Retail Checking Realities



Forty percent of retail checking relationships are unprofitable, so crafting retail checking accounts that deepen customer relationships, drive deposit growth and enhance the bottom line is a challenge faced by most financial institutions. How can bank leaders tackle this issue? In this video, StrategyCorps’ Mike Branton shares two common mistakes banks make regarding their retail checking products. He also shares his thoughts on enhancing the appeal of checking products and explains technology’s role as a deposit driver.

  • Driving Deposit Growth
  • Why Big Banks are Winning Customers
  • Making Checking More Profitable

 

What if Amazon Offered a Checking Account?


Amazon Prime, Video, Music, Fresh, Alexa—all loved by many, but would consumers also care for an Amazon checking account? One recent survey says that, yes, a subscription based, value-added checking account is the best thing since free two-day shipping.

In a study conducted by Cornerstone Advisors, consumers were asked about their banking attitudes and behaviors and presented with this account option:

Amazon is thinking of offering a checking account. For a fee of $5-10 a month, the service will include cell phone damage protection, ID theft protection, roadside assistance, travel insurance and product discounts.

Forty-six percent of “Old Millennials” (ages 31-38) and 37 percent of “Young Millennials” (ages 22-30) say they would open that account. Of those who say they would open the account, almost a quarter say that they would close out their existing checking accounts—most likely with a traditional bank.

Amazon-checking-1.png

When the same responders were asked about a free checking account from Amazon, without the bundled services, interest in opening the account is lower.

Amazon-checking-2.png

“This is music to Amazon’s ears,” says Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. “Why would they want to offer a free checking account when they can bundle the services of various providers on their platform—merchants and financial services providers—and charge a fee for it. A fee that consumers are willing to pay for.”

When asked about the hypothetical Amazon account stated above, 73 percent of 30-somethings say they would definitely switch or would consider switching accounts if their primary financial institution offered a checking account with those valuable services. Sixty-four percent of 20-somethings said the same.

Account-Switch.png

Which of the age segments has the most fee based accounts—millennials, Gen Xers or boomers?
About three in four (77 percent) of all survey respondents have a free checking account. Of the millennial segments, 31 percent have a fee-based account. That number is actually less among Gen Xers and boomers—22 percent of Gen Xers are in a fee-based checking account, and boomers report in at only 12 percent.

As loyal users of subscription services, millennials are accustomed to—and willing to pay for—value in order to get something valuable in return. They recognize that you usually get what you pay for, so what you get for free probably isn’t worth much. Even worse, many associate free accounts with the fine print fees you’ll inevitably end up with anyway. And customer reviews on hidden fees will always be 0 out of 5 stars.

Turns out, among those surveyed with a free checking account, nearly every account holder paid at least one fee in the prior year.

Fees-Paid.png

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When survey respondents were asked how many friends and family they have referred to their primary FI over the past year, results show that more people with fee-based checking accounts are referring their primary FI than those with free checking accounts. This is true across each generational segment as well as each type of institution (megabank, regional bank, community banks and credit union). Plus, they grew their relationship by adding non-deposit products.

“Among fee-based account holders, 58 percent referred friends/family, and 43 percent added non-deposit products,” says Shevlin. “In contrast, among free checking account holders, 44 percent referred friends/family, and just 27 percent added non-deposit products.”

In short, the results of customers’ relationships with fee-based accounts are positive, for them and the bank:

  • Nearly half of the millennial age segment say they’d opt for a fee-based account with value added services from Amazon.
  • Less say they’d open a free account from Amazon.
  • Almost 75 percent would at least consider switching accounts if their primary FI offered this same Amazon-type checking account.
  • Millennials beat Gen Xers and boomers in having the most fee-based accounts.
  • More people in fee-based accounts are referring their bank than those in free accounts.

According to Shevlin, “The prescription for mid-size banks and credit unions is simple: Reinvent the checking account to provide more value to how consumers manage their financial lives.

For more insights about how to reinvent your checking accounts and thrive in the subscription society, download Shevlin’s free white paper, commissioned by StrategyCorps, at strategycorps.com/research.

