Email Samples Archives

Transaction Alerts Need to Get Smarter

By Jim Bruene on February 18, 2015 4:52 PM | Comments
fraud word cloud.jpgMy inbox is far from normal. With 25 active financial accounts, all set to maximum notifications, I am drowning in email alerts, push notifications and other helpful communications. But who isn't overloaded with missives from social media, news feeds, spambots and whatever else is competing for your attention.

Banks need to help users cut down on the noise, by offering smart alerts that don't bog you down in trivial details. Not to pick on anyone in particular, because all my providers do pretty much the same thing (with the notable exception of BillGuard), but this alert from Bank of America today (see below) is a good example of info overload. 

Yes, I'm sure I asked the bank to notify me of any card-not-present transactions. Given the amount of times my card number has been breached in the past five years, it's a good early warning. But really, do you think it's necessary to tell me for the 89th consecutive month that you paid my $8.75 Netflix monthly fee? Really, I just want to be informed if it suddenly increased or showed up twice in the same month. 

BofA would probably want my permission to stop sending me this monthly alert. So how about a little button that says, "Don't tell me about this charge if it's the same next month," or something along those lines. And this should also be an option in the bank's alert dashboard (e.g., "Don't alert me to repetitive monthly fees, unless they change"). 

Thanks for listening. 


Bank of America email alert (18 Feb 2015)



Source: Fraud artwork above from NCUA's MyCreditUnion 


Capital One's Well-Designed "Suspicious Activity" Email Alert

By Jim Bruene on January 5, 2015 2:47 PM | Comments

image I've used Capital One's credit card fairly actively for nearly five years. And they've rarely, if ever, declined a charge (and there has never been any fraud on the card). The last fraud message I can find in my email was in December 2011 (see last screenshot). But apparently, our frequent travel combined with extra holiday spending, finally caused the banks' fraud system to flag our account, rejecting a $100+ Target purchase a few days after Christmas.

I have Capital One's mobile wallet installed which pushes near-real-time notifications to the lock screen (iOS). I did receive a notice I'd been declined, but no word on why or what to do about it. But luckily the issuer's email system handled that task admirably. Within a few hours I received an excellent email detailing the five most recent charges, and providing a simple "all clear" button that was clickable within the email, a major improvement over issuers who merely tell you there is suspicious activity and make you call or login to find out the details.



This is the best suspicious activity notice I've ever received. Typically, I receive messages similar to Capital One's "old" version imploring me to call the bank (see last screenshot). However, there is still room for improvement, especially in the reporting process.

As much as the fraud folks desire a concrete yes/no answer, the real world is often full of gray areas. In this case, I was sure that I'd make all these transactions, but often that's not the case. Sometimes you don't recognize a merchant or your spouse may have made the charge or you simply don't recognize something you may have authorized a while ago. There needs to be a third option: "I'm not sure." Furthermore, when faced with a list, users should be able to address each transaction individually.

In my case, clearly the Target purchase triggered the red flag. It was a large amount, I rarely shop there, and I'd just flown 2,000 miles from my previous transaction the day before. In reality, the other transactions were pretty meaningless to the fraud-detection algorithm. Even if I couldn't remember one of the previous four routine transactions, Capital One wouldn't have wanted to shut down my account. They'd already lost a few dollars on the declined Target transaction, there was no reason to compound that loss with costly calls to customer service to vet the other transactions.

Finally, I'm not a fan of the web pages presented after clicking on the "Everything's OK" or "There's an issue" button (see second and third screenshots). The bank gets points for thanking me for my help, but they forget to apologize for the inconvenience of declining my purchase at Target. It's pretty embarrassing to be standing at the checkout with a basket full of goods while everyone thinks you are a deadbeat.

The webpage responses don't go very far in telling me what to do next. Even if I'd given the all clear, I'd still have questions. Which of the transactions, if any, were declined? Will the declined transaction go through now that I've said it's OK? And how can I avoid this in the future.

And if I did have issues with one or more of the transactions, the only option is to call the bank, and there isn't even a number supplied. Aren't there self-service options at this point that could save everyone some time?


Suspicious activity email from Capital One (28 Dec 2014)



Webpage after clicking "Everything's OK" above


Webpage after clicking "There's an issue" above


Previous Capital One Fraud Alert (16 Dec 2011)



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)



Capital One Uses Email to Request Cardholder Income Update

By Jim Bruene on September 3, 2014 4:34 PM | Comments

I'm always on the lookout for digital process improvements, from the major to the minor. And this one definitely falls in the latter category. But in my 22 years of banking online, I don't recall ever being prompted to update my income so that my card issuer could reconsider my line size.

But that's exactly what I received this morning. At first blush, it almost sounded like a crafty fraud attempt. But Capital One wisely inserted my full name, the last four digits on the account, and promised to handle it in just 60 seconds (see first screenshot), so I'm pretty sure it's legit. They also reassured me that it won't require a credit bureau inquiry. 

Clicking through the email places the cardholder onto the normal online banking login screen. After logging in, you are sent directly to an account-update page (screenshot 2) to update income and employments status. After completing the two fields, you are thanked and can navigate to other areas or logout (screenshot 3). Total time expended = 87 seconds (Internet times were a little sluggish late afternoon on the West Coast).

Thoughts: This card dates back to 2010, so it's possible they are on a four-year cycle to update income information; however, I just sent my W2 to Capital One two days ago for a mortgage refinance. So I have to believe this email was triggered by that; if so, it demonstrates solid CRM integration, although it seems curious that the bank wouldn't just pull my income directly from the mortgage app.

All in all it was a painless experience, and I look forward to seeing whether the bank uses it to alter my credit line.


Capital One email asking for an income update (2 Sep 2014)



Online banking page to enter info


After entering info



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.


Email Design: Discover Card's "Statement Available" Message

By Jim Bruene on December 5, 2013 5:52 PM | Comments

image There are a number of financial startups and trail-blazing FIs bringing modern user interfaces to banking. We see dozens of great examples at every Finovate (note 1). And we expect a slew of remodels in the new year as responsive design and other techniques take hold.

But I continue to call out Discover's design work (previous posts). Partly because I have an account there and see it often and partly because it's instructive to see how a large full-service bank handles design tradeoffs.

Yesterday's email from DIscover, reminding me that my monthly statement was ready, shows how the card giant marries good design with useful information.

Most statement alerts are simple one liners asking the user to do all the work: login, find the right tab, click on the correct button, and so on. Discover, on the other hand, positions key summary information right within the body of the email (see screenshot below):

  • Statement end date
  • Statement balance
  • Credit available
  • Minimum payment due
  • Due date

The company includes a button to view the statement at the top, but somewhat buries the payment link near the bottom. 

Analysis: This is one of the better (maybe best) statement-available message I get from the major brands (note 2). But it could still be improved: 

  • Include a Pay Now button.
  • Remind me that I'm on autopay and when to expect the payment in full to be deducted from my bank account.
  • Reword and fix the bottom link. Currently it says "Late and Minimum Payment Warning." That sounds like there must be a problem with my account. But there isn't, so I assume that is supposed to link to the alerts maintenance area. However, that link wasn't working, so I just was dumped onto the main secure account page. It was very confusing.
  • Add a link to customer service, both self-serve and human powered.
  • Add the amount of rewards earned this period. It's always nice to be reminded of free money received. 


