4 Tips for Onboarding Banking Consumers

Is your customer onboarding experience little more than a data dump — forms, brochures and legalese? If so, here are four tips to improve the process.

There is a pivotal moment when certain functions — previously unknown, underappreciated or misunderstood — rise to prominence and visibility among management ranks at financial institutions. For example, “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) in the 90’s was an emerging practice with a fairly compelling idea — “Who are our customers, what do they have, and what do they want?” Today, CRM has become synonymous with technology offerings that trap and store that data rather than enabling companies to better customer needs. And, increasingly marketing and sales vie for control over their institution’s CRM systems.

This is frequently how these things go. A few years after the topic du jour was on everyone’s priority list, it becomes (at best) a seemingly optimized, commoditized support service, or (at worst) a cog in the technology/compliance wheel whose success is often measured through cost metrics and risk mitigation.

Client onboarding is a similar subject. If financial marketers don’t give it the attention it deserves, it’s going to face the same fate as CRM’s uninspiring impact. Below are four tips about how to keep onboarding a vibrant, top-of-mind process in your financial institution’s marketing arsenal.

1) Know that client onboarding is an active, engaging thought process, not a technology solution. Resist the urge to provide only the legal essentials and ask yourself:

  • What do we want our brand to stand for?
  • Why did the customer/member choose our brand?
  • What does onboarding (the experience, the staff and materials) say about our institution’s brand?

2) Develop an onboarding strategy around what you’re committed to doing (next) to retain the client. Don’t begin with a tedious and generic onboarding experience that begins to “un-sell” the decision your customer just made.

One onboarding experience that was particularly awful involved an annuity that I purchased. The onboarding package contained a dozen riders, and when I tried to correlate how each rider trumped provisions in the stated policy, the agent told me only parts of each rider applied to my situation… but the riders were written to cover many conditions. Since the policy and riders likely outlast any verbal assurances this agent made to get my sale, I felt I was being duped by the company at large. I cancelled within 48 hours.

Again, put yourself in the customer’s shoes:

  • Is your information well organized, relevant and explained clearly?
  • Does your brand experience convey honesty and inspire trust in you as a partner or provider?
  • Does your approach walk the talk of transparency? Or are you harboring surprises around fees and costs in your fine print?

3) Understand the true impact of onboarding on your brand. Onboarding historically suffers from a split personality. Becoming a new customer is an awkward process — one part personal handshake and one part paperwork driven by technology — legal and compliance, than by customer experience. In financial services, frontline staff frequently tell customers, “Here’s the paperwork, but ignore it, it’s from the legal department. I’ll walk you through what’s important. Just call me whenever you have questions.” They do this all the time. In fact, I’ve opened three investment accounts in the last year and had this same experience with all three.

4) Understand that you’re probably spending too much — and too little! — on onboarding. If your organization doesn’t view onboarding as a pivotal part of the customer experience, then half of the package you provide to new clients contains expensive marketing brochureware with promotional copy (even though clients already made the buying decision) along with a bunch of black-and-white printouts containing legal disclosures that won’t help consumers in times of trouble, confusion, or decision-making.

Key Question: If the experience was called “brand opening” (instead of onboarding), how would you approach that unique moment when you invite your new customer through the door to begin deepening the relationship with your brand and organization?

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