Identify Your Customers Based On Need, Not Revenue


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For banks that don’t specialize in a particular market, it can be difficult to truly know every customer’s changing wants and needs. And while there’s significant customer research available on retail consumers and large corporate clients, there’s less help available when it comes to understanding mid-market corporate customers.

Despite the lack of information readily available, mid-market companies are a fast-growing segment of customers that banks can’t afford to ignore. In fact, a recent Citizens Commercial Banking survey found that a quarter of mid-market companies, defined as having $500 million to $2 billion in annual revenues, are actively engaged in raising capital, while another 40 percent are looking for opportunities to do so. Additionally, more than half of the mid-market companies in the US alone indicated they are actively seeking M&A deals in 2016.

In an effort to capture and better understand commercial customers, banks have historically tried to segment companies based on the value of their annual sales or revenue range (e.g. less than $5 million, $5 million to $20 million, etc.). However, these revenue estimates are extremely unreliable, because typically, mid-market companies aren’t public companies. They have no obligation to report revenue and are not subject to strict audit guidelines. This means that the main metric banks are using to understand their mid-market customers is self-reported, without any independent validation.

But more important than yielding unreliable data, revenue segmentation really doesn’t give banks much insight into a customer’s needs, aside from their credit need or credit worthiness. This is a severely flawed approach to understanding customers because there are so many non-credit products that banks can profit from.

Take payments, for instance. With payments, the needs of a $5 million construction company have little in common with the needs of a $5 million healthcare services company. While technically in the same revenue segment, the two companies have vastly different payment transaction numbers, payment processes and workflow, payables vs. receivables, and enterprise resource planning and accounting systems.

Simply put, revenue is a misguided way for banks to segment their corporate customers, particularly when it comes to the mid-market. Except in rare cases when revenue estimates are actually reliable and indicative of customers’ needs, the knowledge gleaned from a single revenue figure is minimal, and it doesn’t help banks better understand and serve their customers.

The good news is, there are other ways for banks to effectively target customers and strengthen customer relationships. One approach is to use transactional data as a means to develop detailed portraits of customers and their needs. By identifying and segmenting customers by need (rather than revenue), banks can establish stronger relationships and drive new fee income by offering solutions to address those needs. For example, banks could learn a lot about a customer by looking at their outgoing payments. How many payments are they making each month? What methods are they using to make these payments—paper checks, ACH, credit cards, debit cards?

Understanding the volume and value of payments for specific businesses can be extremely valuable for determining how to market and sell existing products more effectively. It can also expose areas where a bank might be failing its customers and losing good grace with otherwise loyal organizations. For example, seeing that a large group of customers is making payments through third-party solutions is an obvious sign that it’s time for a bank to develop a new or better payments solution of its own.

Banks are sitting on literally millions of customer records that can offer invaluable insights into customers’ wants and needs, however this data is often unused or under-leveraged. It’s an unfortunate reality, but one that can be easily addressed.

In today’s golden age of big data and analytics, banks need to leverage far more than just revenue figures to better understand their customers. By failing to fully understand customers, banks won’t be able to serve customers well, and they’ll run the risk of losing customers to hungrier and more innovative competitors as a result. Luckily, the treasure trove of existing transactional data can provide banks with infinite ways to better segment customers, and the breadth of that data will allow them to serve their customers more precisely and comprehensively.

The Traditional Community Banking Model is Dead


retail-banking-2-12-16.pngConsumer banking needs have not changed all that much over the last decade. However, the way those needs are met are going through transformational change. As such, community banks must find ways to shed the traditional ways of delivering banking services and morph into the new reality. Those banks that embrace the change will win, big. Those that do not will be acquired by those that do.

So what is the transformational change? It basically boils down to two key thoughts. The industry is now all about customers, not products, and it’s all about relationships, not transactions. Although fundamental in concept, these are dramatic changes from the traditional community banking model.

