Don’t Forget to Give Thanks

image I’ve critiqued hundreds (thousands?) of financial websites, emails, and other marketing messages. And one area that continues to be overlooked is the simple thank-you after your customer completes a transaction. I was reminded again today when testing Bank of America’s paperless statement process (see note).

After following the simple one-click form to go paperless (see first screenshot), I received a confirmation screen (second screenshot). While it was relatively well designed, the bank neglected to thank me for saving them $10+ annually by going green.

Bottom line: The overall experience was good, so the lack of a final thanks isn’t a big deal. However, all these little things add up into an overall brand impression.  

Bank of America’s simple process for switching to paperless credit card account management (24 Nov. 2010)

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Confirmation screen neglects to thank customer

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Note: In the next few days, we’ll have a new Online Banking Report available dealing with paperless banking: electronic statements and ebilling.

Great PR: Fast Company’s "One Bank to Love," Triodos Bank

imageOne magazine I always look forward to receiving is Fast Company, not only do they love the same companies as we, but their pages are chock full of ideas and real-world case studies. I find something inspiring in every issue.

But I was surprised to spot (April issue) this headline in the upper-left corner of the cover —

One Bank to Love

— and immediately thought of Vancity. But the object of Fast Company’s affection this month was Triodos Bank, a Dutch bank founded in 1980 (company timeline) with a mission similar to my Vancity friends in Vancouver. Wikipedia says Triodos is a pioneer in ethical banking and that it “lends only to companies and nonprofits with social or ecological benefits.”

image And to prove that they follow this mantra, Triodos maintains an open database of the organizations it lends to. You can search by country and sector, or narrow your search to specific topics such as “wind farms” (see UK results below).

Search results at Triodos Bank UK for “wind farms” (link, 24 March 2010)

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Relevance to Netbankers
While many negative stories have yet to run, the tide may be about to turn. The press will increasingly be looking for positive stories where banks and credit unions are helping customers and small businesses flourish. You can help by identifying individual success stories within your customer base.

Or go full bore with a searchable database of your commercial loan customers, especially those in nonprofit sectors. Naturally, this requires written consent from your clients, but if there’s something in it for them (e.g., free publicity), you should get quite a few takers.

If that’s a little too open, you could anonymously map commercial loan recipients (similar to the screenshot above). That would demonstrate your involvement in various communities/neighborhoods without a lengthy consent process. 

Be the First All-Solar Bank in the First All-Solar City, Babcock Ranch Florida

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image If the developer’s plans go forward on his aggressive timetable, the world’s first all-solar city may break ground yet this year, with the city center up-and-running as soon as next year. We’ll see.

I wonder what the financial institution(s) of Babcock Ranch will look like? While Morgan Stanley is heavily invested in the project, it’s unlikely they would want to get involved in retail banking in what is designed to be a relatively small city of just 45,000.

But for consumer financial services companies, banking the future denizens of Babcock Ranch could be a great branding opportunity for alt-delivery and green banking concepts:

  • Low impact mini-branch(es) and/or branches located
    within other retail establishments
  • High-end check-scanning ATMs
  • Contactless terminals deployed citywide
  • Online banking for consumers and small businesses  
  • Emphasis on paperless billing/banking
  • Loan incentives for electric vehicles, scooters and
    low-impact transportation options

For more info:

Little Earth Day Excitement at U.S. Banking Websites

image Given the financial benefits of driving paper out of the banking system, I was surprised to see little evidence of banks or credit unions using Earth Day to promote paper-saving options (eStatements, electronic bill pay, ebills) or fuel-saving approaches (online banking, remote deposit capture, bank by mail).

I looked at the 30 largest retail banks and the 10 largest credit unions and found just three green banking promos running on the homepage: Sovereign Bank (Santander), Zions Bank, and Citizens Bank (Royal Bank of Scotland).

And none of those were Earth Day specific. A Google search turned up a few credit unions sponsoring shredding days, which are nice, but not really doing much for the environment.

