Community Bank Growth Strategies

community bank growth strategies

We know community banks. To develop our community bank benchmarks, we survey nearly 3 million bank customers every six months to find out what community banks are doing well and where they’re faltering.

  • We know, for example, that it’s not enough to just be active in the community if you aren’t making sure consumers know what you’re doing to be active – through social media, in-bank marketing efforts, and local visibility.
  • We know that at any point in time, 50-70% of bank customers are ready to switch banks – and we know the top ways banks can keep their customers loyal.
  • And we know that for most community banks, it can be more lucrative to focus on attracting women as bank customers, who are more adept at using bank technology and have a greater lifetime value than their male counterparts.

Community Bank Opportunity

Whether you’re the community bank manager or marketing officer, one of the things you’re charged with is growth. We know that explosive growth is possible when there are more than 3 million bank customers are up for grab in the northeast. Whether actively looking or just waiting for the right offer to show up, millions of bank customers in the northeast are not loyal enough to the bank they’re with to prevent them from switching. The same is true for about a third of business customers.

How can you keep your existing customers loyal and attract new customers looking for something better?

While it varies from state to state and region to region, there are some key areas that we find can benefit every community bank when done well.

Show Up in Your Community

You can’t just sponsor the local baseball team and call it a day. To really show up in your community, you need to actually be a part of it. When you’re serving your neighbors and know them and what they need, you can do a better job of making them feel like you’re there for them. You need to demonstrate that showing up – through sharing posts on social media, through being present during community functions, and more.

Level the Technology Playing Field

Community banks have access to the same technology consumers want that big banks have. You can offer online banking and photo deposits and mobile banking. No customer even questions that capability. But you have to follow through and make sure every single employee knows how to use every single technology you offer. It’s as much about your own employee buy-in to the tech as it is about the tech itself.

Focus on the Experience

Bank customers can walk into any bank and get an unemotional, transactional experience. Set yourself apart. Make sure when they walk into your bank, they feel like they’re at home. Be a part of their community. Give them a reason to walk through the door (fresh popcorn, suckers for kids, welcoming smiles from the staff, community events hosted on site). When you give them a reason to feel good about being in your bank, you give them a reason to keep banking with you.

There Are a Million Ways to Grow Your Bank – But You Have to Know What Customers Want

Increasing your customer base, decreasing costs, improving loyalty, cross-selling and upselling products are all standard ways to grow your community bank. But knowing what really resonates with your customers and potential customers is essential for making sure you’re putting your efforts in the right place. Your customized banking benchmarks can provide all the insight you need to understand your bank and your competitors better so that you can adjust your efforts to be more effective. Contact us today for more information.

What the Best Community Banks Are Doing Right

Every year, we have the honor of presenting the Banking Choice Awards, in which the top community banks and credit unions are recognized for providing outstanding service to their customers and members. The New York Banking Choice Awards were announced in April at the Banking New York Conference, and on June 28, winners will be announced for Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island at the Best Bank Expo.

The Banking Choice Awards are based upon the results of the Banking Benchmarks®, the largest and most comprehensive measure of banking customer experience in the world. The Benchmarks are independent of any financial institution and conducted by Customer Experience Solutions.

Our banking benchmarks delve into 53 different metrics about each institution customers use for banking services. These include the metrics used for the Banking Choice Awards: Overall Quality, Customer Service, Tools & Technology, and Community Contribution. Rankings for Overall Quality, Customer Service, and Tools & Technology are based on people’s responses concerning their primary banking institution. The final category, Community Contribution, is based on the responses for institutions that they are aware of but do not currently use, making it a reputation-based ranking.

There are consistencies among the winning community banks that can be used as a guide to improve your community bank CX:

Community Involvement

Community Banks who earn Banking Choice awards are among the most active in their communities. But they’re not just active – they know how to make sure their community involvement is visible to the community so that the people they serve are aware of the efforts they make to support them. Our surveys show that when a community contribution is accompanied by marketing spend to promote it, the impact to the bottom line can grow by more than 350%.


Winning community banks not only offer the same technology to their customers as larger banks but also have ensured their employees are trained to use it and can help members navigate it – without losing the personal touch that sets them apart. Staff training is typically one of the top reasons that people decide to switch banks, according to our benchmarks.

Personalized Service

Banking choice award winners are adept at providing exceptional customer service. They pride themselves on their ability to know their customers well, make more informed and faster decisions to help them with their financial needs. They know their customers. 

Customer Experience

What we’ve learned from our benchmarks is that not even better rates can pull a customer away when they feel valued and listened to by their community bank. In fact, customer experience is the most important differentiator. Customers will pay more for better service.

You Can’t Take Advantage of the Opportunity without Knowing Where You Stand

With 1.24 million customers ready to switch banks, there is a lot of opportunity for community banks and credit unions to grow, but it’s going to take not only delivering on customer experience but knowing where your bank stands in comparison to your competition. When you know what your customers and prospects think of your bank, you can make informed decisions to attract more loyal banking customers. Request your benchmarks now.

