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What is the ROI of banking innovation?

By Jim Bruene on June 3, 2011 11:33 AM | Comments

image An executive on the front lines of product development at a major financial institution recently asked me this question:

How can I prove that innovation really matters to the bottom line?

I've been a "product guy" my whole career so I take it for granted that "building a better mousetrap" eventually trickles down to a boost to the bottom line. That worked at Microsoft, Apple and Caterpillar (my first job).

But they are manufacturing companies. That better mousetrap, be it Win95, the iPod, or a D10 tractor, brought in direct, usually profitable, revenues.

It's harder if you are a retailer. If the Gap spends a million dollars to improve search and discovery on its website, will it really sell enough extra jeans and sweaters to make the investment back, let alone earn an acceptable return?

Banks are both retailers (branch and online) and manufacturers (checking accounts, loans). But today, the P&L from their digital efforts is more like the Gap than Apple. You have to sell a lot of extra checking accounts and car loans to justify even a modest website investment. This has held back digital investments for 15 years (see note 1).

But what if banks started acting more like a manufacturer when it comes to digital products, by creating new services to package and sell on their own merits.

For example, instead of spending a couple hundred thousand every year to give everyone remote check-deposit capabilities free of charge, create a new digital product called, The Magic Check Deposit Service, and sell it for $2.99/mo. This product not only reduces costs, since it will have far fewer lapsed and/or clueless users, but also pegs a monetary figure to the service, thereby increasing its perceived value even if you end up giving it away to your best customers.
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The Numbers
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Let's crunch a few numbers. Assume it costs $0.50/mo to support each user + $0.25 per check deposited + $20 per tech support call (I made these up so don't quote me).

Free service:
Cost = 50,000 users x 0.67 checks/mo + 1,000 support calls per year = $420,000
Fee revenue = $0
Customer retention value = ??? (some positive number)
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Net = ($420,000)

Subscription service:
Cost = 5,000 x 4 checks/mo x 100 support calls per year = $92,000
Revenue = 5,000 x $2.95/mo = $177,000
Retention value = ??? (same as above)
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Net = +$85,000

Change in net (delta) = $500,000
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Bottom line
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With either approach you get to tout the benefits of the new innovation to capture the branding value. But under the subscription model, only those who really stand to benefit from the service use it, and you end up with a small profit or at least less of a loss. In the above example there is $500,000 gain compared to the free model.

Yes, this is over simplistic. Yes, you'll take some grief for charging when others are giving it away. It's possible you might even lose a few customers, but not $500,000 worth. And the biggest benefit of all, you can actually afford to create the new service now, instead of tabling it for five years until it becomes a competitive necessity. 

Back to the original question. Honestly, I have no idea how to prove that innovation has a good ROI. What I do know is that for the past 100+ years, clever manufacturers have created billions in value by beating the competition with new products and services. I'm pretty sure financial companies will do the same with their online and mobile offerings.

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Note:
1. See our current Online Banking Report, Creating Fee-Based Online & Mobile Banking Services.

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Categories: Fee Income , Pricing , Strategies

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