Hate Banner Ads? A Credit Union Finds a Better Way

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1st Advantage Federal Credit Union had a problem: Almost no one was clicking on the banner ads it displays within online banking sessions to cross-sell products.

So it tried a different approach. This year, it began presenting targeted questionnaires to members as they finish their online banking sessions. This approach boosted conversion rates for one of its products to nearly 10% in a test.

"We saw a huge increase in conversion once we made the application a pop-up upon log out," says Jim Craig, vice president of marketing for 1st Advantage.

The product it tested, called KulaX, was developed by Micronotes Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. KulaX presents three questions, targeted to a specific user and designed around a specific product. The questions are presented only when the user logs out.

The technology can use either transaction data gathered by the bank or its own analysis engine to target its questions. KulaX tracks responses and the actual use of the offers it presents.

1st Advantage uses an online banking product from Fiserv Inc. The credit union has its own back-end system to examine customer transaction data.

1st Advantage tested KulaX for a variety of products in April and May, including debit cards, mortgages and auto loans. 1st Advantage plans to launch KulaX officially by the end of September.

The most dramatic improvement was for the credit union's debit card.

During the test period, 22,000 of the credit union's 57,000 members visited its online banking site. 1St Advantage identified 275 who had the card but were not using it. Using KulaX, the credit union created a three-question online form and paired it with a cash incentive of $10 if the member agreed to use the card for 10 transactions.

Of the members that were presented with the offer, 154 viewed the survey and 25 completed it. Fourteen agreed to take the offer.

"From a marketer perspective, it was nice to know who accepted an offer [and who didn't] so we could remember to retarget it," Craig says. The credit union can thus avoid bombarding users with offers they repeatedly turn down, he says.

The credit union also plans to give its customer service reps access to data from KulaX so they can use its records to follow warm leads.

"Now we have the opportunity to be constantly in front of members with home banking, and we have more potential to introduce our products and services," Craig says.

Micronotes spent months studying consumer attitudes toward the pitches they receive from financial institutions and online.

"When you try to mingle merchant or bank offers with core banking functions like statement [viewing] or bill payment, or anything else that the customer needs to get done, after the sixth offer you measure fatigue, and people start audibly getting" angry, says Devon Kinkead, Micronotes' chief executive and founder.

Placing the customer surveys at the end of the online banking session was a smart choice, says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Aite Group LLC of Boston. But Micronotes might do better to make the offers accessible in a separate window during online banking sessions, as some merchant-funded rewards programs do with their offers.

"Transactional marketing is always striving for two things: Customer relevancy and timeliness," he says.

In addition to cross-selling bank products, Micronotes can present merchant-funded offers through another product it has developed with the vendor Yodlee Inc. called Yodlee Offers.

"We can take this a step or two better [than merchant-funded rewards] by making it more data-intensive and doing better targeting," says Joseph Polverari, Yodlee's chief marketing and strategy officer.

Adding merchant-funded offers might be overkill, Shevlin says.

"Past a certain point, it is simply not that scalable," he says. "This is just one tool in a [marketing] toolbox."

Customers are more willing to hear from their banks about bank products online than they are about a merchant's products, according to a June survey from Fiserv of more than 1,000 consumers.

More than half of respondents say they would be open to receive bank product recommendations online if they are tailored specifically to them, while only 14% say they would be open to hearing about targeted third-party recommendations. Nearly a quarter say they would be open to both.

A better approach might be to tie KulaX offers to a bank's existing rewards system, says Nicole Sturgill, research director at TowerGroup.

"Tying this to a reward is critical to the customer really even considering it," she says.

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