Fresh Ideas for Acquiring New Checking Customers

The world of banking may be changing fast these days, but there’s still one thing we can all count on: Checking is King. It’s at the core of the customer relationship. Once a customer opens a checking account and starts using bill pay, mobile banking and debit cards, you’re likely to have that customer for a nice long time.

Of course, the flip side is, it’s really hard to acquire new checking customers, and for exactly the same reason: they’re already enmeshed in the sticky services of your competitors! So are there any fresh avenues to consider if you’re faced with a checking acquisition challenge?  Here are a few to consider.

Cast more than one net

The traditional technique for prospecting is simply to draw a circle around each of your branches, apply demographic and psychographic overlays (or buy new movers lists) to narrow your universe, then send out a promotional communication. After all, checking is all about convenience, and branch proximity is sometimes a factor, right? Nothing wrong with that strategy. But there are other, less expensive options to consider as well.

For example, how about saturating your target neighborhoods with mobile advertising? These days about half of the nation’s cellphones are location-aware, which means you can target your ads only to phones that are within clearly defined markets surrounding your branches.

You can even do contextual mobile targeting: for example, do you think Starbucks customers may be a good profile for your latest mobile banking innovation? Deliver your ads to phones on the Starbucks wifi networks in your area!

Mobile billboards and guerrilla marketing tactics can be effective as well.  For example, van-based street teams can give you a great bang for your buck, covering multiple branches in a single day while promoting contests, giveaways, prize drawings, entertainments, and more – you’re limited only by your imagination. You’ll make a real splash in the neighborhood, and you’ll energize your branch staff as well.

Target your offer too.

These days, lip-service headlines about “Our menu of great checking choices” just don’t cut it.  Customers need a concrete advantage to consider switching, and those advantages vary by the audience you want to attract.

Interested in Millennials? Find a way to offer free ATMs or a better mobile banking experience. Looking for an edge with Seniors? Focus on lower fees, free ancillary services or rate bonuses on savings. Hone your promotion to focus on the key benefits important to that segment. And don’t waste your time with “bait and switch” techniques like offering a high savings/CD rate that requires opening a new checking account to qualify. It annoys prospects, and simply doesn’t pull well for checking acquisition. 

Pick your low-hanging fruit

In the competitive world of checking acquisition, cross-selling your own customers should always be your top priority. Even if they’re savings-only customers, they know and trust you with their money – and that’s half the battle.

Here, segmented DM or email is a fine first step – but it’s also not enough. Particularly for customers whose current balances would allow them to waive checking fees, telephone follow-up is strongly recommended to show you’re serious about wanting their business.

Make it easy to switch

Finally, in all cases it’s imperative to find ways to remove the hassle of switching accounts. Create a Checking Change Kit to simplify the move from one bank to another. Make sure your online account opening process is customer-friendly. In your branches, representatives can offer to transfer payee information to your bill pay system on the customer’s behalf. Do whatever you can do to lower the “annoyance threshold” of changing banks! A positive customer experience from day one will lead to more loyalty and a profitable relationship over time.

Sure, it’s a difficult challenge to find new checking customers. But is it worth it?  Of course it is. The key is to allocate your budget dollars wisely, finding inexpensive ways to identify and reach out to your prospects so you can put your time and money into the offers and the manpower that will allow you to turn prospects into customers. That’s the smart way to do checking acquisition in today’s market.


Hillary Kelbick is president of MKP communications inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications. Email:

Written by Hillary Kelbick