Email Marketing Archives

Tuesday Tactics: Capital One Uses Calendar Integration in Email Promotion

By Jim Bruene on February 2, 2015 4:30 PM | Comments

imageEditor's Note: This post was drafted three days before Thanksgiving (24 Nov 2014), but inadvertently never published. But the technique cited can be used any time of the year. So without further ado:


Capital One 360 continues the tradition of Black Friday banking promotions used by its predecessor ING Direct (previous posts). The direct bank unit of Capital One sent its first promotional tease three days before Thanksgiving (Monday afternoon, 24 Nov 2014). It simply said to watch the site for specials beginning after midnight (Eastern Time) on Thanksgiving night.

The bank has been using a similar direct-marketing technique for years. But this year, I noticed one small improvement. The bank makes it easy for readers to load a reminder to their calendar with a single click (supports Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, iCal).

Bottom line: Calendar integration is a nice touch and something that financial marketers could use whenever there is an upcoming deadline such as sweepstakes, offers, seminars, webinars. It could also be used to help customers remember payment or application deadlines.


Capital One 360 Black Friday countdown page (link, 24 Nov 2014)


Black Friday email teaser (24 Nov 2014, 1:30 PM Pacific Time)



UI: Chase Bank Remodels the All-Important "Account Summary Alert"

By Jim Bruene on May 15, 2014 5:37 PM | Comments

image Here at Netbanker/OBR, we love to write about the digital future. But we know it's even more important to address the digital now. If you don't leverage current technology to your advantage, the future doesn't much matter, since someone else will be running your business.

Today's topic, one that we used to harp on constantly, is alerts (see previous "Alerts" posts).  Alerts are the way you maintain the relationship with customers between logins. But too many banks and credit unions take email alerts for granted, and are still using a template from 2004! Those templates were created prior to webmail, and, more importantly, before mobile viewership skyrocketed.

One bank whose messaging template was too long in the tooth is Chase (it's looked the same since at least 2010; see note 1). But as part of their continued digital remodeling, the bank changed it last week. It's not going to be confused with Simple or Mint, but it communicates the important information efficiently. And that's enough for most brands. 

The Improvements 


Following are the before-and-after shots on the desktop. As you can see, the old version was too wide for smaller laptops and lower-resolution computers. On my Mac it looked fine, but on my trusty old ThinkPad, it required horizontal scrolling to see the "total withdrawals."

What changed:

  • All the information is lined up on the left side so it can be easily read on any screen size; this is especially important on mobile which was previously impossible to read (on iPhone) without pinching and zooming.
  • Got rid of the Go Paperless! banner. Talk about banner fatigue. I understand that it's a great benefit to convert users to paperless, but really, four-plus years with the same banner? MIX IT UP, please!
  • Changed headline to position "Chase" as the first word instead of the last. That helps users scanning subject lines see that it's from their bank. 
  • Added light blue background at top to give it a better look.
  • Cleaned up the data table for better readability.
  • Made the website URL more visible.
  • Added toll-free contact number.
  • Added more fine print and caveats (the only item that is a step backwards).




Before (viewed through Gmail, 3 May 2014)



After (viewed through Gmail, 12 May 2014)



Mobile (screen captures from iPhone 5)

Before                                                          After

image        image


1. The UI described here is for a Chase checking account in Washington State (converted from WAMU). This email alert template may be different in other regions or for other account types.
2. For more info on alerts and messaging, see our 2010 Online Banking Report (subscription).


Moven Offers Free Ride, but Only to New Uber Customers

By Jim Bruene on January 13, 2014 5:21 PM | Comments

image Despite more holiday hate over surge pricing, Uber is one of the more high-profile up-and-coming digital brands in the world. As the new year dawned (3 Jan 2014), Moven ran an eye-catching promo offering a free Uber ride (up to $30).

I flagged the email because I thought it was a great activation move. Moven appeared to be offering me $30 to get moving and complete my new account authentication (note 1). And more importantly, to get my Moven card in play in an app that offers a future stream of interchange revenues.

But unfortunately, the offer is limited to new Uber customers only (disclosed in small type at the bottom, that's my red arrow in the  inset). And surprisingly, it appears that you can enter any credit/debit card number into the signup form as it's not Moven-specific.

Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of the promotion:



1. Offer
Good: Free Uber ride is cool and valuable and a good company to associate with the Moven brand. The $30 offer beats what Uber served me on a Google search by $10 (see second screenshot below).      
Bad: A significant number of those interested in the offer will already be Uber customers and unable to participate (note 2).      
Fix: Allow existing Uber customers to participate (perhaps with a lower dollar cap); if that's not economically feasible, it's time to showcase a more prominent "new Uber customers only."

2. Fulfillment
Good: Encourages users to enter their Moven card number into the Uber app.       
Bad: The form, and offer, can be used with any credit/debit card.      
Fix: Require the ride be charged to the Moven card to qualify for the free credit.  

3. Design
Good: The email design was attractive and easy to read in a desktop browser window.
Bad: Headlines were good, but copy and fine print were not readable on a mobile (iPhone 5) without zooming (see inset above).      
Fix: Design for mobile window

Bottom line: Despite these drawbacks, it's still a good promo. And its cost to Moven is likely zero (note 3), a very important factor for a startup. So I'd rate it a B+ overall in terms of execution, but an A for value (to Moven), assuming Uber picked up the tab. 


Email from Moven (3 Jan 2014)
Note: Displayed in iPhone 5



Google offer under "uber" search (2 PM from Seattle IP address, 14 Jan 2014)



Image source: Placeit

1. I signed up as soon as I got a Moven invite, but I got caught in the authentication loop, still needing to find those trial deposit-amounts and feed that to Moven.  
2. Also the fine print says "new users only." Originally, I took this to mean "new Moven users" since the message came from Moven, and I was new to Moven and not new to Uber.  
3. It's highly likely there was no cost to Moven, and it's possible the startup is earning a commission for each new Uber customer.


The Best Card/Banking Activation Email Ever? Simple Innovation #7*

By Jim Bruene on October 31, 2012 2:04 PM | Comments (1)

image As a long-time student of the black art of marketing, I knew that I'd be in for some tricks and treats from Simple. And my first marketing message from the startup did not disappoint.

The eye-catching subject line practically guarantees a view:

Have you been cheating on us?

And the all-important opening line draws you in further:

So you've deposited money into Simple, and you've swiped a few times, maybe paid a bill. Not to get all clingy, but what's up?

The email (below) goes on to make the case for switching to Simple including a testimonial centering on the startup's spending map. Brilliant.


Simple activation email (25 Oct 2012)
Note: The fine print at the bottom of the message is limited to just
"Unsubscribe from Simple outreach emails." 

Simple card/banking activation email


1. See previous six Simple innovations here
2. 1953 Curtis ad for sale on eBay

Comments (1)

Out of the Inbox: Mobile Banking Marketing Messages from Wells Fargo and Bank of America

By Jim Bruene on March 29, 2012 7:31 PM | Comments

image Yesterday was mobile day in my inbox. In the span of two hours, both Wells Fargo and Bank of America hit me up with email reminders of how great their mobile services were. 

Of the two, Wells Fargo's was the more interesting, telling me about its revamped, mobile-optimized site, <> (see first screenshot). But since I've been using their iPhone app for three years, I'm not sure why I'd be super-interested in its mobile site.

In fact, the message is confusing for app users. Until I reread it for this blog post, I thought the bank was touting a new and improved app, which I was looking forward to checking out.

Bank of America's message was completely generic, saying that mobile banking is secure, convenient, and customized. And the call to action was to download its app, which I did almost four years ago, so I'm not sure why I received this message (note 1). I have also used the bank's iPad app and Kindle app.

Bottom line: The email messages were well-designed and short, so the creative scores well. But the targeting was sub-par, especially BofA, which seemed to completely miss the mark. And while Wells Fargo's message could have been better adapted for app users, the bank gets points for acknowledging that I use the mobile channel (note 2). 


Wells Fargo customer email (28 March 2012, 11:37 AM Pacific)
From address:
Note: Account holder name blurred out.

Wells Fargo customer email

Bank of America general mobile banking customer email (28 March 2012, 1:34 PM)
From address:


1. A month ago I had to replace my BofA card (again!) due to fraud, so possibly this was a misguided on-boarding message.
2. The Wells Fargo message was clearly targeted to mobile users: "Thanks to suggestions from mobile users like you."


Out of the Inbox: Prosper Markets to Small Businesses

By Jim Bruene on March 1, 2012 7:47 PM | Comments

image Everyone says that business startups are a huge driver for economic growth. So, when was the last time you received a solicitation for an unsecured loan to start a business (note 1, 2)? It may not be unheard of, but it's rare, especially since 2008.

So today's email from P2P loan pioneer, Prosper, really grabbed my attention (see screenshot below). Not only were they targeting a segment that's generally overlooked, they were doing it an effective way. The direct subject line, striking graphic, and concise copy, are guaranteed to get the message out.

My only concern is the reliance on the super low, 6.59% rate showcased (for AA borrowers, see highlighted section below). While it's not a teaser rate, it's also one that's not readily achievable for most people needing $25k to start a business. I'd rather see Prosper list the rate for a more typical borrower, or at least show a range of applicable rates.

Still, I give it an A-, because most borrowers savvy enough to start their own business understand that "....starting at" means something higher at the end of the process.


Prosper email to registered users (1 March 2012; 1 PM Pacific Time)
Note: Social media call to actions at bottom of message.

Prosper email to business startups

Landing page
Note: Interested borrowers are dumped on a generic signup/login page. It seems like there should be some tie-in here to the email call to action.

Prosper landing page

1. Chase offered a great program in 2010 where business borrowers were given a lower rate for hiring new employees. However, it wasn't targeted to startups.
2. I'm not on their mail list, but I know Silicon Valley Bank aggressively pursues startup businesses for financing deals.  
3. We've covered P2P lending a number of times in our subscription service, Online Banking Report including updated U.S. forecasts in our Jan. 2012 report.


Out of the Inbox: Betterment's New Year's Resolutions

By Jim Bruene on January 16, 2012 11:50 AM | Comments

imageThe new year is a special time for financial services. Many people throw their spending discipline out the window during December -- buying gifts, entertaining, and hitting the sales for themselves. Then there's the New Years Resolution game where you vow not to do for the rest of the year what you just spent the past month doing.

So it's a good time for financial providers to remind customers about advanced tools available such as alerts, mobile banking, budget tools and so on.

You can also take the approach of Betterment, and provide a wide-ranging list of apps to assist in achieving goals for the new year. The investment startup sent an email to customers on Dec 27 recommending these 5 apps:

  • Runkeeper to track your exercise
  • Manilla digital file cabinet
  • Skillshare to pick up a new skill
  • Goodreads to help you find new books
  • Sonar for social and business networking

Betterment closed with a pitch for its own simple investment platform and a free webinar scheduled for Jan 5, and personal finance blogging roundup.

It's a great effort, although maybe a little too much for a single email. I didn't even see the pitch for the webinar and blog compilation until I posted it here. Overall though, a strong A.   


Betterment New Years email (27 Dec 2012)
Note: Google+ link on top

Betterment New Years email: top half
image    image


Note: For more info on online investing see our 2008 report.


Multi-Channel Messaging is a Mess

By Jim Bruene on November 17, 2011 9:52 AM | Comments (3)

Image licensed from Shutterstock Last month, I reported that my "aha moment" at BAI's Retail Delivery was the realization of just how challenging it had become to manage customer messaging across multiple channels and products.

Consider this 9x12 matrix of 108 product/message options a bank could conceivably use to reach a couple about their banking and loans. The whiteboard in the marketing conference room just won't cut it any more as the master scheduling tool. 



Card #1

Card #2


Loan #1

Loan #2




Voice home                  
Voice mobile (Sue)                  
Voice mobile (Joe)                  
Email pers (Sue)                  
Email pers (Joe)                  
Email work (Sue)                  
Email work (Joe)                  
Website message                  
Text (Sue)                  
Text (Joe)                  
App (Sue)                  
App (Joe)                  

If that wasn't complicated enough, unique regulations can govern each channel and/or product.  Some examples: new mortgage rules for a single source of contact; time-of-day preferences (don't text me while I'm asleep); and privacy issues (don't alert my spouse to card charges).

And this table gets bigger if you add mail, in-branch, ATM messages or more products such as small business accounts, savings/CDs, and accounts held jointly with other family members. You could also add inbound vs. outbound calls/messages.

But one person's mess is another's opportunity. Fintech companies are hard at work on  solutions that turn multi-channel snarls into opportunities to increase satisfaction and/or cut costs.

imageOne key player is Seattle-based Varolii, which delivered my aha moment last month. In a followup last week, I had a chance to sit down with CEO David McCann and have a wide-ranging conversation about customer messaging in the age of the voice/email/text/notifications. I was impressed, both with the enormity of the challenge of coordinating customer messaging, and with the solutions it offers (note 1).

image Then yesterday, I met with Amit Ashman, Marketing Director at Nice, who happened to be here on a whirlwind visit from their headquarters in Israel. His company, which booked $200 million in revenues last quarter, provides call-center technology for large U.S. financial institutions. They have developed a very cool call-center/mobile-app solution about to be unleashed on the world. It blends self-service with agent support in a relatively seamless fashion that I suspect will be the industry standard five years from now.

It's convinced me to write a report on Multi-Channel Customer Support for our Online Banking Report (note 2). We are also looking to recruit more companies in this area to 2012 Finovate events. So, please email suggestions for solutions providers and/or financial institutions who are tackling the problem.  


1. Great tagline, "Better return on interactions"
2. The multi-channel report won't be published until early next year. However, we've tackled remote customer service and messaging a number of times in previous issues of our Online Banking Report. The last one was Live Help earlier this year.

Comments (3)

Out of the Inbox: First Tech CU Pitches Auto Loans

By Jim Bruene on September 1, 2011 4:29 PM | Comments

image As the country heads back to work and school, it's a great time to remind customers that you have killer rates for auto loans. So, First Tech Federal Credit Union's marketing email to members yesterday promoting a 2.99% rate was well timed. And I love how the message is direct and to the point.

While the email could use a little more visual punch (graphics/typography), First Tech nailed the timing, product, price, and headline. So it is 90% there even before reading the copy. However, that's where the effort falls a bit short. Here's why (numbers correspond to screenshot below):

Minor issues in copywriting:
1. The second sentence in the opening paragraph is awkward because the phrase "keep that new auto loan payment in check..." is hard to understand. If you pair "check" with "payment," it sounds like you are referring to a checking account, not a low-payment amount.

2. Be careful with how you talk about rate discounts. They way First Tech wrote it, ".25% rate discount" sounds like the loan rate is going to be chopped by a full 25% instead of 25 basis points. It would be better to put a zero in front of rate, e.g., "0.25%" and perhaps call it a "rate reduction" instead of discount to be perfectly clear. 

Weak "offer acceptance:"
3. It's too hard to find the loan application in order to take advantage of the great rate. Members are directed back to the First Tech homepage where they must search for an loan app. The CU should either take members directly to a specific landing page for this offer, or at least drop them on the auto loan page. It does help that one of the four rotating homepage banners is for auto loans, but it's third in the rotation and only stays in view for 15 seconds or so.