Historically, banks have focused on products, not customers. This is reflected in the fact that banks organize themselves along a product orientation. This results in numerous employees chasing the same opportunity. Even worse, it results in banks spending resources chasing certain customers with a product basis they will never use or buy. For example, older baby boomers are saving for retirement. As such, they need savings, investment, trust and advisory services. Trying to sell them a 30-year mortgage has a slim chance of success. Trying to sell retirement services to a millennial also will be met with failure. Banks need to focus on customers. We need to learn from our retail brethren and listen to the customers’ needs and then bring forward our products and services that meet the customers’ needs. This greatly enhances the likelihood of success, as we are giving customers what they want and need as opposed to what we want to sell. Selling hot soup in the middle of the summer is not a sustainable business model. It may get some limited sales, but is the wrong product at the wrong time.

Banks have also focused on transactions as opposed to relationships. This made sense when we had a product orientation. However, customers breed relationships and so we need to build and maintain them. Banks need relationship managers to be the primary point of contact with customers. They will act as a traffic cop, directing customers to in-house expertise that meets the customers’ needs. Their job is simple: Know the customers, their needs, their business and their personal situations and then meet and exceed those needs.

To shed the traditional model, banks must embrace a different culture. This means we need to:

  1. Adopt customer segmentation across all silos within the organization
  2. Reorganize into a customer-centric model
  3. Hire relationship managers (call them whatever you want)
  4. Establish strong calling programs 
  5. Create affinity with various customer segments

Integrating these concepts into a bank’s culture requires a commitment from the board and CEO. They will need to accept change and be willing to change the business model accordingly. They will need to break down the traditional silos inside the bank and integrate all departments into a customer-centric mode.

The following list is proven to aid in this endeavor.

  1. Create relationship managers and have them report directly to the CEO. Banks will still have product managers, but they must coordinate through the relationship managers.
  2. Integrate customers into your budgeting and planning process. This means plan on getting customers and their relationships as opposed to various non-related products.
  3. Build product bundles that fit targeted customer segments.
  4. Target and track market share of customer segments.
  5. De-emphasize brick and mortar and emphasize targeted delivery by segment.
  6. Track family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances as sources of new business. Leverage off affinity.
  7. Proactively identify opportunities and chase them. Do not wait for customers to knock on your door or call you.

Banks can continue to whine about falling spreads, lack of core business, high expenses and low fee income, or they can change with the times and shift to a customer-friendly, relationship-oriented culture. Banks who do thrive and become acquirers. Banks who do not will wither and likely become acquired. We have numerous case studies of banks that are shedding the traditional models in favor of the new on and all of them are winning in their markets.

How Technology is Redefining the Customer Relationship


customer-relationship-7-30-15.pngYou can visit a lot of banks and never see one that looks like this.

Located in Portland, Oregon’s trendy Pearl District, Simple is one of the leading firms at the intersection of banking and technology.

The design is consciously industrial. Bike racks crowd every nook and cranny. There’s a piano. A sunroom. A large meeting room stocked with healthy snacks. The atmosphere is casual, yet charged with energy. The employees wear t-shirts and jeans, roughly a third of them work at standing desks, and you can count the number of non-millennials on one hand.

It’s too early to predict how the fintech revolution will play out, but there’s no doubt that this is the front lines of finance. And as in any commercial battle, it’s first and foremost about capturing the hearts and minds of consumers.

A growing cast of companies has emerged to meet millennials where finance and technology converge.

Simple, which teamed up with Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (BBVA) at the beginning of 2014, offers a personal checking account accessible online and through its mobile app that’s designed to help people save. It does so by giving customers the ability to create compartmentalized savings goals.

Let’s say you need $50,000 for a down payment on a house in 24 months. By entering this goal into your Simple account, it will automatically deduct $68.50 ($50,000 divided by 730 days) each day from your “Safe to Spend” figure, which is essentially a person’s checking account balance less previously earmarked money.

Another technology-driven financial firm, Moven, offers a similar service. Described as the “debit account that tracks your money for you,” its home screen shows how much a person has spent during a month compared to previous months. If you typically spend $2,000 by the middle of a month, but are currently at $2,250, Moven’s app lets you know with each successive transaction.

“We create value by helping people build better money habits,” Moven’s president and managing director Alex Sion says.

A third player in the rapidly expanding fintech space, Betterment, builds customer relationships from a different angle. It offers an automated investing service. Give it your money, tell it your goals, and Betterment’s algorithms implement a strategy tailored to your financial objectives.

According to Joe Ziemer, Betterment’s business development and communications lead, it began the year with $1 billion in assets under management and now has $2.1 billion from 85,000 customers.

