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Like all of our work at Market Insights, our blog is constantly evolving.

We first launched a Market Insights blog four years ago.  Initially, our blog was called Grow Your Bank and was hosted using the Blogger platform.  Two years later, after we had a better idea of how we wanted to use our blog to share our ideas and insights, we migrated our blog over to WordPress and gave it a more appropriate name: Market Insights Insider.

Today, we’re moving forward with another important change.

In an effort to make information easier to share and find, we’ve integrated our blog into the Market Insights website.  In the process, we’ve redesigned our company site as well.  This effort reflects the promise made in our tagline: dedicated to helping you grow. Writing blog posts on a routine basis about relevant topics is one way we continue to demonstrate our commitment to helping community banks and credit unions remain relevant and grow in today’s dynamic marketplace.

We hope that this new format allows us to deliver more frequent posts, share more insights, and prompt more conversations about the latest happenings in the financial services industry.  You can find our new blog at:

www.formarketinsights.com/blog

Please take some time to check it out.  And don’t forget to subscribe to our new RSS Feed for blog updates.  If you’ve listed our blog in your blogroll, please change your link to the new web address.

Thank you for following along.  We hope you continue to follow us as we move forward with this exciting next step.

Is there a trend towards fewer but fancier bank branches?  An article in today’s American Banker suggests that there is, at least among some institutions. The article, titled: The New Bank Branches: Fewer But Fancier, discusses the efforts of some regional and national banks as they take steps to reposition some of their branches – namely those in high-growth or more affluent markets – as places that are more conducive to conversations and relationship-building with customers.  The decisions are driven, at least in part, by dwindling regular branch foot-traffic:

As walk-in traffic declines, experts say, making customers feel as welcome as possible is central to post-recession growth plans at certain banks. Consumer research indicates that people still want to go to the bank from time to time to open up a new checking or investment account. But they don’t need to wait in line to deposit Friday’s paycheck.

The article goes on to cite findings from a study conducted in July by consulting firm, Celent:

Bankers said that foot traffic is falling at branches and that they expect the trend to continue. Respondents said that branches will still be necessary in five years, but they anticipate that their footprint will need to be 10% smaller by 2015 and feature 20% to 30% fewer teller stations.

While “fancier” may not be the best word to describe these changes, the article draws attention to an important point: Rather than try to increase foot-traffic, which would be a lost cause in most cases, these institutions recognize and are adapting to changing consumer preferences and behaviors.  They realize that consumers still need branches, but don’t necessarily need them as often or for the same reasons as they did in the past.

As consumer behaviors change, delivery networks should change as well.  In many cases, the branch has been ignored as institutions have adopted and introduced new technologies like mobile banking, remote deposit capture and online banking.  But remaining relevant requires that the branch network reflects these changes as well.

In an effort to promote responsible credit and debit card usage among college students, credit unions from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are hosting an online video contest.  The campaign, called Get Carducated, invites college students or college-bound students between the ages of 16-21 to “make a short video about the importance of using debit, credit and/or ATM cards responsibly.”  The winners will be determined by the number of views the videos receive by October 31, 2010; the videos with the most views will be among three winners.

While there have been numerous video contests hosted by financial institutions, this effort is noteworthy for a few important reasons.  First, the effort involves sixty-seven credit unions across three states; the overall effort is sponsored (and appears to be organized) by Covera Card Solutions.  Second, the contest’s website (www.getcarducated.com) is memorable (both the web address and actual site are memorable), it’s simple, and it’s likely to appeal to the target demographic.  Third, the prizes – including a college scholarship, MacBook, and iPhone – are real incentives for 16-21 year olds to participate in the contest.  Additionally, the contest is not a contest where viewers vote on their favorite video.  Rather, the winner will be determined by the number of total video views.

The contest recently launched, so as of now there aren’t any video submissions on the campaign’s YouTube channel page.  However, that is likely to change given the reach of the participating credit unions, who, according to Covera, will be receiving customized in-branch promotional materials to promote the contest.  And again, the incentive to participate should be enough to encourage a good number of entrants.

