Sales Techniques Archives

Sales & Marketing: Preparing for a Future without Bank Branches

By Jim Bruene on March 18, 2014 9:49 AM | Comments

It's been almost a year since my last branch rant (here), so I feel I'm due. As I've said before, as founder of a business tied to the success of digital channels, I'm totally biased, so proceed with caution.


During lunch at the Bank Innovations conference here, I engaged in a spirited debate about the value of branches. And later that week, I enjoyed Optirate's rebuttal to The Financial Brand's defense of bank branches. It's one of the more highly charged, and important, issues of the day.

Here's what it boils down to:

Branches have value...

         ...but not enough to pay the rent

Since customers won't pay directly for branches (see note 1), banks must cover their costs with low deposit rates, penalty fees and other charges. That has worked for a while, but eventually leaner competitors will figure out how to cherry pick the profitable customers/services. We saw ING Direct siphon off a few billion in deposits during the high-rate years and now we are finally starting to see alt-lenders making a small dent on the loan side ($1 billion or more each being originated this year by Lending Club, Sofi, and OnDeck Capital).

The writing is on the wall. The branch, as we know it, is on the way out (note 2).

But most banks have built their franchises by opening new accounts at branches. So what are the alternatives? There is no right answer as it depends on your strategies and customers, but here are some general ideas (note 3):

  • Provide state-of-the art online/mobile applications and onboarding (note 4)
  • Go after the kids of your current customers, then take care of them through major life stages so they never leave (note 5)
  • Increase your branded-ATM presence in your geographic footprint (apartment lobbies, large employers, etc.)
  • "Power the POS" with free card processing for your cards (if merchants steer customers to your card)
  • Partner with employers to provide banking as an "employee benefit" including a schedule of bank employee "office hours" for advice, help and limited transaction support
  • Focus on small and mid-sized businesses (including startups), and take staff directly to the business location
  • Drive traffic (foot and digital) to your merchant customers with relevant offers
  • Consider roving "mobile banks" that operate like food trucks, moving about the community and parking in high-profile locations (might as well sell cheese and bacon sandwiches too)
  • Participate in crowdfunding/P2P loan platforms to gather new assets (note 6)
  • Provide in-store/dealer financing (real-world and digital)
  • Co-locate with compatible service businesses (insurance, tax prep, real estate, etc.)
  • Have a presence at local events, festivals and street markets (portable ATM, water stations, bathrooms, etc.)
  • Get very involved in local real estate

I am not saying that all branches should be closed. Schwab proved that it pays to have at least one physical location in every major city. But branch costs need to be reduced fast.

It won't be easy. Change is hard. Layoffs are VERY hard. And unproven digital strategies supplanting longstanding branch-based sales are risky. But I'm not sure there is any realistic alternative for the majority of financial institutions.


Embedded image used with permission of Getty Images.

1. It's true that the same could be said about online or mobile channels. But, for the most part, the digital alternatives operate at a fraction of the per-user cost of branches.  
2. It's a 40-year process, however (see OBR 128, April 2006, subscription).
3. For 500+ ideas, see our annual planning report (Sep 2013, subscription).     
4. See: Online Account Opening, OBR 168/169 (June 2009, subscription).     
5. See: Youth Banking, OBR 194/195 (July 2011, subscription).     
6. See: Crowdfunding, OBR 216/217 (May 2013, subscription).


The iPad-Enabled Checkout Experience at the POS

By Jim Bruene on December 3, 2012 6:09 PM | Comments

The Hideout Coffee House in Austin

A few week ago I spent the weekend in Austin eating BBQ, watching my alma mater get crushed by the University of Texas, and sampling the Sixth Street ambiance.

But the highlight for me was the The Hideout Coffee House. Not only did it have great coffee and eclectic furnishings, but card customers could pay via Square through an iPad mounted in a novel wood stand (see inset; it's not possible to see well, but the ipad stand is on the counter at left).

The barista took my card and swiped it through the Square reader, which was supported by a wood guide (see similar unit left from Tinkering Monkey). Then he flipped the case over 180 degrees so it faced out towards me (see below).