Sovereign Bank (Santander)
Santander’s Sovereign Bank encourages users to go green by signing up for bill pay and ebills. A savings calculator on the landing page allows users to determine the environmental impact of converting bill pay activity from paper to electronic. In addition to the environmental benefits of eliminating paper, the bank promises to plant a tree for every ebill initiated.

The incentive program is conducted in partnership with the bank’s bill payment provider Fiserv/CheckFree (press release).  Similar programs are also in place at BankAtlantic, Fifth Third Bank, PSCU Financial Services, SunTrust and USAAimage

Sovereign landing page (22 April 2009)

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Zions Bank
Zions promotes eStatements in a small mid-page graphic. No monetary incentives are provided.

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Citizens Bank

RBS’s Citizens Bank is pushing its Green$ense checking rewards program that pays users $0.20 per electronic transaction for the next 12 months. Ultra-heavy users (3x per day), could bag up to $20/month in savings.  

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There’s Another Mint in NYC

imageIf you live in NYC, you may have seen one of the “other Mint’s” Smart Cars zipping through the streets. If you are familiar with online personal finance, you’re forgiven if you thought the car was an advertising vehicle for Mint.com. 

But no, this Mint is a car-sharing startup similar to Zipcar. It uses a Smart Car for its signature vehicle (inset), and also offers other options including a Mercedes and SUV. So far, the company operates only in Manhattan. Since Mint.com is obviously taken, the car-sharing company is using <drivemint.com>.

imageMint.com, the online personal finance manager, should consider teaming up with car-sharing Mint. It would be great advertising for both if they can find a way to deal with the brand confusion. 

Better yet, a bank or credit union should team up with Mint or other car-sharing companies to use branches for car distribution/parking. Chicago’s Bridgeview Bank (press release) offers a parking spot for the popular I-GO car-sharing service.

Bank customers could receive discounts and/or free memberships to the sharing services with costs billed automatically to the bank’s credit or debit card. Another option: free car rental time could be used as a reward in lieu of frequent flyer miles.

Promoting fuel-efficient cars with shared ownership is an interesting marketing vehicle and a good way to position your brand as socially aware and green.

Car-sharing Mint homepage (27 Jan. 2009)

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Scooter Loans from "Green" Credit Unions

image According to the Wall Street Journal, scooter sales in the U.S. are up 25% compared to last year (article here). While still relatively rare in U.S. cities, I have a feeling that 10 years from now, after a steady diet of $5/gal gas, American cities will look more like their European counterparts, with scooters zipping about everywhere.

For banks or credit unions, this might be the ideal time to jump on the scooter bandwagon by helping customers buy the energy-efficient vehicles. It would be a great way to grab a little PR boost during the slow summer-news cycle, and with some models selling for $4,000 or more, you could boost vehicle loan outstandings by a measurable amount.

A brief Google search located two financial institutions pushing scooter loans, both appropriately with “green” in their name: South Burlington, VT-based Green Mountain Credit Union and a Wisconsin-based credit union (who’s name we removed at their request in Aug. 2010 because the offer is no longer available and they still get inquiries from this post). 

Evergreen is promoting a special one-day, 3.99% scooter loan on its homepage (see screenshot below and note 1). The Saturday morning event, conducted in partnership with a local scooter dealer, included test rides, free hot dogs, and prize drawings. The CU also gave away a scooter earlier this month as part of its 50th anniversary special.

