As financial institutions seek to position themselves as trusted providers of financial advice and solutions, one of their key areas of focus is financial education. Many of these firms have focused attention on establishing comprehensive financial education programs. However, equal attention should be given to how these programs are communicated. If you want to maximize the impact of your financial education program, consider the following methods to build client awareness and engagement.
Partner with national and local organizations seeking to grow financial literacy. Partnering with these organizations can take many forms, including publishing surveys or providing funding. In June 2017, Wells Fargo announced a $100,000 donation to Junior Achievement of Chicago. Operation Hope has partnerships with a number of leading banks (including SunTrust, Regions Bank and First Tennessee Bank), who all offer the Operation Hope Inside financial well-being program in several of their branches.
Host or sponsor events. Events constitute one of the key ways for firms to build direct engagement with their financial education programs. Firms have many options on how they wish to scale and direct their investment. MassMutual hosts FutureSmart Challenge events to provide financial education to middle school students, reaching 40,000 students in 17 cities to date. In June 2017, SunTrust launched the “onUp on Tour” to promote its onUp movement in 45 cities. And In October 2017, American Century Investments partnered with Investopedia to launch a Financial Fitness Tour, featuring a 45-foot bus, called “The Financial Coach.” These firms have extended the impact of these live events with tweets and postings on online portals, and also host virtual events, including podcasts and webinars.
Generate engagement through games and contests. In our highly interactive world, online games and contests can be very effective in enabling people, especially the younger demographic, to gain important financial knowledge in entertaining ways. For the past four years, H&R Block has been running the H&R Block Budget Challenge, an online game that teachers can use to teach financial concepts to high school students. In December 2017, The Hartford partnered with Junior Achievement USA to launch JA MyBiz Builder, an online experience that teaches entrepreneurial concepts to teens. And GOBankingRates recently launched a competition (with a top prize of $1,000) to identify the best tips, tricks and tactics for navigating one’s personal finances.
Reinforce the financial education message via social media. A number of financial firms are using Twitter hashtags to generate interaction around their financial education programs. Examples include Ally Financial’s #WalletWiseWednesday twitter series and Regions Bank’s @FinancialFitness hashtag (part of its Financial Fitness Fridays program). Other ways of using social media to promote financial education include events (Jump$tart Coalition’s Facebook Live event to discuss deposit insurance) and social communities (Canvas Designed by Citi, a beta-testing community that enables Citi customers to co-create products and digital capabilities promoting financial wellness).
Leverage online and mobile banking platforms. As consumers become comfortable with using online and mobile banking to perform a wide range of financial activities, some providers are starting to incorporate financial education tools into these platforms. Bank of America recently added a money management and financial education tool into its mobile banking platform. And Wells Fargo is planning to launch Greenhouse by Wells Fargo, a mobile banking experience that includes financial management tools.
Several factors are leading banks to increase their focus on enhancing the customer experience. Many have taken a more customer-centric approach to regain trust following the Financial Crisis. There has also been a shift away from an overarching focus on new customer acquisition and towards optimizing customer lifetime value. And banks are looking to counter the increasing competitive threat posed by FinTech firms that promise to manage all their clients’ financial needs through a single digital platform.
There are several ways banks can benefit by integrating an understanding of the customer experience in solutions development and delivery.
Change customer perceptions. Build systems and strategies around the customer experience that retains your traditional strengths (trust, experience, product breadth and expertise) while tackling some of the more negative perceptions of the sector (slow moving, inwardly-focused).
Differentiate yourself from other banks. To fully embrace the customer experience, you may need to make significant changes in many areas, including organizational structures, marketing, sales and service. And be sure to plan carefully. These types of changes often come with a number of barriers (including organizational inertia and lack of senior management buy-in) and, unfortunately, many banks fail to make the transition.
Optimize customer lifetime value. By understanding customer needs and challenges at various stages of the customer life cycle, you can reduce customer churn, while improving cross-sell/upsell rates.
Integrate your sales and service channels. One of the key selling points of FinTech firms is their commitment to providing a seamless customer experience on their platforms. Though banks have traditionally struggled to integrate their digital and human channels, many surveys have shown that customers do use multiple bank channels. Banks that can provide a seamless customer experience across their various channels can both increase customer satisfaction and gain a competitive advantage over the FinTechs.