Tinkering Monkey iPad holder at the POSI selected one of the large buttons for a preset tip amount and then once more to have the receipt emailed to me (I only had to enter my email the first time).

It was easier to use than most in-lane POS readers, even contactless ones, because the barista actually did the swipe. It eliminated the uncertainty about when I should tap/swipe or whether it worked or what I should do next. And I loved being able to put a tip on the card with the push of a button rather than writing it on a piece of paper or digging for change. 

Tinkering Monkey swivel ipad caseBottom line: Eventually payments will be made via proximity and settled in the cloud (my mobile will know I'm in the store and will automatically pair me to the store's POS). But there is still a long transition period ahead.

Tablet/smartphone card readers are a great interim step for smaller merchants (note 2), especially with the price wars waging at the point of sale (note 3).

Related: And banks, even though you don't have the POS issue, you can equip your frontline staff with iPad-powered sales tools (note 4). 


1. On one of the Austin freeways, I also saw a billboard for the ISIS pilot. But I didn't see any merchants promoting it. 
2. And some bigger ones. And of course, the 20,000-store Gorilla, Starbucks, is partnering with Square, though it is unlikely they'll use iPads at the point of sale.
3. Bank of America recently jumped into the game matching Square's 2.7% discount rate.  
4. Barclays just bought 8,500 iPads to equip its branch sales staff (Financial Brand post).


Design: Bank of Internet Puts "Request More Info" on New Homepage

By Jim Bruene on October 6, 2011 6:06 PM | Comments

image Citibank wasn't the only one with a new homepage this week. Bank of Internet also launched a new look today.

It's more traditional than Citibank's, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's more copy, but it's still pleasing to look at it, easy to navigate, and focuses attention on two core products:

  • 1.25% APY rewards checking
  • 4.10% APR mortgage refinance

I like the bank's new Request More Information box in the lower left corner. It allows visitors to quickly request more info on the following three topics simply by typing in their email address. 

  • Deposit accounts
  • Mortgage loans
  • Multi-family loans

Bottom line: While most financial institutions invite visitors to call, few make it easy to leave your email address for a future discussion. I'm not sure how many people will see this box tucked away in small type below the fold. But with a little more emphasis, it could be an effective sales tool.


New Bank of Internet homepage (6 Oct 2011)

New Bank of Internet homepage (6 Oct 2011)

After submitting an info request the box changes to a thank-you message

after submitting info request, box area changes to thanks

Previous homepage (2 March 2011; Source: Internet Archive)

Previous Bank of Internet homepage (March 2011)


Simplifying Product Search: Delivers Relevant, Clean Results in Seconds

By Jim Bruene on September 14, 2011 7:17 PM | Comments

image It's been years since we did a deep dive into what I call "site search," trying to find answers using a banking site's own search and navigation tools. While things have gotten much better, most financial sites still have plenty of room for improvement (note 1).

And it doesn't seem like a monumental problem. Even a large bank has how many retail products? 50? 100? Even if five times that, it's TINY compared to other ecommerce sites. has 9,070 results just for "toaster."

Consumers should be able to quickly find appropriate banking products by inputting four or five data points: age, ZIP code, family size, home ownership, annual income (for credit products), and average balance (for deposit products). Then, a list of relevant products should be returned in tabular format with a clear link to more details.

To see how this works, stripped of all ads and cross sales, check out the side project of Seattle entrepreneur Adam Doppelt, Users enter four pieces of info: ZIP code, age, family size, and whether they smoke. A few seconds after pressing Find Plans!, the site returns a table of potential choices (second screenshot).

It's a very Google-like experience, something you can't say about most banking sites.


PickHealthInsurance input form (14 Sept. 2011)

PickHealthInsurance input form

Results page


Plan details page

Plan details page

1. Many financial institutions have sophisticated product comparisons, but it's not always easy to find the tool to begin with.


New Online Banking Report Published: Online Account Opening

By Jim Bruene on June 23, 2009 11:26 PM | Comments

imageWe just completed our latest Online Banking Report. It will be mailed to subscribers this week.
It's also available online here. There's no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately
for US$495.