Benefits/Opportunities

  • Incremental loan originations: If you are a good relationship lender, the $4,000 scooter loan today could lead to many $25,000 car loans in the future. 
  • Search-engine marketing: Currently, there are no direct ads running on the keywords “scooter loans,” although you will compete with several advertisers displaying against the generic “loan” in the search term. There are also few organic results for the term, so there’s a good chance an SEO-optimized landing page would rate highly in Google results.
  • Leverage branch parking: One of the problems with urban scooter use is lack of available parking. Branches with parking could turn over one or more spaces for customers with scooters, creating good will, as well as the occasional picture on the 5 PM news.
  • Public relations: Anything that saves gas makes for a good story this summer and beyond. It can also be pitched as a “green banking” story, although it’s not a pure environmental win. The gas savings are easy to see, but scooter emissions can be significantly higher than those of the automobiles they replace.
  • Starter loan/credit: If you can convince your underwriting staff to accept applicants with limited or no credit history, the scooter loan could be a great way for young adults to build a credit file and improve their credit score (thanks, Andrea, for the idea)
  • Customer acquisition: Scooter loans could be a great way to introduce younger consumers to your financial institution.
  • Trendy icon: At least for urban customers, the scooter, especially the classic Vespa look, makes for an attractive graphical image, conjuring up memories of trips to Italy, or at least movies shot there on location. Your scooter program could make for good website content, eye-catching outdoor feel (great bus ad!), and or a nice flourish for other media efforts.
  • Strike a deal with Scooter Financial: The number one result at Google for “scooter loans” is Scooter Financial, which does exactly what you’d expect, make loans to buy scooters. Given their name and Google pagerank, they could be an ideal company to partner with.

Cons and potential problems

  • It’s an asset easily hidden from the repossession agent, so it’s harder to use the repo-threat to enforce outstanding debt. 
  • The accidental death rate for scooter owners is about 65% higher than that for cars; so you might want to be careful how much you push it as an “automobile alternative.” But the news isn’t all bad: Scooter owners are much less likely to perish than motorcycle owners. 
  • Most gas-powered scooters release significantly more pollutants than most automobiles.
  • The smaller loan sizes may lead to little, if any, profits.
  • Not a big market overall.

Green Mountain Credit Union homepage promotes 6.49% scooter loans

(21 May 2008)

Scooter loans from Green Mountain CU homepage

Credit Union homepage promotes Saturday “scooter loan” special (21 May 2008)

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Playing the Environmental Card with Remote Deposit Capture: Green Calculator from BankServ

imageWhile you don't want to overdo it and look like a hypocrite (see note 1), there's nothing like a little green to spruce up your marketing this time of year. BankServ lets users see just how much they can save by uploading checks to the bank over the Net instead of hightailing over to the branch in their Hummer (note 2).

In my case, I'm only going to save a half barrel of oil per year by forgoing those branch visits. Less, if it ever stops raining and I can get back to biking to the branch. It sounds more impressive in terms of CO2 emissions saved: 200 pounds.

It's a nice tool. Financial institutions could also use similar calculators to show the green benefits of paying bills online, receiving electronic statements, or anything else that cuts down on waste.

Note the URL: http://www.bankserv.com/greenbanking/

BankServ fuel saving CO2 calcultor

Note:

1. The term is new to me, but my friends over at Javelin Strategy blogged about greenwashing this week. In short, it means misleading consumers about the extent of your eco-friendly practices.

Green (Hybrid) Auto Loans from Star One Credit Union

In many ways, hybrid vehicles are the perfect antidote for guilt about our 21st century high-consumption lifestyle. Buy a Prius, and instantly feel better coasting around the city on self-generated battery power. Yet you still get to motor about in a relatively large, well-appointed and air-conditioned steel box (note 1).  

That's why politicians have jumped on this bandwagon in droves. And why it makes a great marketing statement to support energy-saving and/or low-emission alternatives with loan discounts. Not only does it position you as caring about the larger environment, there is a very real environmental education benefit to the efforts.

The most recent exampleStar One Credit Union <starone.org>, a $3 billion (assets), 71,000 member CU based in Sunnyvale, Californiahas a link on its homepage to its hybrid offer. Customers financing a new or used hybrid vehicle save 0.25% on their loan rate. On a $20,000 5-year loan, $139 is saved, enough to fill the tank three, maybe four times. The offer is spelled out here (screenshot below).  

Other financial institutions offering hybrid car loans:

  • UCB Bank (Miami, FL): no payments for 3 months offer here
  • Deedham Savings (Deedham, MA): offer here
  • Sound Credit Union (Tacoma, WA): 0.50% discount offer here
  • Tech CU (San Jose, CA): 0.25% discount offer here
  • Vancity (Vancouver, BC, Canada): Prime rate for low-emission vehicles here

Note:

(1) I'm not trying to be cynical here. As a former engineer, I think hybrid technology is fantastic. Using waste energy to fuel the car is both elegant and efficient, and I look forward to driving one soon.