3 Ways to Grow Your Community Bank or Credit Union without a Big Budget

3 Ways to Grow Your Community Bank or Credit Union without a Big Budget

If you’re a community bank or credit union leader, you know that growth is key to success. In fact, the survival of your bank depends how well you grow your revenues.

Growth depends on understanding your current customers and your potential customers, their needs, and how to provide for those needs. For your customers, it means understanding how they are experiencing the bank, and what more do they need and want. For your prospects, it means understanding what their current bank is NOT providing and communicating clearly that you can do a better job.

It does not need to cost a lot of money to understand their needs, nor does it have to take millions of advertising dollars to communicate your ability to meet those needs. Below are some of the methods that don’t cost much and have a great ROI.

Grow Your Community Bank with Community Involvement

There’s no doubt that one of the big differentiators for community banks and credit unions is their ability to be more involved in the local community. And while we’ve talked about it before, you’d be surprised at how many community banks still don’t take advantage of this easy way to grow. From sponsoring a local sports club to working with a local charity, there’s no better way to connect with your customers and potential customers in a meaningful way.  This is especially important for attracting new commercial customers, because of the nature of the business. When their lines or loans at another institution come up for renewal every few years, most businesses want to get a competitive bid or two. But how do they decide who gets a shot? Word-of-mouth can be important, but so can high-profile community contribution. To be clear, a business is not likely to pay you a couple hundred extra basis points on a loan just because you sponsor the local parade, but it just might get you in the door to win a deal at par.

Grow Your Community Bank through Networking

As a local community bank manager, not only should your bank be a part of the local Chamber of Commerce, but you should be attending the meetings each month. Connect with other business people in the community and learn from them. Not only is it possible to gain more business customers from being more connected with them, but you can also learn more about their customers – your bank consumers.  And remember, the vast majority of new business that comes from networking is NOT direct business but from referrals from the people you contact.  So don’t make the mistake of trying to be pushy with the people you meet.  It is better to be helpful, because then they will think of you the next time, they hear of someone with a need.

Grow Your Community Bank with Collaboration

Don’t dismiss the possibility of being able to collaborate with other local businesses. From being on-site at a car dealership to assist with loans during a big sale to working with a local SCORE office to provide financial advice to new business owners, you can do so much to simply be visible in your community without spending a ton on advertising.

You can grow your community bank or credit union without breaking the bank to do it. The key is to project the message that resonates with potential and current customer needs. Don’t waste your time promoting your new technology if everyone is already happy with the technology they have. Don’t waste your efforts promoting how non-pushy your staff is, if local prospects actually want more proactivity and think their bank is not pushy enough. The most eloquently crafted message is useless if it does not sync up with an exact need.

Not sure what the key needs are for potential customers in your trade area? We can tell you exactly. Our local bank benchmarks give community banks the insights they need to customize their marketing, retain their customers, and attract new customers. We would be happy to provide information on your trade area and on your bank; please contact us by email at or by phone at 203-906-8923 to request a copy of your report or to discuss subscription options.

Competing for Customers, Community-Bank Style

competing community bank styleIn the battle for wooing banking customers, large banks are starting to lose out to community banks. It’s no longer the lowest interest rates that get people in the door; customers must be able to trust who they’re banking with. Banking is becoming significantly more competitive, with a customer base that desires an experience over a service, and larger banks are having a more difficult time adjusting.

Competitive rates don’t sell.

In a banking industry that now offers accessibility to consumers nationwide, competitive rates are no longer the biggest competitive advantage. When everyone offers competitive rates, the interest on loans or deposits are not as much of a driving force as they used to be.

Consumers seek financial partners.

Delivering on banking technology is a given, but community banks can leverage what has always been a bestseller: relationships. Community banks and credit unions can offer loans to consumers that big banks may not be able to offer. More than that, community banks and credit unions offer mutual trust. Customers are able to walk into a local branch and speak with a trusted adviser – possibly even a neighbor – about how to best invest an inheritance or whether to refinance their home.

Customer relationships are the winning ticket.

Community banks know the needs of their customers and can better serve them as a result. Cross-selling bank services to consumers that are already loyal significantly lowers customer-acquisition costs and boosts your reputation as a reliable banker. Consumers respond to convenience, but they also seek value in the services they are receiving. Tailoring services directly to consumers is how community banks stay relevant.

Stay true to your brand.

It can be tempting to copy the marketing strategy of larger banks, but that won’t maintain existing customers or attract new customers when there are so many options available. You need to find what makes your community bank unique and use that as your competitive edge. Seek out benefits, beyond low interest rates, that will peak the interests of consumers – and understand who you’re trying to connect with in your community.

Pricing structures, fees, and products must be relevant to those you serve, but you also must have a differentiator. Community banks can offer more personalized services that resonate with individual customers, luring them away from larger banks.