Improving Online Account Opening ROI
Ten strategies to increase online application conversion rates

102 pages (published 21 June 2009)

In this report (abstract PDF), we focus on ways to increase conversions and improve your results when opening financial accounts online or over a mobile phone.

clip_image002The online application is the new branch new-accounts desk. And, just as you provide ongoing support, training and incentives to branch-based sales staff, you must continually fine-tune your online sales process.

In our experience, this is an area that needs attention at most financial institutions. Things have greatly improved during the 10+ years we've been tracking online applications. However, during the research for this report, we reached dead-ends at three of the 10 applications tested (note 1). That just can't happen.

The report outlines a 10-step approach to improving the process: 

  • Direct users to the application
  • Set expectations
  • First things first
  • Guide customers
  • Bundle mobile access & alerts
  • Upsell
  • Fund
  • Ask for referrals
  • Stay in touch
  • Humanize the process

We reviewed the online applications of the following companies:

  • Bank of America
  • BECU (powered by uMonitor)
  • Capital One
  • Chase Bank
  • First Arkansas Bank & Trust (powered by FirstROI)
  • Flagstar Bank (powered by uMonitor)
  • HSBC Direct
  • Huntington Direct (powered by CashEdge)
  • M&I Bank
  • National City
  • Verity Credit Union (powered by Andera)
  • Wells Fargo
  • Zions Bank

Finally, a 10-year forecast for online account-opening volumes in the United States is presented.

M&I Bank has an attractive and informative application start page (9 June 2009)
Note: The online banking guarantee at the bottom is a good way to improve user trust.

M&I Bank online application start page

1. Granted, user error was the problem in two of the three failed apps; however, we weren't purposely trying to make mistakes. The online application should have provided assistance in correcting them, rather than leaving us hanging.


Online Bank and Mortgage Lead Generation

By Jim Bruene on April 28, 2005 1:04 PM | Comments

One subject that doesn't get enough attention, online lead generation.

Now that most bank websites get more traffic than its branches, at least if you measure total number of visits*, you should be committing resources to maximizing the number of leads generated by your website.

Most banks have the low-hanging fruit covered with prominent phone numbers and website inquiry forms. But what about those prospects less willing to initiate a sales interaction?

Amerisave_logoMy favorite presentation from the recent Net.Finance conference, and one I almost didn't attend because I thought it would be focused on offline activities, was Evaluating Online Lead Generation and Management, from Dave Herpers, Chief Marketing Officer at Amerisave, an online mortgage originator.

If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. Previously he was marketing director at DeepGreen Bank and also did a stint at Bank of America, so he has a great background in online lending.

Besides the fascinating discussion of the methodical generation and processing of online and telephone leads, he provided a number of ideas that financial services companies can use on their website to improve the number of leads available to sales people.

Action Items
As customers research products and use your online tools, allow them to have any of the results emailed to them for future reference. Customers like it because they don't lose all the work they've done and it's serves as a reminder as to where they found all the great info.

Mr. Herpers suggested the following email functions:

  • Email me the results from the mortgage/refi/HEQ calculator
  • Email me my estimated closing costs
  • Email me the rate info I was just looking at
  • Email me info on the products I was just looking at

Any customer who uses the email functionality becomes a valuable product lead.

Other lead generation opportunities:

  • Contact Me buttons
  • incomplete applications
  • Request a Consultation form
  • Rate Alerts

Amerisave_rate_searchAmerisave reports that there best leads, other than telephone calls which are always first priority, are those from customers preforming rate searches at its website (see inset).

If you'd like to learn more about the best financial online marketing ideas, check out the Interactive Financial Marketing Database from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Citibank's Impressive Follow-up Sales Effort

By Jim Bruene on March 18, 2005 12:10 AM | Comments

Citi_free_ipodCitibank has woken my sick-in-bed wife the last two mornings, calling to remind me to submit my paperwork to fund the new checking account I established online two weeks ago.

She's not so thrilled with the bank, but I'm impressed with its tenacity.

