9 Ways to Maximize Checking Account Activation Rates

Here's a step-by-step guide to better promotions of the most basic yet fundamental banking product. Among the tips: Be sure what your goal is before you start, don't wing anything and don't waste prospects' time.

Motivating someone to open a checking account with your institution requires a lot to go right. When you succeed, it’s tempting to call it a win. In reality, what you’ve earned is the opportunity to make money or lose it.

There is a lot at stake. Banks and credit unions invest $350 or more to acquire a single checking account. Yet, 25% to 40% are closed within the first year.

However, there is good news: If a checking account holder considers your institution to be their primary provider, they’re four times more likely to turn to you when additional financial needs arise and will deliver an average of $212 in incremental profit each year. Success or failure to earn primary financial institution status will depend on what your bank or credit union does immediately after a new checking account is opened.

Here’s advice and strategies for turning new checking account openers into engaged, long-lasting and profitable relationships.

1. Choose Your Objectives

Begin your planning process by making a list of the most critical actions you want new checking account openers to take. These key actions are your account activation objectives. Cross-selling additional products should not be one of them. Wait until customers and members are using the checking accounts they opened before you try to sell them additional products.

2. Define Your Success Metrics

The next step is to define success metrics for each objective. Don’t choose your success metrics based on hope (i.e., “I want 99% of customers or members to enroll in online banking!”). Don’t take a wild guess (i.e.,” Industry data says that I should be able to get 72% of consumers to adopt online banking!”).

To ensure that you’re picking the right goals, look at past performance and establish historical benchmarks.

3. Outline Your Messaging Strategy

Now that you know what you want to accomplish and what success looks like, think about how you’ll get there. New checking account openers don’t often succeed on their own—they need to be motivated to follow through.

There are many ways that you can try to educate checking account openers about the benefits of account-related services and how to enroll. Countless banks and credit unions still rely on old-school strategies like paper welcome kits with piles of brochures, phone calls that go unanswered and mailers that take days to arrive, cost a bundle and are promptly discarded.

82% of consumers open every text message they recieve

You should create an introductory message that immediately thanks customers and members for their business and confirms their new account’s opening. In summary, plan to create about seven messages for new checking account openers:

  1. Thank you & confirmation
  2. Enroll in online banking
  3. Download the mobile banking app
  4. Activate the debit card
  5. Update the card on file for recurring payments
  6. Sign up for direct deposit
  7. Enroll in eStatements

Read More:

4. Plan Your Communication Timeline

Most banks and credit unions don’t communicate with new checking account openers early or often enough. We recommend sending seven messages over the five weeks following account opening. That might sound like a lot, but new account openers are happy to receive reminders and need a little nudging.

One key to making these communications successful is simple: Don’t message new account openers about actions they have already completed. They’ll feel like you don’t know them. Are they a credit card holder who is already enrolled in existing online banking? Don’t ask them again to enroll.

Invest in an engagement platform that allows you to trigger messages to specific customers and members based on the actions they still have left to complete. This means that some account openers may receive fewer messages because they have fewer actions to take.

Suggested messaging cadence for checking account activation:

Digital Onboarding messaging cadence

5. Link Messages to Information & Helpful Tools

You can send email and SMS text messages that link to your website, but you may not get the best results. Find an engagement platform that enables you to create personalized microsites that guide each account opener through the activation process, step by step.

Microsites allow you to personalize your content for each customer and member. Another major benefit is that you can include content and digital tools that make tasks easier to complete:

  • Short tutorial videos: Show people how to deposit checks via mobile banking, navigate online banking, etc.
  • Secure personalizations: Leverage secure tokens to reveal data like account and member numbers so they can enroll in online banking and direct deposit.
  • Direct deposit switching tools: Leverage technology that enables them to switch their direct deposits without paper forms or having to contact HR.
  • Default payment method switching tools: Help them update their card on file with popular merchants, so they pay with their new debit card.
  • Mobile app download tools: Many institutions have similar names and people have different types of mobile devices. Finding the right app can be confusing. Make it easy to find and download the right app.
  • ATM and branch locators: Help customers and members find nearby locations. Make your presence known.

6. Ensure Your Campaign Content Is Compelling

You might have the right message, but it will fall flat if it’s delivered in the wrong way. Great marketing is an art, but there’s a lot of science behind it.

Here are some tips to produce the best results:

Writing a good subject line

  • Keep subject lines short — 45 characters or fewer.
  • Use sentence case. Capitalize the first letter of your subject line and proper nouns. Resist all caps or all lowercase letters.
  • Consider using emojis. When used effectively, emojis can help audiences better connect to your brand, and they can conjure an emotion better than words alone.
  • Make them personal.
  • Avoid words that trigger SPAM filters. Use tools like the email subject line tester from CoSchedule to screen proposed subject lines.

Read More: Truist CMO’s Strong Views on Fintechs & Personalization

Creating a good email preheader

A preheader is the summary text that follows the subject line when an email is previewed in the inbox. Like subject lines, preheaders help motivate people to open your email messages.

