Issue #42, July 2011

"72% of customers said they did not know the name of a single person who works
at their primary banking institution."
— Recent SapientNitro consumer study


The Problem


The problem is a growing frustration with, and distrust of, banks by many consumers. Over the past four years a growing number of banking customers have lost confidence in their bank.

While credit unions aren’t totally immune to this situation, by far the biggest problem is with banks.

This distrust has several consequences including pushing customers into the hands of non-traditional competitors like Walmart, e*Trade, Charles Schwab, PayPal, Google and a growing number of high tech start-ups like Square, Mint, Bitcoin, and of course, credit unions.

Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto.

On May 26, Google announced the launch of its new “tap-to-pay” cashless cell-phone payment system that takes us closer to the end of physical currency. It’s a joint venture with Citibank and MasterCard.

Jack Dorsey, Square founder and co-founder of Twitter, had this to say when asked why he created Square as a simple alternative to the traditional method of becoming a credit card merchant. “We tried to get a merchant account ourselves, and it was just a disaster. We had to create a whole corporate structure. We’d sign up with one company, and they’d route us to a completely different organization. The whole process took four weeks. And meanwhile, we had to pay to get our bank account set up, we had to enter into a one-year agreement, and then we found out there was a monthly fee. And then we found out that there’s something called a PCI fee. And then a gateway fee. And then we found out about the interchange.”

Bottom line – Jack Dorsey and his friends had lost confidence in the way banks approach something as simple as signing-up a new credit card merchant. As co-founder and now CEO of Twitter, you don’t want someone as influential as Jack Dorsey seeking alternatives to retail and small merchant banking.

The entire interview with Jack Dorsey appears in the June 2011 issue of Wired magazine. It’s an eye-opener for anyone in retail banking.

This loss of confidence is the result of a combination of reasons which will be presented below. But first we’ll provide some proof of this growing frustration with the banking industry.

SOME PROOF

Since 2007, the banking industry has been hanging around some bad actors in the corporate world.

For years we’ve been hearing and reading about consumers’ frustrations dealing with cell phone service providers and cable TV service providers. In fact, almost all of us have had at least one unfavorable experience dealing with someone in one or both of these industries.

For many years, the consumer banking business operated on a totally different customer service level than these guys.

Unfortunately, things have changed.

It’s possible that a majority of members of senior management and bank marketers are unaware of the company they’ve been keeping at the Better Business Bureau. I’m sure they’d be shocked to learn that over the past four years they’ve been lumped in with cell phone providers, cable TV providers, and new car dealers as the industries receiving the most complaints by the BBB as seen below.

As you can see in the chart above, in 2007 banks were ranked #4 in the number of complaints received from angry customers. They jumped to #3 position in 2008 and 2009. The good news is that in 2010, banks dropped back to the #4 position thanks to new car dealers taking over the #3 spot.

Bottom line, it’s disappointing to see banking anywhere near the top 10, let alone hanging out in the top four positions.

Another customer service survey released on June 1, 2011, found four large banks on the list of ten worst customer service providers. Here’s the list from MSN Money’s 5th annual survey:

  1. Bank of America (leads the list)
  2. AOL
  3. Capital One
  4. Sprint
  5. Time Warner
  6. Comcast
  7. Citigroup (Citibank)
  8. Progressive Insurance
  9. JPMorgan Chase
  10. Farmers Insurance

Last year’s 2010 survey found five large banks on the list of ten worst customer service providers. The list from MSN Money’s 4th annual customer service survey is available in the sidebar to the right. You’ll note that Bank of America moved from second position in 2010 to the top spot in 2011.

So, what’s happened that suddenly has consumers so angry with their banks?

THE REASONS

To a large extent, what we are witnessing here is the punishing of the many for the sins of the few.

Any one or two reasons wouldn’t be sufficient to create widespread distrust of banks. But, since the rapid collapse of the housing market in 2007, there’s been a tsunami of bad information about the banking industry in general and a number of major banks in particular.

