Banking Napa Style


I admit it: I love wine. Napa cabernets in particular. On a recent trip to Napa, it dawned on me that the wine and banking industries have some similarities.

The Facilities – It is very expensive to build a bank branch, but compared to building a Napa winery it’s a drop in the bucket. Napa wineries have beautiful locations, great hospitality, and interesting buildings. Plus, wineries are working facilities.

The Product – Large wineries can make good wines, but it is almost impossible for them to consistently make exceptional products. Average wine is a commodity, just like an average bank. At small wineries winemaking is a labor of love. Grapes are sorted by hand and some crush them without presses. The winemaker may taste as many as 100 barrels to choose the best four for a special select wine. To stand apart, the smaller wineries have to make exceptional product. Doing that takes a lot more attention and labor. Their products actually become part of the customer experience.

The Customer Experience – Financial professionals should go to Napa. No matter where you go in the Napa Valley, the service you receive is exceptional. As much as I love wine, I love great service too. Just to give you some examples:

  • I’m not just a wine snob, I’m also a wine glass snob. The right wine glass is an important part of the experience. At our hotel, we did not just have nice glassware, we had three sets of the right glassware: one pair for champagne, one pair for whites, and one pair for reds. They know their audience. How about bankers? Do they know their audience, and treat them this well?
  • Our room had a wood burning fire place. Each morning the stack of wood was rebuilt, so all I had to do was light a match and start the fire. Do banks anticipate consumers’ needs? Do financial institutions go out of their way to make banking easier and more enjoyable?
  • One of my favorite vineyards is Anomaly Vineyards in St. Helena. They produce less than 1,000 cases, compared to several hundred thousand at mid-level producers or several million at the large producers. I have been a loyal customer of Anomaly for quite some time. When I called them this year, they recommended other places we should visit. Then they went a step further and set up our appointments.
  • Part of the experience is the private and beautiful setting some of these smaller wineries have for their tasting rooms. When you buy wine from them, part of what you’re getting is a recreation of the experience you’ll have every time you open one of their bottles.

There are a multitude of other examples about the experience wineries create. Bottom line: going the extra mile — like wineries in Napa Valley do — is what creates an outstanding, memorable experience.

How does this all relate to banking?

We have expensive facilities. We need to utilize them, fill them with customers and set them up to generate the exceptional customer experience. We also have to understand that the large financial institutions, just like the large wineries, have a different business model compared to smaller financial institutions. If you’re a smaller organization, you have to distinguish your brand by doing all the little things right. You must differentiate. If the small wineries tried to be just like the big ones, they couldn’t survive. Just like many of them can make exceptional wines, you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself through better product, better service, better experience, and anything unique you can offer to your customers. Provide a product your customers and employees love. It was amazing to see the employees in the smaller wineries refer to “we” and “us” when talking about their organization. One job the winery owners have done very well is to sell employees on their own products. Most people we met truly loved what they stood for, including the product.

Achieving that takes training and a familiarity with the product. Train your employees all the time. Make them understand and use your product. Once you achieved that, make sure you have the tools in place to hold them accountable. They must create that customer experience, and do whatever else your can to take advantage of what is unique to your organization and you will grow and succeed.


Achim Griesel is Chief Operating Officer at Haberfeld Associates, is a data driven consulting firm specializing in marketing and training services for community financial institutions. The firm works with approximately 100 institutions to analyze the records of 2.5 million banking consumers every month to determine trends in customer profitability and marketing as well as consumer and small-business behaviors.

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