1. For example, a recent crowd favorites was from Poland's mBank which demoed alongside Accenture at FinovateFall in September (demo video).
2. We dug deep into this area a few years ago in our reports (subscription):
- Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel (August 2010)
- Alerts & Streaming (July 2010)
- Paperless Billing & Banking (Nov. 2010)


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: Pitches Capital One Credit Card in Triggered Email Alert

By Jim Bruene on June 14, 2012 4:04 PM | Comments

imagePrecise, content-sensitive advertising is extremely powerful. It's what made Google a giant. 

In financial services, the biggest advertising-driven success (after BankRate and Google), at least in terms of market cap, is Its revenue stream is entirely made up of targeted offers to customers who aggregate banking transactions on its site.

The company wisely uses email to deliver some of the advertising pitches. As we've discussed before, Mint is of the few financial companies directly monetizing triggered alerts.

We were impressed by the latest effort received Tuesday (see below). Having noticed that our Chase business card was used internationally, incurring a $14 transaction surcharge, they wisely pitched us a Capital One no-foreign-transaction-fee card.

Interestingly, we already have not one, but two of those Cap One cards (personal and biz) and they are both aggregated at Mint. So I'm not sure if this alert is more of a reminder to use our Cap One charge when traversing the world or that Mint doesn't check current product usage when cross selling (or they don't care). If Mint is only paid on performance (eg. by new accounts generated), then it doesn't matter to Cap One that they are marketing to an existing customer.

Bottom line: The example demonstrates the marketing value of hosting the aggregated accounts.


Mint triggered alert (12 June 2012)
Note: The advertisement is two-fold. The banner with "apply now" is the most eye-catching, but also easier to ignore. There is also a text call to action above it, that looks more like alert copy. It says: "Stop paying extra to use your credit card overseas. Get a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees."



Marketing: Bank of America Offers $25 to Reactivate Visa Card

By Jim Bruene on April 3, 2012 9:06 PM | Comments (3)

imageLast fall, my primary personal credit card from Bank of America was compromised, and I was issued a new one. While I was waiting for the new card to arrive, I got in the habit of using another bank's card. When the replacement card arrived, I stuffed it in a drawer, unactivated and still stuck to the mailer, forgetting I'd ever received it.

Fast forward six months, and I get an email this morning from Bank of America, offering $25 if I spend just $250 on the moth-balled card before June 30 (screenshot below). Coincidently, I'd just run across the forgotten card while doing a little preliminary tax prep. 

The offer requires activation, a smart move that avoids paying out $25 to someone who never even noticed the offer. And I was pleasantly surprised that I had to do nothing more than click the Activate Now button in the email. Within a few seconds I was greeted with a confirmation delivered through a BofA webpage (second screenshot; see update below).

Bottom line: It worked. I've got the BofA card back in my wallet, and I'll be using it tomorrow. And as I'm sure the bank knows, they are likely to make the $25 back within a month or two, assuming I resume my previous charging behavior. Well done, BofA card marketing dept. 


Bank of America email offering $25 cash back to reactivate my credit card (3 April 2012)

  email from Bank of America offering $25 cash back

The one-click activation process* took us to this screen on the BofA website

Bank of America confirmation screen after offer acceptance

*Update 4 April (in response to comment): Although I didn't test it, it looked as though the single click activated the offer only. I still had to phone BofA using the usual process to activate the card. It would have been nice to have been able to do both through the Activate button. 

Comments (3)

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: Bon Voyage Email from Capital One

By Jim Bruene on February 1, 2012 7:28 AM | Comments

image Yesterday, I mentioned Capital One's self-service travel notification process. Another aspect of the service is a follow-up email before you head out of town (see below).

I like the email for a couple reasons:

  • The well wishes make you feel good about the bank
  • The message provides helpful contact info in case of trouble
  • It's an an additional fraud check to ensure that it's really you traveling to Yakutsk next week

The bank even tells you to call collect. Nice.

Capital One could jazz up the message with more color and snappier copy (note 2), but it gets the job done.

Capital One email to customers who've told them they are traveling internationally (31 Jan 2012)
Note: Sent the day before scheduled departure

Capital One bon voyage email

1. Picture credit: Greeting card at Zazzle.
2. I'm surprised Capital One doesn't use this opportunity to reinforce its travel rewards, mobile app, and zero FX fees. 
3. We've tackled remote banking 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.


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.


Can Savings Accounts Be Social?

By Jim Bruene on January 4, 2012 11:55 AM | Comments (4)

image I glanced at my ING Direct eStatement alert today (screenshot below) to see what they had to say in the new year. The soon-to-be-Capital-One direct bank is usually pretty creative in its copywriting. And I was not disappointed today. Here's the pitch inside the alert:


I love the idea of a "Social Network...of Savers," a Facebook-like place where friends help each other keep spending in check and achieve politically correct savings goals such as the down payment on a home, the college fund, or a rainy day reserve.

But I don't think the Facebook model works in the real world (note 1). Even though it might be interesting to follow your friends' drunk spending (note 2), most users want this info to be kept VERY private (note 3). And in most circles, money accumulation is never openly discussed. Who wants to read about someone's "trip to Tahiti" savings goal when you are trying to get off unemployment?

In its recent email, ING Direct is NOT looking to create the Facebook of savings in any way. While the bank celebrates savings throughout its marketing (e.g.,, this email offer isn't about sharing with your network, it's about selling to your network to earn a $10 referral fee per new account, up to $500. And that's OK, because everyone loves to share "found money."   

ING Direct email (4 Jan 2012, 9 AM Pacific)

ING Direct estatement email alert 

Referral landing page (link)
Note: There's even a Flash demo of the referral split for the math challenged.

ING Direct referral landing page

1. I'm not saying that all sharing is a dead end. For example, sharing savings/spending goals can work very well within tight-knit groups such as extended families. And compiled/masked data about peer spending/savings is very promising (see Citi's Bundle joint venture). Finally, there are numerous opportunities for "social investing" (our 2008 Online Banking Report on the subject), because it's much more complicated and often openly discussed.  
2. There is room for "social savings" in the context of sharing discounts, money-savings tips, and so on. But that's not what ING Direct is talking about in this message.
3. Hence the pivots by the two "class of 2010" startups, Blippy and Swipely, which were founded on a "transaction-sharing" model.
4. And the bank makes its win-win. The new customer gets the biggest share, $25 for a savings account, a 70/30 split of the $35 up for grabs. New checking customers get $50, from an 85/15 split of $60.
5. For info on family banking, deposit gathering, transaction sharing, social investing, and much more, see our subscription newsletter, Online Banking Report.

Comments (4)

Out of the Inbox: Repossessed Vehicle Auction Announcement

By Jim Bruene on December 29, 2011 4:07 PM | Comments

image As a semi-reformed eBay addict, anything with auction in the title still grabs my attention. And of the thousands of emails I get from banks every year, I believe this one from Ohio Valley Bank is the first ever for a vehicle auction. 

If you are selling off repos and REOs, you should let your customers get on a mail list announcing them. You could even turn it into a membership benefit, giving customers first crack at the deals and/or providing preferential financing.

Ohio Valley offers preapproved auction financing for its repo sales. A good move, although its landing page and online app could use a facelift (see second and third screenshots).


Ohio Valley Bank email announcing vehicle auction (link; received 29 Dec 2011; 6:35 AM Pacific)
Note: I am not a customer of the bank, but anyone can sign up for its emails.

Email from Ohio Valley Bank announcing its next vehicle auction

Landing page for auction financing (link)

Landing page for auction financing

One-page online loan app (click to enlarge; link)



Note: Ohio Valley Bank has a prominent link on its homepage to its holiday hours, a nice touch (see picture upper right).