In addition, not everyone wants to research and/or apply online. A phone number, at least for more information, would be a welcome addition to the message.

Finally, there is no sense of urgency, e.g., "the rate is guaranteed through the weekend" or even "act now before rates increase."

Overall grade: B


First Tech Credit Union email to members promoting 2.99% auto loans (31 Aug. 2011; 9:28 AM Pacific)

First Tech Credit Union email to members promoting 2.99% auto loans (31 Aug 2011; 9:28 AM Pacific)


Out of the Inbox: Chase Invites Business Clients to a Free Webinar with Google

By Jim Bruene on May 6, 2011 12:34 PM | Comments

imageOn the one hand, it's easy for a bank to get the attention of business clients and prospects. Just announce a streamlined commercial loan-app process. But since that's unlikely to happen in the wake of the Financial Meltdown, a Webinar with Google is a pretty solid Plan B.

Chase has a winning effort here. The topic, 7 ways to sell online, is so compelling that Google is tossing in a $100 AdWords credit for attendees (see note). And it never hurts to associate with a powerful and well-regarded Internet brand.  

The email design is good with an interesting subject line, an email to ask questions, and a big green button for the call-to- action. The copy is a bit predictable, but it's short and to-the-point and doesn't distract. There are small quibbles regarding design-layout; perhaps, a Gmail issue; and they forgot to capitalize the W in AdWords, but those are minor glitches.    

Grade: A-

Chase email to existing business clients (6 May, 10:33 AM, Pacific)

Chase Email to Existing Business Clients announcing webinar with google

Landing page hosted by Google and co-branded with Chase (link)

Registration page hosted by Google and co-branded with Chase 


1. Google usually offers the $100 only to new clients, but I don't seen any fine print limiting the bonus. I hope they don't add a restriction after the fact, which could negate the positive energy Chase generates from the Webinar offer.
2. For more info on the space, see Online Banking Report: Micro- and Small Business Online Banking (published Oct. 2009)


Out of the Inbox: Cascade Bank Drives Customers to Branch with One-Day iPad Giveaway

By Jim Bruene on December 3, 2010 5:01 PM | Comments

image I've long been an admirer of Cascade Bank, a $1.7 billion bank headquartered in Everett, WA. A friend was marketing director there for a number of years, and I learned a lot from her about community bank marketing and management.

While I used to have a mortgage at Cascade, I don't have any accounts now; hence, the email I received earlier this week. The bank invited prospective customers to come to one of its 22 branches (today only) and enter their name in a drawing to win an iPad. Five iPads were being given away bank wide.

And while in the branch, hoping to pick up a free ipad, the bank dangled an attractive duffel bag in front of visitors as a premium for opening a new checking account. And Cascade promised to drop an extra $25 in your account if you traded in your old check register from the competition.

Bottom line: Thanks to the iPad and some great graphic design, the mailing had a stunning visual, good title, and compelling offer. Excellent work.

Email announcing the giveaway (received 30 Nov. 2010)

Cascade Bank Email announcing the giveaway (received 30 Nov 2010)

Cascade Bank homepage (3 Dec. 2010)

Cascade Bank homepage (3 Dec 2010)

Landing page pitches free checking with duffel bag premium and $25 bonus 

Cascade Bank Landing page pitches free checking with duffel bag premium and $25 bonus

Note: For more ideas, see Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in a Digital Age.


Out of the Inbox: Lending Club’s “Idle Cash Alert”

By Jim Bruene on October 12, 2010 6:24 PM | Comments

image Lending Club, which recently surpassed $12 million in monthly P2P loan volume (see below), does a great job concisely communicating important account info. The startup earned an "A" in our recent report on transaction alerts (note 1).

Below is another example of its exemplary email alerts. In just 30 words, the company reinforces my impressive rate of return and my account balance. Then it seamlessly goes for the sale, encouraging me to put my cash balance to work by making more loans.

The only improvement I'd suggest is making the call to action, "Browse available Notes," more prominent. First, it's not clear that it's a link. Second, what does that even mean? Ideally, it would be Lend Now, although I understand that terminology is not "SEC friendly," so Invest Now, should work.  

Bottom line: It's a win-win to provide encouragement every now and then about how customers might put their idle balances to work. Just don't overdue it.

Lending Club "Idle Cash Alert" (27 Sep. 2010)


Lending Club loan volume: Aug. 2009 through Sep. 2010

Lending Club loan volume: Aug. 2009 through Sept. 2010

1. See previous post on OBR 181/182 published July 2010


ActivePath Named OBR Best of the Web for Email Banking System

By Jim Bruene on September 13, 2010 4:56 PM | Comments

obr_bestofweb In our most recent report, Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel, ActivePath was named the third OBR Best of the Web winner in 2010. The company was cited for its unique plugin software that turns the user's email inbox into a mini online-banking center.

We believe that the future of banking information delivery is outside the website. Increasingly, users will rely on information pushed to them through Facebook, Twitter or RSS feeds, to mobile phone apps, and to the email inbox. ActivePath's solution plays into that trend.

The just-launched Israeli startup becomes the 78th company to win the designation since we began awarding it in 1997. The other two winners this year:


Note: OBR Best of the Web awards are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.


New Online Banking Report Published: Bank Transaction Email Alerts & Real-Time Streaming (Feeds)

By Jim Bruene on July 8, 2010 1:13 PM | Comments (1)

image Two months ago when we were sketching out the next Online Banking Report (see note for links to the report), I thought it would be useful to look at the real-time Web and how consumers were becoming accustomed to status update feeds through Facebook and Twitter.

Old-school alerts: Email
As I wrote the report, I realized that most online banking users still want to consume transaction data the old-fashioned way, through email and over the Web. We did a quick consumer survey that confirmed our hypothesis, with email preferred 2-to-1, over text and voice messaging. Even among the under-35 crowd, email and text alerts were tied.

So we also took a detailed dive into email alerts, developing 22 recommendations for state-of-the-art email messages. And we graded 16 alert examples from 13 financial institutions. Overall, our sample scored very well with Bank of America, Lending Club, Mint, ING Direct, PayPal all earning A grades. Also U.S. Bank, Schwab, Wells Fargo and Prosper were just slightly lower, each with a B+. 

The future: Real-time streams/feeds/updates
While email, text or voice messages work well for alerts, they are not as desirable for keeping users informed of all their transactions. Once you start getting multiple emails each day from your financial accounts, it becomes overwhelming and you stop opening them. That's why transaction feeds are a promising means for keeping customers up-to-date on an ongoing basis. In a world where so many consumers are following a Facebook news feed, Twitter feed, or good old RSS, it's only natural that financial transactions will join the mix.

But it's still a long way off. For the most part, consumers do not want commercial messages cluttering their news feeds. And they are understandably confused about privacy/security settings, and don't feel confident that bank transactions delivered via Twitter direct message, are not being displayed to the world.

However, once we get past that educational challenge, we believe a significant number of consumers will prefer tracking their finances via feed (mostly via mobile) instead of logging in to online banking multiple times per month.

To learn more about what could happen in this area, we looked at three transaction-feed startups:

Bottom line: Real-time feeds are the future, but many years away from making it past even the earliest of adopters. For most financial institutions, the important thing now is to make sure you have great email and text alerts. But for those looking to differentiate with technology, feeds provide an intriguing opportunity. 


1. The report is available at no extra charge to OBR subscribers here; and can be purchased for US$495 by others here. See the Table of Contents here (PDF). 

Comments (1)

Chase Bank Offering Small Business Clients $2,000 in Free Remote Deposit Capture Services

By Jim Bruene on June 15, 2010 6:26 PM | Comments (1)

image Two thousand is the largest banking premium I've ever seen, although Chase's out-of-pocket costs are probably less than $500. The offer was made last week via email (see first screenshot) to existing business-banking customers not already enrolled in Chase Quick Deposit, a scanner-based remote check-deposit service.

The details:


From: Chase Bank 
To: Business Banking clients
Date: 10 June 2010 (1 PM)

Offer: Two years of free remote deposit services (Chase Quick Deposit), normally $50/mo, plus the $855 Panini 50-50 business-class scanner to power it. Total retail value = $2,055 

Fine print:
-- Users must deposit at least 10 checks per month to maintain fee-free service
-- New Quick Deposit users only; not valid for current or previous users
-- $500 cancellation fee if discontinued within 12 months
-- Offer good through July 31, 2010

Notes: This offer does not appear to be available to the general public. On the bank's website, the current offer is a free scanner with a 2-year contract at $50/mo.


Analysis: It's definitely attention-getting and will drive new remote-deposit business. But I'm a bit surprised Chase is giving away both the razor and the blades (see note 1). Perhaps the bank is testing different offers. But it will be two years before Chase finds out what percentage of its users convert to paying customers. Of course, they are also banking on an account-retention lift to repay the significant cost of the offer.   

Email from Chase offering free remote deposit services (10 June 2010, 1 PM)


Landing page


Users accepting the offer must first log in to their account to enroll


1. Offer made to a single-service (DDA) small business checking client converted from WaMu.
2. For more info, see Online Banking Report: Micro- and Small Business Online Banking (published Oct. 2009)

Comments (1)

Out of the Inbox: ING Direct's Year-End Pitch for IRAs

By Jim Bruene on December 22, 2009 11:34 PM | Comments

image This is one of the better times of year to market tax-deferred accounts. ING Direct targets consumers plotting New Year resolutions with this intriguing headline:

Subject: Is an IRA on your "to do" list?
Received: 22 Dec 2009, 5:07 PM Pacific

There's not much to the message. No offer. No graphics. No tease. Just a solid message reiterating the potential tax benefits and emphasizing ING Direct's no-fee options.

Grade: B+

Email screenshot
Note: This message was sent to an existing customer with a savings account and Sharebuilder account, but no IRA.


Landing page (link)
Note: Landing page URL is <>



Out of the Inbox: Upbeat Customer Email Message from Umpqua Bank

By Jim Bruene on November 2, 2009 10:40 PM | Comments

image I recently opted in to the Umpqua Bank email list. And even though I'm not a customer, I received an upbeat message this morning from bank president Ray Davis (screenshot below).

This email appears to be geared towards businesses (see the closing line below). And that makes sense because I'd recently been looking into its business social network (note 1). But the message is on-target for consumers as well.

The well-written 185-word letter covers three main topics:

  • A cautiously optimistic message about the overall economy
  • Some tangible evidence (new banking division, new lending teams, new capital, and 20,000 hours of community service) that the bank is a forward-moving survivor
  • Reassurances to customers that they were well-capitalized and moving closer to repaying TARP money

The tone was completely soft sell. There is a link to its online switch kit at the bottom and links to its LocalSpace business social network and Twitter feed (note 2) on the right. It's more "we're in this together" than sales pitch and closes with this wonderful line:

As we wrap up 2009 and look ahead, I encourage you to commit to the spirit of recovery and take action that positions you for the future.

We recommend that every other well-capitalized bank and credit union send a similar message before the holidays. We are about to move into the annual "year in review" exercise in the media, and this year's 100+ U.S. bank failures will be high on the list. Remind your customers, members, employees that you are still a vital member of the community. And that for every financial institution that went under, there were a 100 like yourself that did not. 


1. For more info on the small-business market, see our latest Online Banking Report: Small Business Online & Mobile Banking.
2. Umpqua dreamed up one of the most compelling reasons we've seen to follow a bank, or any company for that matter, on Twitter (with the possible exception of the tweeting bakery): updates on its truck handing out free ice cream (Umpqua Twitter page).


Out of the Inbox: ING Direct's ShareBuilder Encourages Customers to Follow on Twitter and Facebook

By Jim Bruene on September 15, 2009 7:05 PM | Comments (2)

image An email from ShareBuilder arrived in my inbox this morning. Basically, it provides links to the company's Facebook page (4,000 fans) and Twitter feed (1200 followers), so customers can easily sign up to follow the company on these key social networks.

Call to action: Get our latest offers and more anytime via Facebook and Twitter.

While the email effort will get action from serious fans, it has a nice branding component for everyone. With very little effort, it demonstrates ShareBuilder's commitment to interacting with customers wherever they happen to be online. The ING Direct unit has also added Facebook and Twitter signup widgets to its homepage (see screenshot below).

Bottom line: To really drive numbers to its social network sites, ShareBuilder needs to add an incentive, such as a sweepstakes. But a general awareness message is a good first step.

ShareBuilder email to existing customers (link, 7:01 AM Pacific, 15 Sep 2009)


ShareBuilder Twitter page (link)


ShareBuilder Facebook page (link)


ShareBuilder homepage


1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report: Connecting to Customers with Twitter.

Comments (2)

Out of the Inbox: Credit Karma's Monthly Email is Hard to Ignore

By Jim Bruene on August 14, 2009 10:45 AM | Comments

image I get dozens of newsletters and marketing pitches from my various financial accounts every month. While they are interesting to me as an analyst, for the average consumer there's rarely any actionable information.

However, one financial company consistently drives users to its site month over month with their email missives. And they don't even have to change the creative.

Free-credit-score provider Credit Karma simply reminds users that it's been more than two weeks since they last checked their credit score. The company goes on to encourage users to check in every month to to make sure no adverse changes have occurred (see first screenshot below). It's a simple yet powerful message that drives traffic to the company's ad-supported site (see second and third screenshots).

I've received this message on the 16th of each month this year, except May, when I must have already visited Credit Karma in the two weeks prior. A large yellow button invites the reader to click through to see the latest score (see first screenshot).

And the technique seems to be working. Traffic, measured in unique visitors by Compete, is up six-fold in the past 12 months, to 310,000 visitors in July (see chart below).


Credit Karma email (received 16 July 2009; 10:05 AM Pacific)
Subject: Credit Karma update image

Current landing page after clicking "update" button in email (13 Aug 2009)
Note: Virgin Money's friends-and-family mortgage offering is the lead product placement while The Easy Loan Site has the top banner. Lending Club is also running a banner across the top.


Landing page two months ago (16 June 2009)
Note: Virgin Money's friends and family was also the lead product placement, while ING Direct's Sharebuilder had the banner.  Virgin Money also has a product offer in the middle of the page.


Note: For more info on the market for credit scores and monitoring see our Online Banking Report on Credit Report Monitoring (published Aug 2007).


Pitney Bowes Goes After Remote Deposit Capture Market with Email to Postage-Meter Clients

By Jim Bruene on July 22, 2009 4:53 PM | Comments (3)

image Pitney Bowes (PB) hit me with a cross-sale message this morning, and surprisingly it was for a banking service, remote deposit capture (see email below). Because we already do ACH transactions through PB to load our postage meter, it's something I would consider buying from them, especially since our business bank does not offer RDC.  

The service called Click Deposit (note 1) works with any bank or credit union checking account and is powered by Jack Henry ProfitStars. The cost runs $39.95 to $149.95 per month, depending on volume. You get up to 150 monthly scans at the lower level and 1,000 at the high end. Buyers must sign a nine-page contract (PitneyBowes_RDC_app.pdf), committing to the service, and leased scanner, for 36 months.

Because I don't want to lock us in at $500/yr for three years, I think we'll pass on this deal. Hopefully, we'll be able to tap a lower-cost iPhone-based service in the near future, such as that offered by WV United FCU (see previous post).  

