Control Your Email Reputation

By Ray Parenteau

Although social media seems to get the lion’s share of marketing and strategic attention, email is the channel that dependably delivers the targeted and timely messages your customers need to receive. And email only continues to grow in significance for both customer and product contact. As a result, the care and feeding of your bank’s email reputation requires ongoing attention.

Often, the c-suite or bank IT departments will dismiss email as “all junk” or even as a potential liability. The reality is quite the opposite. Bank customers actually want to receive relevant emails from their banks, and numerous studies show that it’s actually their preferred channel—by a wide margin. And that applies to baby boomers as well as millennials.

With email volume booming, mailbox providers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) are continuously fine-tuning which messages actually get through to the most valuable digital real estate: your customer’s inbox. Spam is still a major contributor to email volume, but its impact has been buffeted by the growing use of Sender Reputation technology (and subscriber interaction) within the email infrastructure. Identifying the “good guys” is easier that weeding out the “bad guys.”

Start with sender authentication.

One of the most important steps you can take to identify your bank as a credible sender is to make sure your email envelopes have the right information. The two identifiers that mailbox providers use to prescreen email are the presence of an SPF record and a DKIM signature. The details of those protocols are too techy for this article, but the links will help guide you to more information. Just know that these identifiers are becoming more important in improving delivery and—to a certain degree—reducing the amount of phishing attempts that reach your customers’ inboxes.

Check out the latest authentication for financial institutions.

DMARC is an emerging standard for financial email. Although it sounds like one of those congressional acronyms for new legislation, it stands for domain-based message authentication, reporting and conformation. While it’s still in the early stages of widespread adoption, DMARC is gaining industry traction and could end up sticking over the long run. The thing to know is that you need both SPF and DKIM protocols in place to implement DMARC. So start with those, with the eventual goal of setting a DMARC policy.

Register for sender reputation monitoring.

If you have SPF and DKIM, and use best practices with your email program, you can also register with one of the private sender reputation programs offered by Return Path. This service monitors your email traffic on a variety of criteria, including bounces (deliverability), mailbox-initiated opt-outs, spam complaints (when users click “this is junk.”), etc.

Your score is calculated and acts as an additional reputational whitelist layer for mailbox providers to check. It’s not a guarantee of inbox placement, but studies indicate better delivery when this is used. Of course, this could be coincidental rather than causal, because senders who use the service also tend to be better email senders.

Return Path recently announced a new certification level that scores the sending domain rather than the IP addresses of the actual sending servers. You can actually get a free test of your current sender reputation from the Return Path website, but remember that this number can change on a daily basis depending on what you’ve sent out.

Look out for email silos.

A growing consideration is the number of bank vendors that may now be sending email on your behalf. Making sure that their communications are in line with your policies and strategies is an important process that should be reviewed regularly. There are a number of potential concerns.

  • Are the messages operational or promotional in nature? If marketing is included, you’ll need to make sure the messages are CAN-SPAM compliant, with proper and functional opt-out processes. In addition, you’ll need to synch the opt-outs with any other marketing-program.
  • Returning to the techy part, you will need to understand how the “email sender” is being identified within the email envelope. Without proper sender authentication—and if enough volume is involved—you could create some delivery issues.
  • Is the message format and branding consistent with your other messages? If your message looks different from what your customers are used to, they may become suspicious, and even report your emails as spam. And that is a double whammy.

Also note that if your sender identity and opt-out process are not properly configured with your email service provider, you could be experiencing less than optimal delivery, and actually be losing subscribers (your customers). Although banks in general continue to improve their email tactics, many are still using fundamental “list” systems that lack the sophistication needed to deal with emerging best practices.

Is that all there is?

It would be simple if that’s all it took to guarantee reliable inbox placement. But wait, there’s more…

As we continue to explore the topic, we’ll discuss the areas in which you actually have a bit more control, including content, sending frequency and subscriber interactions with your messages. Most importantly, we’ll delve into why you should stay away from rented email lists and email appends. Until then, please email responsibly!

 Ray Parenteau is founder and president of ClickRSVP, a full-service email communications provider specializing in financial institutions for more than 15 years. Email: [email protected].