Is a rebrand in your future? Don’t do anything without this list of five must-ask questions.   GET THE LIST

Steal This Idea: The Ultimate In-Branch Conversation Starter

Plenty of financial institutions describe their service as “warm, friendly and personal.” But basic courtesies like a smile, a hello and a thank-you barely get you to first base. There has to be more to building relationships than waiting for tellers to remember the names of those customers who come in to conduct a high volume of costly transactions. Isn’t there?

Well here is an excellent way to spark conversations in your branches that is both simple and effective: In the workspace next to every teller and service representative, place a medium-sized placard with a mini-biography of that employee’s life, interests and hobbies.

Each employee only needs to pick five profile questions that they would be comfortable revealing, choosing from a list of maybe 10-20 options. Some suggestions include:

  • Favorite movie
  • Best vacation ever
  • Last book I read
  • Kids
  • Pet/Dog
  • What I do for fun
  • Favorite station
  • Food I can’t live without
  • Favorite TV show
  • Celebrity I’d most like to meet
  • Where I went to school
  • Years in the area
  • Nickname
  • Favorite band

You can think of additional profile questions to use if you’d like. HR can screen employees’ answers to make sure no inappropriate material gets shared.

Citrix | Financial Services IT Solutions

Any bank or credit union struggling with on-boarding or cross-selling should give this a try. It’s fairly intuitive to see how slice-of-life biographical profiles of your employees would trigger lively, engaging customer conversations. Anything can happen when customers get comfortable with employees after finding some common ground. But don’t just dump a bunch of placards on everyone’s desks and expect magic things to happen. You have to train staff on how to maximize these conversations and turn them into opportunities. Otherwise, you’ll do nothing more than increase your average time-per-transaction.

If you expand the program to include every employee from the CEO on down, you’ll likely witness the team-building benefits that come when co-workers forge deeper interpersonal relationships.

This simple-yet-effective relationship-building tool would work for just about any size financial institution, but it is perfectly suited for smaller, community-focused banks and credit unions — especially those who aspire to be viewed as neighbors or friends, which is a smart strategy because people have such low opinions of bankers these days. It’s a good idea to distance yourself from the greedy, stingy, no-good image bankers have today by “humanizing” your staff (and, by extension, your brand’s image).

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | Challenger Bank Battlefield


  1. John Welding says:

    I wonder how this would work for an internet bank.

  2. Steve Bieber says:

    Excellent idea. An instant conversation starter that a well-trained rep can turn into fertile ground.

    The fact that it does not translate to the digital world makes it even better.

    I’ve passed the idea along to our training staff.

  3. @John – some nice produce web video testimonials from employees would work great opening up and sharing there thoughts/feelings/personalities/etc.

  4. Online service reps could have brief bios, maybe something akin to the user profiles on Twitter. But I wonder if online consumers feel like chatting back and forth in an online instant chat window about not-much-in-particular.

    For any financial institutions outsourcing their online interactions (for 24/7 overnight responses, or big banks using overseas operations), this probably wouldn’t be a very good idea.

  5. I like this idea for traditional branches, but don’t think it would translate well to an Internet bank. People use Internet banks and/or Internet banking because they don’t want, don’t care about, or don’t place high importance on the personal interaction offered by an in-branch teller.

  6. Personifying Brady’s insights about the customer’s point-of-view: “Hey look, if I wanted to chit chat, I’d have gone into one of your branches.”

  7. This is a brilliant idea! Unlike other comments regarding the online channel, I think it has merit. A brief video of one of our new account reps or a loan officer, or about our blog staff may be exactly what we need to personalize the experience that the internet has created–maybe bring back some humanity to the whole process. Heaven knows financial institutions every where could use more of that.

  8. @adam – Good point about humanity. check out what Shell FCU is doing to bring some humanity into a loan campaign focusing on the people… not the money… to drive the money… if that makes sense.

    Anyway, the online channel features real stories (no scripts) from both staff and members.

    @brady – yes… but what if you could provide some real personal interaction online. FIs already are doing this with live chat. Bring it to the next level and get to know who you are chatting with as a person.