How Green Dot is Helping Uber Drivers Access Cash on the Go


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For just about anyone participating in the on-demand economy—from Uber drivers to Airbnb hosts—there’s always one major question: When will I get paid?

And in many cases, it’s more a matter of having access to funds they’ve already earned than customers paying them for their services. Between ACH transfer delays and bank clearing policies, it can be days (or sometimes weeks) before on-demand workers gain access to their money. This can negatively impact workers’ ability to budget, pay bills and meet their daily living expenses.

That’s precisely when Uber recently decided to partner with Green Dot, a financial services provider specializing in the issuance of pre-paid debit cards. In March 2016, Green Dot and Uber announced the introduction of “GoBank,” a mobile checking account solution for Uber drivers that provides them with access to cash from their Uber accounts almost instantaneously.

At its core, the GoBank concept allows Uber drivers to withdraw cash from their Uber accounts while the transactions are clearing. Green Bank is basically fronting drivers the funds until the transactions have cleared. Drivers can spend the money using an Uber Debit Card wherever Visa is accepted, or withdraw cash from any GoBank’s 42,000 ATMs nationwide without incurring any fees. The debit card is also linked to a small business checking account provided by GoBank, which focuses on mobile banking functionality first and foremost. Another feature called Instant Pay allows drivers to link a GoBank checking account with their Uber account and transfer money immediately into their checking up to five times per day.

These kinds of solutions are in line with Green Dot’s over-arching goal, which is to service the underbanked and low credit score sector of the population by partnering with major brands. For example, Green Dot recently teamed up with Wal-Mart to offer the Wal-Mart Everyday Visa Card. The goal of deals with the likes of Uber and Wal-Mart, according to Green Dot CEO Steve Streit, is to deepen the company’s ties with at least half of all U.S. households that earn less than $50,000 per year. Increasingly, Green Dot is focusing on enhancing its traditional mix of products and services with mobility and mobile solutions, which is one of the reasons that partnering with Uber makes so much sense.

Green Dot’s commitment to mobile goes all the way back to 2012 with the acquisition of a mobile app development company called Loopt. The underlying Loopt technology was utilized to develop the GoBank mobile banking solution. Outside of the ATM network, GoBank has no brick and mortar locations, making it a completely digital bank focused on mobile as its primary distribution channel. That means users can perform unique functions like check their account balance without having to log in, send money via SMS and open a new account solely through the mobile app. This focus on mobile solutions for the underbanked positions GoBank to be an extremely useful partner to Uber and its drivers moving forward. Drivers can even open a GoBank account from within the Uber app itself.

Uber, as the world’s leading ridesharing service, is pushing to streamline its relationships and processes with both drivers and customers, and overcome recent public relations issues. Competition for drivers has been heating up with major rival Lyft, which announced its own proprietary driver cash-out solution called Express Pay, shortly before Uber and Green Dot unveiled the Uber Debit Card by GoBank. Express Pay experiences heavy volume, with upwards of $40 million being cashed out by drivers in any given month. Uber no doubt is expecting Instant Pay to eclipse that number rather quickly, since it still has the lion’s share of drivers signed up to its app nationwide.

Uber began piloting the Uber Debit Card by GoBank shortly after announcing its partnership with Green Dot, and the solution managed to gain significant usage amongst drivers in a relatively short amount of time. This led Uber to open the program to all its drivers nationwide in June 2016, with over 100,000 drivers signed up for the Uber Debit Card by GoBank by August. The positive feedback is leading Green Dot and Uber to extend the functionality of the solution, with the availability of Instant Pay for any checking account (GoBank or otherwise) being one new feature in the development pipeline.