Unfortunately, every bank gets painted by the same brush. This is what’s been happening to the thousands of community banks and credit unions that distanced themselves from the actions of the bigger banks – particularly the mega-banks.

Here’s a partial list of reasons why consumers are growing weary of the banking industry:

  • Banks role in creating the housing bubble and the resulting foreclosure disaster that remains with us. And in many communities housing values continue to fall which only makes homeowners more upset with banks.
  • A reluctance to make consumer loans today for a variety of reasons.
  • Overdraft protection issues over high fees, hidden disclosures, and batch processing that favors overdrafts.
  • Government bailout of too big to fail banks and TARP loans to many smaller banks.
  • A growing number of bank failures with 25 in 2008, 140 in 2009, 157 in 2010, and 48 through June 24 of this year. The majority are smaller community banks.
  • Many financial institutions dropping free checking or planning to do so.
  • What seems like a never-ending stream of negative media articles and stories about new and higher fees, minimum balance requirements, product changes, doing away with rewards programs, unwillingness to make loans, and the ultimate demise of free checking.
  • Possible debit card use restrictions resulting from the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank legislation.
  • Banks and credit unions paying ridiculously low rates of interest on savings deposits and CDs.
  • The growing threat of identity theft involving bank balances.
  • Smaller banks being acquired by larger banks, a trend being predicted by some experts to increase in the years ahead.
  • A rush to pass new government regulations for the banking industry, which suggests banks have been involved in wrong-doing over the years and now need to be reigned-in.
  • Popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Ning where customers angry with their bank or credit union can quickly spread the word to hundreds and thousands of friends. And let’s not forget about YouTube where consumers are quick to post videos about bad banking experiences.
  • Growing popularity of product and company review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp where these same angry banking customers can post short stories about how their bank or credit union failed them in some way.

The reason we put together this list is to have a better understanding as to why so many consumers have a growing distrust of banking in general and the big banks in particular.

Most of us in the retail banking business are so busy each day that we seldom stop to consider what’s really behind this distrust and lack of confidence. As insiders, we have a very different perspective about our bank or credit union. But it’s not our knowledge or perspective that is important here. It’s the beliefs and perspectives held by our customers and prospective customers and the reasons behind them that are important.

Only by knowing and acknowledging the many reasons behind this lack of confidence can we begin moving forward to correct as many of these issues as possible.

Before we get to our six tips about ways to improve consumer confidence in our banks and credit unions, we need to take a closer look at the role technology has played in fostering this growing distrust.

THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY

Since the first consumer banks were opened in the U.S., banking has been almost exclusively a labor-intensive, face-to-face activity conducted inside a building constructed specifically for protecting money. Little had changed over the years until technology arrived in the late 1960s in the form of a metal box that would dispense money.

In the ensuing 40 years, consumer banking has shifted away from its roots to become an activity that’s much more impersonal and dependent on technology. For a growing majority of consumers, banking is conducted outside the branch using everything from ATMs and debit cards to laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and prepaid cards.

This loss of personal, face-to-face interactions with people we know and trust has brought with it a growing distrust of the banking process.

While it’s easy to blame consumers’ growing distrust of banks on the recent severe economic downturn and the rush to address the many causes by enacting a smorgasbord of financial reform regulation, the seeds of this discontent go back to the advent and deployment of the ATM.