    WF has done a good job personalizing their twitter account with real people:

  9. I wanted to make a point about customer preferences. Jeffry’s follow-up comment is right on: “Hey look, if I wanted to chit chat, I’d have gone into one of your branches.” Not all customers want to have a conversation. These customers may want to know who they’re talking to (so they have some record of the conversation/interaction), but I’d bet that most don’t care about their online rep’s favorite movie or how many kids they have. My argument is that this piece would likely work better in-person than online.

    In-person, I think this piece would work well for an important reason – the bio includes topics that “chatty people” like to talk about. It doesn’t include the expected name, position, years at the bank, service stars, etc. For the most part, people don’t want to talk about banking. But, I can imagine that these topics would spark quite a bit of conversation.

    Now, what about the customer in the teller line that doesn’t want to chat, but is being held up by the chatty people in front of him or her?

  10. Brady, staff training should include guidelines for when it is acceptable to engage in lengthy conversations and when it isn’t (e.g., when 5 people are stacked in the queue).

  11. This is a brilliant idea. My only concern is that by introducing this concept, you are in a way promoting unnecessary conversations between tellers and clients. I think what every bank wishes for are fast and efficient tellers who will spend minimal time with clients. Creating these conversations will create longer queues. This will be more ideal in a private banking suite or set up.

  12. Lori Philo-Cook says:

    Love this idea. Wish I had thought of it!

  13. Martin, hopefully the conversations aren’t completely frivolous. If staff are given the appropriate training to ensure conversations can be steered towards major lifestage issues, they should be able to find a way to bring the discussions back to some financial product or service. Staff should also be trained how to avoid potentially lengthy conversations when the queue is full. As noted in the article, you’ve got to be careful how you manage average time-per-transaction.

    If letting tellers chat it up is a problem (at a particular branch, or organizationally) then don’t have them participate in this idea. Just limit it to sit-down service reps; most banks and credit unions have at least a few of those — new accounts, lending, etc.

    Ultimately, what you want to monitor is depth-of-relationships, particularly among the heaviest branch users. What you’re trying to do is take those customers who engage in a lot of high-cost activities and make them profitable. On-boarding metrics and cross-selling ratios should also be monitored. If these performance indicators don’t improve, then there would be still be some compelling reasons to sustain the program. While most of the dialogue won’t result in a sale, it should foster a sense of trust and a deeper level of engagement with the organization’s people and its brand. Even when interactions are nothing more than banal courtesies, they should leave customers with positive feelings for the financial institution.

  14. In reading these comments, I’m reminded of this recent NY Times post, “Why Banks Like Lines”

    Perhaps this “conversation starter” is just what financial institutions need to keep the teller lines at the optimum length for the sale/cross-sell

  15. I like the idea of this technique. It reminds me of hand-scrawled “staff picks” at independent book and movie stores. They really let the humanity shine through, and provide useful recommendations.

    However, it sounds like a great idea, until the reality of this statement sets in…

    “HR can screen employees’ answers to make sure no inappropriate material gets shared.”

    Most of the interesting questions could generate illicit answers if the employees are being honest. e.g, my favorite movie is Pulp Fiction, and one of my favorite bands at the moment has a strong four-letter word in the title.

    If there were some way to make the questions on-topic for banking and personal finance, then I think this makes sense. Otherwise, I’m not sure I see the point.

  16. Nick,

    The operative word in the sentence you highlighted is the word “can.” It doesn’t say HR should screen answers, but they can if the organization has concerns about their employees’ privacy and/or the appropriateness of certain responses.

    If a financial institution chooses to engage an HR screener, the point isn’t to sanitize the responses of anything that some hyper-sensitive person might find slightly offensive. In that regard, if someone would be tempted to screen “Pulp Fiction” then this idea is dead in the water. But R-rated movies seldom (if ever) match the definition of “illicit.” “Debbie Does Dallas” is the kind of answer you need to make sure doesn’t sneak its way onto your teller line.

