Reality bites, kids, but our bank is here to ease your financial pain — and maybe make some new customers.

That sums up the thinking at Zions Bank in Salt Lake City as it prepares to launch its second season of "Cheapsters," an online reality show in which college students compete to see who is the most frugal. The winner receives a cash prize and money for his or her school.

The program is helping the bank, a unit of Zions Bancorp. (ZION), to bolster its online presence, attract potential customers and present a playful, relevant image, said Rob Brough, its executive vice president of marketing and communications.

Zions had marginal success in attracting college students with promotions like giveaways, he said. Additional research showed that millennials, those ages 13 to 28, were relying on extreme budgeting behaviors — like living out of a tent to avoid paying for rent and utilities — to make ends meet. The bank also found that "these students wanted to know more about finances yet were afraid to ask, and they didn't see banks as being fun," Brough said.

Zions came up with the idea for "Cheapsters" to "establish a relationship and provide financial education" to this group of potential customers, he said.

Last year the show included challenges such as shopping for ingredients and making a nutritious meal on a budget, and dumpster diving for the most expensive item. Throughout the episodes, Zions adds in snippets about some of the financial products its offers.

"Part of it is beginning a relationship with these students and helping the bank become more relevant to them," Brough said. "This is a way to be relevant and to have a relationship and be an advisor to this group. But it is also a chance not to be viewed in the same vein as a stereotypical big, bad bank."

Zions sees attracting college students as an investment in its future. Though these students maybe scraping to get by now, they are the wealth management and private banking clients of the future, he said.

"We believe that if we establish a relationship now and be a part of teaching these students sound financial principles, then we'll have the opportunity to do business with them going forward," Brough said. "It's a strategy for today but also a strategy for tomorrow."

Last year Zions saw a lift in its student checking accounts from the previous year, Brough said. "Cheapsters" had slightly more than 12,000 online followers per episode and more than 2 million media impressions.

Zions is accepting applications for season 2 through Sept. 14. Online voters and a panel of judges will narrow the pool to 13 finalists. Episodes will air in October and November.

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