Over the past three years, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates nine times and created an environment where banks can earn more on their lending portfolios, but also a heated battle to win deposits.
Compounding the issue is technology, which has made it easier than ever for customers to shop around for competitive rates and switch banks.
To grow and retain deposits, financial institutions need to be proactive in providing the rates and benefits customers want. But it can be a challenge to offer those benefits in a way that increases the quality and quantity of all-important core deposits.
Many banks have structured rewards programs so they reward a new product purchase or behavior, but they don’t incentivize long-term changes in customer interactions with the bank.
Institutions have long offered incentives such as hundreds of dollars of cash back for new account openings, or extravagant gifts for scheduling a recurring transfer of funds. However, these arrangements can often backfire. Once the customer receives their cash back, the newly opened account can languish unused and transaction-less indefinitely.
The expensive gadget the bank gave away doesn’t make financial sense against the $10 monthly transfer the customer automated from their checking account to their savings account.
Institutions like Leader Bank, a $1.4 billion asset bank based in Arlington, Massachusetts, and Opportunity Bank of Montana, a $700 million asset bank based in Helena, have solved this issue by incentivizing behaviors that build the habits of an ideal core customer. As for the rewards, they provide benefits that can be easily administered because they tie into the bank’s existing business model.
The types of behaviors that create habits for bank customers—and profitability for the bank—should be focused on the continuous utilization of bank products.
Here are some examples:
- Use the bank’s debit card for 10 or more transactions a month. This moves the bank’s debit card to top-of-wallet and increases interchange fee income.
- Sign up for a sizeable monthly direct deposit. Banks can require a direct deposit of $800 or $1,500—whatever amount makes sense in their local market. This behavior ensures that the account earning rewards becomes the customer’s primary account.
- Sign up for e-statements. Even a simple behavior like opting into e-statements will save the bank money.
When all of the activities above are bundled together, these requirements for qualifying for rewards could transform a customer into a valuable core depositor.
In return for the customer meeting the bank’s qualifications, banks should go far to provide return value. One-time gifts and prizes are often not enough to drive consistent, ongoing customer behavior; the rewards must be ongoing as well.
Practical, local, ongoing benefits will help a community bank stand out and compete against mega-banks.
Consider these options:
- Reimburse ATM fees. One of the primary benefits that a mega-bank has over the typical community bank is its national footprint. Banks of any size can offer ATM fee reimbursement as a reward. Not only does this expand the bank’s footprint by giving customers access to their cash from anywhere, it also reinforces the customer’s new habit to use their debit card more frequently.
- Offer cash back on debit card transactions. Cash back signals to customers that your bank is grateful to have their business and mirrors offers by major credit card companies. Whether your bank can offer 1 percent or 3 percent, your institution can likely find a sweet spot for this attractive incentive that makes financial sense.
- Provide discounts with local merchants. Leader Bank partners with more than 20 local merchants who provide discounts to the bank’s rewards customers when they shop at their businesses. This type of reward can help the bank integrate deeper into the local community.
- Offer higher yielding rates on companion savings accounts for core customers, but only if and when they meet the criteria.
Given that rising interest rates are a major driver in the battle for deposits, rates on savings accounts may be a key component to driving customer acquisition. But your bank may not have to pay that higher rate out every month.
With a technology solution, banks can manage their rewards in such a way that, unless a customer meets all of the criteria for rewards in a given month, they don’t earn rewards that month either. This feature optimizes savings for the bank and ensures that customers continue to engage with the bank like a core customer.
By playing to their strengths and rewarding the right behaviors, banks can create custom rewards programs that both make sense with their business model and provide the kind of marquee benefits today’s consumers are seeking.