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This image from the Square website homepage shows a Chase Sapphire credit card being swiped by the small Square card reader plugged into a mobile phone’s audio or headphone jack. Square has the potential to revolutionize the processing of credit and debit card transactions. Enrolling in Square is quick and easy. The reader is free, there are no monthly fees, no merchant account required, and a receipt can be created for each transaction. Detailed information about each transaction is collected and shared with Square members. The company is headquartered in San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




In 2010, five big banks made the list of the top ten worst service providers of customer service in the fourth annual survey conducted by MSN Money. As you can see above, Bank of America appears in the #2 spot. All five banks listed are repeat performers. BofA and Citibank have been on the worst list all four years. Capital One has made the list for three years. Wells Fargo was on the first list in 2007 and returned in 2010. HSBC is on the list for the third year in a row. Being on this list is partially the result of the huge market share held by these five banks. On the other hand, we don’t see huge companies like Federal Express, Southwest Airlines, or Amazon.com on this list. Apparently these banks have grown to a size where it’s no longer possible or cost effective to provide quality service to their retail customers.

 

 




This chart from MSN Money’s 2011 Customer Service Hall of Shame lists the top seven things that survey respondents say matter most when dealing with a company. Note that “knowledgeable staff” ranks at the top of the list at 47%. What’s shocking is that the second most important point “friendly staff” received a score of only 14.7%. The takeaway from this chart is the overriding importance of staff selection and training. You can have the most courteous, friendly employees but if they lack knowledge of your company’s products, services, processes, and procedures, you are in trouble. Based on this metric you’d be advised to provide a simple product line with disclosures and fee schedules that are user-friendly and easy to read. And don’t forget the importance of your training department. Ongoing training is mandatory.

 

 

 

 




The ongoing housing bust with home values continuing to drop in many areas of the country is one of the major reasons consumers have lost trust in the banking industry. Almost daily, consumers encounter stories about this tragedy. An excellent example is the cover story appearing on the cover of the October 25, 2010 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine shown above. The ongoing foreclosure saga keeps banks’ role in this fiasco front and center in the daily flow of bad housing news.

 

As a reminder, the first ATM was installed through the wall at a Chemical Bank branch on September 2, 1969, in New York City.

The rapid proliferation of through-the-wall and remote ATMs was quickly followed by the debit card which replaced the original ATM cards. For the first time in the history of U.S. banking, customers were being asked to stay out of the branches by using 24-hour ATMs for routine transactions.

Unbeknown to customers and bankers alike, this was just the beginning of a technological revolution that would dramatically change the way consumers interact with their banks or credit unions.

Lurking in the background was the accelerating development of the mysterious Internet and desktop computers. Together, by the late 1990s they delivered the entire bank into the home and workplace 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

The first financial institution to offer online banking was the Stanford Federal Credit Union, Palo Alto, California, when it launched its website in 1994. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the credit union was started by a group of Stanford University employees in 1959. Stanford is the birthplace of many of today’s leading technology entrepreneurs.

Being able to do your banking anytime, anywhere via a computer meant fewer customers were going into the branch to conduct business. And it was no longer necessary to call customer service and talk to a live employee if you had a problem or question. Sending a quick email was the new norm for many consumers.

No sooner had consumers become accustom to banking remotely via a computer, the next technological breakthrough equipped most of us with smartphones. Not only could we make quick phone calls from anywhere in the world, we could access the Internet via our phone. It wasn’t long before mobile banking arrived – enabling us to conduct business with our bank or credit union via our phone.

Today, many consumers can have their bank send them a message when their balance is low or they are about to overdraw their checking account by using their debit card. It’s also possible to deposit checks using your smartphone – a service pioneered by USAA Bank.

All this exciting new technology has changed the relationship we have with our bank or credit union. While banking is now more efficient and convenient, as consumers we’ve become far removed from the personal interaction we once had with bank employees. This lack of a personal relationship coupled with the ongoing learning curves of new, unfamiliar technology and periodic system glitches has created an environment of distrust between us and our financial institution.

Meanwhile, cost cutting efforts have resulted in many banks and credit unions downsizing their customer service centers. At the same time, demand has increased for customers needing to talk to someone to resolve a problem most often related to the new technology and the array of new products and services made possible. This need to communicate will continue increasing as banks rush to change their checking product line and debit card functionality while adding some new fees and increasing existing ones.

