Accelerate Commercial Loan Growth Through Vertical Industry Targeting

According to the FDIC’s Quarterly Banking Profile, U.S. commercial and industrial loans rose 4.8% y/y to $2,077 billion at the end of June 2018.  This marks the third consecutive quarter of accelerating y/y growth since reaching a six-year low of 2% at the end of 3Q17.  Evidence from leading banks’ quarterly financials and investor presentations is that this commercial loan growth is often driven by a focus on particular vertical industry sectors.  For example, PNC reported commercial loan growth of 4.5% in the year to the end of 2Q18, driven by financial services (+9%) and retail/wholesale trade (+7%)

Vertical industry targeting provides a range of benefits for these banks:

  • Drives stronger growth in loans to that sector—in particular if that sector has been underserved—which can help push up overall commercial loan growth rates.
  • Provides a point of differentiation from competitors.
  • Enables a bank to leverage synergies between traditional or current bank strengths (such as expertise in certain product or service categories, or proximity to industry clusters) and the financial needs of targeted companies.
  • Creates an opportunity for a bank to expand beyond its traditional retail branch footprint into new geographic markets. Fifth Third recently launched a Financial Institutions Group in New York City.

We recently scanned the commercial banking sections of leading banks’ websites to identify targeted industry sectors, which we have summarized in the following table.  Not surprisingly, most of the banks are targeting large sectors (e.g., healthcare, energy and government).  However, a number of banks also appear to be targeting more niche sectors, such as aging services (SunTrust), the wine industry (Union Bank) and vacation ownership (Capital One).

We recognize that simply listing industries on their websites does not mean that these banks are fully engaged in targeting these sectors.  But if your bank is looking to significant grow clients and assets in particular vertical industry sectors, the following are some key considerations:

  • First step: size the market opportunity (e.g., how many companies from that industry meet your revenue/other target-size criteria and are located within your traditional retail footprint and nationally).  It also important to identify industry clusters.
  • Use primary and secondary research to identify company characteristics, financial needs and the decision-making process.  A key source of primary research should be your front-line salespeople who may already be selling to these companies in your targeted sectors.  You should then be able to asses the bank’s current ability—in terms of product suites, number and quality of dedicated personnel, as well as marketing and sales support assets—to effectively serve these segments.
  • Conduct competitive intelligence to study other financial providers targeting the same segments.  Identify you key strengths and limitations relative to these competitors.
  • Create and deploy dedicated industry teams.  If possible, locate your teams in markets where targeted companies are concentrated.  Staff the teams with industry experts and support them with training, industry collateral and other sales support tools.
  • Build awareness and engagement through targeted marketing investment, with a focus on particular in industry-specific marketing media and events.
  • Further engagement with prospects through industry-specific thought leadership, using a mix of formats and media, such as articles (published in your own content portals or in vertical industry media), blog posts, social media channels, surveys, reports, and client success stories.

How Can Banks Maintain Commercial Lending Momentum?

Second quarter 2013 financials for leading U.S. banks reveal continued strong growth in their commercial loan portfolios. The chart below shows that 11 of 16 banks studied reported double-digit growth rates, with an average increase of 11%.  And most of the banks reported very strong commercial pipelines in the second quarter.

Some of this growth can be attributed to improved confidence among U.S. firms. In addition, banks are generating strong growth rates by targeting specific vertical industries that have high-growth potential and/or have been traditionally underserved by banks.  These large U.S. banks can assign dedicated teams and create customized campaigns for different industries, which creates a competitive advantage over smaller banks who lack the necessary scale to justify this incremental sales and marketing investment.

However, increased competition in the commercial lending market (particularly in the general middle market sector) is contributing to declines in yields; each of the leading banks in the chart above who included commercial loan yield data in their 2Q13 financials, reports a significant y/y decline. On the other hand, commercial loan net charge-off rates are both lower than consumer loan charge-off rates and in many cases have fallen significantly over the past year.

In this high-potential, but increasingly competitive, commercial lending and banking environment, banks need to effectively direct their sales and marketing budgets to initiatives that can both continue to drive customer acquisition as well as optimize existing customer relationships. Initiatives include:

