Revisiting Merger Communication Plans

“We already have a plan from our last few mergers, so we are just going to dust it off for our next merger.”

That’s a common response I get when speaking with bank executives about their marketing and communication plans for an upcoming merger. However, a merger plan that may have been acceptable to auditors in 2019 may not be in 2022. Changes in regulatory review should force new thinking and communication steps. Let’s take a look at the three most popular areas of discussion we have with our clients, along with fresh ideas for updating a merger communication plan.

Data Health, Cleanliness
How accurate and fresh is the data coming from the acquired bank? What steps are taken to check the validity of consumer contact details before sending out the disclosure mailing, 30 days prior to the effective merger date? 

Digital banking products like eStatements have diminished the amount of first-class mail sent to account holders and the subsequent change of address notifications. A consumer who opened an account in-person three years ago could have moved once, maybe twice, since then. Is their correct address in the core database? We’ve observed that regulators are looking at acquiring banks to be more proactive.

Concise Directions, Instructions
One focus in the new wave of compliance efforts is that the material sent to newly acquired account holders should be focused and easy to read. 

We see this from two different angles. First, how much information is the bank sending to the acquired account holder, in addition to the disclosures? Is the bank sending a large (80 pages or more) document that covers every aspect of the bank and uses a cover letter to direct the account holder to their information? Not only is that a bad experience for the consumer, they may also miss information. 

We have responded by advising our acquiring bank clients to leverage print-on-demand technologies to welcome and serve the new account holders. A thinner document, with personalized content, is something we discuss with every bank we encounter; it solves this issue and is often more economical.  

The second component is messaging clarity. One reason why banks hire marketing team members is for their ability to create professional, highly powerful, highly graphical communication pieces to accompany the disclosures. But great branding and graphics is just the first step. This material should also speak to the consumer about:

  • What is changing and when?
  • What does this merger mean to them?
  • What options do they have for alternate or additional products?
  • Who should they call if they have questions?

Strong Digital Presence
In preparing for a merger, we guide our clients to use multiple digital tools.

A solid merger landing page: Having a single, well-branded landing page with compelling content is a critical success factor in any digital marketing effort. This is also important for a merger landing page. We find that far too many merger landing pages have incomplete or top-level only information.

Solid digital banking product support: Today, a merger is just as much about the change in the app and digital experience as it is the change in logos, colors and names. Many financial institutions have decided over the last few years that they’ll sell and defer updating their digital banking experience. In many cases, a merger involves a real step up in digital features that will drive more support, which a strong digital presence can assist.

A calendar of communication events, spanning several months leading up to the merger and the 12 months afterward: We are strong advocates of building out a 12 month “editorial calendar” when launching any type of communication effort. These calendars lay out and deliver messages aligned with events in the life of the consumer. No merger plan is complete without one.

The next few years will be very interesting for financial institutions as the new compliance culture sets in. Even though we are still discerning what works for merger communication going forward, we do know from early signs that what worked in the past will need to be updated.