As I was driving to a meeting the other week listening to the radio, I heard back-to-back commercials from two different banks about checking accounts. The first was a super-regional bank promoting that they would pay me $250 to move my checking account to them. The second, one of the mega banks (a top five bank in asset size) promoted a similar message but upped the incentive to $300 to switch.
When I got home later that day, I found a direct mail offer from another mega bank upping the incentive to $500.
I looked closer at the conditions of these incentives and found a similar nuanced strategic objective. These banks (and a few others I found online making similar offers) are clearly not returning to the days of “open a free account, get a free gift.” They aren’t looking for just consumers willing to switch their account to a free account with no commitment other than the minimum balance to open requirement (usually less than $50).
Rather, they are looking for those willing to switch their relationships that require a certain level of funding and banking activity (direct deposit, mobile banking activation, etc.) to earn part or all of the cash incentive. And these banks aren’t offering a totally free checking account.
Recognizing this as the objective, I perused a major online marketing research company to look for competitive responses from community financial institutions and found hardly any similar monetary offers. Those that were similar were mainly promoted just on their respective websites.
So what do these large banks know about these types of offers that community financial institutions don’t know (or deem important enough) to mount a credible competitive response? Reading and listening to presentations made to stock analysts by big bank management reveal that they know they can simply out market smaller community financial institutions, which don’t have or want to devote the financial resources for incentives at these levels.
They also know these smaller institutions’ customers, namely millennials, have grown disenchanted with inferior mobile banking products, and are looking for superior mobile products that the larger banks typically have. They are capitalizing on a growing attitude taking place in the market regarding consumers who switch accounts — 65 percent of switchers say mobile banking was extremely important or important to their switching decision, according to a survey by Alix Partners.
So by out-marketing and out-innovating retail products, larger banks know the battle is on to attract profitable or quick to be profitable customers, traditional ones right down to millennials who never set foot in a branch, by offering an attractive “earned” incentive to move and providing better mobile products along with a wider variety of other retail products and services.
Now community bankers reading this may be thinking, “That’s not happening at my bank.” Well, you better double-check. Last year, 78 percent of account switchers nationally were picked off by the 10 largest U.S. banks (and 82 percent of younger switchers) at the expense of community banks. Community banks lost 5 percent of switcher market share and credit unions lost 6 percent, according to Alix Partners.
And once these larger banks get these relationships, they aren’t losing them. Take a look at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chase Bank has driven down its attrition rate from over 14 percent in 2011 to just 9 percent in 2014 (an industry benchmark attrition rate is 18 percent). Also from 2010 to 2014, it has increased its cross-sell ratio by nearly 10 percent and average checking account balances have doubled.
With this kind of financial performance (not only by Chase but nearly all the top 10 largest banks), a negligible competitive marketing response from community institutions and a tentativeness to prioritize enhancing mobile checking related products, their cash offers from $250 to $500 to get consumers to switch accounts is a small price to pay.
Combining this with well-financed and marketing savvy fintech competitors also joining the battle to get customers to switch, the competitive heat will only get hotter as they attack the retail checking market share held by community institutions slow to respond or unwilling to do so.
So community banks and credit unions, what’s your next move?