Here is the scorecard of bank followup efforts:

  • Email = 1 (about 2 weeks after application...almost missed it, thought it was a phish)
  • Mail = 1 (technically not a reminder, it was the sig card and new account kit)
  • Phone = 3 (first about 1 week after application, then number 2 and 3, about 2 weeks after application

It's an impressive follow-up effort. I've applied for a number of accounts over the years and I can recall receiving only one telephone call, from Salem Five back in 1995, and that wasn't even an application, just a sales lead. The last time I tried to start a checking account, with Washington Mutual, I never heard from them, not so much as a single email or letter thanking me for my application. As far as I know it's still sitting in limbo on some backup tape.

Sorry for the delay Citibank, I really do want that iPod, so I will be sending my $2500 deposit ASAP.

Action Item
If a company with as much experience as Citibank has found it to be profitable to make follow-up phone calls on unfunded new accounts, you should consider doing it as well. However, you may have more luck than Citi does using email followups. Citibank's brand in an email message is practically worthless these days after the pounding it's received from phishers.


Categories: Citibank, Sales Techniques

Improve Bank Website Usability with Popup Sales Assistance

By Jim Bruene on March 16, 2005 12:21 AM | Comments

National_interbank_popup_1 Even with popup blockers wreaking havoc with this marketing technique, it still makes sense to program a popup when users abandon an application or any other important sales page. It's also possible to program a popup after the user lingers in one area for a certain amount of time.

The popup should ask if assistance is needed and provide at minimum a telephone number and email address. Here's an example from National Interbank.

-- JB


Instant Online Bank Account Opening

By Jim Bruene on February 3, 2005 11:47 AM | Comments (1) - Banks Speed Process For Opening Online Accounts

The Wall Street Journal reports today in its Personal Finance section on the plans at Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Wachovia, and HSBC to offer instant online checking account signup later this year.

While it makes sense for these national powerhouses to enable instant account signup, smaller financial institutions needn't feel they must follow suit.

Bank accounts, especially checking, aren't impulse purchases like the consumer goods sold at other online retailers. Most bank customers won't mind if their checking account is opened by the end of the week.

More important than instant signup are clear explanations of what happens next, email status reports as the process progresses, and clear privacy and security guarantees. A personal telephone call or email followup from a new account rep wouldn't hurt either.

-- JB

Comments (1)

Case Study: How First Tech CU Overcame the Net Sales Objection

By Jim Bruene on January 6, 2000 4:16 PM | Comments

Case Study: How First Tech CU Overcame the
“I-m not on the Net” or “I don’t trust the Net” Sales Objection


First Technology Credit Union (Beaverton, OR) is well known in online financial circles as a technology innovator. As Microsoft’s credit union, it’s a necessity. However, not all of the company’s consumers are connected to the Net, and some have been reticent to take the leap due to security concerns. First Tech offered dial-up character-based home banking via VT100 emulation terminals long before a Web-based product was available.

When evaluating how to migrate its dialup base to a browser one, the company ran into a pair of speed bumps: some users hadn’t yet signed up for an ISP, while others were too intimidated to conduct financial transactions on the Net. To solve both problems, First Tech teamed up with ISP (Internet service provider) Easy Street (Portland, OR) to offer Net access for a discounted rate of $15.50/month compared to the normal $19.95/month. First Tech buys the service from the ISP at an undisclosed wholesale rate and handles billing for its members on a single, consolidated monthly statement. Member can also earn an additional $1/month discount for accepting an electronic bill.

To provide browser-based connectivity for members who don’t want full Net access or who were had security concerns about the Internet banking connection, another alternative was created. These members are sent a CD with a pre-loaded dialing configuration that connects to the credit union via a non-Internet connection from the ISP. The CU has effectively removed connectivity issues from the list of member objections to Net banking.

Note: Concentrex uses 800 Support.


The screenshot right shows how the CU uses pop-up windows for Webmail input. Each department has its own Webmail address.

Categories: Sales Techniques

Send and Receive Free Emails

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

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

Free Email: Send and Receive


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

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


Building Killer Non-Financial Content

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

1. Only build what you can realistically keep

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

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

This month we add four corollaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and .


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