Getting paid in a timely manner has been a longstanding issue for drivers who rely on income from ride-sharing apps like Uber. And it’s clear that Uber understands this by aligning itself with an industry leader in financial services for the underbanked like Green Dot. By allowing these drivers to easily open an account, access funds and make payments (all on the go via mobile), Uber is likely to go a long way towards improving its relationship with drivers. It’s a boost the company could use to alleviate some recent friction with drivers, with some filing lawsuits and others wanting to be recognized as full-time employees. However, the Uber Debit Card by GoBank is already incentivizing drivers to remain on the platform, and should also help make their financial lives a lot easier.

This is one of 10 case studies that focus on examples of successful innovation between banks and financial technology companies working in partnership. The participants featured in this article were finalists at the 2017 Best of FinXTech Awards.

Stop Trying to Talk Your Customers Into Liking Your Checking Accounts


Recently I was reading an article from Chris Nichols, chief strategy officer of Winter Haven, Florida-based CenterState Bank, entitled Public Perception of the Cost of Checking.

Nichols shares how CenterState interviewed 200 randomly selected potential customers about what they thought about the bank’s pricing and value of its checking accounts. The pricing ranges from a fee of $5.95 to $9.95 per month with a variety of ways to avoid this monthly fee (balance waivers, minimum transactions, etc.) The accounts also have the typical features included—online banking and bill pay, mobile banking and an expanded ATM network. It was also noted that this pricing was lower than competing banks and within the range of 75 percent of banks nationwide. Therefore, the pricing was reasonable and the features, while undifferentiated, were comprehensive.

The feedback from these consumers was that 34 percent of them had negative comments about CenterState’s checking line-up. Clearly, this is a number with lots of room for improvement.

Nichols didn’t go into much detail about the negative comments, but the essence of those comments are similar to StrategyCorps’ own consumer market research about consumers’ attitudes about checking account products.

Fees on Checking Accounts

First, almost unanimously, consumers don’t like to have requirements with a penalty fee structure for not meeting these requirements to access to their own money, especially when those requirements are not fully and clearly disclosed. Very few consumers have a basic understanding of the banking business model, thus don’t understand the business need for these requirements. Even those who do understand banking don’t like these requirements. The reason is the same, they don’t like to pay for access to their own money.

Second, despite the intrinsic value of a consumer checking account—the fact that it’s insured, customers have zero liability debit cards and a myriad of choices on how to bank, including online, mobile, ATM, and in branch, just to name a few—consumers feel it should be “fee-less” to have all this. Why? In short, financial institutions intentionally “sold out” this intrinsic value with free checking. Why pay for these things when they can be had at another financial institution in most cases, literally down the street? Selling out and totally diminishing this intrinsic value was the ante to get to the extremely lucrative source of nonsufficient funds and overdraft (NSF/OD) revenue. While it was the financially right thing to do at the time, the free checking hangover continues to plague financial institutions as they try to get customers to accept monthly recurring account fees to replace declining NSF/OD fees.

How does a financial institution restore the underlying value of a checking account in the eyes of consumers to warrant a more positive perception? At StrategyCorps, what we’ve seen work is NOT to spend time, money and marketing dollars trying to persuade customers that the checking account with traditional bank benefits is worth paying for. Trying to persuade consumers that traditional checking is valuable enough to pay for it, when it has been free for nearly two decades, is a tough proposition.

Instead, spend time, money and marketing on offering new product benefits that consumers will view positively. Which benefits are these? In general, these benefits have to be ones that are already proven in the marketplace that consumers view positively and are willingly and gladly paying for. Examples of these new types of benefits are cell phone insurance, roadside assistance and mobile merchant discounts. Nearly two of every three consumers already view these types of benefits positively enough to pay for them every month (think Verizon, AAA and Amazon Prime). These new product benefits either save consumers money when they have to spend it (effectively making them money) and/or provide protection to everyday items or situations.

So, stop trying to talk your customers into liking your traditional checking account with undifferentiated, traditional benefits they don’t appreciate despite the inherent value of the account. Rather, modernize your checking accounts by adding some new product benefits that are already viewed as valuable.

To see more of our consumer research videos including a variety of topics in banking, mobile apps and more, visit strategycorps.com/shape-your-story.