Here are some best practices for email preheaders:

  • Build off of your subject line.
  • Keep it short. Create preheader text that is 80 to 100 characters in length.
  • Consider using emojis. As we mentioned with email subject lines, emojis add a little personality and help your emails stand out in a cluttered inbox.
  • Personalize, personalize, personalize.
  • Try including a call to action. Be clear about the action you want people to take next, and they will be more likely to do it.

Onboarding example of correct email message

SMS text messages

SMS messages have high open rates. 98% of SMS text messages get opened, and 90% of messages are read within the first three minutes.

Protecting your SMS subscription rates and delivering valuable and relevant content is key to using text messages for marketing purposes. Here’s how:

  • Keep it to 160 characters or fewer.
  • Save it for the most valuable content. Messaging consumers to sign up for eStatements via SMS may not add the most value to their life. Making sure they can activate their debit card and access their cash? That’s important.

Onboarding example of effective sms message

Headlines & copy

Features aren’t sexy. Sell the benefits of your products and services. What’s in it for them?

For instance, checking account openers may not feel overly excited about a mobile banking app, but they might love being able to deposit checks without visiting a branch. Or they may feel indifferent about enrolling in eStatements, but they might care a lot about protecting themselves from identity theft. On the other hand, they may not value simply having a debit card, but they might be excited about earning rewards when they use their card.

Write headlines and marketing copy that promise something that people value.

Onboarding good bad subject lines debit card estatements mobile app


Images can make or break a marketing campaign. The right image can motivate people to pay attention, and it can bring emotion to the words around it.

Regardless of what you see in most financial services advertising, every image doesn’t need to feature someone staring at a computer or smartphone screen. The benefits that your institution provides go beyond the technology.

  • Tap into the underlying reasons that someone chose your bank or credit union for their checking account. If looking at an image doesn’t make you instantly feel the emotion you are trying to convey, don’t use it.
  • Find relatable and brand-relevant imagery. Stock photography doesn’t have to look like stock photography. A few of our favorite images for royalty-free photos are Pexels and Unsplash.

Examples of bright and boring imagery

Calls to action

Calls to action create urgency and clarify the next step that you’d like checking account openers to take. Make calls to action prominent and lead with a verb to encourage action.

While you’ll want to conform to your institution’s brand color palette, choose a bright enough color to make call-to-action buttons stand out from the background.

Onboarding examples of vibrant colors click buttons

Read More: Varo Bank Launches Across the U.S. With Massive Marketing Blitz

7. Tailor Communications Based on Channel Preferences

Often, institutions provide different activation services for people that open accounts digitally versus in branch. Customize your account activation campaigns based on the channel that account openers used to ensure they receive the most relevant information.

If you instantly issue debit cards and they are activated in a branch, then branch account openers may not need to be messaged about activating their cards. If someone opens an account online, they probably didn’t write down their account or member numbers. It’s essential in that case to give them an easy and quick way to access that information so they can enroll in direct deposit and online banking.

Digital Onboarding Microsoft activation point


8. Optimize For Mobile Devices

Your email messages and microsite pages might look great on a laptop. That doesn’t mean they will render the same way when they’re viewed on a smartphone.

Use a tool like Litmus to preview the way your email messages will display on different devices. Make sure that the platform you choose for building your microsites optimizes the experience for mobile devices.

9. Consider Incentives

The largest banks and credit unions continue to offer huge cash bonuses to consumers who meet specific direct deposit requirements, log in to online banking with some frequency, and enroll in eStatements. Similarly, credit unions that offer Kasasa checking products require members to perform certain actions to earn rewards.

Incentives like cash bonus offers or rewards points can create a sense of urgency and motivate more checking account openers to adopt account-related services. If a checking account that you offer comes with rewards or fee penalties for not adopting certain services, use it to your messaging advantage.

Whether your institution offers rewards or invokes penalties for not using certain account-related services, make sure to leverage those tactics to motivate new checking account openers. Make these requirements clear and prominent in your email messages and personalized microsite pages.

Track Aggregate & Individual Performance

One of the most significant benefits of a digital account activation strategy is that you can test, track, and optimize everything.

Which metrics matter most? While it’s tempting to zero in on email open rates, that metric is not nearly as important as the success metrics that truly impact your business (e.g., direct deposit enrollment, eStatements adoption, mobile app downloads, etc.). Everything else – like the email open rate – is a leading indicator.

If you don’t see the business results you desire, look at leading indicators to find the weak spot. If your average email open rate is dismal, focus on better subject lines and preheaders. If your email click to open rates are poor, reevaluate your emails’ body (benefit-driven headlines and copy, imagery, and calls to action).

By adopting a more modern new checking account onboarding strategy, banks and credit unions can reduce first-year attrition rates, increase long-term profitability, and better compete with national bank and neobank players.

Based on the forthcoming “Digital Onboarding’s Best Practice Playbook: How to Maximize Checking Account Activation Rates”

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