Smart Car: The Next Must-Have Banking Sweeps Prize

Looking for an eye-catching grand prize for your fall sweepstakes? You can't beat the new Smart fortwo car hitting to hit our shores in six months. According to today's Wall Street Journal (here), more than 20,000 (make that 20,001) have already plopped down $99 for a "reservation" for the Smart fortwo (here).

Not only is this a sexy sweeps prize, it has green appeal as a less resource-intensive vehicle compared to larger gas cars. While hybrids will still be more fuel efficient for in-city driving, the $12,000 base price makes it much more affordable that the $20,000+ Prius.

With the perfect storm of higher gas prices, the rebirth of environmental awareness, and America's obsession with cars, the Smart micro is almost guaranteed to be a hit, at least in urban markets. Anyone who's been in Europe in the last 10 years knows how popular these cars already are.

Financial Institution Opportunities
There's hundreds of ways to use a coveted, and potentially rationed, consumer product in your marketing efforts. For example:

  • At $10,000 less than the Mini Cooper, this is the cost-conscious choice for a sweeps grand prize
  • Use the car to reinforce your smart banking choices such as paperless banking, auto bill pay, and so forth
  • Smart loans that include a preapproved auto loan along with a reservation for the car
  • Use the car's "CO 2 champion status" (see inset) to reinforce your green banking efforts
  • Paint the car with your brand and provide smart rides around town…include a form on your website for requesting a ride; for extra credit offer text message reservations
  • Work with Smart USA dealers in your area to offer joint promotions

And you already know we have a weakness for the car; so as an added benefit, any banking promotion involving it has a great chance of making it to the pages of Netbanker. Just give me a heads-up here

Carbon Neutral Banking

For the next 18 months, partly because it’s an issue that deserves attention and partly because of the inevitable hype politically-correct issues get during the U.S. presidential election process, climate change will be in the news more and more. And expect politicians to join musicians on the green bandwagon, buying carbon offsets so they can call their campaigns "carbon neutral." 

While it's hard to determine yet whether purchasing carbon offsets will ultimately help the planet, we do know that being a good "environmental citizen" has great marketing appeal.* So much, that it even has its own name, "green marketing" with 340,000 online mentions according to Google. Credit unions and bank, large and small, have joined in, some making billion-dollar commitments (see previous coverage here).

Whatever your motivations, if you are looking to join the carbon offset trend, a company you should look at is Toronto's Zerofootprint, a non-profit information clearinghouse and source of carbon credits (see it's "carbon store" here).  The company, who's website drips "Web 2.0," helps users figure out what their carbon "debt" is and to buy their way into the neutral zone (or you could go even go "carbon negative," if you bought more credits than your energy-consuming debits required). A consultancy in the field is The CarbonNeutral Company.

To see how businesses can work with Zerofootprint, check out the co-branded calculator accessible through the Air Canada website (hosted by Zerofootprint here). Travelers can determine the exact carbon cost of their trip and purchase offsets immediately with the button at the bottom of the calculator (see screenshot below).  

Air Canada carbon offset calculator

Financial Institution Opportunities

  • Allow customers the option of going "carbon neutral" with their banking: Banks could follow the Air Canada example, and allow customers to go offset the carbon costs of their banking activity. Customers would enter their average number of trips to the bank, what type of car they drove, distance, and so forth. Customers with estatements would have to purchase less than those that had them delivered. So "carbon neutral banking" would be a great reinforcement of banking online. For extra credit, configure your calculator to show the gasoline cost of the trips to the bank.
  • Go carbon neutral with online banking: Using Zerofootprint or other carbon exchanges, purchase enough credits to make your online banking service carbon neutral. You could also do the same thing to designate certain branches, divisions, or the entire company "carbon neutral."
  • Use carbon credits as an incentive to bank online, sign up for estatements, use self-service, and so on. For example, you could offer to offset 1 tonne of carbon for everyone that signs up for estatements (cost is about US$9 through Zerofootprint).

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*I do not mean to sound cynical here. I personally like the idea of carbon offsets and am buying them through Zerofootprint.