03 Mar 2014

Can A Bank Be Loved?

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25 years and 50 pounds ago, I was a pretty good rock climber. In the ways these things were measured, I could climb 5.10 fairly regularly and sometimes 5.11. (Somewhere around 5.5, you want a rope.)

To practice, we would climb large boulders that had fallen off cliffs, or small cliffs. Never higher than about 20 ft. off the ground, so if you fell, you might get hurt, but not killed.

My friend Harry and I discovered a cliff in the woods. We were pretty sure nobody had ever climbed there before. And one part of the cliff had a 17’ climb that just begged to be tried. It had a little overhang, a small crack for fingers and what I found to be a blind reach to a little handhold.

I tried for about a year to climb it. Not everyday, but maybe 100, 150 times. I’d get close, and then I’d chicken out. Or back off. Or fall.

Working at L.L.Bean in those days meant we had a lot of interesting athletes coming through the doors representing brands. One climbing pro came along with us to see our hidden cliff. I showed him my climb, saying how I had been working on it for a year, etc. etc.

“Can I try?”

Well, it was nice of him to ask and I said yes and in about 22 seconds, he climbed right past all the parts that I had worked out and through the parts I didn’t and standing at the top, he said, “Nice little pitch.”

I was awestruck. We named the climb after him.

The next day, I climbed it without pausing, probably faster than he did. And not because I had seen how it was done, but because I knew it could be done.

Which oddly brings me to banking.

Can a bank be loved?

Over the decades, people have tolerated their banks and their bankers. Since 2008-2009, the entire banking and financial sector has received overwhelming negative press associated with lending practices, the Federal bailout, bonuses. Little of that negative press relates to community banks, but the articles are pervasive.

I once heard a wise person say, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. If you’re married or have kids, you know love and hate can sometimes be this close. But indifference is poison.”

So here is the question? Does anyone really love his or her bank like some people love Apple? Or Coke? Or Heinz Ketchup? Or Jeep?

When you consider that money is one of the most emotional aspects of life (“Finances” are in nearly every poll of the Top Reasons for Divorce), it’s hard to understand the rational approach people take to placing their money into a bank. And community bankers look to maximize their products, manage their profits and contribute to the community via sponsorships, donations and charity.

And the consumer is largely indifferent.

Wants vs. Gets

Run a focus group on banking and you will discover three things:

Consumers want:

  1. To be recognized
  2. Online, Mobile Banking
  3. Lots of ATMs

They want more, sure, (low rates, no fees, free money), but these three are certainly a big part of the “Primary Need State” of the customer.

So wait a minute… to be recognized, they need to come into the bank. Bur nobody under 50 goes into a bank anymore, do they? Like on Friday’s? (OK, I know some people do, but not because the WANT to.)

Consumers want online banking and ATMs and mobile and every way possible NOT to have a human interaction. But they also want to be recognized. To have a connection, or for the bank to at least try to have a connection with them. And not just on the retail side. The commercial side as well.

So, bankers have been investing in an arms race to make their technology the most advanced they can afford. And with every advance, they cut the personal connection a little shorter. And the customer becomes a little more indifferent.

Can a bank be loved?

Yes. And if a bank becomes loved by its community, it means something to the bottom line. Especially in terms of reducing costs of customer acquisition and increasing fee revenue.

But it hasn’t been done. Not yet. Everyone focuses on the all the tricky little pieces without looking at the whole. Nobody has come along and said, “Can I try?” No banker has seen this done. And so, no bank marketing is really trying.

We have a pretty clear idea for a visionary banker. It involves a lot less of what you’re doing and a lot more of something else entirely.

Nice little pitch right? I think, for the right bank, you’re going to love what happens next.