How Citizens Bank Found Their Digital Groove With Millennials

Citizens Bank’s quest to engage Millennials led them to a chatbot solution that completely revamped their digital lending strategy.

Not too long ago, Citizens Bank felt like they had a pretty solid digital strategy. Their mobile experience checked all the major boxes: simple design, intuitive UX, live chat, and online applications.

And yet, despite all this, they still felt like they had a problem.

Two problems actually. First, people weren’t completing applications digitally. Second, this high abandonment rate was a particular struggle with Millennials who were applying for student loans.

Even though Citizens has a strong private student loan product with zero fees, low rates and flexible terms, Millennials weren’t responding to email reminders, phone calls or direct mail pieces imploring them to complete the process.

According to Mary Fiorille, head of unsecured lending business at Citizens, trying to get Millennial applicants to take the next step and provide the additional information needed after starting a student loan application was like pulling teeth. This resulted in low conversion rates and unnecessary delays with those loans that ultimately did get approved.

Citizens isn’t alone. Banks and credit unions everywhere have struggled seducing the Millennial market for nearly two decades now. Consider the stats. There are 83 million Millennials in the U.S., and one in three of them is willing to change their banking provider in the next 90 days. Half don’t think their bank offers anything special. Three in four would be more excited about a new offering from the likes of Google, Amazon or Apple than from their own bank.

It’s clear that traditional institutions face an uphill battle when looking to engage, acquire and retain Millennials. There’s no emotional affinity, and almost no loyalty.


In short, the digital experience simply doesn’t cut it.

Read More: Hello, May I Speak to My Personal Bot?

Matt Gillin, CEO of Relay Network, a customer service tech startup, says the issue isn’t limited to just Millennials either.

“Consumers have changed, and marketers need to change how they communicate with them,” Gillin explains. “Between platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter, rich streams of information are right at our fingertips. We expect everything in our lives to be this effortless now.”

The challenge, Gillin says, is how to reach and connect with these digital natives — consumers who have new expectations and limited bandwidth: “People on mobile devices won’t load your website. Emails get lost in clutter. Calls from the contact center are often blocked or ignored. So what are you supposed to do?”

According to an Evry whitepaper exploring Millennial engagement strategies, financial institutions wont’ be able meet Millennials’ unique needs unless they truly connect with them at an individual level. “They want empathy, relevant information, and channels of communication, be it physical or digital,” the report concludes. “They expect banks to be there 24/7 — whether it’s when facing a major financial decision or in everyday financial emergencies, banks need to deliver personalized, sincere advice.”

Those philosophical assumptions formed the strategic backdrop for Citizens Bank when they started working with Gillin at Relay Network. Citizens Bank is using Relay’s mobile web application to solve their Millennial engagement and abandonment problems, thereby driving higher completion rates for student loan applications.

How does it work?

Say someone starts to fill out an online application via the Citizens mobile app or website, but leaves out some important information. At that very instant, the applicant receives an invitation to join a secure, one-to-one mobile messaging service via a text message + link that’s sent to their mobile device. (It’s important to note: No separate app or download is required.)

From there, the “conversation” is automated and tailored to each unique person’s needs and situation through Citizen’s existing marketing automation platform. So, for example, if an applicant needs to add a co-signer, the co-signer template is triggered and a message that has been formatted for mobile is pushed out. This establishes a persistent stream of actionable communications that helps pull applicants through the process.

Read More: Conversational Banking Will Transform Financial Services

“The best opportunity to establish a connection with someone is at that particular moment when they first initiated the application,” Gillin explains. “This increases acquisition effectiveness and creates an incredible first impression with Millennials,” says Gillin. “It sets the foundation for a lifelong customer relationship.”

The look and feel of the service is intentionally like popular social messaging apps, like a private Twitter feed or WhatsApp conversation with your bank, as Gillin likes to put it. Users can control how they want to be contacted, message frequency and more.

Any non-standard questions applicants may pose are routed to service representatives — real live human beings who can insert themselves into the digital conversation or follow up with a personal call.

During the three-month period after the Relay solution was initially implemented, 85% of applicants opted in to the messaging service. Citizens also experienced a 10% increase in loan completions and a 40% reduction in the time it took to process applications. This yielded $136.4 million in booked loans.

The service has proven so popular that Citizens Bank roll it out across the board.

“We can have a completely different relationships with our customers and because the tool is so flexible, we have an endless ability to create new journeys,” says Fiorille with Citizen Bank.

Last year, Celent recognized Relay’s solution for Citizens Bank with the “2016 Model Bank Award for Excellence in Digital Banking Transformation.”

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