What once could be handled inside the branch must now be handled over the phone or via email.

The end result is that, according to a recent consumer study, 72% of bank customers said they did not know the name of a single person who works at their primary banking institution. This research was conducted by the digital advertising and marketing agency SapientNitro.

It’s always much easier to distrust a company you do business with when there is no face-to-face interaction on a periodic basis. It’s the old “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon.

Again, while undoubtedly a majority of customer complaints to the BBB and rants on social networks and sites like Yelp come from customers of the four mega-banks, management at community banks and credit unions should not labor under the belief that this distrust and lack of confidence isn’t impacting their customers. After all, the technology revolution is keeping customers out of the branches of all banks and credit unions – big and small.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help ensure your customers trust your bank or credit union and have confidence that you have their best interests in mind as you make decisions about everything from product line and pricing to communicating these changes.

By implementing some or all of these recommendations, you’ll also have greater appeal to the millions of prospects looking to flee their mega-banks for a community bank or credit union they can trust to put their interests first.

SIX TIPS FOR BUILDING TRUST AND IMPROVING CONFIDENCE

Here are six tips for ways to begin restoring consumer confidence for your bank or credit union.

  1. Simplify your entire product menu.
  2. Simplify your agreements and disclosures and fee schedule so they are customer friendly and easy to read.
  3. Create a unit to collect and analyze customer inquiries and complaints.
  4. Be faster and more proactive when responding to customer inquiries and complaints.
  5. Ensure your website is simple and easy to navigate.
  6. Implement a customer communications program to provide transparency.

Each of these six initiatives will be covered in more detail below.

SIMPLIFY YOUR PRODUCT MENU

Offering a large number of products and services leads to greater operational complexity, calls for more intense training, results in a more complicated sales process, creates a greater need for compliance, demands a robust customer service unit, and results in higher operational costs, with the end result being an increased incidence of errors. Wrapped all together, you end up with a larger percentage of unhappy and disgruntled customers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

You could adopt a totally new business model based on simplicity.

Southwest Airlines is perhaps the best example of the benefits of a simplified approach to running a large business. And if a huge airline with all of its complexities can embrace simplicity, surely a bank or credit union can do the same.





The seeds of distrust of banks and credit unions were sown in late 1969 when the first through-the-wall ATM was put in use in New York City. The purpose of the ATM was to reduce live teller costs by getting consumers out of the branch and using one of these new money machines. It was a historical moment when a square metal box with a computer screen replaced human interaction inside the branch. The early ATMs often “ate” your ATM card, forcing you to go into the branch later to retrieve it. Jump ahead almost four decades and bank and credit union customers are now able to deposit checks remotely via an iPhone or other mobile device. Shown above is a check being deposited by a customer of USAA Bank – the pioneer in remote check deposit via mobile phones. Technology has dramatically altered the face of banking.

Here’s proof that Southwest’s simplified business model is a better approach:

  1. At the end of a profitable 2010, Southwest has achieved 38 consecutive years of profitability in the tough and tumble airline business. No other airline has come close to this record. In fact, it’s a record in any business.
  2. In June 2010, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Southwest #1 among all airlines for the 17th year in a row.
  3. In May 2010, Southwest was named one of MSN Money’s “10 Companies That Treat You Right.”
  4. In May 2010, Southwest moved up to 7th place from 10th place in 2009 in MSN Money’s Customer Service Hall of Fame.
  5. In May 2011, Southwest moved up to 6th place from 7th in 2010 in MSN Money’s Customer Service Hall of Fame.

So what does this have to do with simplicity?

  1. Southwest uses only one model of plane – the 737. This reduces employee training costs, lowers maintenance costs, and reduces the cost of parts inventory.
  2. Southwest sticks to short-haul flights on point-to-point routes avoiding the larger, more congested airports.
  3. Southwest avoids the complicated seat assignment process by using a boarding pass arrangement based loosely on the first-come/first-serve process.
  4. Southwest has faster turnaround on the ground.
  5. Southwest provides a basic no-frills service with lower fares.
  6. Southwest planes spend more time in the air than its competitors’ planes.
  7. Southwest has a very low level of employee turnover.
  8. Southwest is fanatic about customer service and has a huge staff devoted exclusively to personally answering every customer compliant in writing.

