4 Ways to Strengthen the Digital Banking Sales Journey

Most banks and credit unions can do digital account opening, and have a cross-selling program. But "doing" and "having" are not enough as high abandonment and low engagement rates show. There are four distinct stages in the customer journey and each builds on the other. This practical guideline treats the journey as a whole.

Far too often, banks and credit unions focus almost exclusively on customer acquisition and cross-selling — the beginning and end of the typical customer journey. That can be problematic if institutions ignore the two middle stages that are critical to long-term success.

The two middle stages are confirmation/welcome and onboard/engage. Banks and credit unions that give attention to all four stages — adopting strategies and following best practices for each of them — can solidify their customer relationships and deepen them over the long haul. Here we look at each stage in detail.

1. Account Opening: How to Reduce (and Cope With) Abandonment

In the early 2000s, a Rhode Island technology company named Andera introduced the first platform that enabled credit unions and banks to open deposit accounts online.

Fast forward to now, where the percentage of institutions that offer online and mobile checking account opening in 2020 reached 82% and 38%, respectively, according to the Digital Banking Report (DBR).

While it’s good news that most banks and credit unions offer online account opening, digital applications are notoriously tedious and abandonment rates are high. The biggest culprit? Lengthy application processes. If you think applicants will invest more than ten minutes opening an account online, you’d be wrong in plenty of cases.

For online applications that take ten minutes or longer to complete, account openings can be impacted by as much as 40%, DBR found. If an institution with a lengthy application process opened 6,000 checking accounts last year, it might have opened 10,000 accounts if friction wasn’t an issue.

Many financial institutions calculate “abandonment rates” using a simple formula that divides the number of completed applications submitted for a final decision by the total number of applicants. However, abandonment rates are often grossly underreported.

The issue lies in the way “total applicants” is calculated. With many online account opening platforms, applicant information isn’t saved until an initial set of required fields are completed. Until that’s done, applicants aren’t counted in the denominator.

The true abandonment rate equals the percentage of online applicants that clicked an “apply now” button on an institution’s website but quit the process at any time before their application was processed.

Attention Grabber:

It’s not uncommon for 70% to 90% of applicants who clicked ‘apply now’ to abandon the process before their applications are submitted for a decision.

Retarget abandoned applications. It’s much easier and cheaper to re-engage a consumer who already expressed interest than it is to attract someone new. Retargeting abandoned applicants, therefore, pays huge dividends. By capturing and immediately saving applicants’ names, email addresses, and mobile numbers, banks and credit unions can send instant email and SMS reminders that motivate abandoned applicants to come back and open their accounts.

Typically, abandoners have to remember their application ID numbers to resume saved applications. For retargeting campaigns to succeed, make sure that people can recover their application IDs within seconds.


1. Ensure that your online account opening process can be completed in fewer than ten minutes.
2. Immediately retarget abandoned applicants to motivate them to finish the process.
3. Give people an easy way to recover their application IDs.

Read More: The Future of Customer Experience in Banking is Personalized

2. Confirm and Welcome – Don’t Keep Them Wondering

Waiting a few days to follow up with new account openers can mean the difference between a fully engaged customer and an inactive one.

Consider this: If you buy a package of paper towels on Amazon, you receive an instant receipt. If you open a bank account online, it can take days to receive an acknowledgement.

When someone opens their first account at your institution, that’s your earliest and best opportunity to thank them for their business and make them feel good about their decision. It is not the time to start cross-selling additional products, however. Engage them and build a relationship first.

How is your institution welcoming people that opened accounts in a branch? Are they receiving a personalized email or SMS message from the person that opened their account? Or are they just walking out of the branch with an armful of brochures and disclosures?

And how are you welcoming people that opened accounts online? Are you automatically sending them a message thanking them for their business or are you mailing a paper welcome kit that will take days to arrive?

The first message after account opening typically has an extremely high engagement rate. For example, a credit union in the Northeast sees a 90% open rate and an 81% click through rate for the first email message it sends after checking accounts are opened.

If done right, your first message will get high exposure. Make sure it’s welcoming and sets expectations for what’s to follow.


1. Instantly confirm account openings and welcome everyone that joins your institution.
2. Don’t ruin the moment by bombarding new account openers with piles of paper.
3. Wait until new account openers are engaged and using their new accounts before you cross-sell.

Read More: Why Banks’ Digital Sales Efforts Still Aren’t Working

3. Onboard and Engage – Make It Easy to Get Started

Most banks and credit unions open a new account and call it a win. However, the only thing they’ve won is the chance to make money or to lose it. When accounts stay open but aren’t used, it negatively impacts the bottom line.