Email from Pitney Bowes (22 July 2009, 9:36 AM Pacific)


Landing page (link)


1. Although, Jack Henry announced the relationship in May (press release), I found no mention at the main Pitney Bowes site ( or the services site (, so this may be a marketing test.  

Comments (3)

Email Unsubscribe Best Practices for Banks, Credit Unions and Other Financial Services Companies

By Jim Bruene on July 20, 2009 5:14 PM | Comments (2)

image It's been three years since I last went through my inbox to unsubscribe from the marketing and information lists I no longer read. At that time, I still used email to keep up on ecommerce and banking news. Now, that task has moved almost entirely to RSS, and I rarely read any broadcast email these days. 

During a two-hour paring process to delist 40 to 50 subscriptions from email, I paid close attention to how each company handled that bit of negative news and jotted down a few best practices for banks, credit unions, and other financial providers (note 1): 

  1. Put your branding on the unsubscribe page, don't simply default to your email service provider page.  
  2. Greet the customer by name and/or email address.
  3. Provide customer testimonials on the value of the email subscription.
  4. Empathize with their situation (e.g., Getting too much mail?), but reiterate the benefits of staying in touch with you (e.g., We really want our customers to get the best deals!) and gently see if you can change their minds (e.g., Are you sure? Try us for another month, and we'll do our best to bring you only pertinent offers.) 
  5. If that fails, offer alternative ways to maintain contact, for instance:
    - Less-frequent email (see first screenshot below)
    - RSS feed(s) (see second screenshot below)
    - Better-targeted email on just certain subjects
    - Use a different email address
    - Change email format (HTML vs. text)
    - Use SMS instead of email
  6. If applicable, explain that customers will still receive account-related email messages.
  7. Provide a feedback form so users can tell you why they are unsubscribing.
  8. Confirm the request online and provide links to other areas of your website.
  9. Send an email confirming that the unsubscribe process is complete.

Step 1: TigerDirect unsubscribe page (20 July 2009)
Email subscribers clicking on "unsubscribe" are first asked if they'd prefer to receive fewer emails.


Step 2: After unsubscribing, customers can sign up for RSS or catalog delivery image

Update: Staples...another good example of offering choices on the main unsubscribe page (screenshot 22 July 2009; hat tip to Loren McDonald, note 2):


1. U.S. emailers must comply with CAN-SPAM regulations at all times. 
2. Here's a good presentation from Loren McDonald from Silverpop on the subject. 
3. For more info on email marketing, see our Online Banking Report on Email Marketing in Financial Services (published June 2006).

Comments (2)
Categories: Email Marketing, Marketing

Out of the Inbox: ShareBuilder Email Thanks Customers After Second Month of Automated Investments

By Jim Bruene on July 9, 2009 5:49 PM | Comments (1)

image This is the first time we've seen a financial services company reach out and congratulate users for a job well done. In this case, ING Direct's U.S. retail investments unit, ShareBuilder, sent a congratulatory email message to me after two months of investing through its Automatic Investment Program, which pulls money from outside checking accounts.  

The message has several purposes:

  • To reinforce the investment decision
  • To encourage customers to use ShareBuilder Research
  • To incent users to move other brokerage accounts to ShareBuilder with the $100 bonus offer (see landing page, second screenshot)

What's not to like here? It's timely, relevant, to-the-point (only 75 words in the main body copy) and makes users feel good about themselves. The same thing could be done with loan payments, debt reduction, savings account balance growth, and so on.

Email: ShareBuilder automated savings congratulations
(3 July 2009, 6:41 AM Pacific Time)


Landing page for $100-bonus offer
Note: The offer is co-branded with Wells Fargo, which is where I originally set up the ShareBuilder account eight or nine years ago.


Side note: Online account opening warning box
When looking at the new account application, we encountered this popup when attempting to leave the unfinished app and navigate to the ShareBuilder homepage (see note 1).  


1. For more info on the subject of online apps, see our Online Banking Report: Online Account Opening, published two weeks ago. 

Comments (1)

Out of the inbox: Great call-to-action from E*Trade, "Re-Plan your Retirement"

By Jim Bruene on June 12, 2009 9:16 AM | Comments (3)

imageOver the years, E*Trade has been consistently innovative in both product development and marketing, two areas that provide natural synergies. The company didn't disappoint with its latest missive to existing customers. 

An email arrived yesterday afternoon (Thurs., 11 June 2009) and immediately grabbed my attention with its clever and timely subject line:

Re-plan Your Retirement with E*TRADE and Get Up to $500

One thing I've heard consistently from my friends, no matter how secure their jobs, is that they will "be working forever" now that the Great Recession has slammed their net worth with the double whammy of a bear market and home-price declines.

So this is a great time to get in front of customers with new efforts to help them re-plan retirement with new investment ideas, asset rebalancing and just a general reboot of their portfolio. And it's also an excellent time to discuss 401(k) rollovers, as E*Trade did in this message, with an "up to $500" (see note 1) incentive to roll over a retirement account to the company (see landing page, third screenshot below). As Americans change jobs by necessity, there will be millions of retirement accounts in play. 

Security features in email
E*Trade also demonstrates another best practice to improve trust in customer emails: personalization. The company includes customer name and last four digits of their account number to help distinguish the message from fraudulent phishing attempts. E*Trade draws attention to the feature with a Security Enhanced icon on the top-right (see first screenshot below).

Clicking on the Learn More link drops readers to the bottom of the email message where product URLs provide direct-navigation alternatives to paranoid readers (see second screenshot below). I hadn't seen that before, a nice touch.

E*Trade email promoting 401(k) rollovers (received 11 June, 3 PM Pacific)


Security "fine print" at bottom of above message


Landing page for email offer (link)

1. Detail on the rebate:

  • $500 for rollovers of $250,000 or more
  • $250 for $100,000 to $250,000
  • $100 for $50,000 to $100,000
  • $50 for $25,000 to $50,000
Comments (3)

Out of the Inbox: U.S. Bank Pushes E-statements with "Go Green with Online Statements"

By Jim Bruene on January 27, 2009 2:53 PM | Comments (3)

imageOn Friday, I received a marketing message from U.S. Bank attempting to convince me to turn off my paper statements and adopt online statements. In 2007 (here), I wrote about its similar effort at login. 

The graphic design and layout are wonderful with splashes of green throughout and a peaceful, sunny forest scene. It's a nice bit of branding for the bank. So far, so good.

However, in terms of direct-marketing effectiveness, where the goal is to get the reader to take action, the message leaves a lot to be desired.

Turning off your paper statement is a relatively major change in behavior (previous post), so readers need clear information and/or incentives to move to less-costly paperless delivery. This message is lacking in both.

Benefit statements
Here are the supposed user benefits touted in the email:

Online statements help you:

- Deter fraud
- Reduce clutter
- Manage accounts
- Get real-time updates

Let's look at the benefits from the standpoint of the end-user:

  • Deter fraud: Can the average reader make the leap to how online statements will cut down on fraud? I doubt it. This bullet point needs more detail.
  • Reduce clutter: This is pretty self explanatory. But do people really think of their monthly bank statement as "clutter." Some do, but it's not a particularly compelling argument.
  • Manage accounts: This wording leaves a lot to be desired. How does turning off your paper statements help you manage your accounts better? Presumably, those who sign up for online statements have more info available online. If that's the case, the bank needs to say so.
  • Get real-time updates: What do online statements have to do with real-time updates?  This is probably meant as a generic benefit for banking online, but it's out of place here.

On the other hand the environmental benefits are much more tangible. However, for the cynical reader (and there are a LOT of cynical bank customers these days), there should be footnotes explaining the derivation or source of the green benefits. For example, at the bottom of the message there's prominent claim:

Save nearly 7 pounds of paper yearly by Going Green.

That sounds impressive, but if you think about, it doesn't jive with experience. Unless you get your checks back, most statements come in at under an ounce. And that includes a significant amount of bank advertising flyers. So how do we get from 12 ounces saved annually to the 7 lbs cited in the email? Readers will never know because there is no additional info available to substantiate the claim. You would think the bank would explain the claims on the landing page, but it has even less info (see below).

Call to action/incentives
The message includes tangible, albeit unsubstantiated, environmental benefits which are compelling. However, customers know that all these benefits spell significant cost savings for the financial institution. For some customers, especially of  member-owned credit unions, that may be enough to get them to take action.

However, many customers are going to feel this is a pretty one-sided deal. If they are going to give up the comfort of their paper statements, there should be something in it for them.

That's why we recommend an incentive of some sort. It could be a periodic giveaway, a one-time thank-you gift ($5 at Amazon), or an extra online benefit they wouldn't otherwise get, such as long-term archives, premium customer service or a free-overdraft card. For example, Key Bank offered a low-cost and effective incentive in the fall (post here). Chase had an even better promotion in 2007 (post here).

Landing page
Granted, there isn't much room in a one-page HTML message. So it's understandable that the benefits are abbreviated. Usually, a marketer will use the landing page to expand on the key features and benefits. However, U.S. Bank's landing page offers little additional help (see screenshot below).

The page doesn't connect back to the email in any meaningful way. Benefits are neither reiterated, nor explained. Within the page, a brief explanation tells how to enroll, but surprisingly the Enroll Today link on the right has nothing to do with estatements and leads to a page explaining online access options.


  • Design: A
  • Copywriting: B+
  • Content: C+ (could be A- if benefits were explained on the landing page or FAQ)
  • Landing page: D
  • Overall effectiveness: A- for brand building; C- for driving estatement enrollment

U.S. Bank email marketing message, "Go Green with Online Statements" (23 Jan. 2009)



U.S. Bank landing page for online statements (link, 27 Jan. 2009)


Note: See our Online Banking Report on Email Marketing and Online Banking Report on Emessaging & Statements for more information.

Comments (3)

Out of the Inbox: Virgin Money's Thanksgiving Fundraiser "Pass the Thanks"

By Jim Bruene on December 2, 2008 6:30 PM | Comments

image While the SmartMoney example below is simple and inexpensive, it won't win any marketing awards or new customers. Virgin Money USA, on the other hand, could do both with its clever Thanksgiving email (sent the Friday before) to registered users (see below).

The message from Virgin has a dual purpose:

  1. Holiday well wishes if you simply read the header or glance at the message
  2. Viral fundraiser and user-generated content device if you follow the link labeled, click the sauce to pass the thanks

Sauce clickers are sent to a landing page (see second screenshot below) that encourages them to send their own Thanksgiving greeting to friends. The greeting includes a short message superimposed on an uploaded picture. The company donates $1 to Give a Drop for every message sent and posted 200 of the well wishes on a Picasa Web-album page (here) which are streamed back to the original microsite (second screenshot).

And of course, it wouldn't be a Virgin production without an irreverent component. Users can choose whether their cranberry sauce is canned (pictured) or homemade.

The Pass the Thanks campaign was also featured on the company's homepage during the Thanksgiving time period (see third screenshot below).

Grade: A+ for simultaneously engaging customers, doing good, and creating a viral marketing message

Virgin Money USA Thanksgiving email message (21 Nov 2008)


Virgin Money USA Thanksgiving landing page (link, 2 Dec 2008)


Virgin Money USA homepage (2 Dec 2008)


1. For more on Virgin Money and peer-to-peer lending, see our Online Banking Report on P2P Lending


Out of the Inbox: WaMu Welcome to Business Online Banking, Virgin Money Valentine's Day

By Jim Bruene on February 15, 2008 12:23 PM | Comments

 WaMu Welcome to Online Business Banking
imageI recently opened a business checking account at WaMu and logged onto online banking for the first time yesterday (see note 1). The 4-step process was done completely online, which, while user friendly, may not be the best idea security-wise. Anyone with enough detail about my business would have been able to log in and abscond with my $100 opening deposit. That's a topic for another day.

I was impressed how well the process worked and that the bank sent an immediate message to my email address welcoming me to online banking. It's a good message, presenting nine bullet-pointed account benefits and encouraging me to sign up for Business Bill Pay with another four bullet points.

The only thing that could be improved is the bare-bones signature area. It would be much better if my business banker and/or branch manager signed it, with an actual signature if possible. However, I'd accept someone from the central customer service area if they used an actual name and provided contact info within the letter.

Finally, the bank is missing an opportunity here to see if my initial experience has been positive. There should be a line that says something like "Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about your new account" (note 2). Even better would be a short survey to provide feedback on the account-opening process.

Overall, I give it an A-.



Valentine's Day from Virgin Money
imageWhile I don't think Valentine's Day represents a particularly strong marketing opportunity for banks, at least one financial services company marked the date with an email to its customers (see note 3). Virgin Money sent this simple message to its customers yesterday morning (7:01 AM Pacific).  



1. I opened the checking account in the branch because it was a corporate account with multiple signers. The business banker offered to set up online banking for me, but I declined so that I could see how the process worked.

2. In fact, I did have trouble ordering paper checks for the new account, something the bank could easily fix if they realized they had the problem. A feedback mechanism in the welcome letter would provide plenty of good ideas from new customers, and the occasional headache, of course. 

3. I purchased a $99 loan package from Virgin Money in December (see Online Banking Report #150 for more info). Sadly, only four Valentines greetings made it through my spam filters yesterday. My wife (thanks, honey), HP Logoworks, the alumni association from Iowa State University, and Virgin Money. An interesting mix.


American Express Plum Card Update

By Jim Bruene on November 7, 2007 11:28 AM | Comments

As promised in its teaser print buy, American Express delivered my Plum Card invitation in the wee hours Monday morning (2:06 AM Pacific time, see screenshot below). The message, with my first and last name in the salutation, was short and sweet and directed me back to the main website to apply at <>.

It's all first class work, but the generic call-to-action surprised me a bit since I'd put my name on the "wait list" last week (see post here). I expected a more personalized invitation and link. The website doesn't appear to recognize me either (see screenshot below).

Email Invitation (1 Nov 2007)

American Express email invite for Plum Card 

Plum Card homepage (5 Nov. 2007)

American Express Plum Card homepage


E-Mailbag: InsWeb Auto Insurance

By Jim Bruene on October 8, 2007 3:59 PM | Comments

Personalization of the subject line is less common in financial services marketing. Although the technique doesn't guarantee a response lift, it's a good variable to test (note 1).

InsWeb encourages customers to review their insurance coverage every six months with an eight-minute survey that begins within the body of the email.

The company creates interest by claiming a $301 average savings on a six-month policy. If accurate, it's a great ROI on the eight minutes required to complete the online form. It would be interesting to see a bank or credit union use this technique to market other financial services, such as deposits or home equity loans.

Email Characteristics

Date: Mon. 8 Oct, 2007

Time: 3:02 PM Pacific

Subject: Bruene Auto Insurance Review

From: InsWeb Customer Care


Personalization: Subject line

Full Message

 Landing Page 


1. See our Online Banking Report on Email Marketing.


E-Mailbag: Everbank Addresses Falling Rates with Three Deposit Options

By Jim Bruene on September 25, 2007 3:51 PM | Comments (2)

With the personal finance news full of reports of falling deposit rates, EverBank strikes back with an eye-catching email overview of its high-yield deposit choices:

  • Yield Pledge Money Market
  • Yield Pledge CDs
  • FreeNet Checking

The bank's yield pledge, to always offer a rate in the top 5% nationwide, helps take the customer's mind off the actual rate itself, which may not be as high as they'd like (see screenshot below). Not that EverBank isn't competitive on rates. The bank still offers 5% APY's in a number of key deposit products including its Money Market account and most CDs. And it sweetens the pot for new customers with 3-month introductory rates of 6%.