Unlike most banks and credit unions, Southwest doesn’t try to meet the needs of every possible consumer. It doesn’t offer hot meals, it doesn’t fly overseas routes, it avoids the major, congested airports, and it doesn’t offer special seat assignments.

If Southwest can simplify the airline business, you can surely simplify the consumer banking business. Ally Bank and ING Direct are both proof that it can be done.

Ally Bank is the better example as it started as GMAC Bank and totally reinvented itself in 2009. Ally is based on three principles:

  1. Talk straight
  2. Do right
  3. Be obviously better

In its bid for simplicity, Ally Bank offers penalty-free CDs, only one checking account, no ATM fees at any ATM nationwide, no monthly fees of any kind, no minimum balance requirements, no sneaky disclaimers, and customer service employees available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Southwest started with a business model based on simplicity while Ally Bank switched to a business model based on simplicity. So, it can be done.




As bankers we should all heed the sage advice of software entrepreneur Ray Ozzie when he reminds us that “complexity kills.” When Ozzie left his chief software architect position at Microsoft on October 28, 2010, he immediately posted a 3,412-word manifesto on his blog site. Addressing the growing issue of complexity in the computer business, Ozzie wrote: “Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration.” Ozzie was calling for a return to simplicity where possible. Reading the paragraph, Ozzie could just as easily have been ranting about the growing complexity of consumer banking.

SIMPLIFY YOUR AGREEMENTS AND DISCLOSURES AND FEE SCHEDULE

Here’s a shocking figure for you – 111 is the median number of pages in a checking account disclosure provided by the nation’s 10 largest banks. As a reminder, this means half of the disclosures had less than 111 pages while the other half had more than 111 pages.

This number was reported by Pew Research in its recently released study, “Hidden Risks: The Case for Safe and Transparent Checking Accounts.” In a study that began October, 2010, Pew researchers studied 250 online checking accounts offered by the nation’s 10 largest banks representing 60% of U.S. deposits.

A majority of today’s agreements and disclosures covering an assortment of banking products and services are multi-page documents filled with very small type written by lawyers and compliance people. They are for the protection of the bank or credit union – not the consumer.

It’s likely that the only bank and credit union customers who take the time to read these tomes are an occasional lawyer looking for an error or loophole.

And, the more products and services you offer, the greater the number of disclosures.

Basically, there are three major problems with most of today’s product and service agreements:

  1. They are too long – often running 50+ pages.
  2. The type is too small, making them difficult to read.
  3. They are written by lawyers making them difficult to understand by most consumers.

Such lengthy, difficult to read product agreements are just one of the contributing factors as to why so many consumers have lost confidence in their bank or credit union. Sure, these lengthy tomes have been around for many years. But during most of these years, customers conducted their banking in the branch face-to-face with someone they knew. Problems were quickly addressed and easily solved. Those days are gone.

Still, these unwelcome disclosures were the subject of a massive simplification movement in the early 1970s thanks to an upstart branding company by the name of Siegel & Gale. Your editor remembers working with Siegel & Gale on a disclosure simplification project at one of Chicago’s largest banks in the mid-1970s. Siegel & Gale’s role was to rewrite a bank’s legal agreements and disclosures using very simple language while shortening them to the extent possible.

Today’s largely impersonal banking environment, depending mainly on new technologies resulting in greater chance for errors, casts these massive agreements in a new light. They’re just one more reason to distrust the banking industry.

So now would be the perfect time to consider a major rewrite of your agreements and disclosures.