On the other hand, if a checking account customer considers your institution to be their primary provider, we have found they’re four times more likely to turn to you when additional financial needs arise. In addition, they will deliver an average of $212 in incremental profit each year, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

This is why it’s so critical for proper onboarding to build early engagement.


If a new account opener doesn’t engage and start using their account in the first 90 days, they probably never will.

Why would someone spend time opening an account and then decide not to use it? Friction. The fact is, when someone opens a new checking account, they have a lot to do:

  • Switch their direct deposits
  • Activate their debit card
  • Enroll in online banking and/or download the mobile app
  • Update automatic payments
  • Learn about a rewards program
  • …And the list goes on.

Banks and credit unions need to make it as easy as possible for new account openers to start using their new accounts immediately. This includes communicating early and often, as well as offering tools and tips to make things easier.

Communicate early. When institutions wait a few days or more to communicate with new account openers, the chance of engaging them falls significantly. A best practice is to trigger an instant welcome email or SMS message after account opening. If your systems don’t support real-time communication, try to deliver the first message within 24 hours while you work to improve your technology.

Remind them often. We recommend that banks and credit unions concentrate their early engagement efforts on the first 30 to 45 days. Instead of relying on snail mail, institutions should leverage personalized email and SMS communications.

Here’s our best-practice new-account messaging cadence:

  • Same day (welcome): Send a message that provides an account opening confirmation and thanks them for their business — email and/or SMS message.
  • Days 3, 10, 15, 20, 25, 35 (activation): Continue to send personalized email and SMS reminders, tailoring the communication stream based on the actions each individual has or has not completed. Examples include: card activation, online and mobile banking enrollment, e-statement enrollment, direct deposit enrollment, etc.
  • Feedback: Ensure that one of your reminders focuses on capturing feedback about the account opening and onboarding experience so you can resolve any frustrations early-on and optimize your process.

Personalize your messages. Basic emails and SMS messages are not enough to get people engaged. It’s important to link your messages to personalized, step-by-step guides and tools that make onboarding tasks easier.

Educate new account holders on what actions that they need to take, and then do what you can to make those tasks easy to complete. For example, with direct deposit enrollment, too often institutions simply provide a PDF form and ask customers to complete it and give it to their employers. This may have been fine 20 years ago, but there are better ways now. Eliminate forms and invest in technology that enables people to switch their direct deposits in minutes.


1. Deliver the first message within a day of account opening.
2. Send frequent reminders in the first 30 to 40 days to encourage account usage.
3. Provide digital tools that remove friction and make it easy for new account openers to adopt account-related services.

Read More: Banking Needs 360-Degree View of Customer Journey

4. Cross-Sell to Deepen Relationships and Boost Retention

For most institutions, checking accounts aren’t wildly profitable, which is why cross-selling has such an impact on relationship profitability.

Banks and credit unions often miss cross-sell opportunities by not delivering proactive and personalized offers. That’s costly. We’ve found that about one-third of banking customers report opening an additional product at a competing institution.

Educate customers and members on what you offer. Once customers have been properly onboarded and are actively using the products they opened, it’s time to start educating them about other ways your institution can help with their finances. For example you can highlight:

  • Your excellent auto loan rates
  • Your frictionless mortgage process
  • A bank account that helps teenagers responsibly manage their money.

Sharing ratings, testimonials and awards goes a long way towards building credibility.

Cross-sell before they go elsewhere. One out of three banking customers who opened a new product purchased it from an institution other than their primary one, according to Bain. When a new need arises, people suddenly tune-in to advertising and special offers. How your institution can help may not occur to them when they have needs to solve.

While you can frequently ask customers about their needs, it’s more effective if you can identify when a new need arises. Leverage third-party data to identify when customers begin shopping around for a financially related need (e.g., people listing their homes for sale, shopping for a car, etc.)

Not only does cross-selling increase customer profitability, but it also has a massive impact on retention rates. In The New Rules of Marketing, Frederick Newell states that moving from one product to three decreases the probability of switching institutions from 50% to 5%.


1.Don’t assume that customers will turn to your institution new needs arise.
2. Leverage third-party data to identify customers that are shopping around so that you can make proactive offers.

Finally, standard email systems and marketing automation systems can work well for acquiring new customers. But deeper relationships in the middle and later stages of the customer journey require a platform that supports instant welcomes for new customers and members, frictionless adoption of account-related services, and consistent, personalized communication.

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