The Sunday banking wars are about to get more heated in Canada, as two of the country's largest lenders try to gain market share in the tough retail banking market by staying open longer on weekends.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the country's fifth-largest bank by assets, has unveiled an ambitious plan to expand its banking hours by doubling the number of locations open on Sunday, to 107. That will put CIBC squarely in second place, after Toronto-Dominion Bank, which has made weekend banking hours a key part of its strategy.
TD, which is Canada's second-largest bank, will have 407 Sunday branches open by the end of this month, with several new locations expected to be unveiled in markets across the country in the next few weeks. Bank of Montreal is the only other major bank to operate Sunday locations, with 35 in select cities across Canada.
The strategy for the banks is to lure customers from competitors who aren't open every day, betting that Canadians are too time pressed to do their banking during the week. It's a gamble that takes careful market research though, since the business a branch takes in on weekends needs to cover the cost of operating the location and staffing it.
For CIBC though, the push further into weekend banking comes as it looks to expand its in-house mortgage sales. CIBC was a large player in the mortgage broker channel for the past several years, but announced this spring it was getting out of that end of the business, wanting to focus on selling the loans from its branches, since the margins are higher. CIBC is hoping to draw more mortgage and investment traffic in the door, since people have time on weekends. It plans to target branches near grocery stores, hockey rinks and other high traffic zones where people go on Sundays.
"From a financial standpoint it makes sense for us," said Larry Tomei, senior vice-president of retail distribution at CIBC. "It's the folks who are living busy lives during the week and need the time, in particular on Saturdays and Sundays, to come in and have deeper conversations around advice. It's new immigrants, it's baby boomers, it's people who just can't find the time."
The jury is still out on successful the strategy is, though. While all Canada's big five banks have expanded significantly into Saturday banking hours, the industry remains divided on the Sunday strategy.
Royal Bank of Canada, which opens 760 of its 1,236 branches on Saturday, has not yet moved to Sunday banking. Canada's largest bank has instead focused on its online and mobile banking, as well as its telephone banking capacity. Similarly, Bank of Nova Scotia, the country's third-largest lender, has 377 of its 1,035 branches open on Saturday, but none on Sunday.
"While some financial institutions have narrowly defined convenience and access around branches opening late or on weekends, we believe it is more than that and have taken a different approach to this need," a spokeswoman for RBC said. "For us, convenience and access is about being able to serve our clients through the channel they choose."
CIBC expanded into Sunday banking in 2007, but was leapfrogged by TD, which chose longer hours to differentiate itself from competitors. While CIBC held firm at about 50 branches until this year, TD added several hundred. Tom Dyck, executive vice-president of branch banking at TD, said the bank is not operating at a loss on Sundays, and it does rigorous market research to ensure it chooses the right locations.
"For us, weekends in particular are a very important part of our business strategy," Mr. Dyck said. "We look at other businesses who tend to be around where our branches are, and if they tend to be open on Saturdays and Sundays, that means that there is traffic there and demand by our customers and that we should be open."
The demise of branches has been predicted for years. A decade ago, industry watchers figured the popularity of Internet banking would signal the steady decline of branch banking, but the desire customers have to conduct longer discussions on topics, such as mortgage or investments, in person has kept the concept going. Meanwhile, banks can offer additional products when customers come into the branch, which makes a network of locations attractive.
"It's still a place where people go. Most people still want to know there's an anchor where they can go if they have a problem. And I think a lot of people who, in 2002, were predicting the end of branches, kind of forgot that people like to be anchored to something," said Rob Wessel, managing partner of Hamilton Capital, a financial services asset manager. "If I have a problem I want to be able to go speak to somebody personally."