Mergers and acquisitions are a major driver of change and returns in the banking industry. As banking leaders head into mission-critical strategic planning sessions for 2023, now is the perfect time for boards and executives to map out the coming year’s organizational and budgetary priorities. Recognizing that M&A can be a principal platform for growth, what are the key considerations empowering banks of all sizes to increase their influence and scale their organizations?
Mitigating institutional risk is at the top of the list of priorities as banks begin exploring M&A opportunities. Ensuring your bank has a comprehensive plan, inclusive of division of labor, is critical for successful M&A. Does your bank have the right staff with expertise and experience at the planning table, so nothing gets missed?
Tapping into the knowledge base of current customers and how the bank plans to maintain those relationships is a smart first step. But what about potential prospects the bank wants to reach – what do those people want? What’s relevant to them?
Well-designed research programs are table stakes for successful M&A. Data on markets and prospects will give decision-makers insights beyond their customer base. Even if bank leaders feel familiar with a market, updated data-based intelligence provides a true picture of opportunity and risk, so banks can form a plan suited to their particular circumstances. Smart data will also help uncover if another financial company using similar branding and overlapping media, or presents other legal and reputational exposure before the deal is done.
Data and insights will also produce efficiencies in M&A by helping executives discover whether their brands and names bring unneeded baggage. Having a brand that requires exhaustive explanation can be an opportunity cost, resulting in time not spent focusing on a prospect’s needs and the bank’s options for meeting them. Likewise, marketing’s return on investment can be negatively impacted when brand elements are limiting or nondescript.
For example, brand names with specific vocations or cities may cause a prospect to wonder if that bank is truly designed to help someone like them; they may eliminate the bank from their list of options before exploring the institution’s breadth of services. Also, if banks with similar branding or name invest in advertisements or community sponsorships, a consumer may mistakenly assign the message or public relations value to a competitor because they miss the distinction between local banks with similar names.
Competitive research will help boards and executives take a comprehensive look at their brand to identify what parts of their story prospects don’t know and what is meaningful to them. Leveraging data can help ensure messages and communications are spotlighting parts of the brand story that will have the most resonance with consumers, and have distinct and competitive value propositions in that market.
While it’s true that a financial institution may have to change its name because of a merger, research will help identify names that represent a hurdle to overcome both legally and reputationally. In our experience, brand research can become a downstream activity executives assume they’ll take care of later, but we think of it as a critical part of due diligence. Further, a powerful research program helps ensure banks can make the most of the brand launch, when people may be more open to hearing a renewed brand story that’s relatable and relevant.
M&A allows institutions to elevate their expansion efforts and future-proof their organizations. Oftentimes when executives consider marketing and brand research in light of M&A, they point to customer satisfaction data. While this is an important measure for retention and engagement, a more comprehensive data set is indispensable to help ensure organizations aren’t operating on biases and blind spots.
Smart banks leverage robust research in the M&A process to help uncover opportunities, eliminate friction and help distinguish, define and differentiate their brands. A crucial component of retention and growth pre-and-post merger is employees. Research insights can predict potential turbulence and inform strategies to equip employees to champion change and maintain performance. They can also be key factors in recruiting the best talent to fuel growth in new markets.
While bank executives may be satisfied with their current positioning and their current markets, data-driven insights will help institutions leverage their assets and increase the influence of their brand in the merger process — allowing them to grow and go further.