  • Targeting: identify industry segments or geographic markets with strong commercial loan potential.  Allocate sales and marketing resources based on market opportunity, competitive intensity, as well as the bank’s own strengths in these markets.
  • Customer relationship optimization: leverage the full power of the bank by working with other units to generate customer referral and cross-sell streams.
  • Performance benchmarking: assess commercial banking performance throughout the bank’s footprint.  Diagnose reasons for the over- or under-performance of particular groups.  Apply these insights to develop programs to raise overall performance.
  • Loan usage stimulation: develop messaging to drive commercial loan utilization rates, which are currently low by historical standards.
  • Content development: develop and deliver content that provides answers to customers’ financial needs and position the bank as a trusted financial advisor. Ensure the content addresses the different business and financial challenges of various targeted segments.  Distribute the content through multiple delivery channels to reflect changes in how content is now consumed.
  • Sales tool creation: Invest in sales force automation, sales support tools and training to ensure that commercial prospects are moved seamlessly through the sales funnel and generate a strong conversion rate.
  • Customer outreach: develop customer communications to support ensure that relationship managers proactively engage with customers on a regular basis, but in particular at critical stages of the customer life cycle (for example, during the first 90 days)
  • Inbound communications capture: provide a range of options for customers to contact the bank, and direct these customer queries to the most appropriate bank unit or individual.

Marketing’s Finally Taking Commercial Banking Seriously…and Vice Versa

For decades, bank marketers have all but ignored their commercial banking segment.  A few print ads, the occasional golf sponsorship and one or more expensive brochures were the familiar marketing program.  But as commercial banking has taken on a lead role in delivering profitable growth in the new normal post-recession, marketers are recognizing the importance—and the complexity—of supporting commercial sales acceleration.

EMI has identified best practices from 5 banks in the vanguard with Commercial Marketing:

  1. Content Marketing that matters:  PNC
    A rich and dynamic content portal featuring a broad and deep array of publications, from Treasury-focused profiles of 32 countries to fast-read, unique perspectives and an active blog….all put PNC at the top of Commercial Bank Marketing.  Love their editorial focus. Topics like “The Evolution of the Strategic Treasurer” and “Fortifying Your Financial Future in Turbulent Times” are compelling, and the content is not hackneyed.  Video reinforces—although the executive “talking heads” get a bit tired.
  2. Video Case Studies you’ll want to watch:  UMB
    “Our customers inspire us” is the hook that draws you into regional player UMB’s non-promotional stories.  These videos take the viewer on walks through real client businesses and clearly demonstrate that UMB knows these clients the way you’d want your banker to know you.
    An entrepreneur who bets everything to make the best craft beer and is now in the top 20 brewers in the nation.  UMB customer since 1991.  A 100-year old flour mill—one of the last independent mills in the US—that’s tripled its capacity and differentiated its brand enough to charge a premium price…with flour.  UMB customer since 1981.  Don’t those stories make you want to look?  UMB Real Customer Stories.
    And take note:  these do not promote bank products.  The bank isn’t even mentioned until the last screen.  It’s enough.  It works.
  3. Printed case studies that tell a story:  BBVA Compass
    Anyone who’s ever tried to create a series of commercial case studies in any industry knows how hard it is.  Find a good story.  Get the relationship owner to let you talk to the client.  Get the client to want to talk to you.  Get the client to agree to tell their story and endorse your bank—even implicitly—in  public.  Then make the story interesting and demonstrate the bank’s role in creating success…while telling the truth.  Then do this 14 times across industries as diverse as recyclable waste management and pulmonary critical care.  BBVA Compass engages you with a Q&A format to tell the story, but makes the bank-specific points it needs to make.  Consistent formats and easy search tools support both push and pull applications.
  4. Making content easy to find, while demonstrating depth:  BMO Harris
    Like other major business banks, BMO Harris has created a Resource Center, the now-familiar nomenclature for the bank’s portal of thought leadership, and new euphemism for “stuff you should be interested in that isn’t directly selling our products but should impress you enough to work with us.”  The customary list of materials—client success stories, webinars, research, white papers, insights—is there, but is easy to search with a well-designed interface that allows an industry, topic or author lens.  The RSS feed option is unusual in banking.  And BMO Harris must pay a pretty penny for the outside content from Forbes and the Wall Street Journal—although these publishers keep it current.
  5. Actually figuring out how to use social in Commercial:  Big & small brands
    Retail banks are starting to establish best practices in social customer service, but marketing ROI has yet to be proven.  And the value of #socialmedia in commercial banking is yet to be explored.  Great thing about social is that size doesn’t forecast success.  Take @AssociatedBiz—at <$25billion in assets based in Green Bay, Wisconsin:  nearly 600 tweets …and already a clear voice, consistent frequency, and relevant content—from managing healthcare costs to security tips—balanced with promotional messaging on vertical specialties and cash management capabilities .  Other end of the spectrum is @jpmorganTS, new to the twittersphere, but already at 1650+ tweets.  Strong content ranges from export financing in Asia to managing regulatory burdens.  Strong integration

Commercial banking deserves great marketing.  Come back for best practices in 1:1 marketing that can drive C&I growth and profits.