A great first start would be to go online and study the “Deposit Agreement” on the Ally Bank website – compare it to your bank’s or credit union’s current deposit agreement.

One of the major promises made by senior management of the newly renamed Ally Bank in May, 2009, was that the new bank would be upfront, straightforward, with nothing to hide from its customers. Here’s an opening comment on the first inside page of the bank’s current deposit agreement: “Since we don’t hide behind disclaimers or fine print, we’ve spelled out our policies, information and legal statements as simply as possible.”

Going online you’ll discover that Ally Bank has one agreement document covering all deposit products. It’s only 23 pages in length, the type is larger than you’ll find in most agreements, and it is written in simple English. At the end is a very simple, easy to understand two-page schedule of fees, followed by two pages of appendix, for a grand total of 27 pages. You can read the entire agreement here.

For comparison, log on to the Bank of America website and compare the Ally Bank agreement with that provided by BofA. Its deposit agreement appears in small type, appears to have been written by lawyers, and is extremely long. There is no page count as it is not presented in PDF format like Ally Bank’s agreement. The comparison is dramatic.

Another bit of good news is that Siegel & Gale is still in business and available to assist you with this simplification process. Whichever approach you take, simplifying your product and service agreements is a perfect first step to help address the trust and confidence issues customers may have with your bank.

COLLECT AND ANALYZE CUTOMER DATA

While most financial institutions talk about the importance of collecting and analyzing customer feedback and complaint data, very few smaller banks and credit unions have a formalized process and sufficient staffing to make it happen on an ongoing basis.

Collecting data at the branch level is also problematic as many branch managers are reluctant to collect negative data provided by unhappy customers. Having worked in bank marketing for two big banks over a period of 30+ years, your newsletter editor saw first-hand how branch managers suppress such negative feedback.

Still, a lot of valuable customer feedback data is available via written letters to the president and calls and emails to a central customer service unit. Additional data can be periodically collected via written and phone surveys conducted by a third party or someone at the bank using an online service like SurveyMonkey. Monitoring social networking sites and feedback sites is also recommended.

The valuable information collected must be forwarded to a dedicated person or staff of people housed, preferably, in the marketing department where it can be collected, analyzed, and put into periodic reports to be reviewed monthly by a dedicated committee.

This committee should consist of representatives from the branches, from back office operations, customer service, IT, and marketing. No senior-level executives should be allowed on this committee as they have a tendency to dominate the discussion and make arbitrary decisions about which data will be presented to the President/CEO. The purpose of this committee is to review the data and make recommendations for changes in everything from product line to pricing.

The entire data collection and reporting process must have the buy-in of top management with an assurance that all recommendations will get a fair hearing and be implemented to the extent possible.

The entire process must be transparent and communicated to the bank’s customers in an effort to restore confidence and trust in the institution. Once customers are confident that their complaints and feedback are not only welcome but collected, analyzed and used to make changes in the bank’s products, pricing, and disclosures, they will be more forthcoming with information valuable to the bank.

And, they’ll be much less likely to complain via a social networking site or feedback site like Yelp.

If you’re not already familiar with Southwest Airlines’ exemplary customer compliant handling and resolution process, it’s an excellent place to start. A simple Google search will get you to the best articles on the Southwest approach. By the way, in June 2010, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Southwest as number one among all airlines for the 17th consecutive year.

Just imagine how many customer complaints an airline must get on a daily basis.

ANSWER CUSTOMER INQUIRIES FASTER

Little is more aggravating to your customers than the time it takes to get an answer to a question or to resolve a problem.

For years, the biggest complaint was waiting on hold until a live employee from customer service could get to your call. For many customers, this hasn’t gotten much better. But now a new problem has arisen. From your website, customers are able to email you with their inquiries and issues and it can take 24-hours or longer before getting a response. And in many cases, the response arriving is today’s online version of the old form letter.

Here’s a large part of the problem.