There is enormous opportunity for you to grow your community bank or credit union, but it starts with knowing what existing customers and prospects think of you compared to your competitors. Take action now and request our benchmark study for your region.

5 Ways Social Media Can Enhance Your Community Bank’s Brand

Social media offers value for most businesses, and community banks are no exception. Social media can provide another opportunity for community banks to engage with consumers. Strategic social communication can boost your community bank’s brand and image – and as more consumers expect you to utilize social networking, your social media presence is becoming more necessary.

  1. Social media helps manage your messaging.

Whether your community bank is using one or more social media platforms doesn’t matter; your consumers are, and they have things to say. Both positive and negative experiences will be shared via social media, and it is up to you to manage the messaging being generated by your consumers. Your audience will have their own perceptions, but without a social media platform from which you can leverage influential stories, you have no control over the direction of your brand. Social media drives awareness, and it is up to your community bank to effectively manipulate the tools available.

  1. Social media provides strategic marketing outlets for promotions.

Social channels give community banks the opportunity to sell banking services and engage audiences at the same time. With a bit of creativity, unique social selling efforts can deliver extensive ROI. Create a referral program for new checking accounts that awards current patrons for every shared post, or simply highlight ongoing sales that reflect the needs of your community. Social media can be used to generate interest in your services and get people walking through the door.

  1. Social media fosters deeper community outreach.

Social media is about connection, which is where community banks can truly excel. Getting recognition for your efforts to be involved in the community can be difficult, but social media makes it easier. Sharing photos of your most recent scholarship recipients or of your team volunteering at a local shelter can foster positive feelings. Showing community support demonstrates who you are as a brand and gives you the opportunity to reiterate what matters most to your banking customers.

  1. Social media humanizes your digital presence.

This is the perfect opportunity to get personal, and we aren’t just referring to shared photos of favorite family pets. Consumers want to also know what your community bank stands for. We’ve seen highly engaging community banks do the following:

  • Allow bank employees to choose a cause of the month and highlight why the cause is important to them personally. For every share, your bank can promise a specified amount that will be donated to that cause.
  • Highlight community involvement, such as a local nonprofit or sports team your bank sponsors.
  • Announce new services, technology upgrades, and specials.
  • Share community news.

Social media is about so much more than selling banking services, because your customers want to know the people behind the bank counter.

  1. Social media marketing boosts engagement.

The most intriguing aspect about social media is the ability to celebrate anything. Consumers love to share exciting news, and you should figure out what you can celebrate with your community today. Is it a birthday of a well-known bank teller or the anniversary of your branch opening? Have customers stop in to share a happy birthday message and a free cupcake. Take note of annual dates in your community that hold importance and acknowledge any historical relevance. Regardless of how you choose to create excitement, share it on social media.

Social media is a powerful tool for community banks, and it is one piece of the larger marketing puzzle. Community banks are known for their unique ability to connect with their customers on a personal basis, and social media takes that advantage to new heights. Consumers already expect that your services are accessible from anywhere, but your entire bank must also be present on popular social channels.


Winners & Losers

2.28 Million Northeast Households and Businesses to Switch Banks this Year

Banking New England Sept/Oct 2018
Published on Oct 16, 2018

In this special marketing issue, learn how to optimize your mobile site, understand why customers can be easily enticed to switch banks, and get an inside look at the New England Financial Marketing Association conference, featuring an article by Bruce Paul.

High Percentage of CT Customers Say They’ll Switch Banks This Year

High Percentage of CT Customers Say They’ll Switch Banks This Year

Financial institutions tend to hear unsolicited feedback from two kinds of customers – those who are very happy, and those who are very upset.

Even those banks and credit unions that try to survey a representative sample of their customers may end up with inaccurate results. This is because many customers are not completely honest because they do not want to get their favorite teller or commercial banker in trouble, and sometimes a bank’s employees will try to coach respondents to give good scores. This can lead to an inaccurate view of a bank’s customer base and lead to business decisions based upon imprecise customer intelligence.

Customer Experience Solutions takes a different approach and in this article, we have the top-rated banks for overall quality in each Connecticut county, as ranked by their own retail and commercial customers. The overall quality index is a combination of servicing, tools, problem incidence and resolution, policies and trust. We will examine some of those particular metrics in upcoming issues. The top tier performers include a range of large and small institutions, showing that size does not necessarily translate into results. Worth noting, there are a number of institutions that fell just below the top tier and may be able to capitalize on their strengths to achieve the top level in the next survey, scheduled for Q2.

We also have the top-rated banks for reputation as a strong bank. This index is based upon the perceptions of each bank’s prospects (non-customers), since reputation is a strong driver when considering a new banking relationship. While larger national or regional banks have a possible advantage in terms of assets or name recognition, a number of smaller banks also achieved the top tier. Worth noting, a number of institutions had reputations that varied starkly from market to market, indicating an inconsistency in marketing effectiveness across their footprint.

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