Why Choice Financial takes April Fools' Day seriously

Register now

Choice Financial in Grand Forks, N.D., prides itself on its personalized service and the willingness of its employees to go above and beyond for customers.

But the time a Choice banker ended up in the shower with a customer? That was an April Fools' gag.

For the last three years, it has staged increasingly elaborate jokes on April 1. Two years ago, it was the introduction of a pet checking account, featuring paw recognition technology for mobile bank logins. Last year the bank celebrated its status as one of the state's top agriculture, or "ag," lenders and played off the unique local accent by declaring itself the top "egg lender."

This year the focus was personal services, introducing Always There Banking, which featured a banker assigned to every customer, 24 hours a day, wherever they were and whatever they were doing. The accompanying video featured bankers showing up on vacation with a customer, by their side while sleeping and in the shower when the customer forgets the soap.

Shelley Szudera, director of marketing at the $1.3 billion-asset bank, said that when the video is posted to the bank's website, it attracts attention from employees and customers, particularly friends and family of those featured in it. She said that the April Fools' campaign is reflective of the overall culture at Choice.

One of the core values at Choice, which has been on the Best Banks to Work For list for several years, is "have fun."

"From leadership on down, we believe in empowering employees," Szudera said. "We encourage trying new things, and say it is OK to fail forward. Being able to laugh a little bit is an important part of who we are."

Choice's marketing strategy embraces the unexpected. In 2016, not long after the bank entered Medina, N.D., through an acquisition, a group from the local high school had funds earmarked for a trip to Washington, D.C., stolen. So the bank set up a competition at a Friday night basketball game, offering $100 for every free throw made by the school superintendent and athletic director.

The bank added a $4,000 surprise donation at the end of the competition, bringing the total up to $4,800. That fully reimbursed the stolen funds. Szudera said the contest helped the bank introduce itself to the community.

More Best Banks to Work For coverage:

Choice's current project is tied to a deal to buy Venture Bank and expand into the Minneapolis-St. Paul market. To help employees across the bank's increasingly widespread footprint get to know each other better, each branch is creating a video virtual tour of their location and profiling team members to be shared across the network.

The bank celebrates other unusual holidays, including Popcorn Day and Fun At Work Day, which includes a rock-paper-scissors tournament.

But April Fools' is quickly becoming the bank's signature holiday. Szudera said that 2019's surprise, which she would not disclose, is already on the drawing board.

"Choice isn't trying to be the biggest bank, we're trying to be the best bank. The best bank to work for, the best to bank with, everything," Szudera said. "Our marketing has always been grassroots, unconventional. I believe that's the strategy that works best for us."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Community banking Digital marketing Marketing Employee engagement Best Banks to Work For