You and your fellow employees work for the bank or credit union. As customers, too, if you have an issue or problem, you can simply make a quick call to a co-worker and get a quick resolution. Better yet, you walk over to his or her desk and get the answer you need. You don’t stop and think that this great service isn’t available to your customers.

Most bank employees never experience the level of service experienced by customers.

With rare exceptions, every email inquiry should receive no worse than same-day turnaround. If your bank or credit union isn’t providing quick answers, it’s most likely because this service area is grossly understaffed.

One of quickest ways to improve the customer experience is rapid turnaround on inquiries. It demonstrates to your customers that they are very important to you.





The top image shows an article posted on the Pew Research website where the headline reads: “Pew Finds Checking Accounts Contain Risky Terms and Conditions.” In its study released earlier this year, “Hidden Risks: The Case for Safe and Transparent Checking Accounts,” Pew discovered that the median length of a checking account disclosure is 111 pages for the nation’s 10 largest banks. As part of its recommendations, Pew researchers call for a simplification of checking account disclosures, including the schedule of fees. They went as far as providing a model disclosure seen in the second image above. Researchers commented that disclosures today are too confusing, making it almost impossible for consumers to comparison shop checking accounts. You can read the entire Pew article here.

 

SIMPLIFY YOUR WEBSITE

This is an easy one. After reading this issue, jump online and check out the great websites available to customers and prospects from ING Direct and Ally Bank.

Both online-only banks have grown dramatically since their introduction a few short years ago.

If these banks can create and manage simple, easy-to-navigate websites, there is absolutely no reason why your bank or credit union can’t do the same.

Of course, there are other bank and credit union websites you may want to visit for ideas.

While those of us at ACTON Marketing haven’t visited all the 9,000+ bank and 7,700+ credit union websites available on the Internet, over the past several years the following websites are on our “favorites” list because they are very simple, yet effective websites.

Advantage Plus Federal Credit Union
Ally Bank
America First Credit Union
Discover Bank
Dollar Bank
ING Direct
Sacramento Credit Union
Schools Financial Credit Union
SunTrust Bank
WTDirect

If you have any input into your bank or credit union website you might want to visit these ten websites for ideas about simplifying your website.

An important point to remember should you embark on a project to simplify your website is that you are really dealing with two sites – the public site and the online banking interface.

The public site should use proven sales and marketing techniques to provide information and ask for the business. Inquiries should be welcomed so ensure the inquiry process is prevalent throughout the site and quick and easy to use. Today, spend more than a minute or two on a landing page and with certain banks you’ll be greeted with a pop-up “live chat” box informing you that by clicking on the link you’ll be connected to a live employee at the other end.

If there are applications to fill out, make sure they are user-friendly by having members of your staff and branch employees fill them out first. Are they easy to use, intuitive, and comprehensive? If not, get your programmer to make them so.

Try finding a branch in another town using your website today. Do you need to know the zip code? Does this make sense to you? Come up with a better solution.

As for your online banking interface, bank online where you work. You should experience your online banking site as your customers experience it. Ask yourself what could be improved and then get on your core provider to improve it.

Also consider opening an account at one of your big competitors and use its online banking interface. What do they do right? What can you learn from them? Take the good and leave the bad.

Use a search engine to find articles about the best and worst bank websites. Look for articles about the top ten best and worst bank websites as one or more organizations rank them annually. You can learn a lot by reading these articles.

The information you need is out there. There’s simply no excuse to have a bad website that is user-unfriendly.

If brick-and-mortar branches were as complicated and as tough to navigate as most financial institution websites, customers would avoid them like the plague. So why are branches models of efficiency while the website is a maze of landing pages, home to lots of non-essential information, and a morass of small disclosure copy, making it difficult to find the needed information?

Let’s face it, your website is nothing more than another branch and should be treated as such.

A final suggestion would be to read the December 2010 issue of our newsletter, “Six Essential Steps to Improve Your Website” available here.