Out of the Inbox: PayPal Advantage Congratulations (2011 version)

By Jim Bruene on December 7, 2011 6:19 PM | Comments

imageLast year I highlighted PayPal's frequent shopper program, PayPal Advantage. I just received my second annual congratulatory email (see first screenshot below), confirming that I qualified for another year of membership by spending at least $5,000.

While the program seems relatively unchanged, one addition is a 3% discount on StubHub tickets, also owned by eBay (see second screenshot). It's a nice perk, if you remember to use it (tickets must be purchased via a link from within PayPal).

image Bottom line: While I can't evaluate the ROI from the outside, I can say that as a customer, I appreciate being recognized. And access to Priority Customer Support, though I've never tested it, provides added peace of mind.


Marketing aside: PayPal is featuring actual users in their ads. Customers, like Randy H., below, can apply to be featured in PayPal advertising by submitting a story at (see third screenshot).


Congratulatory email from PayPal (1 Dec 2011)


StubHub offer (link)


PayPal testimonials (link)


Note: We cover email marketing, payments and much more in our subscription publication, Online Banking Report.


Square for the Holidays

By Jim Bruene on December 5, 2011 4:34 PM | Comments (2)

image It's not easy packaging banking products as holiday gifts. Prepaid gift cards are an obvious exception, though few banks actively market them online. And ING Direct's Sharebuilder has for years sold a beginner's investment package that's intended to be given to kids or grandkids (see Wells Fargo/Sharebuilder 2002 holiday email below).

This year, Square joins that short list with a gift-wrapped box containing its iPhone/Android dongle, used to swipe credit cards. You can order 1, 2 or 3 packages online at a cost of just $1 each for the gift wrap. The dongles are sent to the buyer who must distribute.

I learned about it in an email right before the Thanksgiving holiday (screenshot below).

Bottom line: While recipients may be a little less impressed once they find out these dongles are free online, overall I love it. It's really the payments advice doled out when giving the package that can make it special. 

Good idea and great email/landing page design: A


Email received (22 Nov 2011)

Email from square promoting the "gift of square"

Landing page (link)


Wells Fargo/Sharebuilder email from Dec 2002 (post)

Wells Fargo/Sharebuilder email from Dec 2002


Note: We cover email marketing, financial website usability, payments and much more in our subscription publication, Online Banking Report.

Comments (2)

Guess What I've Been Researching Online?

By Jim Bruene on November 22, 2011 10:01 AM | Comments

imageI realize that ads based on recent activity are effective. But it's still slightly unnerving, wondering whether you've lost every last bit of privacy or that you've been hit by an adware virus. But overall, it's good to get relevant offers, especially when one has a $10 bonus in it (see AmEx below).

Here's the two ads tossed my way while I was checking the status of my son's flight today:

Amex Serve and Geico ads

I wrote a blog post on Serve yesterday (see AmEx promo on top of the page) and have been banging around insurance sites (see Geico ad on right) for the past two weeks as I wrap up a report on the subject.

AmEx Serve offer
Perhaps because I didn't sign up yesterday, American Express is throwing me $10 to try Serve, its P2P payments service. Here's the excellent landing page (link):

American Express Servce landing page

After entering your email address, the button turns to a thank-you. It's good feedback for the user and keeps them from accidentally submitting the form twice.


Here's the email sent a few moments later:

American Express Serve email


1. Button credit
2. We covered P2P payments two years ago in our Online Banking Report (subscription).


Out of the Inbox: ING Direct Provides Free Digital Magazine Subscription with Birthday Greeting

By Jim Bruene on September 30, 2011 5:54 PM | Comments (2)

ING Direct Happy Birthday Email Sep 2011I like it when businesses I frequent remember a milestone. Typically, it's the anniversary of our first transaction or my birthday. I prefer the former, because it's unique to the business relationship and less cliche.  

Even though I know it's just a bit of programming back at the home office, it still says something about an organization that they prioritized it over other pressing needs (like a new debit card fee, see note 1).

Unlike retailers or eateries, who can give customers a free desert and more than make up the cost with profit from the dinner, it's hard for banks to deliver a freebie that has actual value. Last month, I wrote about Discover's month-long double points birthday bonus. That was a winner.

This week, ING Direct came through with birthday present that has some perceived value. Delivered via email (see opposite) was a complimentary four-issue subscription to ODE Magazine plus a special issue devoted to savings. Granted, it's only the digital edition (note 2), but it's still better than nothing.

The bank also throws in a 15% discount at its online store. A nice touch, but not a huge value for most customers.

Landing page to redeem magazine subscription
Note: Here you can choose digital or printed version (note 2)

ING Direct offer landing page













1. Actually, I'm pro debit-card fee. Why shouldn't you charge for an optional-yet-super-convenient service that people use every day? I might have started out at $3/mo and bundled it with more value-adds, but even at $5 it's about 17 cents per day for unlimited usage. So what's the big uproar? Sure, it probably made more sense to have the merchants pick up the tab, but that got Durbined down the drain.  
2. The landing page offers a choice between printed and digital. However, it's not clear whether that applies to the 4-issue subscription or just the special savers issue.

Comments (2)
Categories: Email Samples, ING Direct

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: Discover Card's Birthday Present

By Jim Bruene on August 18, 2011 4:27 PM | Comments (2)

Although worth only $5 at most, Discover Card's month-long Double Cashback Bonus (on the first $500 spent) sure sounds impressive. And combined with the cute penguin visuals, it's an effective birthday greeting. And probably the first one you'll get since it's sent two weeks in advance of the first day of the month of your birthday.

Recipients must register to receive the bonus, a common technique to keep costs down. The card issuer continues to display dazzling graphics throughout and even sends a confirmation email (below). Great attention to detail.

It would be nice if you didn't have to do a full login to register. But for extra reward points, most users will put up with the hassle.

Grade = A-

Discover Card birthday email (18 Aug. 2011, 2 weeks in advance of the birthday month)

Discover Card birthday email (18 Aug 2011)

First landing page: Log in (link)

Discover landing page

Second landing page: Register (link, must be logged in to your Discover account)

Second landing page: Register

Confirmation screen


Confirmation email


Comments (2)

Out of the Inbox: Bank of America's "Irregular Credit Card Activity" Alert

By Jim Bruene on July 28, 2011 3:48 PM | Comments

image Several months ago (previous post), I wrote about Bank of America's online fraud-warning resolution center for consumer cards, MyFraudProtection. It's a great service, though a little hard to use.

At that time, I showed only the online functions. The more important piece is the email alert (below). It's a great way not only to reduce fraud, but also maintain good customer relations.

But it's still read-only. What I'm really waiting for is a truly two-way email, or better yet, text message. That way I can simply respond to the bank's question in a few seconds and both of us can get on with our business. 

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity (11 Jan. 2011)

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity 


1. See our recent reports: Paperless Billing and Banking and Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel.


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: ING Direct Raises Price on Overdraft Credit Line by 55%, Still Undercuts Competition by 99%

By Jim Bruene on March 22, 2011 10:49 AM | Comments (1)

image This has to be the best notification of a price increase I've ever seen (see first screenshot).

ING Direct  (USA) famously does not charge OD/NSF fees on its checking account, Electric Orange. But that's a bit of a moot point since the bank doesn't offer paper checks, making it difficult to inadvertently go negative.

However, the bank does allow overdrawing by few hundred dollars if you so choose. And it charges interest on those "overdrafts" at a variable rate equal to 4% above prime, currently 7.25%. The bank reinforces the no-fee pricing in its standard low-balance alert (see second screenshot below).

But that low APR is heading upwards. Last night I received an email notification that effective May 15, the variable rate will be increasing to 8% above prime, or 11.25% today, a 55% increase. That's still relatively reasonable for unsecured credit.