Taking a Chance on the Unbanked


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Financial inclusion is a hot topic in our community, and for good reason. The banking industry faces a real challenge serving those people who don’t have access to traditional banking services.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s latest annual survey on underbanked and unbanked, 7 percent of Americans didn’t have access to banking services in 2015. That represents nine million U.S. households. The number gets even bigger when you consider underbanked households, which are defined as those that supplement their bank accounts with nonbank products such as prepaid debit cards.

Some banks look at this market and only see the risks; others deem it outside of their target audience demographic. In either instance, the outcome is avoidance. Fintech leaders, by contrast, see an emerging opportunity and are proactively developing innovative solutions to fill the gap. Which poses the question: Is it possible for banks to do the same?

Deciding to move forward with this type of initiative must start with the data. One of the areas that we pay close attention to is application approval rates. We’ve been opening accounts via our digital platform since 2009, and we were initially surprised by lower-than-anticipated account approval rates. Why was this happening? As the number of consumers who want to open a bank account online increases, there are inherent risks that must be mitigated. From what we’ve learned, identity verification and funding methods for new accounts, for example, pose heightened challenges in the anonymous world of digital banking. As such, we have stringent controls in place to protect the bank from increasingly sophisticated and aggressive fraud attempts. This is a good thing, as security is not something we are willing to compromise.

However, we realize that not everyone we decline is due to potential fraud, and that therein lies a major opportunity. A large portion of declinations we see are a result of poor prior banking history. Here’s the kind of story we see often, which may resonate with you as well: A consumer overdrew their bank account and for one reason or another didn’t fix the issue immediately, so they get hit with an overdraft fee. Before long those fees add up and the customer owes hundreds of dollars as a result of the oversight. Frustrated and confused, the customer walks away without repaying the fees. Perhaps unknowingly, the customer now has a “black mark” on their banking reports and may face challenges in opening a new account at another bank. Suddenly, they find themselves needing to turn to nonbank options.

I am not excusing the behavior of that customer: Consumers need to take responsibility for managing their finances. But, shouldn’t we banks be accountable for asking ourselves if we’re doing enough to help customers with their personal financial management? Shouldn’t we allow room for instances in which consumers deserve a “second chance,” so to speak?

At Radius we believe the answer to that question is “yes,” which brings us back to my earlier point around opportunity. Just a few weeks ago we released a new personal checking account, Radius Rebound, a virtual second chance checking account. We now have a way to provide a convenient, secure, FDIC-insured checking account to customers we used to have to turn down. In doing so, we’re able to provide banking services to a broader audience in the communities we serve across the country.

Because of the virtual nature of the account, I was particularly encouraged by the FDIC’s finding that online banking is on the rise among the underbanked, and that smartphone usage for banking related activities is rapidly increasing as well. Fintech companies are already utilizing the mobile platform to increase economic inclusion; we believe that Radius is on the forefront of banks doing the same, and look forward to helping consumers regain their footing with banks.

Let me be clear, providing solutions for the unbanked and underbanked is more than a “feel good” opportunity for a bank—it’s a strategic business opportunity. A takeaway from the FDIC report is that the majority of underbanked households think banks have no interest in serving them, and a large portion do not trust banks. It’s upon banks to address and overcome those issues. At the same time, nonbank alternatives are increasing in availability and adoption. Like anything worth pursuing, there are risks involved and they need to be properly scoped and mitigated. But while some banks still can’t see beyond the risks, I think ignoring this opportunity would be the biggest risk of all.

Use Good/Better/Best for Checking Success


checking-accounts-10-28-16.pngShop for a new car, a cell phone plan, a cable TV package or a major appliance these days and you’ll find one consistent and very successful product strategy–Good/Better/Best (GBB).

