What Banks and Credit Unions Can Learn From Other Businesses Pivoting in 2020

There’s no way around it: COVID-19 impacted businesses across every category. Financial institutions are no exception.

However, there is a silver lining: Tough times have helped many businesses become more creative and resilient.

Let’s look at the lessons learned from businesses who’ve managed to make the most out of the current situation—and have even transformed it into an advantage—and examine how financial organizations, like banks and credit unions, can apply these same winning strategies.

Financial Institutions Have Entered Uncharted Territory

Before we get into tactics, let's zoom out and look at the current business landscape for financial institutions.

These organizations now find themselves facing never-before-seen challenges: The world is dealing not only with a health crisis, but also with a period of economic turmoil. What makes the situation even more difficult for financial institutions is that many were struggling with digital transformation even before the pandemic.

The main reason for this slow transition to digitalization is the fact that most financial institutions rely on hard-to-transform legacy systems. At the same time, they have to be extra careful when choosing IT vendors to consider risk mitigation, compliance requirements, and data safety.

Now, however, banks and credit unions face a new set of challenges, and digital is no longer just a “nice-to-have.” It’s a must. Traditional banks focused on in-person contact, neglecting the importance of omnichannel banking, are now rushing to create an engaging, easy-to-use online presence.

7 Things Banks and Credit Unions Can Learn From Other Businesses

To help financial institutions bridge the online-offline gap, we’ve gathered a list of businesses that are thinking outside the box and implementing novel ideas to embrace the “new normal” within the business landscape.

1. Maintain Relationships With Clients (Even If You Close Branches)

Many financial institutions had to close their doors during the lockdown, or in some cases, decrease their number of branches. Even so, regular client communication should remain a top priority.

Outside the finance world, businesses are using this approach to adapt to the current situation and to find ways to stay in touch with their customers.

For example, Verve Coffee, a coffee shop with locations in California, shows us how businesses can find creative ways to keep in touch with customers (even if you’re forced to close doors or limit normal operations.) They sent emails to inform their customers about ways they could support the business through ecommerce purchases (like buying new coffee blends they released, branded merchandise, and more.)

This regular, ongoing communication helped keep their customers in the loop about options so they could continue to support the business through uncertain times.

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The lesson: No matter what, maintaining communication with customers is essential for business continuity. Even if some of your branches are closed, reach out to clients to tell them about options they have at their disposal as well as what you can do to help them.

2. Offer Virtual Consultations

Successful organizations know they need to be where their customers are. Today, they are online.

Offering virtual consultations can help you keep loyal customers and attract new business. Customer-centric financial institutions know that making an extra effort to be there for clients and to help them by listening and advising, no matter the circumstances, can go a long way.

Many businesses started offering virtual consultations when the pandemic started as a brick and mortar closure solution.

Clothing brand Jarbo, for example, offers customers a free, one-hour video chat styling session. Knowing that people are looking for cozy clothes as they stay at home, Jarbo uses email marketing to talk about the importance of high-quality loungewear (while encouraging them to book a free styling appointment, too.)

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The lesson: Virtual consultations can be a home-run digital strategy for banks and credit unions. As finances are tough for most people, they need expert, one-to-one advice. The reality is: Virtual consultations aren’t much different than in-person consultations, which most financial institutions are used to doing anyway.

3. Reinvent In-Person Contact With Drive-Thru Service

When it comes to banking, people seek personal attention and support. They want to have the option to speak to real people. In fact, according to PwC, 65% of clients want access to a local branch.

No matter how much people get used to online banking, in some cases, they still prefer in-person contact. One year ago, that seemed like an easy task. Today, however, financial institutions are facing serious challenges when it comes to operating physical locations.

Most of the time, people think of fast-food chains when we think of drive-thru service. However, this model turns out to work well for other businesses, too.

For example, the well-known pharmacy store chain Walgreens partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to open drive-thru testing locations in different areas. The essence of the drive-thru concept is offering customers service while they safely remain in their cars.

Aside from testing, Walgreens offers more than 60 front-end products at its 7,300 pharmacy drive-thrus nationwide, including cleaning supplies and sanitizers, select over the counter products such as cough/cold, pain/fever, and immunity support, select grocery items, infant formula/adult nutrition, medical supplies, first aid, and paper goods.


