On February 12, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article on the unlikely alignment of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the issue of more regulations demanded by Dodd-Frank. Warren is obviously an advocate for more oversight and regulations. But why would Blankfein, a leader of one of Wall Street’s biggest banks, warm up to the idea of more regulations? It’s because he realizes additional regulations are additional hurdles for smaller competitors to overcome.
Now that’s might work for Goldman Sachs and other megabanks, but for everyone else in banking, resources are limited. How can community based financial institutions grow, increase their profitability, and devote more energy to innovation when they are preoccupied with a mountain of regulations and compliance issues. How do you achieve growth amid all these distractions? It is more than a product play, more than marketing, more than a sales culture and more training. Sustainable growth can only be achieved if your approach is STRATEGIC and incorporates all of the above, and a blend of everything that follows:
1. The Right Product
A review of several million customer records at community banks and credit unions shows most consumers and businesses (64%) start their relationships with a financial provider through a checking account. It is the key product in achieving Primary Financial Institution (PFI) status. This same data also shows that once a community bank or credit union has achieved PFI status, it should have more than five additional product and services per accountholder. This is why PFI status is so critical to building relationships, and why developing more of them hinges on the right products. The core principal here is simple. The right account should be something that’s easy to sell — and be profitable for your institution — so make sure it’s simple, a good deal for customers and clearly targeted.
2. The Right (and Necessary) Policies
With compliance seemingly always at the forefront, policies can start to overshadow who financial institutions serve (consumers) and what financial institutions are trying to accomplish (growth). That’s a big mistake. Policies are often outdated, misplaced, or simply not useful and can end up costing you money. While banks and credit unions must be in compliance, you should always evaluate policies from the consumer’s point of view. Examine your policies and ask if they are helping or hurting your institution… or if they are even still relevant, necessary and applicable. They may be putting speed bumps and road blocks on your path to growth.
3. The Right Process
Your best sales force are your frontline employees. But, are they empowered to sell your products? Do they understand your products, policies and sales process? More importantly, do they believe? If you can make your sales process simple and logical, and expectations are clearly outlined, you can transform your business into a full-time sales machine.
4. The Right Training
Unleashing a sales and growth culture starts with basic training. When you learn to engage people you gain their trust; gain their trust and they’ll take more products; when they take more products, they’ll refer you to their friends. That’s how you generate more revenue for your organization.
5. The Right Incentive
There are so many options here, from grand prizes to rewarding every new consumer and business with cash or gift incentives. Whether you’re competing with the big banks or other community institutions, the right incentive can help put your institution in the lead.
6. Right Offer + Right Audience = Right Marketing
Your marketing must be more strategic than just occasional campaigns. The right marketing medium, frequency, and offer drive the most people to your branches and website. Your offer should include product advantages and an incentive. The message should focus on how the consumer benefits and be spread across a number of mediums.
7. Leverage the Power of Referrals
When consumers feel wanted, and are enchanted by how you do business, they’ll spread the love. Leverage all those warm fuzzies by measuring referrals and providing tools that incent both consumers and employees. Don’t forget to cover all channels from branches to online.
8. Measurement and Accountability
What gets measured gets done. For measurement to be meaningful, you need to compare against internal performance metrics and external benchmarks for new PFI acquisition, same-branch sales, PFI relationship profitability, acquisition costs and branch performance. Financial institutions often generate between 100 and 500 core PFI relationships per branch, per year. Deploying a strategic approach (including the tips outlined here), you can double these numbers.
9. Inspect What You Expect – Mystery Shopping
This is key to evaluating how well you execute at the frontline. It’s important enough that it should be happening all the time, but a successful strategy needs one in-depth mystery shop of all branches at least once a year. Once that’s done, you have a foundation for your training plan.
10. More Training
Ongoing training is essential at all levels and the mystery shop shows where you’re succeeding or falling short. Ongoing training allows you to make adjustments, refine your approach, and internalize best practices. Continual reinforcement shows how committed you are to acquiring new relationships and becoming more profitable.
Achim Griesel is Chief Operating Officer at Haberfeld Associates, a leading new customer acquisition marketing and profitability consultant for community based financial institutions in the country. Haberfeld provides consulting, marketing and training services for community FIs and gains its unique data and benchmarks through analyses of millions of consumer banking records at community banks across the country.