While there are some good elements to this campaign, there appear to be some missing pieces that would likely generate more awareness and allow the campaign to be more effective overall.  Most notably, is the absence of a real social media presence (beyond the use of YouTube to host the video entries).  Get Carducated does have a Facebook page, but the information is limited to an overview of the contest which was posted more than a month ago.  A search for “get carducated” and “carducator” on Twitter returned zero results.  In-branch promotions can only be expected to do so much, especially when the target audience is 16-21 year olds.  It seems that a more robust social media presence would do a lot to support this campaign.

The winners of the contest will be announced on November 1st.

Credit Unioning

As awkward as it might sound, some people do use the term credit unioning. Most commonly, it’s used by credit union marketers as a replacement for the often-used and well-understood verb banking.  Those that use it usually make the argument that the term credit unioning somehow helps further differentiate credit unions from banks.  But in today’s marketplace – where the difference between credit unions and banks is often unclear, unknown, or misunderstood by many consumers – is the term helping to make that distinction, or is it further confusing consumers who may be  unfamiliar with credit unions and/or the term credit unioning?

The idea behind using the term credit unioning is not new (thanks to Open Source CU for sharing this Credit Unioning video from 1985).  And while discussion about the term’s use comes up from time to time in conversations with credit union marketers, I was prompted to write this post after watching this video from CU Grow.  The opening question, “What do you think about using the word bank as a verb?” certainly demonstrates that credit union marketers have given this idea some considerable thought.  At the same time, the justification for using and encouraging the use of the term is unclear.

The use of the verb has also translated into the names of online banking platforms as well.  As an example, Eastern Michigan Credit Union offers online credit unioning, but the homepage requires this description: “Welcome to Home Financial Services (aka HFS – Version 2.5.6). This is an Internet based financial service (I am sure you figured that out) offered to members of the Credit Union.”  It raises the question: is the effort to completely avoid the words bank and banking really just confusing consumers?

I’m reminded of a great article published by the Credit Union Times earlier this year called, Exclude the “Credit Union” to Save the Credit Union.  Sarah Snell Cooke, the author of the article, challenges readers to think about dropping the words “credit union” from their marketing efforts.  It’s a complete departure from the credit unioning argument.

Rather than trying to find additional ways to make the same-old bank vs. credit union argument in their marketing efforts, marketers would be better served finding ways to emphasize (or create) real differences that separate their individual institution  from all others – including both banks or credit unions.  Until then, consumers will continue to do their “banking” – most likely at an institution that really doesn’t seem much different from the rest.

The Washington Credit Union League’s Annual Convention will take place next month.  And it looks like the league has found at least one way to bring the theme of this year’s conference, Evolve & Emerge, to life.  Rather than distributing stacks of paper handouts, presentation slides, program books and conference agendas to every attendee, WCUL has developed a convention app for iPhone and Blackberry.  The app eliminates the need for all the unnecessary paper (at least for those with smartphones).  Perhaps more importantly, the app also allows attendees to receive the latest updates from the league via Twitter, create their own customized schedules, and collect contact info from other attendees they meet at the convention.

This is the first time I’ve seen a state association develop a conference application like this for an iPhone or Blackberry (if anyone has other examples, please let me know).  While I’m not planning to attend the convention, I did download the free app for iPhone to see what it’s all about.

Here’s a screenshot of the app’s homepage.  Aside from the smart and easy navigation menu, I was most impressed with the integration of the league’s latest Twitter updates to the homepage.  I can see this being a great way to share the latest updates and announcements with conference attendees.  Beyond the league’s Twitter updates, the app also lets attendees post Twitter updates directly from the application – each of which automatically includes the hashtag established for the conference: #WaCon (bravo to WCUL for establishing a conference hashtag – it’s still something I wish all banking conferences would adopt and encourage).

The app also gives users quick access to maps of the exhibit hall and breakout session rooms, the conference schedule, and a list of exhibitors – complete with descriptions and contact information.

See more info about the iPhone app, including additional screenshots here.

The simple design and smart features of this app will certainly allow it to enhance the conference experience for attendees who use it.  I’m interested to know what percentage of attendees will use the app.  And, I’d like to know how the WCUL will encourage people to use it (one idea: make people pay for printed materials because the app is free).  Now, if we could only get more conference organizers to offer relevant and useful tools like this.

