The Toaster Effect: Free Gifts Can Boost New Account Openings by 15% or More

The free toaster is a banking cliche, but that’s probably because it works. Free gifts can boost account openings for financial institutions by as much as 15%, says a consultant. The strategy only pays off when superior banking products and experiences are being promoted, though. Here are some dos and don’ts for making the most of giveaways and a gallery of bank and credit union offers meant to attract new checking accounts.

Free gifts with a new bank account — such as the oft-cited toaster — may seem like part of a bygone era in banking. But banks and credit unions still offer a wide array of promotional items to attract new customers and referrals.

That includes toasters, albeit a high-end smart toaster in at least one example.

Gifts can boost account openings by upwards of 15%, according to the consulting firm Haberfeld. “That gift really is a nominal investment, given the payback that you get over the life of the relationship,” says Sean Payant, Haberfeld’s chief strategy officer.

For Equity Bank, giving new checking account customers a smart toaster led to a 25% increase in digital account openings and a doubling of new leads in the month the offer launched, compared with the previous month.

“We intended to play on the history of banks offering a cheap toaster as a gift by offering a supercharged one,” says John Hanley, the chief marketing officer for the $5 billion-asset bank in Wichita, Kan.

Do’s and Don’ts:
• Choose a gift with a higher perceived value than the actual cost.

• Pick a well-known brand.

• Don’t put a logo on the item, to allow for regifting.

• Ideally, have a physical gift to hand out.

• Refer-a-friend allows existing customers to participate.

• Offer the same incentive for retail and business accounts.

For the best results, Payant says a gift should be from a familiar brand that people want and should have a greater perceived value than its actual cost to the financial institution. Resist the inclination to add a logo to the item, as this will allow for regifting. And be sure to offer the same incentive for business and retail accounts — business owners like toast, too.

Though the use of promo codes eliminates storage problems in the branch, actually handing the gift to people, or escorting them to a display shelf to pick one out, creates a positive experience for employees and new customers. “That moment is psychologically valuable,” Payant says. “Our first and primary recommendation is a physical gift because banks and credit unions don’t often get that opportunity.”

What matters most is the experience that comes afterwards, though. “The gift has to be backed up with a great product and a great relationship,” Payant says.

“The gift is not enough. I mean, the data is very clear — it will drive better results. And it is a differentiator,” he says. “But the customer should walk out with this great experience, with this great new account, with this great new relationship, and this really cool thing.”

Below is a gallery of some of the latest promotional items being offered to attract new checking accounts.

Equity Bank: Revolution Toaster

Putting a twist on the toaster stereotype, Equity Bank gave high-tech toasters from Revolution Cooking to customers opening a Preferred Checking account. The new customers received a promo code they could use to order the toaster and “join the revolution.”

Besides opening the checking account, customers had to sign up for a debit card and enroll in online banking to get the free gift. They also had to maintain a minimum balance of $100 for at least 45 days.

Equity Bank smarter faster toaster plus a smarter faster bank free gift

Account type: Preferred Checking

Promotion: You deserve more from your toaster, and you deserve more from your bank. A Revolution Toaster upgrades your breakfast with a smart screen and customized cooking. Your new bank should do the same, with a powerful mobile app, Mastercard with no ATM fees, and lightning-fast online banking. For a limited time, you’ll earn a cutting-edge smart toaster for opening a new account with Equity Bank.

Gift: Revolution Instaglo R180 Smart Toaster

Retail cost: $349.99, per Revolution Cooking’s website

Account details: Preferred Checking has a $100 minimum opening deposit and a $10 monthly service charge, which is waived if a $2,000 minimum balance is maintained. The account pays interest and comes with benefits, such as discounts at local businesses, insurance for mobile phones, a $2,500 benefit for identity theft, 24/7 roadside assistance, travel accidental death coverage and discounts on prescriptions, eye exams, frames, lenses, and hearing services.

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Going with a Promo Code vs. Giving the Free Gifts in Person

Other banks may buy a product in bulk to hand out to customers, but Equity Bank, which partnered with Revolution Cooking on its promotion, opted to use a promo code that new customers could input online to have their free smart toaster shipped. The package, though sent from the manufacturer, included a thank you card from Equity with additional branding.

