BAI 2017: A Beacon of Insights

BAI Beacon is an immersive, fast-paced, financial services conference focused on helping drive growth for financial institutions. The new conference format first introduced at their Vegas conference is highly interactive with multiple presentations happening simultaneously in a central conference campus, grouped by relevant topics. Its like a five ring Barnum and Bailey circus experience, taking learning and multi-tasking to a whole new level. I had the privilege of assisting Stephen Griffin, SVP of Retail Bank Management of Regions Bank, in conducting a pre-conference workshop on Breaking the Branch, in addition to attending the main conference sessions. For those of you who may not have attended the session and for others that did, I have outlined some key takeaways from the my time there.

Small innovations for big results

David Robertson, best-selling author and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a professor in practice at The Wharton School, leveraged great insights from how Lego approaches innovation and applied them to the banking industry. With the disruptive influence of fintech industries, financial institutions around the globe have reprioritized their innovation agendas. Mr. Robertson’s presentation focused on the importance of innovation using the analogy that innovating is like dating your customer – not fighting the competition. The best solutions come from solving the biggest limitations. Leveraging many stories, he reinforced the importance of exploring small wins in innovation by focusing on unmet customer needs.

Branch experience is pivotal

The Breaking the Bank session that Stephen Griffin and I conducted questioned bankers who realizing the importance of the branch experience in driving growth. The challenge for many is how branches must evolve to remain relevant. The working session, with more than 25 bankers, isolated the following four priorities:

  • Priority #1: Customer education and greater customer in-branch retention strategies
  • Priority #2: Driving improved processes to deliver better cross-selling and focus on higher value services
  • Priority #3: Support the branch staff to ensure they can deliver a better customer experience

The theme of branch relevancy was repeated by many workshops and presentations during the conference, from why customer experience is more important than ever to how banks can optimize their channel strategy. From these different presentations, it became clear that the size and purpose of branches need to evolve, even as many financial institutions are downsizing their networks and branch footprints. Yet, both in various sessions and in conversation with many ATM and digital technology vendors, the continued transition of most transactions to digital and online was explored. We are seeing a greater divergence between banks’ lower margin transactions migrating to online, mobil,e and ATM platforms and the need to better empower, hire, and train front-line staff who can provide the level of financial advice and support that customers are seeking.

Automating the customer experience will only drive cost out of the system – it won’t drive revenue and future growth

Training and staff empowerment is critical

For the first time this year at a banking conference, the importance of employee engagement and training was a primary topic by many presenters. This is mainly due to the realization that automating the customer experience will only drive cost out of the system – it won’t drive revenue and future growth. The majority of conference attendees realize that employees are a pivotal part of driving growth and customer retention. From sessions around smarter career decisions, reinventing the sales scorecard, sales compensation, and incentives to the best apps for employee collaboration, the conference outlined the renewed interest and importance of empowering and providing the right incentives for the front-line staff.

Technology is both a saviour and threat

From the growth of fintech companies and the success of digital and mobile banking platforms to the emerging impact of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, the conference outlined many many of the ways that financial institutions are trying to remain relevant as disruption reshapes the ways consumers bank. Many financial institutions have embraced fintech start-ups by partnering or acquiring their platforms while  larger companies, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are exploring how AI and IoT can deliver personalized products and services to their customers. Bankers have realized that technological will remain an important factor dictating the future of banking, and they’re finally starting to dedicate funds and resources to saying in step with those changes.


BAI Beacon 2017 has demonstrated the speed and impact of transformation in a traditionally risk averse industry. Every team is trying to win a touch down by only playing the game with short ten yard passes. Although they’re getting closer to the goal posts, focusing on short term initiatives makes the prospect of a touchdown very remote.