The Business Times

It's back to the strategy drawing board for banks

It's back to the strategy drawing board for banks

The times demand that banks re-learn strategy.

  • min read


It's back to the strategy drawing board for banks

This article originally appeared in The Business Times Singapore (subscription required).

FOR many years, corporate strategy languished in banking circles. During the go-go 1990s and most of the 2000s, too many bankers pursued indiscriminate growth, had a broad appetite for risk and diversified their portfolios without worrying enough about controlling costs or staking out distinctive positions in the eyes of customers.

Then, the financial crisis caused an abrupt about-face from growth to survival. Many bankers wielded blunt restructuring tools to take out costs and de-leverage their balance sheets in order to meet regulators' capital adequacy requirements. While most of these measures were necessary, they certainly did not set the stage for future growth.

The times demand that banks re-learn strategy. Banks' sources of revenue have come under pressure as credit growth has slowed and net interest margins have been squeezed. Digitally based entrants with disruptive business models, such as eToro and Kabbage, have been attacking lazy profit pools and taking share from incumbent banks. And repeated waves of regulations have introduced ever stricter and higher capital requirements.

Consider that the gap in total shareholder return between the best and worst of the 20 largest banks worldwide has widened from a 5 per cent standard deviation from the average return between 1993 and 2003 to 9 per cent over the 2003-2013 period, as Bain & Company analysis shows. Clearly, different business choices - an integral part of strategy - led to different financial outcomes.

Any strategy should define a broader set of options than most banks have considered, around their business portfolio, risk appetite and capital allocation. Some leading banks are weighing options that feel radically different from one another, rather than being a variation on a theme. Their decisions cluster in three areas: the bank's overall ambitions; where it should compete by country, product and customer segment; and how it can win in each chosen market.

Read the full article in The Business Times Singapore (subscription required).

The writers are partners at Bain & Company and members of Bain's Financial Services Practice.


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