According to Commerzbank private customer boss Thomas Schaufler, the classic bank branch will continue to lose importance in the coming years. "In a few years you will hardly have any reason to come to a branch in terms of content. I believe that all banking topics will then be possible via the advice center and online channels," said the board of the DAX group to the German press agency in Frankfurt.
"Nevertheless, there will always be customers who say: I like coming to the branch and I would like to do that too." The branch will therefore remain “an important part” of the “omni-channel strategy,” said Schaufler. The aim must be to provide customers with banking services of the same quality across a wide range of channels.
No plans for branch closures
Commerzbank, which before the corona pandemic still had a comparatively dense network with around 1,000 locations nationwide, has radically reduced its branch network to 400 in recent years. “I feel very comfortable with our around 400 branches at the moment,” affirmed Schaufler, who has been leading Commerzbank’s private customer business since the end of 2021.
"It was clear to us that customers would leave us if we closed 60 percent of our 1,000 locations. But it was significantly fewer than expected. Unfortunately, a few customers still left us in 2023, but thanks to new customers we are plus or minus zero." According to the latest figures, Commerzbank serves almost eleven million private and business customers in its private customer segment, which also includes the online brand Comdirect.
Longer opening hours?
Schaufler does not want to change the opening times of the classic branches for the time being. “I currently see no need for extended opening hours in our branches,” said the private customer boss. "The advice center, which is also available on Saturdays, fills the gap between physical sales and pure online access very well." Last year, Schaufler was basically open about thinking about opening traditional branches on Saturdays if there was enough demand.
Overall, Commerzbank needs to “show customers even better where we can offer them added value,” said Schaufler. Among other things, he referred to the offer of financial analysis, in which the bank, at the request of a customer, analyzes their income and expenses, for example to determine whether insurance can be bundled or whether there is money left for savings.
Schaufler: Don't take part in the race for the highest overnight interest rate
Because Schaufler does not want to take part in the race for the highest daily money offer, which has been getting going again since the summer of 2022 after the European Central Bank (ECB) turned interest rates. "We didn't try to beat the daily money offers, but rather show customers what opportunities there are to beat inflation in the long term. Our goal is to turn savers into investors." From Schaufler's point of view, the strategy has worked: "We have more private customer deposits at Commerzbank than at the beginning of the year."