Of the many lessons learned from the financial meltdown, perhaps the greatest is the value of deposits. And with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs jumping into the fray, competition for deposits is only going to get fiercer. Given this reality, it's imperative banks perfect ways to snare consumers when they have the chance - and a great opportunity is when a person dissatisfied with their current bank visits another bank's Web site.
There are two primary factors that push customers to leave their bank, according to Ron Shevlin, analyst with Boston-based consultant Aite Group: fees and interest rates. Shevlin examined FindaBetterBank.com's account opening data from the site's launch in February through June. Of 18,000 site visitors - 4,000 of whom went on to change their account - 50 percent had recently incurred an overdraft fee.
But in an interesting twist, and a critical finding for banks designing offerings to capture these customers, Shevlin learned that disgruntled bank customers don't necessarily put low fees or high interest rates at the top of their list when looking at other banks. Customers looking for a new checking account fall into one of three categories. First are those driven by money-related features, roughly 30 percent of the 18,000 he examined through FindaBetterBank. These consumers want high interest rates or lower fees.
Second are technology-driven consumers who are looking for online bill pay, mobile banking, the ability to download finance management tools, etc. (25 percent). Third are those customers who are ambivalent and have no strong preferences (45 percent). Since they are not actively seeking a specific product, the bank has an open field to sell them on their products. Most of the time banks "push their no interest, no minimum balance account at you, because it's the easiest thing for them to sell," Shevlin says. "[But] there's an opportunity here for banks to take [an] interview approach and evaluation and ... up-sell a whole lot better."
Whatever the reason a person is considering defection, banks across the industry have taken different approaches to capturing these disgruntled customers. Regions Bank, which is based out of Birmingham, AL, and has over $140 billion in assets, launched a new checking account product called LifeGreen Checking, which is free to those who get a Visa CheckCard coupled with direct deposit, or who make five electronic transfers per month, or who receive online statements.
That deal has resonated. From August through September the bank has seen checking sales up 16 percent. "What we saw was an opportunity to tap into a true customer desire to save some money and to take a small step to make the world greener," says Mel Campbell, a Regions spokesman.
Back in August of last year, Compass Bank, also based out of Birmingham and with more than $60 billion in assets, became the first bank to offer a checking account that can be customized. Customers can choose from an array of features: waiving the fee to use another bank's ATM, an interest-bearing checking account, double Visa rewards points, cash back rewards on check card purchases, one overdraft fee refund per year, or a yearly $25 cash bonus.
The interest in the product has much to do with market conditions, says Shelaghmichael Brown, head of BBVA Compass' retail banking division. "Today, what's really at the forefront, is the safety and soundness of the bank itself because of all the events that we've seen over the last three months," Brown says. "People are very concerned that the bank is stable and that their money is safe and that we're going to be around to make their funds available."
Taking a slightly different tack, TD Bank emphasizes convenience more than products, such as extended hours, an easy to navigate Web site and providing debit cards onsite, says Thomas Dyck, the bank's evp of retail money and product management. "From our experience, what customers are looking for when they're shopping for a checking account is actually not the product itself," he says, "it's what the product does for them."