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The lesson: Offering expanded drive-thru banking services can be an ideal solution for minimizing in-person contact while providing top-notch service to customers. This expanded service offering could include services that typically require coming indoors, like getting certified checks, exchanging coins for cash, etc. If you go this route, email your customers and let them know about all of the help and services they can get while maintaining a safe distance in their cars.

4. Educate Clients Through Webinars

In a world where everything is only a click away, customers want to make informed decisions. The era of the hard sell is over. Now, if you want to turn visitors into customers, you have to educate them, provide all the information they need, and then give them the freedom to choose.

Webinars are a great way to explain more complex topics and answer questions. During these difficult times, when companies cancel or postpone all kinds of events, organizing a webinar to educate customers can set you apart from your competition.

One example of this can be seen with French skincare brand Vichy. They held a webinar to discuss topics their audience cares about, and webinar attendees had a chance to win a gift basket as well.

In the promotional email, Vichy presents the webinar topic and the speakers. They also talk about other benefits like discounts, free shipping, free samples, and online skin expertise.

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The lesson: For financial topics, think about what would be most relevant and useful for attendees. Making a housing loan decision is always daunting, for example, so consider organizing a webinar to talk about the process and to answer questions. Queue up an email campaign with educational resources shared before and after the webinar as well.

5. Organize an Online Contest

People are having a hard time being stuck at home, which is why lately they’ve been even more active online. They’re looking for something to keep their attention. Organizing an online contest can be a great way to engage with customers and to spread the word about your organization.

First things first: When organizing a contest, be aware of your goal and your target audience. Based on that information, choose a contest type, details, and prize. The most important element of a successful contest, however, is a solid promotion plan. That’s where email comes in.

We see an example of this in action from luxury home decor retailer Alchemy Fine Home. They organized a design contest to promote a new offering, their Virtual Design Studio, that lets customers design the home of their dreams using photorealistic renderings. The main prize was a $500 Alchemy Fine Home gift card.

The secret to getting more participants to take part in your online contest is to create an engaging and creative task and to offer an appealing prize. Make sure to create an email sequence to get people excited about the contest. Adding a call-to-action to share the information with friends can help you spread the word as well.

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The lesson: People love contests, especially when there’s a good prize at stake. Creating an engaging contest and promoting it through email marketing and social media can help you stay top-of-mind with customers and community members alike. For banks and credit unions, the prize could be something like a waived account fee, a free consultation, or even a gift card to a local restaurant.

6. Communicate Safety Measures

During the lockdown, many non-essential businesses were closed. Others that kept their doors open had to undertake safety measures to make sure they don’t jeopardize their customers’ and employees’ health.

However, safety measures are constantly changing to reflect the current situation. Informing customers about the latest safety protocols in your branches can help avoid misunderstandings that might lead to frustration.

For the ride-hailing company Lyft, the health and safety of their community is the number one priority. That’s why they are communicating safety measures with their customers and drivers on a regular basis.

In one of their emails, they share detailed requirements from their Health Safety Program to keep riders in the know. They also remind customers of the efforts drivers are putting in place by wearing masks, keeping the car clean, and more.

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The lesson: Make sure to leverage email to communicate safety measures within your branches and give clients peace of mind. Help them feel safe and welcome when visiting your brick and mortar locations.

7. Embrace Banking by Appointment

In-location appointments have become increasingly popular since the pandemic started. Due to the restrictions of the number of people present in one place, companies had to find a way to control the number of people that come for in-person service. Thus, appointment-based scheduling.

Aside from regulating the flow of people, appointments will give you a chance to devote time and attention to each customer that visits you. This means you can create a more personalized experience and build a relationship of understanding and trust.

The approach works for all kinds of businesses: The well-known jewelry retailer H.Samuel, for example, offers free in-store appointments. All a customer needs to do is choose a location, date, and time. They have a “book an appointment” call to action in every email to give customers the chance to get one-on-one support.

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The lesson: Offering banking by appointment is a great way to deliver positive customer experiences, so make sure to promote it in your emails, create dedicated campaigns around it, and spread the word on social media.

Wrap Up

Learning to pivot can help financial institutions endure during turbulent times and become more resilient in the future.

When looking for new concepts applicable to your business, don’t limit yourself to looking only at similar financial institutions. Companies today have the same tools at their disposal, so you might be surprised how versatile strategies that work for different industries can be.

No matter which route you choose, remember: Frequent email communication is critical as you share your new offerings, services, and important information with customers.

If you want to learn how to build effective campaigns, whether it’s a newsletter, promotion, product offers, or text message, we can help. Let’s talk.

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