Finally, a growing number of Internet-based lending marketplaces connect yield-hungry investors with people and businesses in need of funding.

The best known of the group, Lending Club, offers personal loans of up to $35,000 to consolidate debt, pay off credit card balances, and make home improvements. Businesses can borrow up to $300,000 in 1- to 5-year term loans.

Funding Circle does much the same thing, though it focuses solely on small businesses. “There’s a perception out there that everyone is efficiently banked,” says Funding Circle’s Albert Periu, “but that isn’t true.”

Beyond using technology to refine the banking experience, a common set of objectives motivates these companies. The first is their missionary-like zeal for the customer experience. Their vision is to seamlessly integrate financial services into people’s lives, to proactively help them spend less, save more, invest for retirement and acquire financing.

“We created a product that allows customers to take control of their financial lives,” says Simple’s Krista Berlincourt.

This is done using elegantly designed mobile and online products that simplify and reduce friction in the relationship between a financial services provider and its customers.

To this end, a universal obsession in the industry revolves around the onboarding experience. “The onboarding experience is the moment of truth,” says Alan Steinborn, CEO of online personal finance forum Real Money.

Lending Club claims you can “apply in under five minutes” and “get funded in a few days.” Betterment’s Ziemer says that it takes less than half the time to set up an account with Betterment than it does at a traditional brokerage.

Finally, these firms compete vigorously on cost, with many forgoing account and overdraft fees entirely. In this way, they’re not only driving down the price of financial products, they’re also more closely aligning their own incentives with those of their customers.

Fueling the fintech revolution is the fact those millennials—people born between 1981 and 2000—now make up the largest living generation in the United States labor force.

Millennials see things differently. They “use technology, collaboration and entrepreneurship to create, transform and reconstruct entire industries,” explains The Millennial Disruption Index, a survey of over 10,000 members of the generation. “As consumers, their expectations are radically different than any generation before them.”

To millennials, banks come across as inefficient and antiquated. Two years ago, 48 percent of the people surveyed for Accenture’s “North America Consumer Digital Banking Survey” said they would switch banks if their closest branch closed. Today, less than 20 percent of respondents said they would do so.

This doesn’t mean that millennials will render in-person branch banking obsolete. A 2014 survey by TD Bank found that while they bank more frequently online and on their mobile devices, 52 percent still visited a branch as frequently as they did in 2013, mostly to deposit or withdraw money. “Those who do their banking in a branch feel it is more secure and enjoy the in-person service,” the survey concluded.

Wells Fargo’s recently appointed chief data officer, A. Charles Thomas, makes a similar point, citing a Harvard Business Review study that identified “customer intimacy” as one of three “value disciplines” exhibited by long-time industry-leading companies.

The net result is that the personal element of branch banking, while still relevant and necessary to build and maintain customer relationships, is nevertheless taking a back seat to digital channels. For the first time in Accenture’s research, the firm found that “consumers rank good online banking services (38 percent) as the number one reason that they stay with their bank, ahead of branch locations and low fees, both at 28 percent.”

It’s for these reasons that many observers believe the banking industry is prone to disruption. According to The Millennial Disruption Index, in fact, banking is at the highest risk of disruption of the 15 industries examined by Viacom Media Networks for the survey.

Of the millennials queried, it found that:

Sixty-eight percent believe the way we access money will be totally different five years from now.

Nearly half think tech startups will overhaul the way banks work.

And 73 percent would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from companies like Google, Amazon and Apple, among others, than from their own bank.

This isn’t to say that younger Americans don’t trust banks. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to Accenture, “86 percent of consumers trust their bank over all other institutions to securely manage their personal data.”

It boils down instead to the simple reality that millennials are “genuinely digital first,” says Forrester Research Senior Analyst Peter Wannemacher.

More than 85 percent of America’s 77 million millennials own smartphones according to Nielsen. An estimated 72 percent have used mobile banking services within the past year, says Accenture. And, based on the latter’s research, approximately 94 percent of millennials are active users of online banking.

Banks need to think about the customer experience differently. Millennials, and increasingly people in older generations, want more than physical branches to deposit money and get a loan. They want digitally tailored solutions for their financial lives.