Nicely done email with an appropriate, and eye-catching graphic, to-the-point copy, personalization, the yield pledge, and links to all the right places.  

Grade: A

Email header 

Sent: Tue 9/25/2007 2:04 PM
From: EverBank News []
To: <your email address>
Subject: 3 high-yield accounts - to fit your style

Personalization: First name in salutation

Email body

Comments (2)

Everbank's Latest Multi-Currency CD: World Energy Index

By Jim Bruene on July 17, 2007 5:18 PM | Comments

Some companies are so innovative, you take them for granted. Five that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • Yodlee: account aggregation, credit card-based bill payment, mobile banking
  • Vancity (Canada): microcredit, green banking, blogging, community involvement
  • Wells Fargo: simple expense tracker, blogging, Second Life
  • PayPal: email-based payments, confirmation via twin deposits, integration into eBay (before it was part of eBay)
  • Prosper: Social lending, open API to most of its aggregated data, groups, auction style, Facebook app (game)

These companies are all relatively famous, but one that doesn't get nearly as much press, but has long pushed forward on a number of fronts is Everbank. From its website design (here), product marketing (here), to its foreign-currency certificates of deposit (here), the Jacksonville, FL-based bank continues to shine in an increasingly crowded online space (all previous coverage here). 

My inspiration for this post (see note) was the bank's marketing email today announcing its World Energy Index CD, a multi-currency certificate pegged to the currency of four western countries with better-than-average energy resources: Norway, Canada, UK, and Australia. I have no idea if this CD is a good investment, but I do know that Everbank has proven that even the narrowest niches can be profitable using the reach of the Internet.

Everbank Email

   Date/Time received: July 17, 4:07 PM (Pacific)
   From: Everbank News []
   To: James []
   Title: A new CD with a powerful combination - energy and currencies

Customer type: Current checking account customer

Personalization: First name in salutation

Landing page: none (homepage link only) 

Other offer: Third-party investment newsletter offer (link on right-hand side goes directly to newsletter publisher, Agora Financial Publications, landing page here)

Note: I have had an account for ten years at Everbank. Therefore, I see more of their marketing material and tend to write about them more frequently.


Mobile Identity Theft Protection from Intersections

By Jim Bruene on June 21, 2007 2:31 PM | Comments

This week, I took a two-day break from writing the next issue of Online Banking Report, an update to our popular report on Credit Bureau Monitoring and Identity Fraud Protection (2002 report here), to attend the Mobile Commerce Summit

Much to my surprise, an email received today nicely integrates those two topics. The offer sent was sent with the subject, "Mobile Identity Theft Protection," and it came from WireFly an online wireless reseller where I'd previously purchased a Blackberry.   

Very interested to see the mobile connection, I looked at the full message (below), a well-crafted offer for Identity Guard services from Intersections. The seemingly to-good-to-be-true offer: a full year of credit monitoring, with SMS alerts, free of charge.

Apparently, Intersections, like PayPal and SunTrust, is using free credit report monitoring as an introduction to its full-service credit report and ID theft protection services. It's an aggressive move that has repercussions for the industry. We'll look at its strategy in detail in the new report to be published in July.

Email offer from Wirefly for mobile identity theft protection


Email: Bank of America's "Ring in the New Year" Credit Card Balance

By Jim Bruene on December 27, 2006 7:59 AM | Comments

Here's a timely email from Bank of America, inviting its credit card customers to start the year off with a 3.99% balance-transfer offer. But the savings won't last long, since the rate resets after August 2007.

Here are the specs:

  • Subject: Use your Bank of America® credit card today.
  • From: Bank of America []
  • To:
  • Product type: Credit card balance transfer
  • Offer: 3.99% through August 2007 (cash advance fee NOT waived)
  • Customer type: Mailed to current credit card customers
  • Personalization: Full name and last 4 digits of account number


Email body

Bank of America email with 3.99% credit card balance transfer CLICK TO ENLARGE

Landing page

Bank of America landing page from credit card email CLICK TO ENLARGE


Boeing Employees Credit Union Email: "BECU Gift Cards Make the Perfect Holiday Gift"

By Jim Bruene on November 28, 2006 8:51 AM | Comments

Boeing Employees Credit Union <> starts the holiday shopping season off with an email pitch for its prepaid MasterCard gift card. At $2.50 each, they are a bit less expensive than one hanging in Safeway for $4.95. However, the CU neglected to disclose dormant account fees, a significant issue with consumer advocates.

It's too bad you can't order the cards online. Ideally, members should be able to order with a single click (or two) right from within the online banking function. Maybe next year.

Screenshot (click to enlarge)

Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) email CLICK TO ENLARGE


Type: Marketing email for prepaid debit
Product: Prepaid debit cash card (MasterCard)
Offer: None (cost is $2.50 plus the cash value)
Customer Type: Sent to nonmembers
Personalization: None
Links: None
Call to action: Toll-free phone, branch


Date received: Tues 11/28/2006 6:08 AM
From: BECU []
To: Jim Bruene
Subject: BECU Gift Cards Make the Perfect Holiday Gift


  • Even if gift cards cannot be ordered online, the credit union should include a link or URL for more information. Since many email recipients will automatically go to BECU's website to purchase, it would be helpful to specifically mention the cards cannot be ordered online, and why.
  • The opt-out and CAN-SPAM disclosures could be better designed.
  • Add disclosures for any monthly fees that kick in if the value is not used by a certain date.

Chase Fails to Design Email for Outlook's Preview Pane

By Jim Bruene on November 9, 2006 9:56 AM | Comments

More than 70% of business-email users view most or all of their email messages in the preview pane.* Depending on screen size, resolution, and window sizing, the real estate available in the preview pane can be relatively small.

When designing messages, be sure to put the most important information in the upper-left corner to maximize visibility in the preview pane.

Here is a poorly designed email Chase sent to confirm posting of a credit card payment. It requires users to scroll right to view Chase's logo and log-in button. Here's how it looks on my 12-inch laptop screen running at 1024 x 768:

What not to do from Chase:

Chase email alert

Better design from Bank of America graphics flush left:

Bank of America email alert CLICK TO ENLARGE

(Note: BofA shows the last four digits of your account number; we changed them to xxxx in the screenshot above.)

Action Items
Even though it's just a routing email message, the poor layout makes it look like a phishing message. Chase could clean this up with just a few minutes of programming work. While they are at it, they should add a personal greeting and additional text disclosures to make it look less phishy. 

*For more information, read our Online Banking Report #129/139, Email Marketing for Financial Services.


Finding New Subscribers for Your Email Newsletters and Alerts

By Jim Bruene on November 6, 2006 11:03 PM | Comments

How do you convince already-registered users to sign up for your latest email newsletter? One way is to offer an incentive. Earlier this week, the Seattle Supersonics offered users the chance to win a $500 shopping spree if they logged into their account and opted-in for the latest email newsletter.

An even more effective method was demonstrated by the New York Times today in the online version of its Business Section. In the upper-right corner, the user's existing email address is shown, along with a sign-up button (see screenshot below). All it takes is a single click to begin receiving the daily DealBook email.

The newspaper also provides a link to view a sample of the newsletter, a proven strategy for increasing response, and links to its Privacy Policy and back to account preferences to change the email address.

New York Times email signup CLICK TO ENLARGE

Once users click on the sign-up button, the text is changed to a thank-you message along with a link to change email preferences (see inset above).


TrueCredit Email: "Credit is Scary"

By Jim Bruene on October 24, 2006 10:42 AM | Comments

I'm a sucker for holiday-themed messages. There's something about a big, well-timed graphic that makes an email stand out from the crowd.

Here's the latest from TrueCredit, a prolific emailer to ex-customers such as myself. I usually hear from them every week or two.

Date: Tue 24 Oct 2006 9:27 AM
From: TrueCredit []
Subject: Autumn Special: James's 3 credit scores

Personalization used: My first name in the subject and message body

TrueCredit Oct. 24 email to ex-customers CLICK TO ENLARGE


Everbank's Latest Email Newsletter

By Jim Bruene on October 12, 2006 11:20 AM | Comments

Everbank <> has been an active emailer, sending a newsletter every few months for the seven years I've maintained an account there. The newsletters have always been chock full of content, from general finance topics to detailed discussions revolving around the bank's unique currency- and commodity-related products.

The newsletter design has evolved with the times, from plain text in the 1990s to the well-designed HTML missive we received last night (see below). The short headlines letter encourages customers to click through and read the full document at the Everbank website (see End Notes).

Email Sample
Date/Time: Oct. 11, 2006, 8:59 PM (received 10:24 PM Pacific Time)
From: EverBank []
To: James
Title: Are commodities worthy? Find out in the latest EverBanker newsletter
Personalization: Dear <firstname>
Signature: EverBank Customer Care

Everbank Oct newsletter CLICK TO ENLARGE

There is little to criticize. The short email is direct and to the point. Its layout lends itself well to viewing within the preview pane. The small "did you know" box adds an element of interest, and the drop-shadow makes it stand out. 

With four major articles, it makes sense to send just the headlines and ask the reader to click through to the website to read the full article. However, the bank should use the standard convention of hyperlinking each article directly to the appropriate place on the website.

The bank does include two hyperlinks to the Web-based newsletter, a "click here" in the first paragraph and a "read it today" at the end. However, for even better usability, the bank should add a big shiny button that leads directly to the Web version.

Web-based Newsletter
The website demonstrates good usability in its layout and content. A synopsis of each article is provided on the main page and users click through to read the complete article. It's useful and well-written information, better than a lot of what you read in mainstream consumer-finance publications. We especially liked the "whatever happened to" look-back at some recent initiatives, such as Check 21, and the overview of consumer-protection laws.

As good as the newsletter is, we couldn't stop thinking that it would work much better as a blog. That way, readers could pursue subject threads and more easily peruse all that Everbank provides. The bank could also experiment with accepting comments to make the whole experience more interactive.

Overall grades:
Content: A+
Email design: A-
Website (newsletter) design: A

End Notes
Click on the following link to see a screenshot of the newsletter landing page.

Newsletter Landing Page (here's the link)



Citibank's e-Savings email

By Jim Bruene on June 21, 2006 4:24 PM | Comments

Last night, Citibank sent selected checking-account customers an email solicitation for its 4.75% APR e-Savings account. I live outside its branch network, so Citi may have elected not to send the message to customers serviced by traditional branches.

Citibank_email_esavings_with_imageThe message was direct and to the point (click on screenshot left). Citibank even included the impressive 4.75% interest rate in the message subject. The only distracting portion of the message was a garbled first word in the second paragraph. It was probably caused by incompatibilities in software rendering of the apostrophe in the first word, "there's." To avoid this type of error, make sure you proof your message in multiple email clients.

The bank continues to engender trust in its marketing messages by including the "email security" box in the upper-right corner which includes the customer's full name and last four digits of their ATM card. The security information is prominently displayed, in a blue shaded box to make it more prominent, even if the user has images blocked (see screenshot below).

The bank also includes short text messages that appear where the images would have been displayed (alt-text tags) making the message relatively readable even for users that never download the images.


Surprisingly, the landing page for the offer was a generic product page. The campaign would be much more effective if the bank had reinforced the e-Savings benefits on the landing page like it does when it advertises online (see NB March 29). Click on the following link to see a screenshot of the landing page. --JB


Landing page
(displayed when clicking on the "signup" button in the email).

Note: I tested the link on my laptop where I am not recognized as a customer and on my desktop that saves my username in a cookie. Both times I was served the same landing page (below).



Email: US Bank "Spring Clean Your Finances"

By Jim Bruene on May 26, 2006 7:18 AM | Comments

Emailmarketing_logoEvery month we receive dozens of emails from the many financial institutions where we have accounts and also, increasingly, from non-customer mailing lists at others. As part of our expanded coverage of email marketing, we plan to post many of them here. You will be able to access the entire sample collection by clicking on the "Email Archives" subject on the right-hand navigation. Alternatively, individual emails will also be filed within their pertinent product areas, in this example, "Loans & Credit" and "Personal Financial Management."

Today's message is from US Bank <>, which sent the following solid, but fairly boring financial organization email to current customers.   

Here's a screenshot of what appeared in my inbox. You can also view the clickable version by following this link


On the landing page for the "Credit Card Clean Up" link in the blue-shaded area on the right, US Bank offers a useful calculator to determine the benefit of reducing credit card debt (see below).


If you'd like to learn more about the financial email marketing, check out Email Marketing in Financial Services: Leveraging the Inbox from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Improving Your Website's Welcome Message

By Jim Bruene on March 9, 2006 2:49 PM | Comments

When your customer makes a significant purchase or signs up for online banking, make sure you take the time to send a well-designed welcome/thank-you email message. It not only helps make a good impression with your new customer, but also can pay for itself by decreasing telephone inquiries about the status of the new account. The message can also be used for SUBTLE upselling, such as a balance transfer offer for new credit card accounts.

Dell's Welcome Message

Dell_welcom_mainToday we received this message from Dell thanking us for purchasing a new PC. Even though we've been frequent Dell buyers for years, they are not taking us for granted. The welcome message includes friendly graphics and a short welcome message with an embedded link to the "order status" page (click on inset left for a closeup).

The bottom of the message, which requires scrolling for most users, contains Dell_welcome_bottomkey information for future use such as serial number, customer number, support numbers, rebate info and so on. There is also a link to purchase add-ons (click on inset right for a closeup).

Click here to download the entire email message on one screenshot.


Categories: Email Marketing, Service

Paying for Email Delivery

By Jim Bruene on February 7, 2006 12:19 AM | Comments

Stamp_spdeliveryIt appears the pay-for-delivery email model could be gaining traction with announcements by Yahoo and AOL that they plan to start levying fees of $2.50 to $10 per thousand for guaranteed delivery. According to emarketing guru Anne Holland, who believes that these fees are inevitable, the cost to send email will roughly double for most large mailers.

Her advice:

  • Make sure email addresses are accurate
  • Prune inactive addresses from your list
  • Segment your list into finer increments
  • Look into RSS feeds for some of your messaging

We'd add:

  • If you allow users to designate more than one email address, consider a nominal annual fee for the extra messages
  • Along the same lines, you may want to reconsider the policy of unlimited free email alerts; changing it to a two-tiered approach with a couple free each month or unlimited for $3-$5/month

More information:


Categories: Email Marketing

ING Direct Personalizes Emails for Security

By Jim Bruene on January 27, 2006 6:10 PM | Comments

Ingdirect_personalized_emailING Direct <> is the latest bank to move to greater personalization in order to distinguish its messages from phony phishing attempts. The bank has added the customer's first name and masked all but the last three digits of the customer's number (click on inset for a closer look).

The message at left was sent to customers to market ING's latest deposit promotion: 4.75 percent APR for new money.

Ingdirect_personalized_alertThe same technique is also used for routine account alerts (see inset right).

Note: The high-impact sales pitch for its 4.75 percent deposit promotion.

While it doesn't prevent phishers from attempting to recreate the same look (see footnote), it's an effective first line of defense. Besides, the personalized greeting is a friendler way to communicate with customers. Citibank has been using a similar approach for more than a year (NetBanker, May 30, 2005).

