Hidden Defections: Customers Are Slipping Away In Record Numbers

Bank customers are bypassing their primary financial institution as they buy new products from fintechs and digital banks in record numbers.

Sadly, most customers slip away unnoticed.

Cross-selling banking products and services has always been a core staple in the financial marketer’s toolbox — an effective growth strategy for credit cards, auto loans and other products with higher margins than checking accounts. Banks and credit unions have been willing to accept losses on checking accounts contingent on the prospect of cross-selling them additional, more profitable products.

Research shows financial institutions have been generally successful with that strategy. A 2016 AT.Kerney survey reveals bank customers have 2.71 products on average at their primary bank — ranging from 2.83 at the country’s three largest banks to 3.06 at credit unions.

But a new study shows that the venerable cross-selling strategy may be starting to unravel.

Rather than obtaining additional products and services from their core banking providers, more and more consumers are fulfilling their needs elsewhere. In the last two years, the volume of additional products consumers have added at their primary institution has dropped dramatically. A survey by Bain found 52% of U.S. customers bought products from their primary bank in 2016, compared to 58% in 2014 — a drop of 6% in two years.

What’s causing this decline? Pretty simple… increased competition — namely from fintech startups and banking providers with digital-first models.

Clients aren’t turning to competitors for everything, but they are dodging their primary institution when it comes to many of the higher-profit products and services. Credit cards, loans, insurance and investments are among the most common items consumers get from a third party. For instance, the primary bank win rate for loans is just 57%, which leaves primary institutions holding little more than lower-value, higher-cost deposit accounts. As consumers seek solutions elsewhere, banks and credit unions are left with a greater number of unprofitable relationships, a shift that invariably impacts earnings.

Reality Check: A five-point increase in the overall win rate represents about $5 billion in revenue across the 25 largest U.S. banks, according to Bain.

These defections usually don’t show up on most financial institutions’ radar. It’s hidden attrition. Customers don’t close an account, they simply open another elsewhere. Account growth may slow down, but there is no visible dip in total relationships. The undetected defections make the trend even more threatening because bankers can’t respond to what they don’t see.

Meanwhile, banks and credit unions can lull themselves into a false sense of security because satisfaction scores in recent years have reached record heights — a trend reflected in both broad industry studies, and in proprietary surveys fielded by banking providers. “What’s the problem?” a financial marketer might ask. “People say they love us, but they don’t bring us their business.”

Better digital services are a big factor in luring away customers. Consumers are buying digital products from competitors at 1.4 times the rate purchased from their primary institution — a sobering statistic which may require community banks and credit unions to carefully reexamine their digital offerings. According to research from JD Power, big banks enjoyed the biggest gains and much of it can be attributed to their digital programs.

Community-based institutions have several options for addressing these issues: adopt a product pricing strategy that combats unprofitable customers, closely monitor any changes (slow-downs) in relationship growth, create a “watch list” of vulnerable accounts based on a data-driven analysis of past behaviors, and — most importantly — enhance and promote their digital services.

Every institution will need to determine a course of action based on their own situation and competitive environment. But failure to act will see the rate of these hidden defections increase. New strategies must be implemented immediately, before they inflict permanent damage.

This article was originally published on . All content © 2024 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.