5 Best Practices When Marketing Banking Mergers

Communicating the benefits of a financial institution merger to key stakeholders begins with the announcement of the deal but goes on even after the combination is completed. Marketers must be sure to keep the consumers, businesses, investors, communities and employees in the loop.

No two financial institution mergers are alike. Each has its own dynamics, its own rationales and its own combination of people who perceive they will win or lose something in the course of the merger.

Nowadays a financial marketer for a bank might find themselves handling the acquisition of a credit union, or vice versa. Or the deal may stay in the bank or credit union camp. In any event, while the pace of deals was off in 2020 due to COVID-19, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods has published a list 21 institutions from mega-size to smaller banks that it says could be among the first to announce an M&A deal in the year ahead. In a Deloitte study, 57% of smaller banks surveyed said their institutions could pursue M&A opportunities during the year ahead.

While each deal is unique, consider these best practices to help get the most bang for your buck when formulating your merger communications plan. Using these practices — and not being fazed by the inevitable challenges that make your merger unique — will help the organization reap the rewards that inspired the deal in the first place.

1. Hit the Ground Running

Once the press release announcing the intent to merge is published, the clock begins ticking. Don’t fall for the false sense of security that Marketing has plenty of time. This is your opportunity to roll up your sleeves and get a head start on the serious work to come.

Make the benefits easy to understand. In your early communications, including the announcement press release, be hard-hitting about why this merger is good news for customers, the combined institution and all stakeholders. It’s okay to keep benefits simple — there’s plenty of time for details and nuance later — just remember to keep customers, employees, investors and all significant interested parties and constituencies in mind.

“Plan a steady communications stream to customers with merger updates. Most people don’t understand that it takes a long time to merge two financial institutions.”

Keep the updates coming. Starting with the news of the legal closing of the deal, begin to plan a steady communications stream to customers with merger updates. Most people don’t understand that it takes a long time to merge two financial institutions, and so the intervening months between announcement and systems conversion should be positioned as a time of steady progress and periodic communication. Be sure to keep this messaging fresh and relevant.

Launch a dedicated microsite. This serves as a central communications hub for all merger-related information — and refresh the content often.

Carefully analyze and simplify product mapping strategies. This up-front work will drive communication style, content, as well as personalization strategies.

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2. Win Over Your New Employees

When acquired customers hear about the merger, one of the first resources for information will be the branch and other customer-facing staff of the institution you’re acquiring. Here’s how to make sure they become your strongest advocates:

Be transparent. Provide insights and information to employees as early as possible. Mark milestones along the path from announcement through to systems conversion and share customer communications before they are sent out.

Compile resources that will be valuable to frontline staff — and the best channels through which to disseminate these resources. This includes product information to help staff confidently answer customers’ questions about the upcoming changes to products and services.

3. Build A Bridge Between The Merging Institutions

As you communicate with your new customers, it’s important to convey a partnership and shared sense of purpose between the two organizations, in both words and graphics.

Explore ways to transition smoothly from the old to the new brand. Initially, use dual logos to convey the joining of the two entities, if appropriate. Dual signers also imply an endorsement of the merger by the executive of the acquired institution. Be sure to feature the surviving brand in the conversion materials, and begin to build confidence in the newly expanded company.

Consider creating a dedicated look-and-feel that can be universally applied to all merger communications to help customers clearly identify the communication as related to the merger.

Create an aspirational, yet believable, narrative. This should express the overall benefits of the merger. It informs the merger tagline and themes, and supports the sense of optimism that is critical to winning over your newly-acquired customers.

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4. Tailor Your Product-Change Messages

When the time comes to deliver account-specific change information to your new customers, try to deliver the information in as personalized a way as possible, providing only the change information each individual needs. By doing this, you will improve the customer experience dramatically. In addition:

Give special cases special treatment. Overlay additional personal outreach to high value/high touch customer groups and pay attention to specific customer sub-groups who may experience complex (or negative) change.

Give customers the flexibility to view your messages in their preferred medium. If information is provided via the branch, phone, online and traditional channels, all customers are bound to receive and remember communications.

Consider temporary fee waivers to allow sufficient time for customers to adjust balances and other requirements or to switch to other accounts that may be less costly for them in the long run.

5. Keep Telling Your Story Post-Merger

In the weeks following the systems conversion, customers can feel as if they’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool to swim for themselves. It’s important to keep treating them with care to make sure they’re comfortable and confident that you have their best interests at heart.

Keep holding hands. Help customers understand how they can continue to avoid fees and optimize their relationship with you.

Move forward but don’t rush things. It’s important to set the stage for relationship building and future cross sell, but allow some time for the dust to settle after the systems conversion before extending new offers, promotions or opportunities.

Continue the cadence of personalized marketing post-conversion. Resist the temptation to immediately lump this new audience in with your existing customers. Send targeted, new-customer messaging as they kick the tires on their new services and start to develop a sense of loyalty to your bank.

Keep sending the core message. Develop targeted marketing and paid media strategies that continue to “beat the drum” of the narrative and market position you staked out during the merger. The three-month period post-merger is a critical time to grow relationships, gain greater share of wallet, and establish your brand in the hearts and minds of your customers, stakeholders and target audiences.

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