But the bank's email doesn't focus on APR. After clearly disclosing the price increase, it lays out a comparison of what a $100 overdraft would cost the average U.S. consumer for one week, $31, vs. the $0.31 you'd owe ING Direct after 7 days. There are no other fees, transaction or annual, for the ING credit line (complete terms here).

Well played.

ING Direct email disclosing OD credit line APR increase (21 March 2011)


ING Direct email disclosing OD credit line APR increase (21 March 2011)

Overdraft notice (22 March 2011)
The bank reinforces its no-fee policy in its email OD alert.

ING Direct (USA) Overdraft notice (22 March 2011)

Comments (1)

The Power of the Recognition

By Jim Bruene on December 20, 2010 7:10 PM | Comments

Everyone likes to be recognized for being a loyal customer. It cuts across all demographics and income levels.

Banks and card issuers, which have some of the most loyal customers in any industry, generally do little to reach out and thank long-time customers.

In my wallet, American Express, Discover, Wells Fargo, Chase and Bank of America imprint "member since" on their plastic credit cards. But that's about the extent of the recognition for holding a long-time account with card issuers, sometimes as long as 20 years. 

In the pre-Internet days, it was expensive to create custom marketing programs for specific segments. But today, with the cost of communicating to online customers essentially zero, you should be sending messages to your customers at least once each year, thanking them for their continued business.

And on the bigger milestones, 5 years, 10 years, and so on, send something a little extra. It doesn't have to be expensive. Find a special perk and offer an "upgrade" on their anniversary. It could be as simple as a 2-for-1 night at the movies, or as exotic as the recently launched PayPal Advantage program (previous post).

Even though the QPB message (below) I received last week was more of last-minute holiday shopping come-on than a loyalty reward, the subject of the email was irresistible and would work well for banking customers:

You've Been Upgraded!

Customer email from Quality Paperback Book Club (17 Dec. 2010)



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.


PayPal Launches Advantage Program for Frequent Buyers

By Jim Bruene on December 1, 2010 5:46 PM | Comments

image When it comes to online marketing, I'm a sucker for rewards programs, sweepstakes, and the rarest of the rare (at least at financial institutions), premium/VIP services. So I was pretty thrilled when I got an email from PayPal two weeks ago with this headline (see first screenshot):

Jim, welcome to PayPal Advantage

According to the email, I qualified by spending $5,000 in the past 12 months (no problem considering we use PayPal to pay several business suppliers). The email included a $10 gift certificate for use with any eBay purchase (through 20 Dec.).

Taking a page from airline companies, PayPal's main account page now contains a progress bar showing how much you need to spend to qualify for another year of Advantage membership (see last two screenshots).

The website lays out the PayPal Advantage benefits (link):

  • Cut to the front of the line when calling customer service
  • "Advantage hotline" phone number
  • Premium support via "most senior U.S.-based customer service specialists"
  • Faster dispute resolution
  • Exclusive events with executives meet-and-greets
  • Advantage member community/forum (coming soon)
  • Advantage member email newsletter (received one issue on 19 Nov.)
  • First to hear about the best shopping deals

Analysis: While none of the above is as exciting as the free travel rewards big-spending credit-card customers are accustomed to, these softer benefits are not as expensive either. And receiving recognition, combined with the red-carpet treatment from your financial provider, is an unexpected surprise and excellent customer-retention tool.

Welcome email with $10 certificate for any eBay purchase (17 Nov. 2010)

PayPal advantage Welcome email with $10 certificate for any eBay purchase

 Interstitial displayed at login (27 Nov 2010, 1 Dec 2010)

Interstitial displayed at PayPal login

PayPal Advantage landing page (link)

 PayPal Advantage landing page
PayPal Advantage benefits page (link)

PayPal Advantage complete benefits page

Widget on main page shows progress towards Advantage status

Widget on main page shows progress towards PayPal Advantage status

Details page showing specific progress

Details page showing specific progress towards PayPal advantage qualification

Summary box close up



Out of the Inbox: ING Direct Reinforces Security Protections

By Jim Bruene on October 18, 2010 7:48 PM | Comments (1)

image No matter how long you've been banking online and no matter how good you are at keeping your computer virus- and malware-free, there's always the nagging concern that this could be the time where you end up as part of the national fraud statistics.

That's why banking websites need to maintain a solid "perception of security" around the login box. Those padlocks, security FAQs, and so forth are an important reminder to customers that the bank is doing all it can to protect their money.

But it's also important to reach out every once in a while, annually should be enough, through email and statement messaging, to summarize all the protections you've put in place. Saturday, we received just such a message from ING Direct (see below).

As usual, the direct-banking giant did a great job marrying conversational text with its trademark minimalistic graphical style to reassure customers that they are safe banking online at ING Direct.

The bank has long been ahead of the "security curve," at least in the United States. It was first with a pin pad for secure password entry. It was one of the first with a security-challenge question and personalized anti-phish emails. More recently, they were the first bank in the world to deploy Trusteer's Rapport browser plugin.

ING Direct USA email to customers outlining security precautionsSaturday's email discussed four security features:

  • How to identify legitimate emails from phishy ones
  • Reminder to look for your pre-selected image and phrase at login
  • Explanation of the pin pad for secure data entry
  • Encouragement to register your computer

One other area that could have been addressed is mobile-phone security. Smartphone users have significant security concerns about mobile banking. The bank missed an opportunity to address them and tout its relatively new iPhone app as well.

But, all-in-all, it's a worthy effort from ING Direct, and something every financial institution should have in its annual messaging plan (note 1).

Email Header



Date: Sat., Oct 16, 2010, at 10:39 AM

Subject: Here's how we protect you


Note: For more info on possible customer messaging topics, see the most recent Online Banking Report.

Comments (1)

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


Flash Marketing Addendum: Co-branded Payments

By Jim Bruene on July 28, 2010 7:23 PM | Comments

In my post yesterday about flash marketing via Groupon and LivingSocial, I neglected to mention another interesting opportunity: working directly with the marketing companies to add your brand to the service.

imageBecause payments and credit are crucial to ecommerce success, financial brands are a logical addition to the checkout process. And Visa just so happens to be featured today at LivingSocial (see inset and screenshots below).

Anyone who buys today's Seattle deal, a $25 restaurant certificate for $10, automatically gets a second certificate to use as a gift, if they pay by Visa Signature card (see notes 1, 2). It's hard to say what Visa is paying for the promotion, but given the massive website traffic and transaction activity, it's likely a pricey sponsorship (note 3).

Email from LivingSocial with Visa branded add-on offer (28 July 2010)


Landing page (link)


1. Some interesting items in the fine print for the Visa-sponsored comp certificate:
- valid only for Visa Signature cards, which might irritate some non-Signature Visa customers
- offer not valid for purchases made via iPhone (there must be something in the shopping cart that does not work on the iPhone)
2. My saved credit card in the site is a MasterCard; when I went to purchase the deal, there was no mention of the free certificate, nor any prompt to switch to Visa.
3. The merchant is receiving $5 for each certificate issued under the main deal. Visa's sponsorship would need to cover some compensation to the merchant, but perhaps at less than $5 each, since fewer of the gifted certificates will be redeemed. It looks to be a popular offer, having sold almost 2,600 units (by 7 PM), with almost 10 hours remaining.


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: $50,000 "Goal Savings" Sweeps from ING Direct

By Jim Bruene on April 20, 2010 7:51 PM | Comments (1)

On April 16, the day after 2009 U.S. income taxes were due, ING Direct emailed customers with a little incentive to establish an automatic savings plan or direct deposit (see first screenshot below).

