5 Branch Reinventions that Can Turn Bricks and Mortar into Gold

Iconoclasts are forecasting the end of the retail bank branch. Simple and Moven have gone so far as to delete the word “bank” from their names, and make the rounds at industry events heralding the brave new branch-free landscape.
But US consumers and small businesses are channel omnivores. Give them mobile, online, ATM, phone and branch—all will be used by some, and some will be used by all. The cost of channel choice is great, and retail margins are on a diet, so reinvention is an economic necessity. Channel R&D is accelerating as banks large and small find the unique branch blueprint.
Look at these strategic innovators:

  1. Forget the movies, head to the branch. Small but mighty Umpqua Bank, with 200 “neighborhood stores” in the Pacific Northwest, is starting a “slow banking” revolution. Giant plasma touchscreens are used as “Discover Walls” to showcase neighborhood events, local merchants and podcasts. Wii bowling nights and Food Truck Tuesdays are big draws. Umpqua’s strategies add up to fast growth in key demographics: young, upscale families and small businesses.
  2. No longer solo, the branch is now the fulcrum of an omnichannel world. TD Bank lives their tagline—“America’s Most Convenient Bank”—legacy of the 2008 Commerce acquisition. TD’s 7-day, evening hours branch access has long been a differentiator. Now, omnichannel integration is sophisticated. Local branch manager videos and banner ads are served up in real-time by recognizing customer IP addresses. No surprise TD’s 2013 ad campaign abandons Regis and Kelly for “Bank human, again” featuring their branches as the headline act.
  3. Tellers are out, specialists are in. Chase, with 5600 branches, has got the yin and yang of their branch future figured out. Service costs are being squeezed through self-service kiosks: ATMs on steroids that can handle 90% of all teller transactions. At the same time, Chase is ramping sales horsepower with a six-fold increase in Private Bank branch presence , delivering 5x growth in the number of Private Bank clients since 2010. Other Sales Specialists in branch have grown 20%. And Chase’s net branch count is increasing, with new builds that are smaller and specialist-rich.
  4. Going virtual and mobilePNC is working towards a vision of less physical density and more multi-channel options, reducing their branch count from today’s 2850 selectively. Going well beyond the now-familiar mobile deposit and digital/social contact center options, PNC is rapidly expanding mobile stores, street teams, community brand ambassadors and segment-specific “thin branches” that match the needs of their micromarket.  Watch for the famous “PNC Conversation” to get even smarter and better.
  5. Cut the ad budget and buy or build branches: Since 2008, M&T has doubled in size to 725+ branches, but its footprint radius has grown a mere 27 miles. Branch density is a strategy M&T uses effectively to build brand awareness and bank profitability, and acknowledges it enables a lower advertising budget. M&T’s invested in activating branches through clever and comprehensive management of their Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills partnerships, ranging from in-branch promotions with players and shared community service programs to management of the franchise like a mega-branch, complete with sales goals. Banking Built for Baltimore demonstrates M&T’s smart leverage of branch penetration and sponsorship potential.

The answer to branch strategy isn’t as simple as develop or dismantle, reinforce or reduce. Like most strategy and marketing wins, it’s about defining a course that magnifies strengths, mitigates disadvantage and sets a course that fits your franchise, and your future.

Financial Literacy: Nicety or Necessity for Retail Banks?

In honor of Financial Literacy month (that’s April in case you’ve forgotten to note it on your calendar), we’re featuring 6 banks who have led in developing financial education resources…in very different ways:

  1. Regions Bank sponsored Financial Fitness Fridays in January 2013, with live seminars at their branch locations. Their My GreenGuide online learning portal is one of the best—engaging visuals, accessible advice and a good array of life stage-based calculators for everything from retirement to managing hardships. Engagement translates to differentiation.
  2. Wells Fargo, in their usual “do it well or not at all” style, supports
    Hands On Banking, both broad and deep in the segments served and formats offered.  From teens to entrepreneurs, teachers to the workplace, this program covers the ground–and delivered financial smarts to nearly 154,000 US consumers in 2012 alone
  3. Capital One has assembled a virtual smorgasbord of learning tools, best practices, programs, seminars, games and partnerships serving just about any segment you can name—from kids to retirees, college students to newlyweds, teachers to small business owners. Buried in the maze of options they offer are some gems—including teachable moments for teens, an easy lease-vs-buy calculator for businesses and tips on preventing ID theft. But you’d have to have spare time and determination to mine the full value out of the literacy labyrinth.
  4. Literacy’s gone mobile at Fifth Third—and this has nothing to do with a smartphone. The Financial Empowerment Mobiles are 40-foot city buses tricked out as financial learning centers, and activated with locally staffed flash mobs and other PR-worthy activities. Less intriguing, but high-impact are 53’s age-based programs from the 5th grade focused Young Bankers Club to sponsorship of ABA’s Teach Children to Save and Dave Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance high school curriculum. High community value matches well to this bank’s regional and local go-to-market strategy.
  5. A 2011 survey found that 89% of US parents think they are important in teaching children about basic money management, but less than 4 in 10 actually do it. BMO Harris is out to close the gap with its engaging and comprehensive Helpful Steps for Parents. Activity books for kids, age-based practical advice, blogs and videos targeting common teachable moments make this one of the best kid-centered efforts out there. The Zone offers activities, games and learning in kid-friendly form—and does well until it misses with the teen audience.
  6. PNC leverages their $350mm commitment to Grow Up Great, their multi-year, comprehensive initiative focused on helping kids under 5 prepare for success in school, made even better through partnership with Sesame Workshop. The program’s financial education reach includes distribution of more than a million multimedia kits, teacher training, parent guides, PNC staff volunteers and grants for local efforts across PNC’s footprint. Like PNC’s hypercool Virtual Wallet targeting the millenials, the S is for Savings product is the market leader—a $25 minimum balance is packaged with a kid-friendly interactive demo, tips and the online equivalent of a piggy bank. And these are only part of PNC’s broad-based financial education curricula.  Like most PNC efforts, their literacy approach is systematic, segmented and substantial.

Financial education offerings are as varied as their sponsors. And their value is clearly broader than ticking a box on a regulatory checklist. Financial literacy done right builds engagement and loyalty.  What’s more, smarter consumers are better customers.

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.