Alden Seabolt is the consumer banking lead at Blend. Opinions expressed are author's own.
For many years, bankers took pride in declaring they were engaged in a fierce war for deposits. That approach was perhaps best exemplified by Hugh McColl Jr., the hard-charging banker and former Marine Corps officer, who famously kept a hand grenade on his office desk in Charlotte, North Carolina. The acquisition-minded McColl, who retired in 2001 as CEO of Bank of America, once told a competitor that he was prepared to "launch my missiles" if his company didn't accede to McColl’s takeover bid.
Times have changed. The strategies that worked so well for banks in a bygone era are being replaced. The focus now should be on winning the hearts and minds of customers. Don't fight for deposits.
Banking leaders have a mission to help customers easily access the financial tools that let them achieve their goals. Continued success depends on defining lending institutions’ role relationally: as a trusted, expert financial adviser providing guidance and superior service to customers along every step of their lifelong financial journey.
Customer relationships should share many characteristics with a successful marriage. The getting-to-know-you part is a slow dance — a courtship — the development of trust and mutual respect. Over time, this will blossom into a committed, long-lasting partnership.
Engage the customer, not the profile
Much like the measured, careful first months of a burgeoning relationship, successful lender-customer partnerships are built on listening, a simple act in premise that’s challenging to do well. To facilitate this, bank leadership can broaden the scope of strategic reflection and look to the great drivers of consumer relationships. Study the playbook of great consumer-centric brands, such as Apple, Netflix and Amazon.
When a shopper walks into an Apple Store, there is no hard sell. Customers are encouraged to browse, test-drive any product on display and ask questions. Apple Store employees (who are not paid by commission) demonstrate deep knowledge of the company’s products.
This product-agnostic and engagement-friendly approach encourages employees to seek out, understand and solve for customers’ end dreams — not to hard-sell a particular piece of technology.
When a customer interacts with a bank, he or she wants to feel engaged as a person with financially motivated goals — not as a user with distinct profiles based on the handful of products they use. (Imagine if Apple categorized each customer as merely an iPhone user or a MacBook Pro user). A product-derived mentality encourages outdated metaphors like the “war for deposits.”
There are three concrete steps to address this mismatch.
- Obsess about understanding the customer. Leverage a research mindset to develop this understanding and sophisticated technology to capture it. Encourage branch staff to use curious empathy in concert with organization-wide product/service knowledge. The goal should be not to sell, but rather to get to know.
- Ensure that operational organizations across product verticals have easy access to this hard-earned data. When disparate teams across the organization can see customers as a complete picture, rather than as disconnected puzzle pieces, it increases the ability to engage with their holistic needs.
- Seek the intimate understanding and closeness experienced when customers feel known. Some solutions are simple, like auto-filling application information from one product to another. Others are more elegant, like connecting people to the products that best serve their goals.
Regardless of the underlying complexity, customers expect a high level of personal touch. Providing this creates the invisible glue that facilitates lifelong relationships.
Fast and frictionless
Consumers expect a fast and frictionless digital experience with their bank, just like the one they have with Apple, Amazon or Netflix. But getting a mortgage or opening a retirement account is decidedly more consequential than shopping online for a new winter coat or watching a movie.
That is where branch bankers can step up to give trustworthy guidance and superior service at every stage of a customer’s financial journey. Free your employees to provide the human touch that delivers long-lasting value by supporting them with the data and tools required to get there.
Even the hard-charging McColl, with his strong personality and fondness for military metaphors, embraced the goal of servant leadership, working tirelessly on behalf of his bank’s customers and their communities. If a retired Marine can dump war rhetoric and support relationship development, other banking leadership surely can, too.