“We weren’t required to invest in a warehouse full of toasters, and Revolution earns the chance to make an additional brand impression,” Hanley says.

Although the campaign ended December 31, the marketing team could run it again, given how successful it was, he adds.

The new leads it generated — people who filled out an initial form, but did not complete the account application within 30 days — continue to yield results. Some people returned later to complete the application, after getting an automated reminder email via Equity’s account opening software. “The promotion has had a longer tail than I would have expected,” Hanley says.

Equity advertised the smart toaster promotion using connected and traditional TV and programmatic campaigns across the bank’s four-state footprint in the fall of 2022. It also used retargeting, a tactic in which internet ads are served up to people who have already visited the bank’s website or are in the bank’s database.

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First State Bank & Trust: Martha Stewart Containers

First State Bank and Trust Co. in Fremont, Neb., drew on the appeal of the Martha Stewart brand in choosing a six-piece food storage set for a giveaway. It’s a strategic move — Payant says a brand associated with quality lifts the perceived value of the item.

Customers receive the gift when they come into a branch to open an account. They can also refer a friend who comes in to open an account, but the friend has to bring First State’s “tell-a-friend” form with the customer’s information filled out.

The First State offer has two things in common with many others in this gallery: A disclaimer says the bank may substitute a different gift of similar value. And new customers also can receive up to $10 for bringing in their debit card and unused checks from their previous financial institution.
First State Bank free checking, bill pay, debit card, online banking, mobile banking and Martha Stewart container setAccount types: Personal and business checking accounts, with the account details presented in a way that helps people figure out which of the various account options would be the best fit.

Promotion: Currently, our gift to you is a Martha Stewart Set. Already have an account with us? You can get a FREE gift for yourself with a Tell-A-Friend. Simply email or print out the Tell-A-Friend with your information and have your friend bring it with them when they open their account. It’s that easy!

Gift: Martha Stewart Nesting Container and Lid Set

Retail cost: $59.99, per Bed Bath & Beyond

Jones Bank: Dolly Parton Loaf Pan

The $400 million-asset Jones Bank in Seward, Neb., sends Dolly Parton — or at least, Parton’s branded bakeware — home with new customers who open either a personal or business checking account. When the promotion ends in late April 2023, a new one follows, with a set of Bohemian kitchen canisters as the gift, and then a Mr. Coffee tumbler after that.

Like First State and some other financial institutions featured here, Jones Bank includes a refer-a-friend option so existing customers can participate in the giveaway too. Payant says this tactic makes sense, even though providing two gifts doubles the cost.

“With the average relationship of customers being approximately 10 to 11 years, that upfront investment is really nominal, and it tips the scale in a bank’s favor,” he says.

Jones Bank referral program tell a friend and you both get a free Dolly Parton bread loaf panAccount types: Personal and business checking accounts

Promotion: FREE Thank You Gift! Make your favorite breads quickly and easily with the 11″ x 5″ Dolly Parton Loan Pan. It’s a great addition to any kitchen. Bring in your debit cards and unused checks from your current account at another financial institution. When opening your new account, we’ll buy them from you for up to $10! Remember, when you Tell-A-Friend about our accounts and they open an account, you BOTH get a FREE gift!

Gift: Dolly Parton Loan Pan

Retail cost: $15.99, per JCPenney.com

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Metairie Bank: Sunbeam Pizza Stone Set

Like Jones Bank, Metairie Bank in Jefferson Parish, La., lets people know not only about the current gift, but what is coming up next. Newly onboarded customers and existing customers who refer a friend get a pizza stone set from Feb. 24 to April 13, 2023. From April 14 to June 1, it’s an Autotour Reverse-Open umbrella.

Those who open any personal checking account in person can get the free gift, but the $590 million-asset Metairie advertises the gift primarily with its Simply Free Checking account, which requires no minimum balance and no monthly service charge. A disclosure says that accounts opened online are not eligible.