Any ING Direct savings or checking account customer who has at least $100 automatically deposited into their account is eligible for monthly drawings of $5,000 (April through Sep.). And one grand prize winner takes home $50,000 on October 1st (total prizes awarded = $80,000; full terms and conditions here; FAQs here).

With interest rates so low, it's a good idea to provide extra incentives to keep the savings habit alive. And April 16 is the second best day of the year to make a systematic savings appeal (the first business day after Jan. 1 has to be the best).

The sweeps is not mentioned on the bank's main website or within online banking. This seems odd, given that any account holder can win. Perhaps it's coming to the website.

ING Direct email to existing customers (16 April)


Landing page includes interactive smartphone app graphic (link)
Note: Users can drag and drop icons onto the phone's list to simulate a savings plan


Note: For more ideas on driving deposits online, see our Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age (Dec. 2008).

Comments (1)

Out of the Inbox: Citibank Offers to Help Users Restart their Online Banking

By Jim Bruene on February 3, 2010 4:15 PM | Comments (5)

imageMy Citibank checking account dates back to when iPods were novel and 1GB was enough to satisfy your iTunes cravings (see Jan. 2005 post). For several years, Citibank gave iPods away to anyone who'd open up a checking account online and do a few bill payments. 

I haven't accessed my Citi checking account in at least a year, because last time I tried, I locked myself out with too many password attempts (note 1). And I've been too lazy to go through the often tedious reset process (see below).

So I was pleased to receive an email this morning offering to help me get restarted (see screenshot below). I figured the bank had noted my previously futile attempts to login and was sending along a bit of digital assistance. Sure, it was a year or two after the fact, but I believe in better late than never.

But the main call to action in the activation email is:

Enter the User ID and Password you created when you opened your account online.

So evidently, the bank thinks I'm smarter than I really am and actually can remember the username/password from my two-years dormant account.

Had I not been blogging about the email, I would have deleted it. But as I re-read it more closely, I did see the small light-gray link in the corner for resetting my password. Unfortunately, Citi requires your ATM card and PIN to reset passwords (see second screenshot). This is precisely why I wasn't able to reset the thing when I was locked out two years ago.

My take:
1. An activation to stalled online banking customers is a great idea. But in this case, Citibank did not deliver on its promise to "help" me restart online banking (note 2). As a matter of fact, I am now even more frustrated. If you are going to send a message offering help, make sure there is actual help available for the various ways customers will respond.
2. For infrequent users, consider simpler password-reset procedures based on email address or mobile phone number on file plus Social Security Number and/or shared secrets. 
3. Finally, don't offer a dead-end password reset page. In Citibank's case, if the user doesn't have both their ATM card number and PIN, there is no place to turn. There's not even a phone number listed on the page to seek live help (you have to use Contact Us in the upper right).

Citibank email (sent 3 Feb. 2010, 9:30 AM Pacific)


Citibank password-reset page


1. I have two Citi accounts with different usernames and passwords, so it always makes for an interesting memory test at login.
2. I should add that I have enough money in the non-interest account to provide Citi with a bit of profit every year. 

Comments (5)

Chase Bank Invites Business Customers to Join Business Advisory Board

By Jim Bruene on January 19, 2010 8:30 PM | Comments

image I received an email this morning (see below) from Chase Bank inviting me to participate in a new Business Advisory Board, powered by Lightspeed Research. My colleague also received the same invite for his separate account, so it doesn't appear to have been a particularly selective emailing. Both accounts were acquired by Chase in the 2008 WaMu debacle.

To sign up, users simply complete a 10-question one-page online form (first part shown below in screenshot 2) which took just under six minutes (note 1).

After completing the registration, I expected to be ushered into some type of special club, but all I received was a 15-word paragraph telling me to confirm my email address (screenshot #3). That's a bit of a letdown after giving the bank nearly 10 minutes of my day. I surmised the big payoff would come after confirming and logging back in. 

I was wrong. After logging in, I was greeted with a short thank-you statement and an invitation to take the "welcome survey," which turned out to be three questions about the 2010 economic outlook (screenshot #4). And that was it. Nothing more to see or do. No blog. No "online community" (promised in email). No special offers (note 2). They didn't even have the courtesy to share the results from the survey I just took (note 3). I began to wonder if I'd been scammed.

Analysis: On the surface I love this idea: inviting customers to participate in an online advisory board. Customers like to be noticed and heard, and a chance to win $100 is icing on the cake. But if you intend to ask business customers to take 15 minutes out of their day, it better be for something real. So far, I just feel stupid for signing up and thinking that I was actually going to make a difference at the bank.

Hopefully, they'll make up for the bad start with interesting opportunities down the road. But the bank will have to work doubly hard to get my attention after this wasted effort. 

Email from Chase Business Banking (received 19 Jan. 2010, 1:55 PM Pacific)
Note: Highlighting mine


1. Landing page from email (link, 19 Jan. 2010)


2. Registration page (click to enlarge; link)
Note: Registrants are entered into a sweepstakes to win one of ten $100 prizes.


3. Registration thank-you screen


4. Three-question welcome survey is available after confirming your email address


1. Although the site says it's for business-banking customers of Chase and WaMu, it appears that anyone that finds the website can join.
2. Under the "Rewards" tab, information tantalizes regarding earning "cash, prizes, sweepstakes entries" for survey-respondents. But there are no examples or surveys available, so it's one more small letdown.
3. Business owners that read through the online FAQs will find out that they may be contacted one or two times per month with "research opportunities," but Chase shouldn't bury this key info in the FAQs where only a small percentage of users will find it.
4. See our recent Online Banking Report for more ideas on how to serve small- and micro-businesses through the online and mobile channels.


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: Costco Email Gives PayPal's Bill Me Later Top Billing

By Jim Bruene on December 21, 2009 4:23 PM | Comments

imageI rarely open emails from retailers, especially around the holidays. As someone who has checked the "send me offers" box on registration forms for a decade, I'm inundated. But every once in a while I check out the Costco email to see what outrageous deals they are offering and, more importantly, whether any financial services are being showcased. For example, in March we wrote about the $90 Sharebuilder promo from Costco

Last Friday, the big-box giant did not disappoint. It had two financial offers above the fold:

  • Extended-payment option: A surprisingly large and prominent pitch for PayPal's extended-payment program, Bill Me Later (see inset and upper-right corner in screenshot below). The BML option allows Costco customers to defer payment for an unspecified amount of time interest-free if paid in full by the due date (typically a few months out), or to pay the amount back over time at an 18.99% APR.
  • Costco cash cards: While it's no surprise that the retailer is pitching store cards 7 days out from Christmas Day (see landing page below), I was surprised they weren't merchandising them more aggressively. The problem was that even with rush delivery, the plastic card wasn't guaranteed to arrive before Christmas, so it wasn't a great gift option. The retailer could use an online giftcard option for instant delivery.

Costco holiday email (Friday, 18 Dec. 2009)

Costco email 18 Dec 2009

Bill Me Later landing page (link)

BillMeLater landing page

Costco prepaid card landing page (link)



Holiday Themes: ING Direct Offers Up Anti-Black-Friday Tease

By Jim Bruene on November 25, 2009 1:34 PM | Comments (1)

imageRarely does ING Direct disappoint when it comes to adding a little holiday pizzazz to its website. And it's no turkey this year.

The bank's homepage is given over entirely to a flash animation that starts with its trademark orange ball rising over a cityscape. Then a decked-out turkey joins the scene and its revealed that its a play on tomorrow's NYC Thanksgiving Day parade balloons.

