Ranking Banking: Embracing Change

bank-innovation-4-15-16.pngChange may be inevitable, but adapting to it isn’t. Some banks are adapting to change in the marketplace with new branch designs that take into account the best retail experiences that customers get outside of banking, new mobile banking apps to emulate the best in mobile design, and social media strategies that reflect new ways that human beings communicate.

Over the course of the last five months, both the print and digital versions of Bank Director magazine have ranked some of the best banks in terms of branch design, mobile apps and social media strategies with an eye toward the customer experience and how it’s changing at forward-thinking banks. All three rankings appear in this issue. What we found was that banks that get inspiration from outside the world of banking often do better, as companies such as Facebook, Starbucks and Apple are transforming the marketplace and consumer expectations.

For some of the bank branches listed in the following pages, that may mean fewer teller lines and more couches, interactive tablets that describe the bank’s products, and customer service reps attentive to a variety of customer needs. One of the top ranked banks, Portland, Oregon-based Umpqua Bank, takes inspiration from other industries that sell products and services and “let people touch them, feel them, try them on. That’s what we wanted to do in banking-retailing of bank products and services in its truest form… We wanted to create an experience that blew the socks off our customers,” says Lani Hayward, Umpqua’s executive vice president of creative strategies. However, Hayward contends the bank’s success comes from its commitment to modernizing operations just as much as design. Umpqua’s attractive “neighborhood stores” are successful because the staff is focused solely on customer relationships. With investments in technology infrastructure and bankers trained in advisory and sales rather than transactional service, all administrative and operational tasks have been removed from branch offices. “The difference at Umpqua [branches] is we changed our operating model at the same time,” Hayward says. “We take the back office out of the front office.”

Another bank that transformed the business operations as much as the branch was Pittsburgh-based PNC. Noticing that traffic was dwindling inside the branches, but branch proximity to home is still an important factor for consumers to choose a bank, PNC began unloading mobile pop-up branches into communities off the back of a truck. “Branch convenience to home remains the number one reason that consumers choose their primary bank, but they are using branches very differently today,” says Todd Barnhart, executive vice president of branch banking at PNC Bank. “This pop-up branch is a creative way to bring banking to customers and help them experience the innovative solutions we offer. Most customers want a face-to-face conversation, so our emphasis is more on in-depth conversations versus routine transactions, which can usually be done via our ATMs, online or mobile options.”

Mark Weber, president of Seattle-based Weber Marketing Group, invites his clients to think strategically about their entire business model, consider analytics on customer habits and look for inspiration before redesigning a branch office. He frequently takes clients to visit Starbucks, Apple stores and even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s offices to give them fresh eyes on what a retail experience should involve.

For banking apps, developers of some of the best banking apps also look outside the banking industry for inspiration: They mentioned companies such as Google, Uber, Facebook and Zappos.com as designing customer experiences that were simple and easy to use. And in social media, one of the top performing banks, Puerto Rico’s Banco Popular, has a marketing director, Mariel Arraiza, who looks to innovative retail brands like Apple and Nike, but also banks including Chase and Ally. “We compare ourselves to the giants, and we want to look up to that,” she says.

Some of the giants outside banking are setting the standard for what is intuitive. If you can live chat with Zappos or Verizon and get an answer right away, why would any bank make you wait 24 hours or more to get a response via email, as they often do? “These days, in most major metro areas, you can have groceries and a new shirt delivered in an hour,” says Gordon Hui, the vice president of strategy for Smart Design in New York.

Wade Arnold, the managing director of Jack Henry & Associates’ mobile end user experience, says big technology firms have really set the standard by which other apps follow. “Facebook has really trained people how to interact with their environment,” he says. “If you can incorporate some of the design cues into your application, it is more intuitive.” Keeping up with changes are important too. “If people are standing in line for the latest Apple phone, you’d better have your app work on that,” says Arnold.

Among developers of some of the best banking apps, looking outside the industry for changes is a must. Ian Collins, the creative director of Simple, a tech startup that created a banking app to help people save money, says he associated banking with stodginess before he started working at Simple. “Most banks don’t give you a reason to engage with them, and when they do, it’s painful,” he says.

The best banks for social media also are inclined to make customer experiences less painful. They solve problems for customers through Twitter or Facebook, since many customers prefer that to the phone. “When something’s wrong, be there to support your client,” says Bryan Segal, CEO of Toronto-based Engagement Labs, a social technology firm. “Social media has really helped diffuse unpleasant situations.” The best banks also use social media to communicate with customers in a more personal way, telling stories through videos and web posts.

They use social media to communicate the way their customers want, in the way that makes sense for the platform. The companies that provide those platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are not only setting the standard for communication, they are also dictating its rules. Some of the best banks in our ranking do better with engagement of their audience because they pay Facebook and Twitter to promote their messages for them, says Ben Pankonin, the CEO of Social Assurance, a social media management firm.

While the banks profiled in the following pages represent the best in their industry, their engagement rate still hovers around the median for all companies, according to Rival IQ. Does that mean banking is far behind other industries in communicating via social media? Banks got a slower start on social media adoption, in part due to compliance concerns. “It took a little bit longer for the banks to acclimatize to social media,” says Segal. Now, “the idea that social media is a dangerous place for banks is no longer an issue.”


The Best Mobile Banking Apps

By: Naomi Snyder, editor for Bank Director

The best mobile banking apps don’t look like they come from a bank.

The Best Social Media Banks

By: Emily McCormick

The best banks in social media engage their communities.

The Best Bank Branch Designs

By: Adam O’Daniel

These branch designs completely redefine the retail environment.


Naomi Snyder


Editor-in-Chief Naomi Snyder is in charge of the editorial coverage at Bank Director. She oversees the magazine and the editorial team’s efforts on the Bank Director website, newsletter and special projects. She has more than two decades of experience in business journalism and spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

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