Springfield, MO

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Rebecca Green | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Kris Conley

Chief Retail Banking Officer, Great Southern Bank

Posted online

You tore down an existing branch to build an Express Center on West Sunshine. How did the concept come about?
It’s certainly a different model for Great Southern Bank. We decided that this particular location was probably the perfect location to try this concept. One, the old building was pretty tired. We’d been there a long time. It was small. Secondly, that particular location just had a very high volume of transactions. But the lion’s share of its business was done through the drive-thru. What we found is the bulk of our customer base, if they were going to go in and check on a loan or even open up a new account of some sort, normally they would go to one of our other larger locations. That and the fact that the building was getting pretty tired kind of spurred the idea of, hey, let’s look at a new concept here. We could still have a facility there where they could have one-on-one interaction with a live person but in an express-type environment. With the technology that’s available to us today that wasn’t available 10, 15 years ago, then all of a sudden it made a whole lot of sense. If we’re going to rebuild the building, why don’t we just test the waters with this type of concept and see how it goes.

What does it look like for a customer to visit an Express Center branch? What are they able to do, and how are they interacting with the teller?
They’re going to pull into a drive-thru facility and there will be an ITM, or an ATM-looking machine with a video screen. A lot of banks have them. They would have the option to pull into that lane, one of the four drive-thru lanes, and just do a regular ATM transaction or hit a button and interact with a live teller. Our ITM teller reservation center is here in the operations center. They’ll be able to transact basically any kind of business that they want to with the exception of opening up a new checking account.

How does this help with workforce? I imagine this brings some efficiencies.
Industry standards say that one teller in that ITM environment can take care of six ITMs. I think that may be a bit of an overstatement. We’ll see. The object of the game here is we’ll be able to take care of these customers’ needs at this specific location but without the expense of a banking center manager or a personal banker. That one teller would be able to handle an ITM in Springfield, Missouri, or Minneapolis, Minnesota. This will be our first all-ITM location.

How do you plan to evaluate the branch? And do you have a rollout plan, if it works out well, to do this in more locations?
We don’t plan on replacing all of our banking centers with electronic locations. It works here in Springfield because we have such a high density of banking centers. If we have a certain customer group that really likes this idea, then obviously they can take advantage of the Express location and those customers that are not crazy about that idea, then they can just go a few blocks away and walk into a traditional branch. We might look at this concept in St. Louis. We have over 20 banking centers in the St. Louis market.

You oversee Great Southern’s 91 banking centers, soon to be 92. The S&P Global Market Report found 2020 was a record year for branch closures and then 2021 topped that again with nearly 3,000 branches closed. Do you anticipate a continual shift as far as closures of physical branch locations? And what is driving that?
Do I suspect to see that trend continue? Yes, I do. Do I personally expect to see that trend continue at that same pace? No, I don’t. There was a lot of things that drove that decrease in banking centers. One, it made sense. Nationally, as far as physical locations are concerned, we are way overbanked. Twenty years ago, that was the name of the game. We want to make sure that we’ve got a branch on every corner. But with the evolution of electronics, that doesn’t make as much sense. COVID comes into play on this and what it did to our workforce. We suffered a shortage of associates just like every other industry. If you look at us historically, it wasn’t 10 years ago we had 130 branches, which was a classic case of overkill. Now, a lot of that was through acquisitions that we had made. Now we have 91. Five years from now, 10 years from now, will we still have 91? I don’t know. As we look at possibly consolidating some locations, we’re also looking at opening new locations, as well, depending on the markets and depending on the need. The industry has certainly evolved and it has trimmed itself down, and I think that was a very long overdue situation.

How have you seen consumers usage of your banking products shift over the years?
The bulk of the customers still want to be able to go into a banking center and talk to a banker. For a simple transaction or mobile deposit, our customers are using (mobile phones), there’s no doubt about it. But when we survey our customers – and we do this constantly through J.D. Power and Qualtrics – our customers still say across the board that they prefer when it comes to opening accounts, when it comes to consulting with somebody about a loan, they still want to talk to a banker.

Are there particular areas within your six-state region that you think have the biggest opportunity for Great Southern?
We’ve been very successful in the St. Louis market. That was our focus for a long time. We went from one location to over 20. The Iowa market has been very good to us. I could say without hesitation that Kansas City is an area that probably we could stand to increase our presence.

The latest McKinsey Retail Banking Survey reported a 10% drop in retail banking sales in 2021. What are you seeing within Great Southern Bank?
I think those numbers are still a bit skewed due to COVID. But it's going to be real interesting to see where this industry is 20 years from now when the baby boomers are not banking anymore and when we have more of the younger generation. I've got a young, married daughter with two small children, and rarely does she go into a banking center unless she needs to open a new account, find out about interest rates, check on a loan. Now, 20 years from now? I don't know.

Are there other changes you're considering in your brick-and-mortar banking centers?
At the moment is, again, looking at efficiencies. Looking at our branch network and making sure that things are fresh and new and staying up with technology is a huge, huge thing. You're dealing with a moving target. As far as the industry's concerned, our president and CEO likes to say that we like to be fast followers. We don't necessarily want to set the trends, but we want to make sure that we're right in the mix. We have strategic plans in place and our banking center network is something that is constantly evolving. I'm very proud of our banking center network and we're going to continue to grow our customer base and improve our banking center network and see where we are five years from now.

What are you seeing with consumer spending and saving behavior as we look into this unpredictable year ahead?
With some of the programs that the government had where people were getting money given to them, everybody was just swimming in liquidity for a while. During the COVID outbreak, people were hanging on to that money. We saw deposit totals really skyrocket in all banks. At the same time, people weren't borrowing as much because they were concerned about the pandemic. Where we are now is we're seeing prices are higher. People are using that liquidity that they had. Now due to the economic downturn, we're seeing people having to spend more money. So, that liquidity level at all financial institutions has come down out of necessity because our customers need the money. As far as deposit totals are concerned, they've come down. But I think that's economically driven more than anything right now.


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