But the more interesting development is the small orange "Black Friday" sale tag in the upper right corner (see inset). ING Direct has four Black Friday specials that will be revealed at one past midnight this Friday at <>.

imageWe are sworn to secrecy on two of the deals, but we can tell you that there will be a $683 discount (the average amount American's spend on holiday gifts) on ING mortgage products (currently 3.75%) and a 20% off ShareBuilder deal.

The Black Friday tease was also emailed to ING Direct customers this morning (see inset).

My take: The Black Friday promotion, which is being pushed out to media outlets in advance of Friday, is brilliant. It plays perfectly into the more-conservative budget mindsight in the country and gives the press something else to write about beside the long lines at Best Buy at 4 AM Friday.

Grade: An A+ and an extra helping of sweet potatoes to ING Direct for both timing and creativity.  

In a quick survey today of the 25 largest retail banks, three others had holiday promotions or themes: 

ING Direct (USA) homepage (23 Nov 6 PM Pacific)


ING Direct black friday landing page (25 Nov 2009)


Zions Bank homepage (23 Nov 7 PM Pacific)
Note: Trusteer promotion on homepage


Wells Fargo homepage (25 Nov 2009, 1 PM Pacific)


Note: For future reference, this post was made on the day before Thanksgiving.

Comments (1)

Off-topic: Seth Godin is a Marketing Genius and Only Accepts PayPal

By Jim Bruene on November 3, 2009 4:36 PM | Comments

image Seth Godin is a true marketing guru. And unlike some authors, he also practices what he preaches.

Case in point: At 10:49 AM Eastern today, he announced via post on his blog that he was selling a special boxed set of five of his books (here):

  • Limit one per customer
  • 800 total sets, with no more to be printed ever
  • Price = $64 + $10 shipping
  • Payment via PayPal only.

By 1 PM, when I ordered, only 176 remained. By the time I returned from this afternoon's BAI Retail Delivery program, they were all gone (note 1).

And of course, I received a clever thank-you note from Mr. Godin a few hours later (see below).

Relevance to Netbankers: This doesn't really have anything to do with financial services other than being one more bit of evidence of PayPal's ubiquity online. This is just a great example of how to create retail excitement with a combination of clear value, simple check-out process, a nice webpage (see screenshot below), and a blog entry. It's more challenging to do it in financial services, but it is possible. 

Seth Godin's webpage sold a limited-edition box set for a few hours (link, 3 Nov. 2009)


Thank-you email
(three hours after purchase)
Apparently, part one in a series


Note: If you must have it, there's one up for auction on eBay. Starting price $1.


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).


Lending Club Offers New Lenders $50 to Get Started on its Peer-to-Peer Platform

By Jim Bruene on August 4, 2009 12:12 PM | Comments

image This morning Lending Club emailed its existing lenders encouraging them to refer friends to become lenders on the peer-to-peer lending platform. The peer-to-peer lending pioneer says that is has added 11,000 new lenders this year, an impressive 1,600 monthly pace. Lending Club now has 20,000 registered lenders (note 1).

The pitch: Instead of paying referral fees, the $50 incentive is earmarked entirely for the new lender/investor. Basically they get a free trial of the service. The offer is available for only two weeks, otherwise Lending Club risks being flooded with new accounts that just want to get a hold of the $50.

Analysis: Typically, companies pay a fee to user who made a successful referral. Sometimes with an equal incentive to the new customer. While that may result in a slew of new accounts, converting them to long-term profitable participants can be difficult.

I believe the more-sophisticated investor/lender attracted to Lending Club will be MORE likely to make good referrals if they don't personally benefit from the referral (note 2). No matter how much users like Lending Club, if they are being paid to spam friends, it just doesn't feel right. While Lending Club may get fewer referrals this way, the ones they do get should convert better in the long run.

Lending Club is making it incredibly easy to spread the word. Existing customers can use an automated wizard to send messages to friends (see second screenshot) or prospects may simply enter the referring customer's member name to qualify for the $50. And there appears to be no fine print on the offer other than the Aug. 15 expiration date.

Lending Club email (sent 4 Aug 2009 at 6 AM Pacific)
Subject: Give your friends $50 to try Lending Club


Landing page
Includes tools for automating the process of reaching out to friends


1. So far this year, $21 million in loans have been originated at Lending Club, approximately $1,000 per lender.
2. Lending Club does pay $25 to the referral source for new APPROVED borrowers. That's an affiliate marketing strategy and makes economic sense because it's only paid for approved loans. 


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)

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: ING Direct's ShareBuilder Offers $90 Bonus through Costco Email

By Jim Bruene on March 26, 2009 5:48 PM | Comments

image It's that time of year again when U.S. banks and investment companies get a temporary boost from federal income tax refunds and stimulus checks.

This year, much of that largesse is expected to go towards paying down debt or stashed away into FDIC-insured deposits. But there are still some folks looking for better longer-term returns, so ING's ShareBuilder investment service is giving them a nudge with a $90 new-account bonus  offer (note 1) delivered in the March 25 email to Costco customers. This is higher than the $25 to $50 bonuses we've seen from them in the past.

The ShareBuilder offer was near the bottom of a lengthy email that arrived at 5:30 PM Pacific time yesterday. In total there were 54 products featured. ShareBuilder was the only financial product. 

Email from Costco (25 March 2009)


ShareBuilder landing page (link, 25 March 2009)


1. The $90 rebate applies to Costco Executive members. Business and Gold members receive $70. In addition, Executive members receive a 25% rebate in ongoing investing fees; Business/Gold receive a 10% fee rebate.


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: SmartMoney Uses Simple 3-Question Survey to Engage Customers and Solicit Feedback

By Jim Bruene on December 2, 2008 6:21 PM | Comments

image Engaging users doesn't have to to be a long and drawn-out process with multiple passes through legal and compliance to ensure you won't end up on the 10-most-wanted list at the OCC.

All you have to do is ask customers a question now and then to show that you are genuinely listening. And with low-cost web-based surveys, the cost to conduct a short survey among your own customers is minimal.

Some sample questions:

  • What should we write about in our next newsletter/blog/website?
    (provide list of ideas plus write-in area)
  • Which offer should we put on our homepage?
    (similar to the SmartMoney example below)
  • Where should we locate our new ATM? (with list of choices)
  • How would you rate your recent experience with our call center?
    (sent shortly after a customer talks to a CSR)
  • How would you like to retrieve your balance on your cellphone (via text message, via mobile browser, via voice)

In a real-world example today, SmartMoney Magazine sent me an email (see below) requesting that I complete its "cover survey" which would take "no more than a minute." The Survey Monkey-powered survey was indeed just 3 questions and took only seconds to complete. There was no marketing (see note 1), no cross sales, and I was left with a better impression of the magazine. Besides a satisfied customer, SmartMoney gains valuable editorial feedback.


1. After completing the survey I was dropped on to the SmartMoney homepage increasing its pageviews and unique visitor totals for December.

2. Photo credit (via flickr): Ryan McFarland at


ING Direct's $1 Million in FDIC Coverage (email)

By Jim Bruene on October 8, 2008 11:08 PM | Comments (1)

image It's not easy deciding what messages to send to customers these days (note 1), but there's no doubt a clear email about increased FDIC coverage is a winner. For example, ING Direct does a great job with this simple and very clear message outlining the temporary increase in U.S. deposit insurance coverage.