Citi_phishFootnote: Yesterday, we received a fake email that recreated the Citibank personalized area in the upper-right corner. The crooks just left blank the Email Security Zone in the upper-right corner, figuring many users won't look that closely at the box (click on inset for a closer look).



Everbank Reinforces Interest Rate Increase with Email

By Jim Bruene on January 17, 2006 2:07 PM | Comments

Everbank_emailThere is nothing like a long run of rate increases to make your deposit customers happier. You might as well take some credit; it probably won't be long before they move in the other direction.

So every time you raise rates, make sure to let customers know with an email message. Of course, this assumes competitive rates. If you are increasing from 0.45 percent to 0.65 percent, you probably want to keep that to yourself.

EverBank raised checking account rates Jan. 1 from 3 percent to 3.5 percent depending on balance levels. On Jan. 3, it sent an email with the subject (click on inset for closeup view):

You're earning more with EverBank - interest rates rise again!

EverBank's message is straightforward. Here's what they did right:

  • Included security graphic/link in upper-right corner
  • Kept copy concise and to the point
  • Included a chart showing rate by balance level; subtle encouragement to add funds
  • Reinforced free online banking and bill pay (underneath chart)
  • Cross-sold its Yield Pledge Money Market and CD for those looking for better rates; Yield Pledge products are guaranteed to offer a rate in the top 5 percent at
  • Included toll-free phone number
  • Signed by real person with real signature; in this case, Frank Trotter, president

And a shorter list of improvements:

  • Personalization helps make a message look genuine, but there's no personalization in the salutation: "Greetings EverBanker!"
  • Clicking through the security graphic leads to a generic page full of links to terms and conditions; the bank should create a page that specifically addresses users' security concerns, especially regarding phishing emails
  • The bank should improve its unsubscribe function; currently, it's an all-or-nothing choice triggered by sending a blank email with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line; that's easy for users, but the bank's just lost an opportunity to query the customer in more detail about what they do and don't want to receive via email
  • Weak P.S.: "The FreeNet Checking Account gives you the yields and the service you deserve. Bank on it!"

Overall, we'll give it an A-



Everbank Markets to SmartMoney List

By Jim Bruene on October 11, 2005 5:39 PM | Comments

Everban_asiancd_email_previewEverbank <> dropped an email solicitation (click on inset for closeup) to the registered users of The message featured the bank's newest specialty CD, the Asian Advantage which rewards depositors with above-market Everbank_asiancd_basket_2returns IF the dollar falls against a bucket of Asian currencies.

Last week, the Internet-only bank dropped an 8.5 x 5.5 inch postcard mailer with a similar theme. Recipients could respond by calling toll-free 800.926.4922 or going online to

This is a great example of deposit product email marketing.

  • Focuses on the unique selling benefits
  • Good graphics and copy
  • Landing page with a minimum of distracting navigation choices
  • Visible call-to-action with Apply Now! button

We like the opening sentence in the postcard better than the email (see below). With an advanced investing strategy, the direct statement of how the user will earn a profit is more understandable. However, without the results of the bank's testing, it's difficult to know which pulls a better response.

   Email: "There's a great new way to invest in the active and healthy Pan-Asia currency market."
   Postcard: "Do you want to profit if Asian currencies gain on the U.S. dollar?"

Screenshots (links will not work):

  1. Everbank's Asian CD full email
  2. Everbank Asian CD landing page
  3. Previous article on Everbank foreign-currency deposits



The CEO Spokesperson

By Jim Bruene on October 10, 2005 12:17 AM | Comments

You may have noticed the new Chrysler ads using former CEO Lee Iacocca. The company revived the 1980s ad campaign because it was so effective at the time. However, it takes an especially charismatic company leader to make a television pitch pay off. However, through email, all it takes is a good copywriter, a striking graphic or two, and an interesting message.

You have to be careful not to overuse this technique, but once a year or so, an email from the CEO/President could be an effective relationship-builder and marketing technique.

Ceo_email_networksolutionsFor example, today we received a message from the CEO of Network Solutions, the original domain-name registrar (click on the inset for a closeup). We've received hundreds of message from the company over the years, but don't recall one from the CEO before. It got our attention and we looked at it long enough to determine it was selling services we weren't interested in.

But the first goal of direct marketing is to gain attention, and this technique is a sure-fire method to do that.



Setting Flags in Electronic Bank Alerts

By Jim Bruene on August 1, 2005 12:24 PM | Comments

Inbox_flagNow that consumers are beginning to receive multiple alerts and other email messages from their financial providers, you risk the problem of "alert fatigue." It happens with any warning system. If you get too many warnings or status messages, you start to ignore them, rendering the system ineffective.

One way to make your message standout is to add a "high importance" flag to your outgoing message. In Outlook and Outlook Express, a small red exclamation point will show on the subject line in the message list (click on the inset for a larger image). In this example, the Washington State Department of Revenue added the flag when it sent password-changed alert. But it didn't add the flag when sending a routine payment confirmation.

The key to making the flag effective is to not overuse it. Don't ever put it on an advertising or marketing message. And use great restraint when attaching it to balance or confirmation messages. It's best use, might be for security-related notices such as password resets and other sporadic and relatively unusual activity.



American Express Spruces Up its Email Confirmations

By Jim Bruene on June 22, 2005 6:04 PM | Comments

American Express, long one of the savviest financial marketers, recently updated the look of its routine "payment received" email confirmation.

Amex_payment_confirmation_1It's a nice change from the typical text-only message. Key features include:
- last 5 digits of card number for verification
- account login
- balance transfer offer
- Blue Cash offer

But the "Dear Cardmember" salutation is a mistake.

With all the hysteria about phishing and email fraud, the opening should be personalized, both to differentiate itself from SPAM and to insulate cardmembers (and itself) from phishing attacks. This is especially important in a communication which includes a built-in login button, an inviting target for phishers.

American Express does provide several unique identifiers: the last 5 digits of the card number, the payment date, and payment amount. But those aren't instantly recognizable to all cardmembers. The combination of account name and the last few digits is much more effective (see Citibank article).

A  for look & feel
A- for cross sales (two offers might be a bit much)
A for self-service with five links to popular online card management functions
B- for security (last 5 digits included, but no cardholder name, no mention of how to verify the authenticity)
A- overall


If you'd like to learn more about the bank and financial services email trends, check out Email Marketing in Financial Services: Leveraging the Inbox from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Citibank Fights Fraud with Personalized Emails

By Jim Bruene on May 30, 2005 12:01 AM | Comments

Citi_secure_email_closeupIt's fitting that the financial company most targeted in phishing attacks, Citibank, would be the first to introduce a new email format that goes a long way towards helping users identify legitimate email messages.

Citi_secure_email_message The personalized emails (click on inset to enlarge) include not only the name of the recipient, but also the last 4 digits of the user's ATM card. While simple personalization with the customer name would help many users identify legitimate emails, it's far from fool-proof.

First, there's the relatively common practice of including first name and/or last names in email addresses. Also, some phishers are using direct marketing tactics and first running email addresses through various databases to append actual names and other info to the email record in order to develop a personalized pitch (see ZD-Net article).

Citibank's new email format was announced to customers through a short message on the top of the online banking screen in early May. It is also now mentioned in the bank's main FAQ page.

This is a great first step in winning back the confidence of users. Eventually email standards will evolve so that the email client will be able to readily identify legitimate emails, but that could be years in the future.

If you are considering a similar approach, you might want to let users choose the name and identifying information that appears in the personalization box. In February, we reported on a UK security initiative that took that approach.

For more information:

-- JB

Editor's Note: Citibank received an OBR Best of the Web award for this and other security features in Online Banking Report #119, "Marketing Security."


Synovate Reports Credit Card Direct Marketing Futility

By Jim Bruene on April 11, 2005 7:17 PM | Comments


Synovate reported the results of their annual tracking study of U.S. credit card solicitations. Like the number of branches, the totals just keep growing, despite the inevitable decline in their effectiveness.

In 2004, the U.S. card issuers sent a record 5.25 billion solicitations, to about 75 million households (71% of all U.S. households). It averaged 5.7 offers per month, or 70 annually. And you don't need a degree in economics to predict the results: record low response rate of 0.4%, down 2/3 from as recently as 6 years ago (1.2% response in 1998, see chart above).

It's almost surprising that the average household gets less than 6 card offers per month, we've gotten that many in a day. And no one here has responded to an offer since the last century. 

But I digress. The point is that financial services marketing departments all over the country are looking for cost-effective alternatives. If you figure traditional DM costs $1 per piece when you load in all costs, the acquisition cost has increased from $80/acct in 1998 to $250/acct in 2004. 

And thanks to the spam overload and phishing hype, it doesn't seem like email will be the answer anytime soon.

What's left? It's that captive audience called online bankers. Here is a group of customers you know extremely well, thanks to tracking their bill pay activity, and that come to you several times a week on average. Grab some of that DM budget this year and show what kind of sales you can deliver. 



eBay Personalized Email Marketing

By Jim Bruene on March 24, 2005 5:21 PM | Comments

Ebay has been on the forefront of fighting online fraud, introducing Account Guard on its toolbar in Feb. 2004 (see Online Banking Report, #105/106 and #85), as well as a number of safeguards into its service delivery over the years.

Ebay_personalilzed_email_4The auction giant recently elevated the personalization in its emails, incorporating name and eBay username, in an effort to help users recognize genuine messages.


View closeup of personalization


If you'd like to learn more about the future of financial email messaging, check out Email Marketing in Financial Services: Leveraging the Inbox from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Improving the "Look and Feel" of Bank Emails

By Jim Bruene on December 7, 2004 2:18 PM | Comments

In our most recent tests, we found great improvement in the quality and timeliness of responses to Web-based queries. However, we found that the “look and feel” of email responses left a lot to be desired. The typical bank response was a few lines of text and perhaps a link or two to general information. And because of poor choices in the FROM and SUBJECT fields, the responses looked spam like and easily overlooked.


Compare those bank messages to email responses from leading Web-based retailers and service providers such as GoDaddy, an Internet domain name registrar (screenshot below). Most savvy retailers use graphically appealing HTML messages to get their point across effectively, and when appropriate, up-sell the user on a solution that solves their problem. In the GoDaddy example below, I asked a question about website capabilities and received an excellent response along with an appropriate upsell into their $3.95/mo hosting option (see note point 4 on the screenshot below).


GoDaddy knows shows their savvy in responding to customer service inquiries. Not only is it good looking and answers my question, it arrived eight minutes after the question was submitted, beating by three minutes the expected call center hold time listed on the website. That’s how to deliver e-service, faster than alternative channels. The email response grabs your attention with a well-designed layout including the following (see corresponding numbers above):

1.      Answer to my question (at the top)

2.      A real person responding to the question

3.      Link to a privacy policy                                                                                                                  

4.      Banner to select the service upgrade about which I had inquired

5.      Phone numbers for customer support

6.      Repeat of my original question (not visible on the screenshot)          

My only major complaint with GoDaddy’s message is that it fails to identify itself in either the email From field (it used “Support”) or the Subject field (it used: “Other: One page website incident 040506-001360”). 

Bank Examples

In comparison, the typical bank response is delivered in plain text with few helpful links. Following are examples of banks responses to a general non-customer query via their websites.  

The question posed: Do you offer overdraft protection that does not charge for each advance?

Email response from Chase to a question about whether they offered no-fee overdraft protection: The speedy response, 41 minutes, answered the question correctly and concisely and provided a phone number for more information. However, there were no links in case I wanted to sign right up for the account I asked about. Score: A for service, D for sales. (09 Apr 2004)


The Future of Authenticated Email

By Jim Bruene on December 4, 2003 12:40 PM | Comments

Quick quiz. Does the icon at left represent
 (A) second prize at the state fair
 (B) bad clip art of a holiday wreath
(C) a solution to the fake email problem?

We hope the answer is C, although currently most consumers would choose A or B. The little-known icon is used by Outlook to indicate an authentic digitally signed email (see screenshot below).


Despite the recent proliferation of mass phishing, it’s a problem that is largely solvable. The technology to send and receive verifiable email messages is already robust and affordable. Receiving is a little trickier since the major webmail providers (e.g., Yahoo, Hotmail) do not currently support digitally signatures (the message is delivered with an oddball attachment). But even among Outlook users, there is little awareness of the feature. And that’s no small issue.

Since large organizations, especially financial institutions and other trusted advisors, must have a means of communicating electronically with users, it is only a matter of time before verifiable messaging becomes commonplace. Within two years, most financial institutions will add some type of authenticating code to messages so that recipients, ISPs, and spam filters will know the message is genuine (not a spoofed From address).

For users of newer versions of Microsoft Outlook and other email systems that support S/MIME, the technology is already available, though seldom used. In Outlook digitally signed messages have an icon in the upper right portion of the preview pane (see screenshot left). Curious users can click through the icon to verify the certificate. The only downside for users is a several-second delay as their PC authenticates the key.

While the use of digital signatures doesn’t completely eliminate phishing; crooks could still send fraudulent, digitally signed messages from look-alike companies, e.g., . However, it would be much more difficult, since the crook would have to obtain a fraudulent digital certificate and they would not be able to spoof the email From address.

In fact, until you provide a basic level of user education, sending signed messages could be counterproductive. Wary users, seeing an unusual message, may deem it to be a hoax. So you need to send a series of educational emails prior to implementing digitally signed messages.


Industry Initiatives

The problem has sprouted a cross-industry workgroup, <> sponsored by email solutions provider Tumbleweed Communications. The group’s first meeting was Nov. 18 in San Francisco. OBR subscriber Ken Beer, Director of Product Development of Tumbleweed, called us the next day and summarized the discussion (see below). The next meeting will take place in January in London; watch its website for details on the exact time and place.

The meeting, attended by large ISPs such as Yahoo as well as banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, discussed broad-based solutions to the problem. According to Beer, the industry is working to fight phishing both at the ISP and browser level.

Emailers would like to see controls in place at the gateway level that would verify that emails were actually sent by the company indicated in the email address. This would eliminate most phishing attempts from ever being viewed by the intended recipients.

ISP-level solutions are considered to be the best way to put an immediate end to phishing. End-user solutions will take longer to implement since many users don’t have the necessary software (e.g., later versions of Microsoft Outlook), or use webmail services that don’t currently support digitally signed email.

At press time, Yahoo announced a major initiative to block email messages with fake From addresses (the majority of unauthorized spam). Its open source Domain Key system would use a public system to verify that the email came from the domain contained in the From address. Emailers would need to sign their messages with a key. Yahoo hopes to implement the system sometime in 2004. It’s too early to tell whether the broad industry support required to make it work will materialize.                       


The Process of Verifying the Sender
(Outlook in IE 6)



Fighting Email Fraud (Part 2)

By Jim Bruene on December 2, 2003 12:24 PM | Comments

In part 1 we concluded that the combination of fraudulent emails, spoofed websites, and identity theft is perhaps the biggest assault on online banking since its invention. This is much worse than previous bouts of bad publicity, such as the dotcom bubble, which served to strengthen the bond traditional financial institutions had with their customers.