GBB is a three-tiered strategy conceptually defined as follows:

  1. Good: A basic level of value for price sensitive customers. Good offers a minimal amount of added value to differentiate yourself from your competitors and/or to marginally satisfy comparison shoppers. For example, coach class airline tickets would fit in this category.
  2. Better: An in-between level of value for customers who appreciate some level of value and are willing to pay a certain price to receive it, because they are still a bit price sensitive. The amount of value added above Good depends on the product type and marketplace, but the incremental level of value must be noticeable. For example, business class airline tickets would be better than coach but not as expensive as first class.
  3. Best: An advanced level of value for those customers who are actively looking for maximum added value. Price sensitivity is not a priority. The amount of value added above Better has to be all that is economically possible to add and still maintain acceptable profit margins or strategic goals. First class airline tickets would be a Best option when flying.

Every successful GBB design works when the product offerings build on each other. Your Good product is fundamental. Better is Good plus more. Best is Better plus more. GBB provides choices by comparison, easily showing how the price changes when different features are added or subtracted. As a result, buyers will be content that they decided to buy only as much as they needed. The power behind GBB is simplicity and familiarity.

While buyers appreciate choice, too many choices are counterproductive. The paradox of choice theory holds that too many options discourages rather than encourages buyers to buy. Why? Because it increases the effort that goes into making a buying decision. So buyers decide not to decide and don’t buy your product. Or if they do buy, the effort to make the decision often diminishes from the enjoyment derived from the product. In short, buyers do not respond well to choice overload and GBB keeps it simple. It’s very familiar to think in terms of three when buying things. Popular use of GBB product design by retailers for commonly purchased items has conditioned the typical buyer to be at ease with this product design.

GBB simplicity also works well for the sellers of the product. There are only three options to understand and communicate to a buyer. Plus, sellers feel credible as GBB appeals to a wider market, providing something for everyone without requiring everyone to just buy the premium option.

So how does this all relate to your consumer checking line-up strategy? Actually, it’s very natural, because you can align your GBB checking products with the three types of checking account buyers:

  1. A fee averse buyer wants free checking if it’s available or the cheapest account you offer.
  2. A value buyer is most focused on account benefits and is willing to pay for the account if there’s a perceived fair exchange of value.
  3. An interest buyer demands some yield on their deposits and also expects to be rewarded for being a productive or loyal customer.

In addition, nearly all three checking products under a GBB structure generate enough average annual revenue to cover the annual costs to service a typical checking account relationship, except for totally free checking.

Here’s how that breaks down, along with the comparative average annual revenue from each GBB checking product type and typical distribution of these accounts in a checking portfolio:

Product Strategy Buyer Type Checking Product Type Average Annual Revenue Percentage Range of Total Accounts
Good Fee Averse Totally Free
or
Conditionally Free
(minimal requirement to avoid fees)
$308
 
$390
 
30%-50%
Better Value Flat Monthly Fee $563 25%-40%
Best Interest Interest $636 10%-15%

Source: StrategyCorps’ Brain database tracking the financial performance of nearly 5 million checking accounts. Average annual revenue is the total of all checking related fees (including debit interchange) per respective account type and the allocated net interest income from the account type’s respective annual average DDA balance.

So what does a GBB-based checking line-up look like for a financial institution like yours? Here’s a sample GBB checking line-up in action as shown on sales/marketing materials.

As your financial institution works to have a more successful checking line-up that’s modern, customer engaging, competitively different and optimally financially productive, learn from the successful product design strategy of GBB. Don’t overthink it, over complicate it or, in general, overdo it. Your customers will be happier and your bottom line will be healthier.

What to Do About the 65% of Checking Customers Making You Money


In a previous article, I wrote about the challenge of how to handle unprofitable customers, headlined “What to Do About the 35% of Checking Customers Costing You Money.” The logical follow-up question is what to do with the remaining 65 percent.

Below is the composition of a typical financial institution’s checking portfolio, based on the relationship dollars (both deposits and loans) each of these segments represent, and the revenue generated by household by segment.strategycorps-chart-5-11.png

Super: household produces annual revenue over $5,000. Mass Market: produces $350 to $5,000 in revenue. Small: produces $250 to $350 in revenue. Low: produces less than $250 in revenue. Figures are based on the average bank in StrategyCorps’ proprietary database of more than 4 million accounts.