I especially like how they demonstrate how easy it is for joint account holders to get $1 million in coverage (note 2). It's so much easier seeing it laid out in a table. Here's the email sent to customers this afternoon under the subject:

Subject: Your FDIC coverage just went up

ING Direct customer email announcing new $250,000 FDIC coverage (8 Oct 2008)

1. Jeffry Pilcher posted some interesting quotes with differing perspectives on how to approach "crisis communications" in his Financial Brand blog today.

2. Not that many people need that, but it's still somehow comforting to know that if you had to deposit your lottery proceeds, or if you were Mark Cuban and you shorted the DJIA at 1100 with 8% of your net worth, you wouldn't have to spend so much time opening accounts to deposit your windfall.

Comments (1)

PayPal Offers $50 Rebate at Northwest Airlines

By Jim Bruene on March 26, 2008 12:27 PM | Comments (2)

image In the richest alt-payment bonus we've seen in a long time, PayPal users earn a $50 account credit for purchasing airline tickets at Northwest Air's between March 13 and March 27.

The bonus was prominently featured in a promotional email sent to WorldPerks members yesterday (see below). Only one bonus per PayPal account is allowed, and the fare must be at least $250. 

PayPal is also accepted at Southwest, AirTran and US Airways.

Airline Number of PayPal Transactions*
Northwest 9,018
US Airways 3,825
Southwest Air not listed
AirTran not listed

*Source: PayPal, 26 March 2007, online shopping center

Email message to Northwest WorldPerks members (25 March 2008)


Landing page (link)

image fare search
The PayPal logo featured in regular fare search at, but there is no mention of the $50 bonus.


Comments (2)

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.


eBay Pitches Co-branded MasterCard to Bidders

By Jim Bruene on November 20, 2007 11:07 AM | Comments (2)

Given how many times I've had to tell clerks, "no, I really don't care to save $18 on my purchase today" (by adding yet another revolving credit product to my life), the come-on at checkout must work pretty well. Amazon has used this approach at online checkout for years, offering up to $30 in savings if approved for its co-branded credit card.

eBay recently began pitching its eBay MasterCard to bidders in its online auctions. As you can see below, a small "up to $25 back" is presented to users as they consider what bid amount to enter. The card is issued by GE Money and requires a PayPal account. Customers can opt to display their eBay userid on the no-annual-fee card.


I also received an email offer last night (7:34 PM Pacific) for the card (see screenshot below). It's an attractive holiday-themed message with the slightly misleading email subject line, "Get 10% off eBay purchases through Dec. 15." I clicked on it wondering why eBay would offer me, a frequent buyer, such a substantial savings. It turns out to only apply to the first $250 spent, for a $25 savings, not so rich compared to other credit card offers I typically receive in the mail. But with the tight integration and 30-second loan application, it should provide a reasonable flow of new applications.  

The online application is simple and fast with pre-populated personal info and a 30-second approval promise. All I had to do on the first page (note 1) was decide whether to put my eBay ID on the plastic and enter my birthdate (see screenshot below). However, the process is marred by the upsell of credit insurance disguised under the seemingly innocuous heading (see closeup below):

Yes, enroll me in the Account Security program.

Granted, the cost is clearly disclosed, however, many applicants will check the box thinking they are protecting themselves from fraud, and only later find out they are paying an extra 1.5% per month (that's $900 per year on a $5,000 balance) for an insurance product they probably don't need. With all the problems its had with phishing and fraud, eBay should NOT trick customers into signing on for credit insurance under the guise of "security." 

Email solicitation from eBay (19 November 2007)

Landing page for email solicitation of eBay MasterCard
(19 November 2007


1. I did not proceed past the first page because I could not tell if hitting "continue" at that point would trigger a credit application. They may ask income and employment questions on the next page.  

Comments (2)

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


Experian Upsells ChildSecure, Credit Monitoring for Your Kids

By Jim Bruene on October 25, 2007 11:03 AM | Comments


Coincidently, the same day I received my first alert from Experian's FreeCreditReport credit-monitoring service (see yesterday's post here), the company revamped its website's account-management area. The thing you notice right away is the focus on upselling subscribers to the new ChildSecure family plan (see first screenshot below).  

The cost is an extra $6.95/mo, which seems like a good value, considering that you can cover all your kids with a single fee. But the total monthly fee on my plan rises to an eye-popping $18.95/mo or $227 annually. That's a significant investment and hard to justify unless you've previously been burned by fraud (for more on the price/value equation, see our Online Banking Report on the subject published in August).  

Screenshots (24 Oct. 2007)
Logging in yesterday, I was greeted with this popup in front of the grayed-out main page.

They also sell it in a huge banner across the top of the main page and a tab for the ChildSecure option.

Finally, here's the page you see after clicking on ChildSecure tab.

Here's the email sent yesterday announcing the website redesign:


Credit Monitoring Needs More Integration with Online Banking

By Jim Bruene on October 24, 2007 12:02 PM | Comments

Today I received my first alert (see screenshot below) since subscribing to Experian's credit-monitoring service about 4 weeks ago. While I appreciate the heads up, the user experience is not at all what I want.

Here are the problems: 

1. Cries wolf. All the alert tells me is that there was a "key change" posted to my file. Is it a routine credit inquiry (which I was expecting) or did someone just open an account at Best Buy in my name? The only way to find out is to log in to my FreeCreditReport account, which took three minutes since I couldn't remember the username/password. Please provide more info in the alert so I can better gauge the severity of the situation.

2. Not phish proof: While Experian does use my first and last name in the salutation, thereby improving believability, additional personalization is needed to help users know it's genuine, especially when the company's log-in process requires input of a social security number confirmation after login. 

3. Not enough trust: I've worked with Experian for more than a decade so I know and trust them. However, the average Joe/Jo doesn't really know whether FreeCreditReport is a trustworthy company or not. Credit monitoring alerts are too easy to miss if they don't come from a recognizable and trusted name. It would be much better if they came from the user's financial institution or card issuer, someone with whom they do business on a monthly basis, so the emails don't end up in some spam filter.

4. Not integrated with online banking: I really don't want to remember yet another username and password, nor do I want to spend five minutes of my day logging into another website to verify there are no criminals using my credit files. Credit monitoring and credit scores should be integrated into online banking so I can keep track while doing my normal banking.

5. Doesn't tell me what to do: In this particular case, I knew about the inquiry, but what if I didn't recognize it. The website doesn't provide any info on what to do if I did not authorize the inquiry, which could be the first sign of serious identity takeover (see screenshot below).

For more information, see our recent Online Banking Report on Credit Monitoring Services here.

Email alert from Experian's FreeCreditReport service (24 Oct. 2007)


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)

Password Reset Alert from American Express

By Jim Bruene on August 25, 2007 9:17 AM | Comments

I received an email from American Express late last night after resetting my password earlier in the day (see screenshot below). I can never remember my AmEx password, because I can't use my usual one due to the company's surprisingly short field of just 8 characters that also doesn't support special characters. I have it written down somewhere, but I can never find that either.

I went online late Friday afternoon to pay my overdue bill at I was pretty sure it was one of three possibilities, but after two unsuccessful attempts, and with the website warning me the third attempt would cause a lockout (note 1), I decided to go through the online reset process instead. 

That was easy. I just needed the card number, the code on the front of the card, and the answer to a security question. At that point, AmEx displayed my username and let me reset the password. It's one of the easier reset processes I've tested. That's a benefit to customers and helps cut customer service costs for AmEx. 

But the thing I liked most was the email message sent later that night informing me of the password reset (screenshot below). But I don't understand why it was sent more than six hours later. Why not send it right away? That would be way more impressive to customers, and would help reduce any potential fraud or privacy violations. Better yet, send a text message right to the customer's mobile, so they have real-time knowledge of the account changes.

