Crafting a forward-looking retail banking strategy is therefore crucial to achieving economic recovery and sustainability in the post-COVID-19 era. Let us walk through a few strategies purposed to reposition the retail banking space so it best serves the needs of customers and assures continuous growth.
Embracing Digital Transformation
The COVID-19 pandemic tested the preparedness and resilience of retail banking in Ghana, while simultaneously accelerating the shift toward digital banking and making it essential for retail banks to fully embrace digital transformation. Since digital banking provides convenience to millions, successful retail banking strategy must prioritise and accelerate the development and enhancement of digital platforms – including online banking and other payment solutions.
A robust IT infrastructure has become the fulcrum around which modern banking services are deployed to the critical masses. Investing in robust cybersecurity measures is crucial to building customer trust and protecting sensitive financial data within the digital space.
Be Customer-centric and Focus on Value Co-creation
Speaking on the topic Banking as a Service (BaaS) at the ‘Connected Banking Summit’ held at Kempinski Hotel Accra, last year, I made the point that customers would dictate the products and services developed by banks going forward – leading to increasing customisation of products and services. With years of experience in retail banking, understanding and meeting customer needs will remain a cornerstone of the retail banking strategy. I believe that without a more targetted approach to meeting customer needs, the ‘high-end’ retail banking segment, for instance, could be missed.
Leveraging data analytics will also enable banks to identify trends and preferences of retail banking customers to help enhance product offerings. Banks must focus more on value co-creation to ensure personalised and user-friendly customer experiences, providing tailor-made products and services that best serve the needs of diverse customer segments in order to engender customer loyalty. Customers also expect empathy and rewards for loyalty, and therefore strategies that embrace such expectations will certainly help edge competition.
Promote Financial Inclusion
In the post-COVID-19 era, financial inclusion has become even more critical to support economic recovery and social development. It is not surprising that one of the current IMF programme’s core objectives is inclusive growth, therefore deliberate actions by retail banks to promote financial inclusion are critical to achieving economic growth. Retail banks can play a pivotal role in promoting financial literacy, expanding access to banking services in rural areas, and offering affordable and accessible products to underserved populations. Collaborations with fintech companies and mobile network operators will facilitate financial inclusion efforts by providing means to reach the underserved. This opportunity should be leveraged to develop special products that serve the banking needs of other untapped segments.
Focus on Sustainable Financing
Climate change poses significant risks to Ghana’s economy just like others, and requires sustainability strategies for mitigating the risks and leveraging its opportunities. Retail banks should integrate sustainability into their core business practices to help mitigate the risks and take advantage of the opportunities therein.
The strategies must include adopting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles; financing green initiatives; supporting renewable energy projects; and promoting sustainable business practices among their clients. It must be emphasised that such practices must be integrated into core retail banking strategies, to help influence behaviour toward good environmental practices in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Strengthen Risk Management and Resilience
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of building resilience in the face of unforeseen disruptions. Retail banks should enhance their risk management practices, diversify their portfolios and stress-test their operations to ensure stability and continuity. Investing in technological infrastructure and disaster recovery measures are vital to withstanding future crises. For instance, during the lockdown banks with adequate risk mitigating system in place had their staff working from home while others struggled. This must be a significant learning curve, and it is imperative that working from home, for example, becomes an integral part of the risk strategy which is so critical to the sustainability and success of retail banking.
Leverage Partnerships and Collaboration
Collaborations and partnerships can foster innovation and efficiency in the retail banking sector. Banks should consider collaborating with fintech startups, technology providers and other financial institutions to co-create innovative solutions, reduce operational costs and expand their service offerings. Such collaborations could also involve vendors to provide unique solutions for specific segments of the market, and the advent of application programming interfaces (APIs) will make such initiatives easier.
Nurture a Positive Organisational Culture
The retail banking strategy’s successful implementation relies on fostering a positive organisational culture. Culture is the software that runs any organization, and therefore a positive culture is needed to drive the right strategies. It is important to note that one of the reasons some strategies fail is existing cultures are normally not tested to see if they can support the proposed strategy.
Developing the right culture spans from recruitment to exit. Building an all-inclusive and meritorious organisation that embraces diversity and innovation is crucial to refining the software that runs an organisation. Banks should empower their employees through continuous training, encourage diversity and inclusion, and reward innovation and customer-centricity. An engaged and motivated workforce is more likely to deliver superior customer service and drive business growth. Balanced scorecards can be used to influence behaviour toward desired business outcomes within a robust appraisal system.
The retail banking sector in Ghana faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID-19 era. Leveraging on the proposed strategies above will not only ensure effective repositioning but also enhance resilience and deliver long-term value to customers and stakeholders. By crafting a well-rounded retail banking strategy, banks can position themselves as drivers of economic recovery, sustainable development and financial well-being in an ever-changing world.
Moreover, the current economic challenges have made retail banking business an attractive venture due to cheaper deposits arising out of depositors’ lower bargaining power, lower concentration risk in respect of retail assets, lower NPLs and stable incomes. Strategies that revolve around customer acquisition and retention enabled by technology application will thrive and drive profitability.
The writer is Head-Consumer Finance Department, ADB Plc.
Email: [email protected]