Three Bankers Talk About How They Differentiate Themselves

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If credit unions learned one thing during the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Show here, it was that what it takes to compete with the "big boys" is a relative concept.

Case in point were representatives from three banks whose asset size would dwarf many credit unions and yet who spoke of the challenge of developing strategies and tactics to differentiate themselves from "larger competitors."

Jeff Bargerhuff, senior vice president-marketing and retail sales with the $3.3-billion Nevada State Bank, which serves 100,000 consumer households and 30,000 business households, said his bank has turned to cute, quirky television commercials to rise above the fray in this fast-growing state where Bank of America and Wells Fargo, among others, have a large presence.

"We centralized the TV ads around our CEO, Bill Martin," said Bargerhuff. "They are part of our overall branding campaign. The commercials always feature an armored car, which is our icon-similar to Wells Fargo and their stagecoach."

Nevada State Bank has rolled out a new commercial each year for the last several years, and each one is more elaborate than the previous spot. In an early ad, Martin is shown driving the armored car through a neighborhood. When a customer has a flat tire, several employees emerge from the armored car to lend assistance.

In the newest TV spot, the armored car has a virtually unlimited amount of storage space, allowing bank employees to help business customers by pulling out computers, servers, and even a corporate jet.

Bargerhuff said actual employees join Martin in the spots. "At first, we had trouble finding volunteers. Now, people compete to be in the ads."

Emphasizing Service

The trio of bank executives all stressed a theme quite familiar to the credit union community: service.

Harlan Parish, president of the $17.4-billion Colonial Bank, said his institution does not attempt to compete with larger banks on price. Instead, management impresses upon the staff the importance of service.

"We put people on the spot at meetings with the customer question: 'Why should I bank here?' We force them to come up with three or four sentences in their own words. We see our relationship as the most important thing," said Parrish.

Bargerhuff said when a shopper goes to Nordstrom, he or she doesn't expect the lowest price. And when that person goes to Wal-Mart, he or she doesn't expect the best service. "People are willing to pay for service," he observed.

Asked how Colonial competes with larger banks, Parrish said the first step is to select the right employees.

"They must have sales skills or give good customer service, and we give them extensive training. They must understand the core competencies we are trying to get to our customers," he said.

Seeking Greater CRM Capabilities

Bargerhuff noted that Nevada State Bank simply cannot do everything bigger banks do from a technology standpoint.

"But, at a staff level, if the customer has $100 or $1 million, we treat them the same. We ask what they want, and we give it to them," he said.

Colonial's Parrish said his bank "certainly could use some more" technology spending.

"Technology is not the end-all, however, you have to be able to use it," he said. "But, when we look at the larger banks, there are some tremendous CRM capabilities we don't have."

A third bank executive, Alex Calicchia, vice president at the $7.3-billion Southwest Bank of Texas, said his bank has invested funds in online services as a strategy for competing with larger banks.

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