Bank Merger Communications

By Hillary Kelbick

You’ve done it! Your bank acquisition has been finalized, and all systems are go. Now it’s time to focus on creating a communications stream that informs and reassures your new customers. Here are five keys to success:

  1. Create a marketing opportunity from every compliance necessity.

You’re required by law to give customers advance notice of changes to their accounts. Since it’s a legal mandate, the temptation may be to provide only bare bones change information. Our advice is simple: don’t do it.

These letters are key opportunities to make a strong first impression. Your brand needs to shine through, right from the start. And you need to set the stage for relationship building that will continue long after the integration is complete.

Demonstrate that your organization understands and empathizes with your audience. Sure, you can offer them a larger asset base, more resources and a bigger footprint, and that’s important in the long term. But in the short term, your new customers will be sitting around their kitchen tables reading these letters, and saying, “What does this mean to me?” Be honest and up-front about what customers can expect, with language that is honest and believable. You’ll build the core of a solid relationship—and your customers will be much more inclined to trust your promise of the many good things to come.

  1. Get resourceful about retention.

Retention is always an overriding priority—after all, you’ve paid a lot of money for these new customers, and you want to keep as many as possible. But retention incentives like fee waivers and welcome bonuses can get very expensive, very fast. That’s when it’s time to start getting creative.

  • First, identify your high-value customers, creating special offers just for them—complete with personal outreach and handholding. Make sure you address their hot-button issues.
  • Pinpoint customer groups with the highest negative impacts, so you’re building good will with the people who need it most. Even a short-term fee waiver will give these customers a little extra time to make account adjustments, and that can go a long way toward satisfying any potential concerns.
  • Soon after the integration, develop targeted cross-sell initiatives, focusing on special opportunities that will give customers a reason for staying. Remember, customer inertia is on your side. Keep your customers for the first few months post-conversion, and you’re much more likely to keep them long-term. The first 90 days are key.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of one-on-one conversations. Be clear about encouraging your customers to dialogue with a banker, whether in-person or by phone.
  1. Manage costs while improving the customer experience.

Here’s a strategy that’s a win-win for you and your customers! As you develop a detailed communications timeline, keep an eye out for opportunities that will allow you to combine notifications, consolidating information about multiple products and services into a single package. Your recipients will be happier and you’ll save money in the process.

Speaking of managing the customer experience, there’s nothing more aggravating than coming home to a mailbox stuffed with multiple copies of the same mail package, each with minor variations in the address block. We find that a careful review of various householding scenarios will usually reveal potential consolidations while still protecting each individual’s privacy. Make sure this important issue is on your planning agenda.

  1. Let the data be your friend

We advocate using customer data to create mailings that are as targeted and personalized as possible. This often entails a “building block” approach to merger communications: dozens or even hundreds of discrete paragraphs are created, describing updates to every account and service, and these are combined programmatically into a personalized letter for each account owner. Customers receive a one-to-one communication that contains only the change information for their own accounts.

While this strategy may be more complex to execute than a one-size-fits-all letter and brochure, it will allow you to create a more personalized package that’s simpler to navigate and easier to understand.

Even if you opt for a less customized mail package, we strongly recommend listing each account—old product name, truncated account number, and new product name—so customers are assured that you have not “misplaced” any of their accounts in the transition. This strategy often reduces call volume in the days immediately following receipt of the packages because customers have a clear understanding of what is happening with their relationship.

Finally, one word of warning: test and verify your data, and insist on the highest levels of quality control as you produce your mailing. Of all the merger errors you have to avoid, Oops #1 is sending customers someone else’s account data. Remember, the data is your friend, as long as you manage it wisely! 

  1. Don’t overload your call center and branches

Every merger communication, no matter how smartly planned or clearly written, will generate questions. It’s the job of your merger communications team to minimize the need for calls, and to make sure the ones you receive are managed efficiently.

  • First off, be certain your letters highlight any customer action that is required. And when we say highlight, we mean HIGHLIGHT. It’s amazing how often recipients miss a directive that you think is clearly explained in your letter. This step alone will dramatically reduce call volume as well as customer frustration—and a quiet call center is a sure sign of a successful merger communication!
  • If your quantities are high, you may want to consider staggering your mail drops to make certain you have enough call center coverage to avoid long hold times.
  • Provide copies of the communications to your branch and call center staff, as well as key talking points so they can respond accurately and consistently to customer questions or concerns. In addition, develop product training guides that summarize all account transition information in an easy-to-scan chart with bullet points, so your staff can describe specific changes to each account with confidence.
  • And finally, if you’ve mailed customized letters with variable paragraphs, make sure you build a searchable electronic file that contains copies of each letter. A customer will often call with questions about his or her letter, and we have found that it’s enormously helpful for your representative to be able to call up the same letter. Remember, each letter is different! And it’s reassuring for customers if your reps are looking at the same document.

Above all, enjoy the ride!

Working on a merger is certainly a major challenge, but in our experience, it can also be enlightening. It’s a chance to hold a mirror up to your bank and see your strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of a new customer group. How will your product lineup compare? How will your brand promise resonate? The answers to questions like these will help you build a stronger bank, and make you a stronger marketer.

One last suggestion: make sure you have plenty of good, strong coffee on hand. We guarantee, there will be times when you’ll need it.  So get your team ramped up and your partners on board. Remember, it would take years of organic growth to acquire as many new customers as you gain in a merger. Good luck, and we hope you make the most of this unique marketing opportunity!


Hillary Kelbick is president of MKP communications Inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications. Email: [email protected].