Email Critique
Personalization: The company uses two pieces of personalization, cardmember name and the last five digits of the account number, to differentiate this message from the average phish. Excellent.  

Subject line: Your American Express Forgotten User ID is good and right to the point

From: "American Express" using an American Express email address. Good.  

Headline: Verify Your Account Transaction is a little confusing. All I did was reset my password. I'm not sure that average person views that as a "transaction."

Copy: The copy is short and to the point, but it could use a little editing for clarity. The third sentence, "If you did contact us...." seems unnecessary. And "If you did not complete the retrieval...." is not very user friendly language.

Design & Layout: Excellent.

Overall Grade: A- for the message, B- for timeliness


1. We recommend allowing more than three attempts before lockout. It's pretty easy to forget a digit or make a typing mistake. See our Online Banking Report on Security (#119) for more information.  


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


ING Direct Offers 1% Cashback for 60 Days

By Jim Bruene on May 17, 2007 3:25 PM | Comments (1)

Email from ING Direct announcing cashback bonus I just received an email (inset) from ING Direct announcing a 1% cashback promo for its Electric Orange debit card. Not surprisingly, the rebate applies only to signature debit, where interchange fees cover the cost.

Initially I thought it was a permanent feature of the bank's new paperless checking account. But after clicking through to the landing page (see screenshot below), I discovered it's just a two-month promotion, running June 1 through July 31.

Given ING Direct's staunch consumer advocacy positioning, I am a little surprised it is not a bit more upfront about the two-month time period. Perhaps it's just an oversight, or maybe they are testing different copy treatments.

The 1% offer is also shown on the bank's main Electric Orange product page (here). Again, there is no mention that it's a promotion until you click through the "1% cashback" banner.

Overall, it's a good promotion. A clear benefit for the customer and limited duration for the bank. And it helps build awareness that ING Direct supports debit card use at the point of sale, a relatively new feature for the direct bank. See previous coverage here.

Landing page (here)

Comments (1)

Zopa Provides Update on U.S. Launch Plans

By Jim Bruene on April 19, 2007 8:14 AM | Comments

Zopa email 19 April 2007 update on US launch plans Without providing specific dates, Zopa sent an email to its house list today providing a progress report on its upcoming U.S. launch (see inset). The person-to-person lending exchange now expects a national launch rather than the state-by-state approach previously announced.

The company said it's completed its site redesign, underwriting system, ID verification system and product lineup. And signaling the importance of its U.S. launch, Zopa named a new CEO, Doug Dolton, who will run both the U.S. and U.K. operations out of San Francisco.  

The email raised more questions about the exact business model to be employed, saying only that it's "made adjustments to Zopa necessary for launching in the U.S." Zopa has been talking to credit unions about partnering, but no announcements have been made (previous coverage here).


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.


PayPal Email: Simple Steps to Protect Against Fraud and ID Theft

By Jim Bruene on November 1, 2006 3:30 PM | Comments (1)

Despite calls for banks to stop marketing via email (see here) to help reduce fraud, PayPal, probably the most phished brand in the world, shows that the technique can still be effective. 

It requires a professional layout, good personalization, and behind-the-scenes fraud monitoring to nip phishing attempts in the bud.

Here's the latest from PayPal. Note the 30-second credit card button (bottom left) and personalized greeting at the top of the message.

PayPal email


Type: Marketing email with educational focus

Product: Payments with credit card cross-sell

Customer Type: Active customer

Personalization: Hello <yourname> at top of message


Date received: Wed 11/1/2006 9:38 AM
From: PayPal []
To: Jim Bruene
Subject: Simple Steps to Protect Against Fraud and ID Theft

Comments (1)

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.


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.


Charter One Bank Screws Up their Email Messaging

By Jim Bruene on March 22, 2005 11:59 PM | Comments

Charter_one_message I first wrote about the benefits of email alerts in the third issue of Online Banking Report nearly ten years ago (OBR 3, June 1995). Since then I've enjoyed watching the service unfold, and I've never met an alert I didn't like -- until this week.

An email messaging pioneer, Charter One Bank, with a suite of email/fax/voice alerts named OBR Best of the Web in 2003, laid an egg this week.

I've had an account there for years and have received seven or eight hundred daily mini-statements in that time. Surprisingly, those daily messages have remained absolutely the same. No advertising, no service messages, no cross-sales. Not even a holiday greeting.

Imagine my surprise when last week I received, in addition to my daily statement, a New Message Alert (click on screenshot above) that said in part:

On March 21 a new message was delivered to your Online Banking Message Center. Please click here to view this important message.

Surprisingly, it didn't occur to me that this could be a phish (it wasn't). I really was afraid something had gone terribly wrong with my account. I couldn't remember my username or password and the "lost password" function returned an error message. So I had to wait until I was home where it was written down.

As I anxiously logged into my account, expecting the worst, I wondered how I would cover the check I'd just written off the account. The first thing I did was check my balance. Phew, it was what I expected, just enough to avoid monthly fees. Then I crossed my fingers and navigated to the secure message center where the all-important message waited.

Imagine my "customer experience" when I found that Charter One had sent me on this harrowing chase only to inform me that (click on screenshot below):

Effective April 10, 2005, Charter One Bank’s Online
Banking service will no longer process one-time or
recurring online transfers to or from a passbook
savings account.

Charter_one_message_center_1 Not only do I not have a passbook savings account, I have no other accounts beside checking, so I am ineligible to make any type of transfer on the system. What a terrible waste of my time.

Seven days later, I get yet another message insisting that I log back into the site for another "important message." This one wasn't much better. The bank was alerting me to an upcoming bill payment service slowdown. Never mind that I had never sent a bill payment nor activated the service in more than two years of maintaining an account at Charter One.

Moral of the Story
As a consumer, after enduring two false alarms, I feel this way about the bank:

1. They do not know me as a customer.
2. They do not care if they waste my time.
3. They have no ability to send targeted email.
4. They lack a basic level of common sense.
5. They do not know how to communicate through email.

It would have been so easy to keep this from happening. The bank could have done any of the following:
a) Sent these message only to users of the specific accounts/functions
b) Assuming their system doesn't allow (A), they could have sent the entire message to my Internet email address so I didn't have to login to see it
c) Not sent the message at all to my Internet email and simply posted the message within the online banking area

The email relationship with your customer is powerful, yet extremely fragile. A few irrelevant "important information" messages, especially if a website login is required to access the message, can kill the entire channel.

-- JB


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)


Ziff-Davis How to “E-mail to a Friend” an Article

By Jim Bruene on August 7, 1997 9:33 AM | Comments

Ziff-Davis makes it easy for readers of its AnchorDesk to e-mail an interesting article to a friend; an approach sure to significantly increase word-of-mouth referrals around the Net (that’s how we first heard about the site).

AnchorDesk features commentary from Jesse Berst, an influential and controversial computer pundit. We highly recommend a visit not only to read Mr. Berst’s biting commentary, but to see how Ziff-Davis weaves together content from other ZD sites, a user forum, and advertising into a rich content offering. You can elect to receive a 1-page daily HTML e-mail of the highlights.


Step 1: Click on the “E-mail This Story to a Friend” button (RH side) to send a plain-text version of feature stories to anyone.

A bank using the same concept might want fax or snail mail options to reach more potential prospects (you may not know your friend’s e-mail address).

Step 2: Type the recipients e-mail address, any comments you would like to add (e.g., “Can you believe this?),
and your e-mail address so they know who sent it.

Step 3: A thank-you and explicit instructions on how to get back to where you started.

Categories: AnchorDesk, Email Samples

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