WSFS Financial (WSFS) is showing customers the softer, cuddly side of banking.

The Wilmington, Del., company is hosting its fifth annual pet photo contest where people can submit online pictures of their furry companions. The competition is a way to deepen relationships with customers and highlight new product offerings, says Richard Wright, chief retail banking officer.

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WSFS has received everything from the mundane (cats and dogs) to the more exotic (iguanas and snakes). Participants have become passionate about the contest, Wright says. At times, people will call the bank to make sure their entry has been received and then will try to lobby for their photo.

"We wanted to find something that people could relate to more," Wright says. "People are really passionate about animals and we've just had a ball with it."

Each year the contest has grown with more people submitting photos — there were more than 1,500 submissions last year — and new categories being added to allow for more winners. The contest goes through the end of October with winners being announced at an event on Nov. 22.

Additionally, the $4.4 billion-asset WSFS will donate $1 to the Delaware Humane Association for every one of its mobile apps that are downloaded during the month. This fits with the company's broader partnership with the organization, which includes employees participating in the group's annual fundraising walk. A panel from the humane association will also select winners in three of the contest's categories this year, Wright says.

This also encourages customers to try WSFS's expanded mobile offerings, Wright says. This year it has improved its mobile app, released an app for the iPad and implemented retail remote deposit capture.

Besides highlighting its electronic banking, the competition also drives additional foot traffic to its locations, Wright says. Anyone who submits a photo can pick up a free, pet friendly gift at the bank's branches.

"How do you maintain the personal touch and service level with all of the electronic banking now?" Wright asks. "We want to make sure we are delivering the same level of service on all of the channels so it's natural to try and add that engagement factor into electronic banking."

WSFS also strives to fully engage their employees in anything it does from new product offerings to this photo contest. Since employees are prohibited from entering the general competition, the bank created a separate one for them. It has proven to be popular with the winner earning certain bragging rights, Wright says.

"If our associates believe in it and they feel strongly about it, that improves communication with the customer," Wright says. "That's what we do for our regular products, too, though there is maybe not as much fur."