Monday, September 25, 2006

When there are too many

I happened to visit an ICICI bank counter after a long time. I had touched upon this the last time, but now it appears as if something drastic would need to be put in place for ICICI to manage its customers. The bank counter was as crowded as any railway ticket booking counter. The housing loan department was also packed. "Sir, Saturdays are like this", said a helpful staffer.

ICICI has a large user base in the cities - esp Bangalore. It also has the largest ATM network in India, but apparently they are not enough. (Again, no data - just that there are a few ATMs in and around and all of them are crowded at almost all times of the day - nights are not the best time to take money out of an ATM) So the banks are crowded, ATMs have a perennial queue outside and customers think that ICICI does not bother about its customers. ICICI got around crowds by using ATMs (Citi is a good example), their executives and their web channel, but even that is not enough; still far too many have to come down to branches.

Designing with crowds in mind is very difficult. The moment there are crowds, you lose the swank look. Coupled with the fact that real estate prices are not exactly down, banks lose the flexibility to have big spacious branches that lets crowds appear sparse. This has given rise to services like private banking which are for elite (with big deposits) customers. What could also happen is that other banks with branches near offices, homes could capture some market since "they are not crowded" and "convenient". Also, banks offer executives who can come home and get work done - these virtual "branches" of execs are far cheaper to maintain than a full fledged branch.

Perhaps the solution lies in simplicity. Simplifying bank procedures? Making bank visits as less required as possible? A simpler and more effective call center? As Big Bazaar, Indian railways, Air Deccan, McDonalds, temples like Tirupati have discovered in physical as well as virtual lives, managing crowds (especially on high volume days) can be quite a challenge.


Niti Bhan said...

Interesting concept, worthy of a Dd post, no? particularly if you approach it as you have done "designing with crowds in mind is very difficult"

this issue, I'm sure, will come up again and again as more services and retail outlets and showrooms are designed for the more populous places on earth like India and China.

do we need to go back to good old OR and Queueing theory ?

Anonymous said...

ICICI Bank does not have the largest ATM network today . The link is an old one dating to 2001. The Bank , currently , with the largest network is SBI with around 4500 atms compared to around 2000 for ICICI Bank.
The problem of crowd control is lost on all these new generation banks. They expected , that most of the Indian customers would adopt to the new tech savvy operations, but most Indian customers would still prefer to visit a bank for most mundane things like passbook updation etc. As you have written , simplifying bank procedures is the need of the hour.