Our final recommendation is to look for opportunities to provide more transparency to your customers.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

Above all, customers want to be informed in an honest, straightforward manner. They need proof that your bank or credit union is trustworthy and being up-front with them. They require transparency.

An excellent example of a lack of transparency is the ongoing failure of a majority of banks and credit unions to provide simple, easy-to-understand information about their overdraft protection options, pricing, and the order in which daily transactions are processed. In many instances, the least-costly option of an automatic transfer from savings to checking to prevent an overdraft remains in the background while the bank or credit union promotes its higher fee courtesy pay program. Such behavior breeds distrust as we learned last year when the Reg E overdraft opt-in legislation was the topic of many news reports and articles appearing online and in newspapers. It was a hot topic for several months.

Historically, almost the entire annual marketing budget of most banks and credit unions is devoted to promotional efforts to bring in new customers. Little or no money is allocated to an ongoing communications program informing customers about the many ways their bank or credit union is making things simple for them.

Should your bank or credit union make a major change that provides a positive benefit for customers, there are no marketing dollars to tell customers this good news.

For example, if your bank or credit union simplifies its deposit and loan disclosure agreements, your message to customers should include the reason it was done, why it’s important to them, and how they benefit from your actions. This is transparency.

Every bank and credit union should provide money in its annual marketing plan for such communications. Customers not only need to know about, on occasion they need to be reminded of, the many ways your bank or credit union is acting in their best interests.

What we’re talking about here is a two-step approach to transparency. First, you must have products, services, pricing, agreements, and operational processes that are in the best interest of your customers. Second, you need to let them know about all these things and explain why they are important to them. In other words, if you are going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.

Approach this like you would a relationship with a spouse or significant other. Open, honest, ongoing dialogue is the key to a long, happy relationship which is what we want with our many customers.





Note the simplicity of the website homepages shown above for ING Direct and Ally Bank – both online only banks. Both banks’ product landing pages are equally as simple with both sites being extremely easy to navigate. There’s absolutely no reason why other banks and credit unions can’t simplify their sites using the two sites shown above as models.

NEXT STEPS

The very first step is to seek senior management approval and buy-in to initiate a major review of products, fees, agreements, and operational processes where changes will help rebuild customer trust.

Once you have buy-in, the next step is to determine if there are any areas where you can make changes that will benefit your customers from the perspective of improving trust and confidence. Most likely one such area would be your entire ODP program. Another likely area would be your disclosure agreements.

Once you’ve identified areas where improvements can be made, you need to prioritize this list from those having the greatest impact to the least impact.

Next, you have to consider the anticipated cost of not only making changes but communicating them to your customers. It’s here where you determine if you can make the changes in-house or require assistance of a third-party such as Siegel & Gale for agreement simplification.

Instead of assigning costs for every item on your list, a better approach might be to simply cost-out the first item on your list and get management approval to begin work once the funding is made available.

It’s always better from a management buy-in, cost, and employee time required perspective if you approach a major initiative like this one project at a time. While it will take much longer to get everything accomplished, you’ll avoid burn-out and the costly errors that occur when trying to do too much too fast.

Remember the sage advice: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

At this point, it’s most important to determine whether or not your bank or credit union has trust and credibility issues with its customer base, and, if so, what are you going to do about it.




This is what happens when you push your customers too far. A Florida couple’s lawyer is shown above standing outside a Bank of America branch in Naples, Florida. Even though they paid cash for their home, BofA sent the couple a foreclosure notice. They took the bank to court and won. When BofA failed to pay the judgment, the couple’s lawyer, court order in hand, drove to the bank along with two sheriffs’ deputies and a moving van. The lawyer told the branch manager that if the bank didn’t pay up, he’d foreclose on the branch and seize its assets. After spending about an hour on the phone with someone at the BofA corporate office, the manager prepared a settlement check and handed it to the lawyer. There’s a YouTube video of the lawyer explaining what happened.

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