Soul-searching is Job 1 at a lot of banks.
That's the takeaway from a KPMG survey of more than 100 bankers due out Wednesday.
Nine out of 10 banks said that they have re-examined, are in the process of re-examining or will re-examine their operating models, according to an advance copy of the survey results. This means banks are rethinking everything from who their customers are to how they reach them and the products that they will offer, said Brian Stephens, national leader of KPMG's banking and capital markets practice.
New regulations and a struggling economy would seem to demand big changes, but banks are often accused of clinging to the past.
"It is relatively encouraging that there wasn't a burying-their-head-in-the-sand mentality," Stephens said.
Forty percent of the respondents said that asset and wealth management would be essential to expand revenue over the next few years. Banks are also beginning to focus on the underbanked. Stephens estimated that there are roughly 90 million consumers who do little or no business with traditional banks. A fifth of respondents said that those consumers presented the greatest growth opportunity
To be successful in these areas, banks will need to sharpen their relationship-building skills and get better at selling multiple products to customers, Stephens said. Traditionally banks have struggled with cross-selling, though 42% of respondents to the survey said this strategy would drive revenue growth in the coming years.
Besides examining new product offerings, banks are also rethinking how they reach customers, the survey found. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they would invest the most capital in mobile banking and payment platforms for mobile devices, while 23% said they would concentrate on online banking platforms. Twenty-four percent of respondents plan to invest the most in purchasing more branches.
As more people complete transactions remotely through mobile devices and online, banks are rethinking "the need for that real estate space," Stephens said. He predicted that banks will turn branches into more of a sales channel rather than a service one because, he said, it is uncertain how much loyalty technological interactions command.
"How does a branch connect with a customer over what will hopefully be a lifetime of interactions with a customer? How do you provide service and not spend lots on brick and mortar?" These are questions banks need to think about, Stephens said.
The survey also found that the anticipated wave of merger-and-acquisition activity may remain delayed. Twenty-one percent of participants said they very likely would acquire a company in the next two years; that was up 2 basis points from 2011. But 39% said they had no plans for M&A, up 14 basis points from last year.
Stephens blamed the lack of M&A activity on several factors. Acquirers still have concerns about underperforming assets at potential acquisition targets and are attempting to figure out appropriate ways to structure deals. Buyers and sellers also are still not agreeing on prices, he said.
"It seems like this is an industry that is begging and ripe for consolidation," he said. "There is an increased capacity for that, but it's not happening yet."
KPMG conducted the survey in May. It included responses from 104 banking executives with 82% of respondents at public companies and the rest at privately held banks. About three-quarters of participants worked at banks with assets of $1 billion or more, while the rest were at smaller banks.