It is commonly thought that the 80/20 rule applies to relationship dollars and revenue for checking customers, where 80 percent of each is generated by 20 percent of customers. However, if you were to add up the Super and Mass columns for the relationship dollars and revenue segments, the “rule” is closer to 98/2 and 97/3, respectively.

Although they make up just over 10 percent of customers, Super households generate the highest percentage of both, 63 percent of relationship dollars and 57 percent of checking revenue for a typical financial institution. Mass households represent the largest relationship segment at 55 percent of customers, but generate less than their pro-rata share of relationship dollars and revenue.

Clearly these two segments, especially the Super segment, are what other financial institutions are looking to steal away with all kinds of marketing messages and incentives, and even some very targeted, prospective individual sales efforts.

A deeper dive into the profile of each segment reinforces why these customers are so sought after by competitors.

Segments Super > $5,000 Mass $350-$5,000
Distribution 10% 55%
Per Account Averages Averages
Relationship Statistics    
DDA Balances $28,079 $5,746
Relationship Deposits $63,361 $6,323
Relationship Loans $68,250 $4,542
Total Relationships $159,890 $16,611
Revenue Statistics    
Total DDA Income (NII + Fees + NSF) $1,349 $448
Relationship Deposit NII $2,367 $231
Relationship Loan NII $2,654 $171
Total Revenue $6,370 $850
Account Statistics    
Have More Than One DDA 73.2% 52.8%
Have a Debit Card 46.2% 65.1%
Have Online Banking 26.0% 29.6%
Have eStatement 16.0% 17.5%
Debit Card Trans (month) 8.4 15.7
Have a Relationship Deposit 74.3% 52.8%
Have a Relationship Loan 56.3% 25.4%
Have Both a Deposit and Loan 44.4% 15.8%
Average Age of Account 5.4 3.8
Average Age of Account Holder 57.0 51.2

The challenge: What should your financial institution do to retain these Super and Mass relationship segments that make up 65 percent of customers and yet are responsible for nearly 100 percent of relationship dollars and revenue?

A common response from bankers when asked this question is their stated belief that people in these Super and Mass segments are long-term customers who are already well-known. However, the data in the next to last row of the chart shows that the average age of the accounts in these two segments is only about five and a half and nearly four years, respectively, so they really aren’t long-term customers on average.

Another popular view is that these customers are already being taken care of. When asked to clarify, the response is typically something general about customer service. Rarely is the response that these customers are being provided with the best products and top level service at the financial institution, or that investments are being made in these customers that are above and beyond what is invested in overall retention efforts. And in too many cases, many community financial institutions don’t have the information organized to even identify which customers are in what segment.

It’s understandable that with today’s tight interest rate margins, compressing fee income and rising operating costs, it’s difficult to make a business case for above average investment in customer retention. However, with an overcrowded competitive marketplace and the commoditization that’s occurring from digitizing retail banking, taking for granted that Super segment customers won’t move is riskier than making the incremental financial investment to do something extra to retain them.

The math on this is straightforward—losing one average Super segment household that generates revenue of nearly $6,400 would require investing in the acquisition of 7.5 average Mass segment households, 29 Small segment households or 88 Low segment households.

The biggest banks know this and are, on a relative basis, out-investing community financial institutions through better mobile and online products, more attractive acquisition incentives and aggressive pricing campaigns in the Super and Mass segments.

While it may feel nearly impossible to invest more in existing Super customers, the cost of not doing so will be much more.

For consumer checking financial performance on all the relationship segments (Super, Mass, Small and Low), a more detailed executive report is available if you’d like more information.

What to Do About the 35% of Checking Customers Costing You Money


Consumer checking, while the simple hub product for most retail deposit and loan relationships, produces some not so simple challenges related to financial performance.