This crime wave threatens to undermine customer trust in the new medium just when it was starting to become ubiquitous in many countries. Email spoofs won’t stop customers from logging into your website to check their statement (in fact, it may give them an incentive to do so more often), but it will make users more leery of anything new you try to do, especially when marketed via email.

We think the media attention to the problem is just beginning. In 2004, we expect a mini-backlash against online finance, as customers become frustrated with the perceived lack of security of all things financial. It will blow over in 12 to 18 months as financial institutions do a much better job equipping users with security tools to monitor their own accounts  and as digital signatures or similar email authentication schemes catch on .

Banks need to accelerate consumer understanding and acceptance of online risk with an extensive education plan delivered via website and email. We’ll outline what we think needs to happen over the following two pages.


The latest fake email targeting Citi customers uses
the old contest-winner scam (posted 12/4/03).

Anti-Phishing Plan


1.       Personalize all email messages with the user’s first and last name, effectively differentiating it from most SPAM, especially the fraudulent ones.

2.       Send copies of all emails to the user’s secure online banking mailbox (if applicable), so they can verify
the authenticity of bank messages received over the Internet.

3.       Create a form for users to report suspicious emails, spam, and any other online abuse; consider providing an incentive, such as yourbank fraud fighter shirts to the first person that reports each email hoax.

4.       Post an email address for forwarding suspect emails, use autoreply to confirm all submissions, and lay out the next steps the bank will take to minimize damage.

5.       Post a special fraud/lost password hotline telephone number (if possible, different from your regular customer service number).

6.       Post FAQs covering:
* What to do if you receive a suspicious email
* What to do if you’ve inadvertently provided
   personal information to a fraudulent site
* How to report lost or stolen cards, checks,
   laptops, or password/userids
* Links to third-party resources

7.       Post copies of known frauds including the email message and screenshots of any popup windows.

8.       Develop a Security icon for your website that points to the security education area.

9.       Each time a new user signs up for online banking or opt-in email marketing, reply with an anti-phishing message detailing exactly what is and is not sent via email.

10.    Send this same message to all users at least once
per year, more often if you are being targeted by email scammers.

11.    Have a “Know the URL” contest . Users enter the URL in the box to enter the contest.

12.    Sponsor an annual “fraud-fighting” week where you enlist the branches and media to educate against all types of fraud, on and off-line, for example, in South Africa, First National Bank’s recent Card Security Week.

13.    Use full-screen educational messages at login .

14.    Help customers put a permanent button or toolbar in their browser that links to your website .



Copyright 2003 Online Banking Report (ISSN 1095-2829) is published monthly by Financial Insite, Inc., 4739 University Way NE, Suite 1002, Seattle, WA 98105, USA. Phone: +1(206) 517-5021, Fax: +1(206) 524-0351, Email:, Web: Subscriptions: US$795 per year worldwide, includes paper and electronic editions. Editor & Founder: Jim Bruene,; Business Manager: Anita Schultz;; Sr. Analyst: Margaret Quinn,; Circulation: Kate Schultz,; Webmaster: Kelsey Marshall,; Web Database: Claire Powers; Copy Editor: Jennifer Russell; Editorial Board: Bruce Bruene, The Principal Financial Group; Vera Wildauer, Cascade Bancorp. Warning!! Federal copyright law prohibits copying this report. Contact the editor for reprints or electronic rights.








PayPal has long-used this effective technique to communicate important information. After login, users are served a one-time splash screen. This screen, which was displayed after our Dec. 8 login, dealt with phishing.




Recommended Website Approachh

We firmly believe the place to deal with specific security incidents is not on the homepage, but within a defined Security Center reachable through a dedicated link and/or icon located on every page. While we applaud the unprecedented efforts to educate users about phishing threats, prominent homepage warnings go too far . It’s like draping a 12-foot banner across your brick and mortar branch that says, “Be careful, you may be robbed.”

A better approach is to develop a robust Security Area to promote general customer and employee education as well as detailing specific frauds warnings. Citibank has by far the best anti-phishing section we’ve seen .

Even more important, because general website content is not often viewed by online banking customers, are security warnings sent via email and posted in your online banking area (see PayPal above). If you feel you must call attention to the problem on your homepage, use restraint. Citibank recently added an About email fraud link in the lower right navigation area. This strikes us as an appropriate level of emphasis; although Citibank used an in-your-face banner several months ago when the first wave of fake emails hit .          


Generic Visa card phishing attempt circulate Dec. 5 aimed at anyone in the world with a Visa card. Clicking on the link takes you to a spoofed website (source:


Sample Educational Email:
Email Safety Tips

Audience: New users of online banking and/or anyone opting in to email messages or statements

From:                 Yourbank Customer Service
To:      Pat Q. Customer

Subject: Email Safety Tips

Thanks for signing up for _______. It’s important for you to be able to recognize an authentic email from Yourbank. Recently, a number of banks have reported crooks sending fake emails that look like they are from the user’s actual bank. These fake emails try to get recipients to reveal usernames/passwords, ATM card number/PIN, or credit card number/expiration date, and so on. Sometimes the emails instruct the recipient to enter the information into the body of the email, while others use popups and fake websites to collect the info.

Although Yourbank customers have not yet been targeted by this scam, you should be on the lookout for fake emails. Here are five rules for safe email banking:

1. All messages from us will be personalized with your first and last name in the body of the message.

2. Never reveal any personal information such as username and password in response to an email request, even if it looks like it’s from us. We will
NEVER ask for personal information via email.

Never log in to your account through a link provided in a suspect email, even if the message looks like it may be from us. Always go directly to <> and follow the links to log in or apply for a product.

4. When completing any online form, make sure the URL has an https:// in front of it, e.g., our login page is <;>. You will also see a locked padlock in the lower portion of the browser window.

5. A copy of each message sent to you over the Internet will be sent to your secure bank inbox, so you can always check there to verify the authenticity of an email from us.

If you receive a suspicious message, please forward it to us at If you believe you may have inadvertently given your password to an unauthorized party, notify us immediately via telephone so we can reset your password and monitor your account for suspicious activity.

Please let us know if you have any questions and thanks for banking with Yourbank.



Kim Strong
VP Online Customer Service
(888) 255-5515

Sample Educational Email:
Know-the-URL Contest

Audience: All website users

From:                 Yourbank Customer Service
To:      Pat Q. Customer

Subject: Win a Portable DVD player by knowing
              Yourbank’s Web address

To safeguard against imposters posting fake websites, called “spoofing,” it’s important for you to recognize the genuine Web address of your bank:

Sometimes, we may substitute a different “name” for the “www” portion, or we may add a filename after the “.com,” for example::

But will always be part of the Web address, also referred to as URL.

We will be calling and emailing online banking customers at random asking them to name the
Web address of Yourbank. To win, all you have
to do is reply:

For a complete list of prizes and contest rules, please follow this link:

Please let us know if you have any questions. Thanks for banking with yourbank.




Kim Strong
VP Online Customer Service
(888) 255-5515


Out of the In-Box Email Marketing

By Jim Bruene on June 6, 2003 10:16 AM | Comments (1)

Charles Schwab

Date: 5/15/03, 5:49 PM

From: Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. []

Subject: Schwab Bank mortgage offer still stands.

Schwab’s email to customers announcing its new mortgage program, featured price and performance guarantees.

  • Good offer
  • Simple and effective copy
  • Drab brown and black color theme
  • Good use of white space, but could use more graphic design and color to draw readers in.
  • Ineffective subject line, “Schwab Bank mortgage offer still stands.” What does that even mean?
  • Should be effective with current customers already loyal to the Schwab brand.

Grade: B-



Date: 5/15/03, 5:41 PM

From: Chase Credit Cards []

Subject: Requesting a credit line increase is easier
than ever!

Chase’s email fits nicely on a single screen.

Clicking through the email causes a login screen to appear. A weakness of the implementation is the URL used: after a barely noticeable redirect through , a login at  is presented. Users knowledgeable of spoofs and fraud may avoid logging into “”



  • Effective offer
  • Excellent graphics and layout
  • Confusing “from” line: Chase continues to send emails under the URL of its email service provider, Bigfoot Interactive . Although, it does a good job disguising the vendor address as much as possible, in these spam-and-fraud sensitive times, Chase needs to send emails from its own URL. 

Grade: B

DeepGreen Bank

Date: 5/15/03, 1:22 PM

From: DeepGreen Bank Security

Subject: Account Security Tips

A great overview of high-level security issues from DeepGreen Bank.


Grade: A



Date: 5/14/03, 8:59 PM

From: []

Subject: Your special VIP benefits

Expedia’s email to select customers announcing a new program with VIP email and telephone number.


  • Sometimes less is more: A nice, simple letter from the CEO can be a relief from the busy HTML spam bombard.
  • HTML was used to make the message appear more like a snail-mail letter, making it easier to read and more recognizable with the Expedia logo.
  • VIP programs are great marketing tools, just ask American Express; Expedia’s approach is well-suited for financial services companies.
  • Our only complaint is the VIP service is not carried through to the website. When I log into my account it still shows the regular contact numbers – not very convenient to have to refer back to this email for the info.                    

Grade: A

Comments (1)
Categories: Email Marketing

31 Electronic Messaging Tips to Improve Email Marketing

By Jim Bruene on February 5, 2003 7:03 PM | Comments

The email industry is still evolving so there are no firm standards. However, the following 31 tips will help you improve the results from your email marketing.



Permission rules

Internet users are increasingly saturated and frustrated with junk email. This shouldn’t be a problem for most financial institutions, at least in dealing with their own customers. Most users want to hear from their bank or credit union, especially if you craft concise, well-written missives . But for credibility, you must seek permission to send messages, and always make it easy to opt out.


Divide your messages into numerous discreet programs

Rather than having a single all-or-nothing email list, create four or five sub-topics from which customers can select. Most users will select at least one, so you’ll have a way to reach most online customers with service-related topics. As shown below, U.S. Bank currently has seven different email topics to choose from.

U.S. Bank offers several email lists segmented by user base. The three primary categories (top of screen): general, students, and small business. The bank also links to separate signups for four product-specific lists: Piper Jaffray (brokerage), public affairs, Worldperks Visa, and Harley Davidson Visa.


Work hard to get email addresses

Gather email addresses at every customer contact, especially customers not yet using online banking. Email address should be part of every order form and service request received, on- and offline. Since the average user has between 2 and 3 different addresses, your systems must be capable of handling multiple addresses as well as continual changes.


Personalize and customize

You know a lot about your customers. Use that knowledge to send personalized and customized messages. Your messages will stand out in the inbox
and demonstrate that you know what you are doing.


Leverage your Website

Every message should have links back to your Website for more information. And don’t just dump people onto your home page; direct them to an exact page (see also #28). Another nice touch is a link at the top that allows users to view the message on your Website .


Track the clicks

With traditional direct mail and mass-market advertising, you have little knowledge of how your message is working, other than reviewing order rates and unaided ad awareness numbers. With email you can track every click to see what interested folks most, and where bailed out and headed to .


You can judge an email by its cover (subject/sender)

More than two-thirds of email users decide whether to read an email by who sent it, and another one-third make their decision from the subject line; many look at both. Like the teaser on the direct-mail envelope, the subject line needs to get readers interested, and you’ve only got 45 characters at most to work with. Some experts recommend subject lines of 35 characters or less (see also, #9).


Avoid the spam filters

With more than half of users employing spam filters and an estimated 1 in 8 legitimate opt-in messages being filtered out (see Table 7, below), you want to minimize the use of spam-like words such as free, save, and special. And always avoid ALL CAPS ¾ they shout and are difficult to read. Your email vendor should be able to help you design and test messages to avoid being trapped by filters. For the do-it-yourself crowd, you can enlist the services of Assurance Systems  that will test your message against dozens of spam filters before you send it out. Costs begin at $200/mo on an annual contract.

Table 1

Non-Delivery of Email


Source: Assurance Systems, 2/03


Don’t botch the FROM line

Although we see it less now, the biggest email mistake is not including the bank name in the FROM line. It’s an absolute kiss of death for effectiveness, the equivalent of sending letters without postage. They just won’t get read. U.S. Bank wisely puts its name in the Subject, From, and Sent-From address.


Short = sweet

There is no rule of thumb for email length, but most professional messages are short, sometimes no longer than one screen, with the details presented on Web pages linked to the message (see Wells Fargo screenshot, right). Some of our favorite email lists rarely get read because there is just too much good info to absorb quickly, so the message is set aside and ultimately never read. Like a good speech, three topics are probably enough.


Be a journalist

When crafting electronic messages, think like a newspaper reporter. Present the most important facts right away, then add detail later in the message, or better yet, on a linked Web page.


Hire a copywriter

Email marketing is not the place to skimp on copywriting. If you have just 75 words to make your case, they better be good ones. Besides, with short messages, your copywriting bill will be relatively low.


Ask for the order

Make sure your messages have clear paths to the order form. Remember, many users skim messages quickly, or may not be familiar with how email links work. An order button can never hurt. We like how Wells Fargo added an order button this year to its outstanding year-end Sharebuilder message.

Wells Fargo and NetStock sent this message in Dec. 2002 and 2001. The order button was new in 2002.



Plan your responses

Before you dump 100,000 messages into the Internet, make sure you’ve prepared for the response. Answers to typical questions should be pre-written, approved, and ready to go. A quick response to a question is very impressive when users are accustomed to waiting days for answers. And make sure someone (with appropriate backup staff) constantly monitors any email address given out.


Seek professional help

Electronic messaging is not rocket science, but you can make your messaging efforts much smoother by enlisting the services of a specialized email service provider . Service providers will automate much of the tedious maintenance efforts such as resends, bounceback maintenance, and opt-out requests so you can concentrate on making the messages better.


Proofread on screen and off

We learned this one the hard way. Proof each message three ways: on-screen, printed hardcopy, and then after sending it to your email account. It’s amazing the things you’ll catch on the second and third round of proofing.


Plain text is always required

Even if you are using HTML as your primary message format, you’ll always need to prepare and proof a plain-text version for those who can’t read HTML in their email client. And some customers who can handle HTML prefer text, so give them the choice. Make it easy for customers to change their email preferences.


Test HTML across different email clients

You’ve heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating. Send your prospective message to a variety of email clients to make sure it works properly. At minimum test Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Navigator, and AOL. Your email service provider can handle this task for you.


No attachments

Don’t use attachments unless it’s to deliver account-related data requested by the customer, for example, statements or check images.


Less is more

Don’t barrage customers with too many messages. Once per week for general educational or marketing content is the absolute maximum. Monthly is probably better, except for user-selected account-related information.


Open a dialogue

Don’t just talk AT your customers; they get plenty of that through other media. Establish a dialogue with customers and use the interaction to strengthen the relationship. Invite users to check out your Web, ask questions, give opinions, but be prepared to keep up your part of the dialogue with fast, well-crafted responses. Wells Fargo has included five separate feedback mechanisms in its most recent WellsWire, its monthly general email letter.


Get noticed with rich media

Every once in a while, snazz up your message with an audio or video treat. We loved ModemMedia’s holiday greeting, which featured sound and animated graphics paired with a custom message at the end.


Timing counts

Although every rule of thumb should be tested, the conventional wisdom is that Tuesdays through Thursdays are best for reaching customers at work, reserve Saturday and Sunday emails for home users.  Many experts recommend sending messages late in the workday so they needn’t compete with the morning clutter.