Capture the voice of the customer. By developing opportunities for customer feedback at all sales and service touchpoints, you can gain real insights into customer needs, behaviors and preferences; identify gaps in these areas; and incorporate this intel into developing new products and enhancing existing solutions and service.
Leverage internal stakeholder insights. To gain a strong understanding of how to improve the customer experience, gather detailed insights from front-line sales and service staff who can offer unique perspectives. Along with the voice of the customer, use these insights to develop more informed product development as well as marketing, sales and service initiatives.
Optimize return on investment. Identify areas that have the greatest potential for enhancing the customer experience, and redirect investment to these areas.
Create customer advocates. Engaged customers who have a consistently positive experience often turn into advocates (on social media, through word of mouth, etc.) and may even become referral sources.
One of the most notable trends in leading U.S. banks’ quarterly earnings conference calls was the extent to which digital channels have become central to their current operations and future growth plans. The reason? Digital channels provide numerous benefits to banks, including:
Allowing banks to reduce branch density…and more easily expand into new markets. With the growth of online and mobile banking, branches account for a significantly decreased share of everyday banking transactions, so most banks have been able to reduce their branch density, which saves costs while enabling banks to maintain a physical presence in markets. Bank of America reported that its branch network has declined from 6,100 to 4,400 during the past decade, but also referred to plans to open 500 branches in new markets. Similarly, Regions discussed plans to open 20 de novo branches in new markets in 2018, while also closing 30-40 branches.
Building a national presence. Banks that already have a limited branch presence are looking to leverage their brand strength and develop a national presence by creating a digital bank. Citibank recently announced that it was creating a national digital bank. Similarly, PNC reported that it would begin rolling out a national digital strategy later in 2018, which it claimed would enable it to take advantage of its brand awareness and serve more customers beyond its traditional retail banking footprint.
Enhancing the customer experience. Banks are investing in digital service channels not only to provide a wider range of functionality to clients, but also to enrich the customer experience. In doing so, banks can improve customer satisfaction and boost retention levels. Regions discussed its goal of providing a consistent experience, with customers seeing the same information and having access to the same capabilities across all channels. The shift to electronic self-service channels also reduces servicing costs; Citibank reported that call center volume fell by 12 million phone calls in 2017.
Communicating through new marketing channels. Banks are significantly changing their media mix and messaging to reflect the channels where people are now consuming information and entertainment, and to communicate to clients and prospects in fresh new ways. In its 1Q18 earnings conference call, BB&T discussed that it is ramping up its digital marketing campaigns; 86% now have a digital component.
Capturing new sales opportunities and lowering average cost per acquisition. As customers increasingly use digital channels for their banking activities, they become more receptive to using these same channels to open new accounts and/or upgrade existing products and services. As a result, many banks are reporting strong growth in digital sales. Wells Fargo recently launched a digital mortgage application and noted that 10% of its mortgage applications in March 2018 came through that capability. The number of BB&T business accounts opened online rose 43% y/y and retail savings accounts grew 96%. Bank of America reported that digital accounted for 26% of all sales. It also rolled out an auto shopping app, with auto loans sourced digitally accounting for 50% of all direct auto loan originations in the first quarter.
Banks Need an Integrated Digital-Human Channel Strategy
While strategic investments in digital channels can lead to significant bottom-line benefits, banks should be careful not see this progress as proof that they no longer need human channels. A recent J.D. Power survey found that satisfaction levels are lowest for retail banking clients who exclusively use online or mobile channels and highest for “branch-dependent digital customers.” Moreover, the gap in satisfaction levels is highest for Millennial customers, underscoring this demographic segment’s affinity for branches. And while digital sales for many banking products are growing strongly, human channels are still vital for a bank’s success.
This means that banks must develop an integrated channel strategy, with digital and human channels acting in synch—and indeed actively promoting each other. Bank of America provided a great example of this synergy in operation in its 1Q18 earnings conference call: clients used its digital channels to schedule an average of 35,000 branch appointments per week during the quarter. Full integration of digital and human channels recognizes the particular strengths and limitations of different channels, and can optimize a bank’s return on its investments in marketing, sales and the customer experience.