Here’s the composition of a typical financial institution’s checking portfolio, based on the revenue generated by a household relationship. “Super” customers generate the highest percentage of a typical bank’s revenues although they make up only about 10 percent of its customers. Super customers also make up the highest percentage of overall relationship dollars, meaning they have more combined deposit and loan balances with the bank.strategycorps-chart-5-11.png

Super: household produces annual revenue over $5,000. Mass Market: produces $350 to $5,000 in revenue. Small: produces $250 to $350 in revenue. Low: produces less than $250 in revenue. Figures are based on the average bank in StrategyCorps’ proprietary database of more than 4 million accounts.

The challenge: What to do with the Small and Low relationships that make up 35 percent of customers yet represent only 1.6 percent of all relationship dollars and 2.9 percent of revenue?

A deeper dive into the profile of these segments is enlightening.

Segments Small $250-$350 Low <$250
Distribution 9% 26%
Per Account Averages Averages
Relationship Statistics    
DDA Balances $1,561 $682
Relationship Deposits $444 $117
Relationship Loans $161 $32
Total Relationships $2,166 $831
Revenue Statistics    
Total DDA Income (NII + Fees + NSF) $160 $62
Relationship Deposit NII $16 $4
Relationship Loan NII $6 $1
Total Revenue $182 $67
Account Statistics    
Have More Than One DDA 28.9% 14.5%
Have a Debit Card 71.4% 57.1%
Have Online Banking 27.3% 22.0%
Have eStatement 17.1% 13.9%
Debit Card Trans (month) 13.3 5.0
Have a Relationship Deposit 31.5% 17.9%
Have a Relationship Loan 7.1% 2.7%
Have Both a Deposit and Loan 2.5% 0.7%
Average Age of Account 3.1 3.4
Average Age of Account Holder 48.9 48.8

Obvious is the lack of revenue generation from these segments given average demand deposit account (DDA) balances and relationship deposit and loan balances on an absolute dollar basis and a comparative basis to the Mass and Super segments.

Less obvious is that the other revenue-generating (debit cards) or cost-saving activities (online banking, e-statements) of the average customer in the Small and Low segments is not materially different from the Mass and Super relationship segments. For some products, like a debit card, the percentage of customers in the Small and Low segments who have one is higher than Mass and Super segments.

The natural response from bankers when confronted with this information is, “let’s cross-sell these Small and Low relationships into more financial productivity.” This is well-intentioned, but elusive and arguably impractical.

First, for many consumers in these relationship segments, your FI isn’t their primary FI, so they are most likely Mass or Super segment customers at another institution. Second, if you are the primary FI, these segments simply don’t have financial resources or the need for additional financial products beyond what they already have today. At their best, these are effectively single service, low balance and low or no fee customers. Therefore, traditional cross-selling efforts either compete unsuccessfully with the primary FI’s cross-selling efforts or don’t matter because there aren’t available financial resources to be placed in other products.

How then does your FI competitively and financially engage with these Small and Low relationship segments to improve their financial contribution by increasing the DDA balances, relationship balances or generating more fee income? The answer is to relevantly offer them a product that impacts how they bank with your institution.

More specifically in today’s marketplace, this relevant offering is accomplished by being a bigger part of your customers’ mobile and online lifestyle. Consumers of all types are in a relationship with their smart phone, tablets and computers. A FI’s checking product has to be a bigger part of that relationship. It can’t just be another online or mobile banking product they can get at pretty much any FI. For the unprofitable customers who have a primary FI somewhere else, the mobile and online offerings have to be engaging and rewarding enough to move deposit balances to your bank or buy more products from your bank to generate more revenue.

For those unprofitable customers who simply don’t have the financial resources to aggregate deposits or be cross-sold, the mobile and online banking solutions have to include value worthy enough to willingly pay for. Why? Because generating recurring, customer-friendly fee income based on non-traditional benefits or functionality is the only way you’re going to make them more profitable. Top retailers like Costco, AAA, Amazon and Spotify understand this retailing principle, which is transferable to FIs if they will design and build their checking products like a retailer would instead of a banker.

For consumer checking financial performance on both the Small and Low relationship segments as well as the Super and Mass ones, a more detailed executive report is available if you’d like more information.

The Battle Is Back On for Checking Customers


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.

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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?