We are living in the middle of a third industrial revolution, the electronic revolution. The microchip has become an indispensable part of our daily life. In the car, in the kitchen, at the cash desk in a supermarket, when sending emails – wherever you look, these small electronic devices are the technological basis. More and more people want to do as much online as possible. Even the task of going to the supermarket can be passed on to somebody else via an app. Another structurally important trend is the movement of people from rural areas into the cities. Urbanisation has in fact been taking place in Europe and Germany for hundreds of years now.
On an international level, it has considerable consequences: just a few years ago, in 2008, we passed the point where more people were living in urban than in rural areas. Urbanisation has consequences for those who remain in the rural areas: retail sales, public transport, public administration – among other things – all decline when people move away, making life more difficult for those who are not mobile, as they do not own a car, and can not (or do not want to) use the internet. In Germany’s rural areas this mostly affects the older generation, as they find the new digital daily life difficult to grasp.
Friendly and helpful: Erik Schneider in the mobile branch office.
The possibility of using the Internet for financial operations plays a major role for many customers. And that is quite understandable: it is “open” 24 hours a day and accessible from nearly everywhere in Germany. In addition, online banking is safe and can be adjusted to meet the clients’ personal preferences and needs. Andreas Fratta of Kreissparkasse Cologne knows a lot about this distribution channel. He learned the Savings Banks business from scratch and worked as District Manager for ten years, before starting his current position as a New Media Sales Advisor. He is sure that online applications will be used more and more in future. “Services like text and video chat enable a form of personal communication without having to go all the way to the branch and without long waiting hours,” he says. And he adds: “Being independent of a location is especially important. During a break at work, on holiday, at home on the sofa – I can contact the Savings Bank from anywhere and everywhere; it’s easy and straightforward.”
The Savings Banks themselves also use these new channels. when they need advice from experts at different branch offices. “Due to its increasing popularity, we are continuously expanding our electronic communication services,” Fratta explains. However, it is important to reassure those who fear ‘unknown territory’ – including his own colleagues. Thus, online seminars are organised in branch offices and regular meetings are held with the Regional Directors. Many of these encounters lead to ideas for new applications. Fratta always proceeds the same way, in all conversations with his employees: “This ‘online’ box is interesting for everyone because no one really knows what’s in it for him or her. So, we open it together and have a look at what we can and cannot use for our customers in urban and rural areas.”
90% to 95% of our customers are relatively elderly,” says Philip Stegert. He and his colleague Erik Schneider drive one of the four Mobile Savings Bank branch offices of Kreissparkasse Cologne around the catchment area of this famous cathedral city. The mobile branch office is a seven-tonne truck in bright Savings Bank red – equipped with everything a branch office needs: an ATM, a printer for bank statements, a counter and Messrs. Stegert and Schneider as advisors. The two young men are bank clerks and obviously enjoy their work, probably also because they know how important they are for many people. “Most of our customers can still walk shorter distances, but often they don’t have a car, which makes it quite complicated to get to the nearest Savings Bank.” They make an important point: although there are fewer Savings Bank branches in the Rheinisch-Bergischer district, Rhein-Sieg district, Oberberg district and Rhein-Erft district nowadays, the two men drive to towns which have never had a branch office. And how many customers use these mobile branch offices? “That’s difficult to say; on average it ranges from five to 25 people per town or village,” Stegert says, before heading off with his colleague to the truck’s next destination: Schnellenbach, in the Oberberg district.
Bright red, mobile and fully-equipped with ATM, bank statement printer and counter.
Great service at a great price – and great for people with mobility restrictions: Cash To You service in Siegen.
Savings Bank Siegen has taken a different, but also mobile approach. For them, Gabriele Horn is at the steering wheel. She is also on the road for the Savings Bank, and her customers are also mostly elderly people. Yet with a great degree of personal commitment, she delivers cash to her clients, directly to their front door – anywhere within Sparkasse Siegen's business area, and regardless of whether there is a local branch. “The amount of money we deliver once a week ranges from EUR 100 to 2,000. Our customers can decide what banknote denomination they would like, that is very important to many of them. Occasionally, I also help to fill in transfers, answer all kinds of questions regarding financial services and introduce our telephone banking service," says the trained banker. Gabriele Horn has been working within the Savings Bank's service functions for over 20 years and is a trusted advisor for many customers. “But it’s not only the elderly who use the Cash To You service – sometimes only on a temporary basis,” she tells us, “we also bring money to people who can not leave their house, for example because of a broken leg.” And the good thing about it: for only three euros a month, this service is affordable for everyone. When asked whether other financial institutions have also adopted this service, she smiles and says, smiling, that a competitor has indeed introduced a similar service. In addition, other Savings Banks planning to implement a Cash To You service in rural areas have also made enquiries.
The German Savings Banks may have different approaches to fulfill their customers’ changing needs. But they all take care to keep in contact with their customers, and to enable everyone to participate in business life. And they all follow the same guiding principle: “We provide access to modern financial services – to people, regional businesses and municipalities.”