    This isn’t about applying some arbitrary and puritanical standards. I’d assume 100% of the material employees would want to share would be appropriate, but you never know… It’s not censorship so much as a basic level of common sense, which some employees lack.

    You noted that one of your favorite bands has a “strong four-letter word in the title.” Most financial institutions would not be comfortable with an f-bomb in their teller line. You wouldn’t normally say “f**k” to a customer in the teller line, so why would it be appropriate to print that on marketing materials? In this case, I’d expect the HR screener to pick up the phone, give you a call, explain the situation, and request you list another favorite band. Either that, or the HR person could simply pick another profile question to share in that employee’s bio.

    I’m sorry if you can’t see how many of these personality questions can tie back to financial services. It only takes a little imagination to see how questions can be steered back to a specific financial product. Example:

    Customer: “Oh, your dog’s name is Marvin? That’s my dog’s name too!”
    Teller: “Really? What kind of dog?”
    Customer: “Jack Russell Terrier.”
    Teller: “What do you do with him during the day while you’re at work?”
    Customer: “He has to stay in my apartment until I get home.”
    Teller: “Are you looking for a house? Some place with a yard?”
    [discussion about home loans ensues]

    It sure beats the pants off of the typically lame and totally obvious cross-sell attempts made by most financial institutions today: “Thank you for your transaction. Would you like a home loan?” At least there’s a little foreplay involved with the sales process in the concept this article describes.

    If you are unconvinced that this idea would work as presented because it is too indirect, you could certainly sit down and brainstorm some questions that had more immediate and direct financial relevance. Of course, one’s financial decisions and milestones are a lot less interesting that their favorite band or movie.

  17. I don’t doubt that this could be an effective method, I guess saying that I don’t see the point is a bit strong.

    My main point is that some of the cultural questions could open a big ball of string depending on the institution’s culture. I’m certainly not railing against puritanical HR departments, merely looking at this in the light of the dangers of associative marketing. (IIRC, the FFIEC has some good guidance on this issue.)

    In any case, you’re right, the choice of questions could be changed to illicit certain conversations, and training would really increase the effectiveness of this technique.

  18. I love this idea and forwarded it to the region office for the bank. We are really focused on advocacy and customer service scores, plus referrals. Conversations, conversations, conversations is the key to building a relationship (customer service), developing trust (advocacy), and finding the next way to meet the customer’s need (referral). Our best customers are the best because we HAVE shared information about our personal lives so now there is a connection. Without that connection, we just have another customer-bank relationship. These bio’s provide the opportunity to expand the personal side of the customer-bank relationship and turn more customers into best customers. Love it!

  19. Glad you liked the idea Ryan. Please let The Financial Brand know how it works out after you have implemented it.

    Thanks for the comment.

  20. I love this idea!! I have worked for a credit union for many years years and worked my way up the ranks so I am no longer on the frontline. When I do wander up front I continually have members telling me that they “don’t know anyone” on the frontline anymore. This is absolutely brilliant to start the process of building that relationship and I have forwarded this to my manager.

  21. Nana, I am curious if you have implemented this at all and what experiences you might be willing to share? We have displays in our lobby with various current news/sports/main stream topics splayed acrossed them. I wondered if this might not be an interesting way to incorporate this onto the screens? If you did photos, I was wondering also if you stuck with the casual approach.

  22. Nathan, Deutsche Bank in Germany does something very similar to what you are describing. The have vertical LCD screens mounted near the entry. As customers come in, they are “greeted” by photos of the employees working that shift. I don’t recall if they add any biographical material to the photos or not, but there’s no reason that wouldn’t work. It sounds like a great idea — a tech-savvy, green e-solution.

  23. Thanks for this brilliant idea. Is this already operational in a bank ?

  24. Yes Zyfa. The idea was first spotted by a reader of The Financial Brand in a bank outside of Seattle, WA. What bank was it? I’m sorry, I can’t recall.

    I can tell you, however, that this article has been wildly popular with readers. I’m not sure how many have implemented the concept, but the article ranks among the top most-forwarded that has ever been published on the site.

Speak Your Mind


Show Comments