Test and measure everything

Like any direct medium, your long-term success depends upon continual testing of every aspect of every communication to see if it can be improved. Since most responses occur within 48 hours, you can test and alter much faster than with other advertising methods.


Provide contact information

Each message should include a customer service phone number, email address, and link to self-service areas of your Website.


Explain why it was sent

Include a short statement as to why customers are receiving the message, and how to opt-out or in (for those receiving it from a forward).


HTML gets noticed

Although studies differ in their results, HTML appears to be pulling ahead of plain text in terms of effectiveness. For example, DoubleClick/DartMail found that in Q3 2002, HTML click-through rates were nearly twice that of plain-text (11.3% vs. 6%). If you want more click-throughs and sales, use HTML. If you want the least amount of problems, use plain text.

Table 2

Email Marketing Performance

based on 2+ billion messages sent by DartMail in Q3 2002


Source: DoubleClick/DartMail, 11/02


Ensure a good landing

An effective email marketing campaign includes a specialized Website landing page that supports the teaser email copy and converts prospects into buyers. You should NOT use your home page for the landing unless your offer is obvious AND you have tracking in place to distinguish regular visitors from those visiting due to your direct-marketing efforts.


Get whitelisted

Major ISPs are in a high-stakes battle with spammers. One technique is to bar commercial emails from companies that are not preapproved on the ISPs so-called whitelist, a list of companies that are preapproved to send email without being subject to spam filters. If you outsource email distribution, make sure your provider is whitelisted. If you handle email in-house, you must take the imitative to become whitelisted at major ISPs (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, Earthlink, etc.). As of Feb. 11, the following can be used to request whitelist status:

  • AOL: (703) 265-4670
  • Yahoo:


Monitor the black lists

Even if you are on the whitelist today, you may be on a blacklist tomorrow. Anti-spam vigilantes are aggressive and even the best intentioned, double opt-in marketers will find themselves on blacklists from time to time. You are guilty until proven innocent, so it’s up to you to get yourself off the blacklists. Again, this is another service email vendors can provide .


Monitor message delivery

As the battle against spam rages, collateral damage to legitimate opt-in marketers is increasing. To make sure your messages get through, you should have two test accounts at each major ISP. One account set with filtering on, the other with filtering off. Even if your email vendor monitors delivery, we recommend test accounts as an added safeguard.  Assurance Systems can help in this area as well (see #8).         

Categories: Email Marketing

Top 3 Holiday Emails Received from Financial Providers

By Jim Bruene on January 9, 2003 6:18 PM | Comments

Following are three of the best emails we received from financial providers in December.





Wells Fargo/ShareBuilder


For the second year in a row, our favorite holiday email came from NetStock’s ShareBuilder on behalf of co-branding partner Wells Fargo. The message was sent to existing Sharebuilder customers in mid-December (Dec. 16). Last year the message went out 2.5 weeks earlier on Nov. 28. We like the earlier timeframe. By Dec. 16, much of the target market has already made major holiday-purchase decisions, especially those shopping online.*

The superb image of a young child was from the same photo shoot, although a slightly different pose. We preferred the 2001 version with the text wrapped around the image, but that’s a minor issue.

Copy was very similar with the same short-and-sweet approach. However, the overriding call to action in 2002 was the more understandable Give the gift of stock rather than last year’s convoluted, Start a new holiday tradition with Wells Sharebuilder Investment Gift Accounts for children.

The main design improvement this year was the addition of an “open an account” button, an important design element in an HTML email whose recipients may not know that you can simply click through to the site.

The offer remained the same with a $25 bonus for accounts started before January 15, 2003 (last year the deadline was Dec. 31, 2002).


*We were still ordering from Amazon on Dec. 20, not the most cost-effective approach, but it worked.





If you haven’t graduated to HTML email, it’s a little harder to make an impression in the holiday inbox. Everbank puts a holiday greeting in its Dec. 19 email heading, “Your Everbanker Online. Happy Holidays and More!”

However, those opting to view the entire message on the bank’s Website found no real holiday message or graphics, just a self-congratulatory discussion of the bank’s acquisition by First Alliance Bank (see screenshot below).

The merger was understandably top-of-mind for customers and employees alike, but the bank shouldn’t have sent a merger communication with a holiday header.





The coolest holiday greeting by far came, not surprisingly, from interactive advertising agency ModemMedia. My personalized greeting was from Dan Springer, an early marketing whiz at NextCard, who departed before its fall from grace.

ModemMedia does everything right. First, the HTML message is very simple with a blue background that jumps out from the inbox. The main graphic is small, so even if the user’s email preview pane is relatively small, the entire image can be seen.

Clicking through to the special Web site (try it yourself at ), the user is treated to a 30-second interactive holiday message that accomplishes the agency’s goal, making you want to do business with a company savvy enough to craft such an elegant greeting.

Categories: Email Marketing

Online Banking Email Response Tests

By Jim Bruene on January 2, 2000 2:12 PM | Comments

The Not-So-Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  •  30% of routine questions submitted via Webmail to top 20 banks were completely ignored
  •  80% of routine questions emailed to at the top 20 banks were completely ignored
  •  only 5 of 91 financial institutions (5%) used an emailed autoresponse
  •  only 3 out of 91 financial institutions (3%) answered our email query about setting up an IRA
  •  only 7 of 131 queries (5%) were actually answered, and 2 of the 7 answers came by snail mail, one 19 days later
  •  only 18 queries of 131 (14%) received any kind of response (including autoresponses) within 24 hours
  •  from the better-late-than-never department, Washington Mutual had the slowest response with a mailed packet 19 days after our Webmail inquiry; but it was postmarked 2 days before runner-up Citicorp’s phone call on day 17

Source: Online Banking Report 12/99; tests conducted 10/99 and 11/99


No wonder consumers aren’t flocking to online banking; if you can’t respond to basic email questions, will your customers trust you with a $2,000 funds transfer? Here’s a simple fix that would put you ahead of 86 of the 91 financial institutions tested: program your server to deliver an autoresponse to any email referring users to the proper email address or Web-based form. How the Tests were Conducted

OBR research manager, Margaret Quinn, conducted the test during Oct. and Nov. 1999. Using a MSN dial-up account, she anonymously sent 131 Webmail or email* inquiries to 91 U.S. financial institutions. The test results can not be used to make valid statistical projections. Sample sizes were too small, and we purposely avoided following the instructions on the


bank’s Web site (except as noted). We were merely trying to illustrate our point, that most financial institutions are not putting enough thought and resources into the critical area of email support.

Email Test Flights

Type of Survey



1. Top 20 banks: Webmail



2. Top 20 banks: email



3. Top 20 banks: email



4. Top 100 banks: email



5. Banks outside top 100: email



6. Credit Unions



Source: Online Banking Report, tests conducted 10/99 and 11/99

*IRA (individual retirement account) is a deposit/savings account that receives special tax treatment in the U.S.; we used it as our test subject because it is somewhat out of the ordinary.


*Except for survey #1 using Webmail, the test procedure was to send email to generic addresses, info@(bank).com and customerservice@ (bank).com; if those emails bounced (were returned as undeliverable), the bank failed the test. However, after a bounced email we did what many users would do, we went to the bank’s Web and followed instructions on contacting customer service. Results of those Web inquiries are listed but are not included in results.

Top Performers in Each Flight

Source: Online Banking Report, 12/99; tests conducted in Oct. and Nov. 1999

*Our researcher had an account at U.S. Bank, so the response time is not necessarily comparable with other banks surveyed.


Top-Line Results from Each Survey

Who Contacted


All Responses
(email unless noted otherwise)

Response Rates

Response Times

Survey #1

Top 20 retail banks contacted via Web site form/ instructions

“I am relocating to (your city) soon and would like checking account information including pricing.”

Sent: 10/8 to 10/11/99

Friday through Monday (holiday weekend)

1. Sun Trust, 9.5 hours

2. U. S. Bank, 11 hours (A)

3. National City, 12.75 hours

4. Bank of NY, 13.5 hours

5. Key Bank, 16.75 hours

6. Bank Boston, 22.5 hours (A)

7. Bank of America, 28 hours

8. Wells Fargo, 51 hours

9. Firstar, 61 hours

10. Chase, 80 hours

11. Fleet, 96 hours

12. Wachovia, 120 hrs. by mail (A)

13. Citicorp, 408 hrs. (17 days) (A)

14. Washington Mutual, 456 hrs. (19 days) by mail (A)

n = 20

Yes with answer 5 (25%)

Yes w/o answer 9 (45%)

Any response 14 (70%)

No 6 (30%)


24 or less 6 (43%)

24 to 48 1 (7%)

48 to 72 2 (14%)

72 to 96 2 (14%)

96+ 3 (21%)

Survey #2

Top 20 retail banks contacted via email to info@(bank)*

“I would like current rates for 6 months and for one year for a $10,000 CD.”

Sent: Thursday, 11/4/99

1. PNC, 2 hours (A) link to rates

2. Fleet, 25 hours

3. Wachovia, 91 hours

4. SunTrust, 106 hours

n = 20

Yes with answer 1 (5%)

Yes w/o answer 3 (15%)

Any response 4 (20%)

No 16 (80%

n = 4

24 or less 1 (25%)

24 to 48 1 (25%)

48 to 72 0

72 to 96 1 (25%)

96+ 1 (25%)

Survey #3

Top 20 retail banks contacted via email to info@(bank)*

“I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Sent: Monday, 11/8/99

1. Wachovia, 18 hours

2. SouthTrust, 21 hours

3. PNC, 23 hours

4. Fleet, 25 hours

n = 20

Yes with answer 4 (20%)

Yes w/o answer 0 (0%)

Any response 4 (20%)

No 16 (80%)

n =4

24 or less 3 (75%)

24 to 48 1 (25%)

48 to 72 0

72 to 96 0

96+ 0

Survey #4

Random banks in top 100 but not in top 25 contacted via info@(bank)*

“I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Sent: Monday, 11/29/99

1. Dime Savings, 17 minutes

2. Pacific Century Financial, 3 hours

3. Harris Bank, 8 hours

4. Zions Bank, 73 hours

n = 25

Yes with answer 0 (0%)

Yes w/o answer 4 (16%)

Any response 4 (16%)
No 21 (84%)

n = 4

24 or less 3 (75%)

24 to 48 0

48 to 72 0

72 to 96 1 (25%)

96+ 0

Survey #5

Random small banks outside the top 100, contacted via info@(bank)*

“I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Sent: Monday, 11/29/99

1. NetBank, 18 hours (A- don’t offer

2. Independent National Bank,
42.5 hours

3. First Federal of the South,
166.5 hours

n = 22

Yes with answer 1 (5%)

Yes w/o answer 2 (9%)

Any response 3 (14%)
No response 19 (86%)

n = 3

24 or less 1 (33%)

24 to 48 1 (33%)

48 to 72 0

72 to 96 0

96+ 1 (33%)

Survey #6

Random credit unions contacted via info@(cu)*

“I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Sent: Monday, 11/29/99

1. Arkansas FCU, 16.5 hours n = 24

Yes with answer 0 (0%)

Yes w/o answer 1 (4%)

Any response 1
No 23

n = 1

24 or less 1 (100%)

Total     n = 131

Yes with answer 7 (5%)

Yes w/o answer 23 (18%)

Any response 30 (23%)
No 101 (77%)

n = 30

24 or less 15 (50%)

24 to 48 4 (13%)

48 to 72 2 (7%)

72 to 96 4 (13%)

96+ 5 (17%)

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. (A) Indicates the question was answered in the response.


# 1: Top 20 Banks – Webmail for Checking Account Information*


Home Page Contact Button?

Response Time


Bank of America


Immediate “thank you for contacting us” with promise to contact in two business days.
28 hours: Email response with referral to the Web site to review account information. Signed by rep.
Bank of New York

No (access via product pages)

13.5 hours: Email response asking for postal address or that I call 800 number for faster service. Signed Telebank Sales & Service.  
Bank One


no response  


22.5 hours: Email response with complete checking information attached. Signed by rep.  


80 hours: Email response with referral to the 24-hour sales center at 800 number. Signed by rep. Site promised answer in 48 hours.


408 hours (17 days) after request: Personal phone call from sales rep to explain product options. Well done; home page leads to contacts area organized by subject.
First Union


Immediate pop-up thank-you promising answer in 24 hours. No other response.


31 minutes: Email autoresponse promised answer in 72 hours, encouraged use of phone/fax for immediate answer.
61 hours: Personal email response saying brochures being mailed. Signed by rep.
Brochures not received yet.
Fleet Financial Group


96 hours: Email response suggesting the 800 number for the most complete information.  

Yes (not clear but present)

16.75 hours: Email response with referral to the nearest Key Center.  
Mellon Bank

Yes (called Feedback)

Immediate pop-up thank-you promising info “soon.” No other information received.
National City


12.75 hours: Email response with referral to sales 800 number. Signed by rep.  
PNC Bank


no response  
Republic Bank


Immediate pop-up thank-you after request submitted. No other response.


no response Only contact information was phone number. Email to “info@” on Home Page has not received a response.
Sun Trust Bank


9.5 hours: Email response listed the states where the bank operates. Signed by rep.  
U. S. Bancorp


11 hours: Response with complete answer to request. Signed by rep.  


Immediate pop-up thank-you promising an answer within 3 business days.
5 days after request: Information was mailed within 48 hours of request. Signed cover letter from rep.
Washington Mutual


Immediate autoresponse promising info in 5-7 days.
456 hours (19 days) after request: Packet of account information with application to mail in (letter dated 3 days after request) was postmarked 15 days after request.
Wells Fargo

No (access via Personal Accts)

51 hours: Email response asking me to call Product Specialists at 800 number.  

*Question: “I am relocating to [your city] soon and would like checking information including pricing.”

Webmails submitted Oct. 8 through Oct. 11, 1999, a holiday weekend.


# 2: Top 20 Banks – Email for CD Rates*



Response time


Bank of America


no response  
Bank of New York


no response  
Bank One


no response  


no response  


23.5 hours: Email response with detailed rate information for that day and referral to 24-hour Sales Center 800 number because rates are subject to change. Signed with a rep’s name. not operational, inquired via Web


no response  
First Union


no response  


no response  
Fleet Financial Group


25 hours: Email response with referral to 800 number for Product Specialist assistance. Did not answer the question.  


no response  
Mellon Bank


no response  
National City


no response  
PNC Bank


2 hours: Email response with link to the Web location for rates. Signed with rep’s name. email to
Republic Bank


no response  


no response  
Sun Trust Bank


106 hours: Email referral to 800 number since rates varied by city. Signed by rep.  
U. S. Bancorp


no response  


91 hours: Email referral to 800 number because rates subject to change; apologized for the inconvenience. Also provided email address and phone number for online banking. Signed by a rep.  
Washington Mutual


no response  
Wells Fargo


23 hours: Email response with requested rates. not operational, inquired via Web

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. (A) Indicates the question was answered in the response.

Question: “I would like the current rates for 6 months and for one year for a $10,000 CD.”