Metairie Bank simply free checking and a free gift Sunbeam pizza stone setAccount types: All six of Metairie Bank’s personal checking accounts

Promotion: Get a Free Gift when you open ANY personal checking account! Give out your Tell-A-Friend coupons, and when one of your friends opens a checking account with us, you’ll get a free gift too! Tell-A-Friend coupons are available at all Metairie Bank locations.

Make a delicious meal with the Sunbeam 3-Piece Pizza Baking Stone Set. The set includes a stone that absorbs moisture and heats evenly for a crispier crust, a heavy-duty chrome rack that makes lifting and serving easy, and a cutter.

Gift: Sunbeam 3-Piece 13″ Pizza Stone Set

Retail cost: $21.45, per Wayfair.com

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JBT: Waffle Maker

Jonestown Bank & Trust Co. — which goes by JBT — ran its giveaway for first-time accountholders over just two days in December. The bank, named after its hometown of Jonestown, Pa., offered a waffle maker to those who opened either a personal or business account at a bank branch.

New customers received the gift right away, and if they maintained a positive balance through Feb. 3, 2023, they also received a $50 reward. Existing customers of the $868 million-asset JBT could receive the gift and the reward (an unlimited number of times!) by making a referral.

JBT open a new checking account or refer a friend and earn $50 and a free waffle ironAccount types: Various personal and business checking accounts

Promotion: Earn $50 by opening a JBT account or referring a friend to open a checking account at one of our 12 branches! (Plus a free gift!)

Gift: Kitchen Selectives Cobalt Blue 4-Inch Round Mini Waffle Maker

Retail cost: $20.38, per Amazon

First Community Bank of the Heartland: Camping Lantern

Kentucky has 45 state parks where a camping lantern likely would come in handy. That may be why the $404 million-asset First Community Bank of the Heartland in Clinton, Ky., offered a tactical camping lantern set as a gift for opening a personal or business checking account.

Nonetheless, location doesn’t tend to factor into the effectiveness of incentives, according to Payant. “People are the same everywhere,” he says. “So most things play well in every market.”

FCB open a new account and get a free flashlight and lanternAccount types: Personal and business checking accounts

Promotion: For new checking account customers: We value your business so much, that as a “Thank You” for choosing FCB, you will receive a Free Gift when you open a NEW Personal or NEW Business Checking Account. And we will Buy Back your unused check and debit cards from your previous financial institution. Call or stop by your nearest FCB Banking Center to open your new account or to learn more about our Free Gift!

For existing customers: Simply said, we want more customers just like you! As our “Thank You” for introducing FCB to your friends and family, with our Tell-A-Friend online referrals, you can tell more friends and get more gifts!

Gift: Ironworks Tools Camping Lantern and Tactical Flashlight

Estimated retail cost: $14.99-35.99, per eBay (this brand not available online from a retailer)

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Financial Edge Community Credit Union: Garden Tool Set

The $128 million-asset Financial Edge Community Credit Union in Bay City, Mich., chose gardening tools for a spring giveaway on its personal checking accounts.

Though not everyone gardens, it is something that could be easily regifted.

Financial Edge Credit Union open any new checking account or tell a friend and get a free garden tool setAccount types: The credit union’s four personal checking accounts

Promotion: Get this free gift when you open any new MyLife Checking account OR if you Tell-a-Friend and they open a new MyLife Checking Account!

Gift: Gardener’s Delight Garden Tool Set

Estimated retail cost: Similar items retail for $12.97 to $30.

Bank of Marion: Desk Lamp/Wireless Charger Duo

The $554 million-asset Bank of Marion in Virginia reinforces its slogan — “Technology Powered. Service Driven” — with a three-setting desk lamp that can wirelessly charge two smartphones at once.

Bank of Marion free checking and free gift powered desktop lamp dual wireless charger

Account types: Personal and business checking accounts

Promotion: The best checking accounts and a free gift! Open any new checking account and get a FREE BPOWERED Desktop Lamp/Dual Wireless Charger! You will be glad you switched.

Gift: BPOWERED Desktop Lamp/Dual Wireless Charger

Estimated retail cost: Similar items retail for $25.39.

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