Banks and Credit Unions Focusing on Onboarding to Build Revenues

There has never been so much pressure on financial institutions to maximize the revenue and relationship potential of each customer. With reduced fee income, narrow interest rate spreads, and consumer satisfaction wavering, there's a need to ensure that once a customer opens a new account, every effort is made to help the customer understand and use their account, expand their relationship, and increase loyalty to your organization.

While time and resources have been dedicated to new customer acquisition processes in the past, a majority of financial institutions are now working to implement or improve the communication process right after account opening and for several months into the relationship. And instead of a single welcome letter (or nothing at all), more and more organizations are using a series of well-timed, personalized communications leveraging multiple channels to improve effectiveness.

According to the 2012 Financial Services Marketing Survey from The Financial Brand, both banks and credit unions indicate that onboarding would be one of the most important strategies for the next 12-24 months, with virtually no institutions stating that the importance of onboarding would be less.


This increased emphasis makes sense, since in an informal survey done at last year’s BAI PaymentsConnect conference, significantly less than 50% of the attendees indicated that they had an onboarding program at their institution. In addition, with first year attrition rates ranging from 25% to 30% and even higher at most financial institutions, stemming this attrition provides a significant revenue opportunity. When you consider the cost of acquiring (or replacing) a new account, the revenue impact potential of that account, and the opportunity to expand the customer share of wallet, the rationale for a strong onboarding program is evident.

In an onboarding webinar conducted in conjunction with Forrester Research highlighting the results of a recent research report entitled, “A Strategic Approach to Onboarding Financial Service Consumers,” Brad Strothkamp highlighted the primary goals of most onboarding programs as improving activation, increasing usage, driving cross-selling and enhancing the overall customer experience, with the primary objective of stemming attrition.

Onboarding Program Objectives (Forrester Research, 2012)

Onboarding Program Objectives (Forrester Research, 2012)

Getting Started

Where should banks and credit unions start as they build a new customer onboarding program? Here are the most important elements needed for a successful initiative.

  • Acquire the right account holder
  • Provide relevant communication, early and often
  • Use the right message, with the right channel(s) at the right time
  • Know your audience
  • Encourage usage and engagement before cross-selling
  • Model for the right solution
  • Personalize your message(s)
  • View onboarding as a ‘process’ not a ‘program’
  • Measure results and adjust your program accordingly
  • Have a single point of responsibility

The impact of following these ten steps can result in a significant improvement in retention and revenues based on an analysis conducted by Harland Clarke using their industry database. In my experience, the impact of a change of only 1% in retention can many times fund an entire onboarding initiative.

Source: Harland Clarke Marketing Services Industry Database, 2012

Source: Harland Clarke Marketing Services Industry Database, 2012

Potential Hurdles

What are the hurdles that financial institutions face when trying to implement an effective onboarding program? According to Forrester’s Strothkamp and supported by my experience in assisting organizations with onboarding programs over the past 7 years, the primary obstacles to success usually include:

  • Lack of a single owner. Since onboarding crosses over many product lines, uses multiple channels and impacts an assortment relationship building objectives (engagement, cross-selling, retention) it is important to have a single point of reference to ensure consistent communication from the customer’s perspective. A single owner also helps to eliminate a focus on products as opposed to the customer.
  • Data availability. The success of an onboarding program hinges on the immediate availability of data. While most traditional marketing initiatives can leverage a weekly or month-end database build, best-in-class onboarding programs use daily data to drive the initial communication to the customer (usually an email thank you and/or appreciation call). Combining multiple data sources quickly also assists with later targeted communication around engagement and cross-selling.
  • Customer/Channel Blindness. Making assumptions around the customer’s financial objectives or channel preferences can undermine the optimization of an onboarding process. By asking the new customers their financial goals, what financial products they are using elsewhere, who is the primary decision maker on the account, and what channel(s) he/she would like to be communicated with turbocharges an already effective process. These questions can be asked at the new account desk or can be part of the early customer communications.
  • Goal Alignment. The best onboarding goals usually are aligned around overarching customer metrics like retention, engagement and share of wallet as opposed to being focused on specific product sales goals. For organizations funding onboarding through product groups, this can be difficult. As a result, we usually recommend that onboarding be funded (and measured) on an enterprise basis.

Path to Success

According to Harland Clarke and Forrester, a POST methodology underscores the importance of understanding People, Objectives, Strategies and Technology to achieve the desired onboarding results. This methodology can set the foundation for a strong program with market leading results. If any of these steps are skipped or misaligned, the results of an onboarding program will not be optimized.

Forrester Research POST Methodology, 2012

Forrester Research POST Methodology, 2012

Case Study

One of the most successful onboarding programs in the country has been done with Zions Bank, where multiple channels and a series of several well-timed and highly customized communications has resulted in best-in-class results. Program metrics include a 6:1 return on investment, a retention rate exceeding 96% and deposit growth of more than $50 million during a seven month period.

This highly integrated multi-channel effort by Zions Bank, Harland Clarke and Zions Bank’s interactive agency Richter7 earned them the 2011 Gold Award for Marketing Strategies from the National Center for Database Marketing (NCDM).

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