Date sent: Thursday, Nov. 4, 1999



# 3: Top 20 Banks – Email for SEP/IRA Information*



Response time


Bank of America


no response  
Bank of New York


no response  
Bank One


no response  


no response  


65 hours: Email referral to Retirement Investment Center phone number with hours. Signed by rep. not operational, inquired via Web


no response  
First Union


no response  


no response  
Fleet Financial Group


25 hours: Canned response email “forwarded your query to the appropriate Fleet department.” No further response.


no response  
Mellon Bank


no response  
National City


no response  
PNC Bank


23 hours: Email response referred to the IRA department 800 number. Signed by rep. Sent to
Republic Bank


no response  


21 hours: Email response with 800 number for IRA department. Signed by a rep.  
Sun Trust Bank


no response  
U. S. Bancorp


no response  


18 hours: Email response with referral to Investment Department 800 number.  
Washington Mutual


no response  
Wells Fargo


no response not operational, inquired via Web

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. (A) Indicates the question was answered in the response.

Question: “I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Date sent: Monday, Nov. 8, 1999


# 4: Random 25 of Top 100 Banks (excluding top 20) – Email for SEP/IRA Account Information*




Bank United


no response
CCB Financial


no response
Commercial Federal


no response
Compass Bank


no response
Dime Savings Bank


Immediate pop-up thank-you promising info “shortly”.

9 minutes: email confirmation of receipt.

17 minutes: Email thank-you “forwarding request to Investor Relations” (oops?). Listed email address and 800 number for Online Banking, signed by rep.

Fifth Third Bancorp


no response
First Security Bank


no response
First Tennessee


no response
Greenpoint Bank


no response
Harris Bank


8 hours: Email response forwarding my email to an Investor’s Direct representative and listing the 800 number for that department. Signed by a rep.
Hibernia Bank


no response


Immediate response forwarding inquiry to Sales Department.

15 minutes: Email promising response in 48 hours.

6 hours: Response from Sales asking for a phone number and convenient time to call. Signed by a rep.

LaSalle National


no response
Michigan National


no response
North Fork Bancorporation


no response
Northern Trust


Immediate pop-up promising that someone would contact me “shortly”. No further response.
Old Kent Financial

Web & email

Web site information request failed twice after completely filling out form; returned message: “!!Nothing To Do: Nothing given to process!!”.

No response to email to .

Pacific Century Financial


3 hours: Email forwarded to Investment department . Signed by rep, included all possible 800 numbers and sites.

170 hours: Email from Investment Consultant with a phone number to call. Signed by rep.

People’s Bank


no response
Sanwa Bank California


no response
Summit Bank


41 hours: Email response describing the requirements for a SEP/IRA. Note listed the states in which the Web site products are available. Listed the email address and 800 # for further help from the Call Center. Memo from rep.
TCF Financial


no response
Union Bank


Immediate pop-up.

16 minutes: Email acknowledgment of note with response to follow, listed bank links.

81 hours: Email response with Retirement Plan Center 800 number, the Union Direct Banking 800 number, and a listing of high probability links at their Web site. Signed “Union Direct Banking.”

Union Planters


no response
Zions Bancorp


73 hours: Email asked that I call an 800 number and speak to a new-accounts person at a local branch.

Source: Online Banking Report, 12/99

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. (A) Indicates the question was answered in the response.
Question: “I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.” Date: Monday, Nov. 29, 1999

# 5: Community Banks – Email for SEP/IRA Account Information*




1st Source Bank


no response
Alpine Bank


Immediate thank you.
190.25 hours: request for mailing address to send materials. Signed by rep.
Bank of Bentonville


no response
Bank of Versailles


no response
Citizen’s Bank USA


no response
Dollar Bank


no response
Eva Bank


no response
Farmers State Bank


no response
First Federal of the South


166.5 hours, email referring me to the Pension and Benefit Trust Co. 800 number. Signed by a rep.
First National Bank of Kearney


no response
Hale County State Bank


64 hours: Email with current rates and reference to 800 number. Signed by a rep.
Independent National Bank


42.5 hours: Email response asking if there was a specific question regarding IRAs. Signed by a rep.
Kentucky National Bank


no response
M and T Bank


no response


18 hours: Email response, do not offer product. Signed by a rep.
Pavilion Bank


no response
Riggs Bank


408 hours (17 days): Email response requesting phone number so Customer Care Specialist could call. Not signed. Also received three emails directed to other customers, including their names, but no acct. info.
Security State Bank


no response


no response
United Bank


no response
Vista Bank


no response
Wilson Bank


no response

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. (A) Indicates the question was answered in the response.

**Community Banks were chosen at random from the database of True Net Banks posted on OBR’s Web.

Question: “I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.” Date: Monday, Nov. 29, 1999


# 6: Credit Unions – Email for SEP/IRA Account Information*

Name Type* Response time Comments
America’s First FCU
email no response  
Arkansas Federal CU
email 16.5 hours: Email asking that I call Arkansas number to discuss IRAs. Signed by a rep.  
Bestsource CU
email no response  
Cambrian CU
email no response  
Capital CU
email no response  
Commonwealth CU
email no response  
Decibel CU
email no response  
Educators CU
email no response  
First Community CU
email no response  
General Council CU
email no response  
Heartland CU
email no response info@ email returned; customerservice@ went through.
Island Federal CU
email no response  
Kraft Food FCU
email no response  
Landmark CU
email no response  
March Community CU
email no response  
Mutual CU
email no response  
Orange County FCU
email no response  
Pentagon Federal CU
email no response  
Philips FCU
email no response  
Regional Federal CU
email no response  
San Diego County CU
email no response  
Southern Security FCU
email no response  
Suffolk Federal CU
email no response  
Western Federal CU
email no response  

*If email to info@(bank) was returned as undeliverable, a second email was sent to customerservice@(bank); if that was also returned, the request was made at the Web site. Our email didn’t include any info. that would have allowed the credit union to determine if we were a member or eligible for membership.

Question: “I would like information for setting up a SEP/IRA.”

Date: Monday, Nov. 29, 1999


Categories: Email Marketing

E-Service : Email us When it’s Fixed

By Jim Bruene on December 6, 1999 1:07 PM | Comments

Now that you’ve made it safely into the next millennium, we have a suggestion for where to reassign those resources: email service. You know the old saying, “You have only one chance to make a first impression.” We’d like to coin a digital equivalent, “You have only one chance to answer the first email quickly.” Why do companies spend hundreds of thousands or more on a Web site, then choose not to respond to email requests for information? It doesn’t compute.

During the summer of 1999, we tested the email service of U.S. financial institutions. The results were terrible. Chalking it up to the learning curve and summer vacations we decided not to publish the results. We repeated the test this fall and found little, if any, improvement.

Banks, large and small, seem to have taken the easy way out, simply
ignoring routine email requests. We expected that credit unions with their reputation for stellar service, would do better. Just the opposite. In our
Nov. 29 test, only one responded to our email query, Arkansas Federal CU (Little Rock, AK; $200 million; 46,000 members); 23 did not.

Email Response Results: Top 20 U.S. Banks

  •  30% of questions submitted via Webmail went unanswered/unacknowledged
  •  80% of questions sent via email went unanswered/unacknowledged
  •  only one of 40 emails sent (2.5%) received an actual answer, most were referred to a toll-free number
  •  only 15% of routine email questions about CD rates received an actual answer
  •  0% of questions about setting up an SEP/IRA received an actual answer

Source: Online Banking Report, 12/99; tests conducted in Oct./Nov. 1999; the sample size was very small so results are not statistically reliable; but these results are similar to those found by other research companies and are in-line with a similar study we conducted in June/July 1999.

The good news: Even if you haven’t started your e-service initiative, you have a very real opportunity to establish an edge on the competition in an area that matters to early adopters and newcomers alike: service.

Customer service is one of those topics that engenders passionate calls to action at the staff meeting, but little follow-through. Why? Because it’s hard to do, expensive, and difficult to measure. But if you expect to become a top Web-based company, you better start paying a lot of attention to
the subject.

You won’t be alone. International Data expects the market for customer service automation to grow tenfold from just under $30 million in 1998 to $342 million worldwide in 2003. Frankly, that projection looks low to us, but it depends on whether companies build from scratch in-house or buy turnkey solutions from Web specialists. We expect the latter approach to be most popular, especially for banks, where Web building is not a core competency.

The simplest approach for many banks, is to wait and let their software platform vendor integrate appropriate customer service tools. But if you want to be a leader, you may need to drive a portion of e-service development yourself. To assist, we’ve compiled a list of e-service vendors

Before you knock out an RFP (request for proposal) for a suite of e-service tools, make sure you’ve got your own house in order. The most important area doesn’t require fancy HTML or cgi scripts. The number one thing you can do today, tomorrow and into the future, is to answer email queries quickly and completely. This has more to do with people than technology. Though technology can help you do it far more cost effectively. At right is a list of the top eight e-service priorities.

Eight E-Service Priorities



Why Important

Email service -- outbound Low balance notification, deposit confirmation, balance summaries VIFI reports that users visit its CU client Webs nearly 20 times per month; while that looks good on your traffic reports, you are wasting your customers’ time when a simple email summary could accomplish the same thing.
Email service -- inbound Answering customer inquires For wired customers, their impression of you will be based on your ability to respond in a timely fashion to email questions.
Email auto-response Automated confirmation of emails received It’s free, it’s easy, it’s expected. Let users know you received their question and are working on it.
E-service integration into CIF Email correspondence and customer preferences are stored and accessible to reps Increasingly, users will be frustrated with companies that can’t remember the details of their last application or problem.
Email service standards Share your service standards with users, especially the expected time to respond to email questions Demonstrate your commitment to e-service; drive customers to preferred service channels such as Webmail by offering much quicker response times if the Web-based form is used.
Email response tracking A senior rep acts as a virtual traffic cop forwarding emails to the appropriate person. and making sure each is answered quickly It’s a significant quality issue; if you don’t have someone tracking emails and responses, too many are going to fall through the cracks.
Automated email processing; response templates Intelligent agents filter email queries and help develop responses To stay competitive cost-wise, you’ll need to automate your email service center.
FAQs “owned” by e-service dept. Assign FAQ maintenance and improvement to the e-service dept. with real-time update authority. Win-win-win situation: Better online help makes self-service easier for customers, improves job satisfaction for reps, and reduces customer service costs for the company.

Categories: Email Marketing

Use Fee Email Forwarding to Your Advantage

By Jim Bruene on March 4, 1998 1:14 PM | Comments

Use Non-Financial Content Areas to Support Your Online Strategies with Free Email: Forwarding

If free email is a bit ambitious for your budget, or you are concerned with the customer service issues, consider a much simpler program that offers many of the same benefits. An email forwarding service allows users to create an email address pointed to your server. But instead of storing the email on your site, your server automatically redirects it to any location selected by the user. Then if the user changes their Internet service provider they don’t have to change email addresses. They simply inform your server and the mail is automatically rerouted. The advantage for you is that users could be required to maintain an account in order to retain the free forwarding services.

Technically, it doesn’t take a whole lot to implement free email forwarding. The biggest challenge is explaining the benefits to users. As in number 11 above, the domain name used to create email identities should appeal to your target market, e.g. .

A couple other suggestions:

  • Post a privacy statement explaining that you will not be able to view emails forwarded through your servers.
  • Offer the service advertising-free to differentiate it from other forwarding services.
  • When users register for the forwarding service, offer a checklist of information they can request from you via email.

Send and Receive Free Emails

By Jim Bruene on March 3, 1998 10:37 AM | Comments

Use Non-Financial Content Areas to Support Your Online Strategies with

Free Email: Send and Receive


Yahoo promotes its email service when
searching on “free email.”

One of the hotter areas online is “free email” Web sites. The largest of the group, Hotmail purchased in January by Microsoft for $400 million, is registering 80,000 new users each day. These Webs allow users to set-up a unique email address, such as, and then send and receive email directly from that Web site at no charge. Banner ads and other forms of promotion foot the bill for the email services. Users must still purchase Internet access elsewhere.


Building Killer Non-Financial Content

Last month we identified three important guidelines to follow when planning non-financial content for a financial institution Web site.

1. Only build what you can realistically keep

2. Make it relevant to your audience (think local, local, local!).

3. Use only content that supports a business goal/strategy, otherwise it will get trashed
during the next budget-setting cycle.

This month we add four corollaries:

1. Keep it Simple: Save the fancy bells and whistles for the core banking functions. Non-financial content should be easy to use, easy
to digest, and memorable. Complicated
programs detract from your core online
services: data delivery, customer service, and
loan rates/applications.

2. Outsource Whenever Practical: Save your in-house talent and energy for maintaining and improving core function and customer service. Non-financial content can be purchased cost effectively from content specialists or contracted out to interns or consultants.

3. Display Non-Financial Content Only to Interested Users: Ask users what they want
to see, and use cookies to keep the superfluous material from being shown. For instance, 30-something users shouldn’t see the links to your seniors travel club.

4. Consider Leveraging Non-Financial Content into Standalone Kiosks: With the cost of PC hardware plummeting, the business case for delivering Web services over kiosks is improving. Non-financial content could attract users to your kiosk. For example, imagine a kiosk located in the local mall adorned with signage inviting passerbys to check out the four-day weather forecast. You could build bridges from non-financial content to your banking services.

Users usually have free email bundled with their Internet service, so why would anyone subject themselves to numerous advertising pitches in order to use free email at these sites?

  •  Email Address for Life: No matter where you work, or where you purchase Internet access, your HotMail email address stays with you.
  •  Better/Disguised Email Address: Many users would prefer not to disclose their employer, university or ISP within their email address. Email addresses such as meet that need.
  •  Privacy: Users accessing the Internet from their company’s machines can use the email services at HotMail to keep their email off the corporate servers where it could potentially be read.
  •  Simplicity: During the past two weeks I visited with two new Web users who were successfully using the Web but were frustrated because they couldn’t use services that required an email address. As far as these users were concerned, they didn’t have an email address. Of course, they did have one, they just didn’t know how to use it. Heavily promoted free email services with simple, intuitive user interfaces can snag new users before they learn how to use the email in their browsers.
  •  Public Terminal Users. The growing number of users accessing the Web from Internet cafes, Kinko’s, and other public venues, need email.
  •  Travelers. Travelers accessing the Internet from a variety of places may find a central Web-based site the most convenient method of staying on top of their email.

Financial institutions could offer “advertising free” email on their Webs. Free email could be a standalone function designed to draw traffic, or it could be partitioned off within your online banking service, augmenting the standard “email the bank” function. Either way, users would register, select an email identity and password, then send and receive email directly from your site. For maximum appeal, select a generic domain name such as Be sure to incorporate anti-spam functions such as a limit on the number of recipients for each email message.

A number of licensing sources are available for the email software. The largest providers are listed in the table to the left, others are available on Yahoo! .

and .


Security First Network Bank Tests Credit Card Email Marketing

By Jim Bruene on January 25, 1997 1:42 PM | Comments

Security First Network Bank (Atlanta, GA; 8,000 customers) reported a 16% response rate to its November test solicitation for its new credit card (see OBR 11/96 p.19 for a complete description of the new card). An E-mail was sent to 1,000 of SFNB’s top customers (hmmm…I didn’t get one) inviting them to apply; 160 did. While this statistic has no bearing on what SFNB or anybody else will get in a “real” credit card marketing solicitation, it’s nevertheless promising. When was the last time you achieved a 16% response to a marketing campaign of any sort? Michael Karlin is President, 404.679.3201,


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