Exchange the driver’s license in the savings bank – economy

Exchange the driver’s license in the savings bank – economy

The Sparkasse branch in Cologne-Rodenkirchen is inconspicuous at first glance: lots of wood, lots of red, a few bank counters. Everything seems completely normal down here on the ground floor, although an important experiment is taking place just a few meters away: the visitor has to turn twice, climb a small flight of stairs to the first floor and end up in front of a glass door. An employee is already waiting there savings bank and beams at you: “You have an appointment at the Citizen Service?” He invites you into the first floor of the Sparkasse company center, in which the city of Cologne has recently occupied two offices, with a small waiting area in front of it. Savings bank employees work on this floor most days, but since December two clerks have come from the city every Tuesday, set up their equipment and exchange ID cards or driving licenses there, register people or handle other official business.

It is a pilot project from which both sides have high hopes in the cathedral city. The city of Cologne wants to get closer to the people – and the savings banks need an answer to a difficult question: what do we do with all the branches? Because one thing is clear: they need new uses for the thousands of square meters of space that they maintain throughout Germany. They cost the financial institutions many millions of euros every year, but are of little use to younger customers in particular, because they prefer to use their smartphones for banking transactions. Can the local citizen service reverse the trend?

Even before the end of the test phase: Cologne wants to expand the offer

In Cologne, they are now testing this until spring in the Rodenkirchen branch, which was particularly suitable: the town hall in the district is currently being demolished and rebuilt, in the meantime the administration has moved to an area that is connected to the Difficult to get to by bus or on foot. The city’s Sparkasse branch came in very handy, says City Director Andrea Blome.

The two “local staff” work through about 40 to 50 requests every Tuesday, more than 200 since the start in mid-December. “That’s not many thousands now, but the offer is of course a success,” says Blome. She wants to get closer to people again after the pandemic, she says. Because during the corona pandemic, the waiting times for official business increased enormously, even if the digital was able to create a replacement here and there. “With offers like this, we want to bring the service level back to what it was before the pandemic – and then beyond that,” says Blome today. If things are going well in the savings bank, they want to expand the business: more external staff, more locations, more flexibility.

The savings banks have to fill the empty branches

This is an opportunity for the Sparkasse, which is itself in municipal hands. There, too, they are satisfied with the first weeks of testing. No wonder, after all, the money house has dozens of branches in the best locations, which devour a lot of money in terms of staff, electricity and rent, but attract fewer and fewer customers. A paying subtenant like the city of Cologne is just the right thing to contribute to the costs and to lure people back into the branch.

After all, only very few end up there. 41 percent of customers have in 2022 only used their bank’s online banking, and the trend is rising. In 2018 it was still 29 percent, as from the Bitkom study “Digital Finance” emerges. In this, also in 2018, 17 percent still stated that they mainly use the branches. In 2022 it was only twelve percent. In addition, employees of the savings banks can and want to work from home. But then what to do with all that space?

In most financial institutions in the Federal Republic of Germany, this question has been easy to answer in recent years: to close. The big banks alone closed more than 20 percent of their branches in 2021. The most recent example of this is the Commerzbankwhich has closed dozens of branches and laid off staff, to the annoyance of many customers.

Things didn’t look much better for the savings banks, albeit on a smaller scale in many cases. Because unlike private banks, the savings banks have a more or less set limit when it comes to cancellations and closures. As a quasi-public institution, they are obliged to ensure the supply of cash and other banking transactions on site. Just because many people prefer to do their financial transactions via smartphone doesn’t mean that everyone does it. It is precisely for these people that Savings Banks must remain accessible, so the initial situation. But what can be done to ensure that this does not turn into a negative business? “It absolutely needs creative solutions, otherwise the empty branches just cost a lot of money,” says Oliver Geiseler from the management consultancy Capco.

Fishing license in store

There are a number of approaches to this across the country. For example, the people of Frankfurt share People’s Bank and the Taunus Sparkasse have a branch, in Düsseldorf there is one especially for young people and in Hamburg they are also already experimenting with the municipal subtenant. In one branch there is even a fishing license – based on a title from Fettes Brot, so to speak Nordic by Sparkasse. They see some such experiments at the Savings Banks Association, but: “Schools don’t tend to do that, especially since not all buildings can do it,” says a spokesman. Where possible, however, one would check whether additional offers make sense. “This usually results in a win-win situation.”

For the savings bank, the profit is not only in shared rent, says Capco expert Geiseler. “In the best case scenario, it also brings the savings banks more contact with existing customers or even completely new ones.” Anyone who has ever been to a Sparkasse branch may use the appointment to talk to their own bank advisor about the near future. Maybe the customer wants to build a house, take out a loan or finance a car? “If he sits at home, he will compare the prices on the Internet, and savings banks can rarely keep up. But in the branch you can win over the customer directly,” says Geiseler. It remains to be seen whether this is always the best option for the customer in the end. For the Sparkasse and its sales people, however, it is certainly a way to get more deals out of it.

The situation is similar for new customers who may even come into contact with the savings banks for the first time because of their visit, wait, read a flyer and have the bank in the back of their mind when making the next decision. However, Geiseler does not believe that negative feelings arise during such an official visit and then radiate to the Sparkasse. And in Rodenkirchen, too, the people in the counseling rooms don’t look unhappy or upset. Most of them, says an employee on site, are simply happy if they don’t have to walk so far, especially older people or families who come to the appointment with children. The test phase is still running.

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