As Crain’s Chicago Business reports, Banco Popular is testing a potential name change in the Chicagoland market in an effort to shift perceptions and appeal to non-Hispanic market segments.  According to the report, “Manuel Chinea, senior vice-president of retail banking operations at Banco Popular North America, says the current name makes many non-Hispanics believe the bank isn’t interested in their business.”  The bank will introduce the new name, Popular Community Bank, at its 14 Chicagoland branch locations in August.

While appealing to a broader audience appears to be the primary reason for the name change, the change is not without risk.  The name change could drive current customers away.  It may not be enough to attract a significant number of new customers.  It will likely dilute the bank’s current brand position.  And, in today’s marketplace – with so many name changes, mergers, and acquisitions – the change may raise questions about the overall condition of the bank.  The effort begs the question: Is the move from a different and recognizable name to a more generic and unremarkable name really what’s needed here?

In some ways, it feels like Banco Popular is looking for a quick fix with this effort.  A name change alone isn’t enough to completely shift perceptions.  Rather than focusing on the name change, it seems that the bank would be better off focusing on messaging and outreach targeting non-Hispanic customers.  With or without a name change, the bank’s marketing efforts will need to act as a driver in creating or reshaping peoples’ perceptions about the bank.  The name change seems like an unnecessary (not to mention costly, with the proposition to change the name at 97 branch locations) addition to the mix.

It sounds like Banco Popular expects to make a decision about whether the new name will be rolled out across the entire network after about six months of testing.   In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the bank’s campaign supports the effort, how it’s received among Hispanic and non-Hispanic consumers, and perhaps most importantly – how the bank introduces and delivers a brand position that appeals to such a broad target.

An article in this month’s Fast Company magazine introduced me to Mango, an Austin-based financial institution that “lets people without a bank deposit checks, talk finances, and withdraw money – without ever opening an account.”  With the tagline, “the fresh way to manage money,” Mango has launched a business that stems from a simple core product: The Mango MasterCard Prepaid Card.  Perhaps the biggest difference between Mango and other financial institutions is the fact that a traditional bank account is not required.

Unlike many other prepaid cards, and as Mango’s tagline suggests, the card offers options in terms of money management.  According to the institution’s website, card holders are able to load money to the card from direct deposit, a bank account,  Green Dot MoneyPak (available at retailers nationwide), with a smart phone, and online from other Mango card holders.  Card holders can manage their accounts online, by smart phone, or at a Mango Money Center store.  Beyond the prepaid card, Mango is also offering a savings account offering 5.1% APY.

Based on the Fast Company article, it’s evident that Mango is focused on the customer experience.  According to the article, “rather than treat the unbanked as transient customers, Mango aims to forge long-term relationships.”  The article also discusses aspects of the branch, like the clearly stated fees presented on the wall or the self-serve kiosks, that contribute to this experience.

While Mango may be targeting people who are otherwise unbanked, it will be interesting to see if the business model attracts others who do currently have bank relationships elsewhere.  According to an article in this week’s MarketingDaily, and a Mintel Compremedia study, 19% of consumers expressed interest in using prepaid cards to pay bills, as prepaid cards would allow them to avoid overdraft fees.  The article goes on to say, “Of even more concern for banks is that the percentage of those willing to consider the prepaid cards increased among the affluent. Of households earning more than $100,000 a year, 25% said they would be interested in prepaid cards as a bill-payment option.”  Perhaps Mango will appeal to part of this group as well.

With Visa also launching a new prepaid card campaign, not to mention the variety of other prepaid card options currently offered by financial services companies, Mango is certainly not alone in this effort.  However, Mango’s approach – a business centered on the prepaid card – may prove to be a viable and sustainable business, especially in a post-recession marketplace.  As Mango gains traction in Austin, it will be interesting to see if it moves into other markets, expands its product line, and if its customer base becomes a mix of unbanked and banked customers.  I’d be curious to hear from anyone in Austin about the local marketing efforts and the actual in-store experience.