Building Bonds in Banking

Deepening existing customer relationships to fortify your foundation for the future

Since February, we’ve witnessed the banking industry respond with resilience to a global pandemic and react with heart to widespread social unrest and calls for change. While the financial services sector has surely shown its mettle through this cascade of challenges over the last three months, banks and credit unions can only rely on their reserves for so long. Forging a successful path ahead relies on building upon core brand resiliency, leveraging the power of the branch, and maximizing growth opportunities for the future.  

With at least 5% of their total revenue at risk and wide-ranging economic impact on their customers – including 55% of small businesses reporting significant contraction – banking is facing an uncertain economy. Even after the short-term boost from PPP loans, the overall economy could take up to four years to recover and that’s if the virus is contained. Given these current conditions, new revenue streams appear to be in short supply. Yet, banks and credit unions do have some powerful advantages, even now: Those core customer relationships from which they can deepen connections, trust, wallet share, and foster advocacy. Now is the time to nurture and grow the relationships at the heart of the brand.

Channels of Engagement

Throughout their banking relationship, people will use a full ecosystem of banking channels to manage their financial lives. For basic, daily transactions, digital channels like convenient apps, and online banking save time and energy. For more complex financial decisions, businesses and retail consumers seek advice from a trusted banker, and those consultations happen at the branch. Consumers also interact with the bank brand through social channels, marketing emails, traditional advertising, community events, word-of-mouth, and other forms of brand communication.

All of these channels of engagement intersect and unite to create – ideally – a cohesive customer journey. And this journey looks different across generations, as younger people come into banking relationships with new expectations, especially around digital connection. All of which means that as economic uncertainty looms, optimizing each of these channels of engagement is key to building and nourishing your core banking relationships across all your consumers’ life stages, ensuring a thriving long-term relationship.

The Local Branch

Even if a customer or member only comes into the branch a few times a year, their experience is critical.

The local branch is not only a beacon for the bank’s brand but a direct and personal channel of engagement, where a banking relationship most often begins during times when new customers are most open to switching, like when people move to a new home. Pre-COVID, the local branch is where the relationship is deepened and personalized, and with safe reopening, that vital relationship will continue. Customers get to know and trust local branch staff who, in turn, begin to know their local customers and provide customized consultative advice, and products and services valuable to them.

During COVID and beyond, the local branch should be a calm in the storm, where consumers confide in their trusted financial partner and find counsel and solutions to their most pressing financial problems. The branch channel is where consumers must feel like they are more than a number to the bank and their individualized needs are met. So important is the local banking relationship, community bankers have been reaching out to their customers one-by-one, as spotlighted by Sean Keathley in Episode 2 of the Believe in Banking Podcast. The local branch is where your bank’s values and purpose really come to life.

Essential Digital Channels

Convenience is key with digital channels. What was used primarily to save time and effort pre-COVID became a lifeline during the early days of the health crisis as lockdowns literally left only drive-up and digital channels open for consumers to access their financial lives. The transformation that COVID represents and the subsequent movement toward digital engagement is expected to persist even after the pandemic wanes. In response to the crisis and in anticipation of future consumer demands, financial brands have leaped into action.

Services banks are providing augment their mobile apps and enhance features, like removing limits on mobile deposits and providing additional support for voice, ITM and online services. Banking’s response was also in no small part with an eye toward the rising competition from fintech and digital-only banking services and maintaining their core customer base. While consumer shift to mobile was surely on the uptick well before the pandemic, COVID has accelerated the pace of digital migration, pushing banks to fortify their digital offerings now for the future.

Marketing Channels

All other brand communications – from direct email marketing and brand advertising to social media and news and insights on corporate websites –are being reevaluated in the wake of COVID. The goal now is to reaffirm brand values and ensure that the empathy-led approach comes shining through to deepen relationships with customers in their often-vulnerable moments during this unsettled time. The Financial Brand outlines James Robert Lay’s position that digital marketing is a key channel to develop personalized connections with core customers, serving up the advice and information they’re most interested in, directly in their inbox or feeds.

In the digital marketing digest, we highlight best practices for tailoring a mix and message that leverages opportunities for supporting and cross-selling within your core customer base. In many ways, there’s never been a better time to invest in customer data and building a strong digital marketing ecosystem. While all marketing outputs are important, nothing compares to the central role of social media in brand communication strategy.

During COVID, social media usage has risen dramatically – 61% since April as Forbes reports – ensuring posts receive more eyeballs and more engagement. Social media allows brands to organically connect with audiences and deliver hyper-relevant, of-the-moment communications. While the branch provides a rich opportunity to go deeper one-on-one with your customer, social provides the ability to go one-on-one and one-to-many at the same time, widening your brand’s sphere of influence.

This powerhouse channel is being used effectively by consumer and financial brands to authentically engage with audiences and amplify their brand’s purpose and position, allowing the kind of real dialogue with consumers that build loyal, lasting relationships. As the ultimate democratized media form, brands of all sizes have an equal opportunity with social, provided they have a strategy focused on connecting with those core customers so vital to maintaining and growing competitive advantage – during a crisis and beyond.

For financial institutions needing advice and expertise about nourishing and fortifying their core customer relationships, contact Adrenaline’s brand, advertising, and communication experts at or call (678) 412-6903.