By Kate Young
In-store branch closures. By now, the story has become so familiar, it sounds almost like a folktale. And the moral of the story? When an in-store branch rides off into the sunset, it’s up to marketing to reassure the customers that all’s well that ends well.
Once upon a time…
A prosperous bank came up with the brilliant idea of opening branches in supermarkets and big-box stores. It was a brilliant idea for a lot of reasons. It created foot traffic from multitudes of shoppers. It built brand awareness. It made customers’ lives easier and more convenient by letting them consolidate their errands. It provided a point of differentiation from the bank’s competitors. And in-store branches were so much cheaper to run than their stand-alone counterparts.
Of course, there were a few chinks in the armor. In-store branches weren’t very good for cross-selling financial products. Not many people, it turned out, wanted to slog through a loan application while encumbered with a shopping cart full of Nutter-Butters, toilet paper, and raw meat. Still, though, these branches worked quite well as transaction centers.
Then one day the Internet appeared. ATMs began accepting deposits. Customers started banking on their phones. The concept of convenience changed forever. Consolidating branches became a key efficiency measure. And the golden age of the in-store branch came to a close.
The end? Hard to say.
A few years back, a writer for American Banker speculated that the demise of the in-store bank branch is not inevitable—or even the best course for every situation. That said, in-store branch closures have continued apace:
- IBC closed 55 instore branches in 2011.
- In late 2013, TCF Financial Corp. closed 37 Chicago-area branches in Jewel-Osco grocery stores.
- Last year, Chase closed 37 in-store branches at Meijer stores across Michigan, and Bank of Oklahoma closed 29 grocery store branches in three states.
What will you do if your bank closes an in-store branch?
From a fiscal perspective, closure of an in-store branch might be great news for the bank, its shareholders, and sometimes even for its employees, who are often re-deployed to other branches. That doesn’t mean the customers will like it. Even if they never used the in-store branch, customers—and the public at large—may interpret the closure as a sign that the bank is in trouble or has shifted its priorities away from customer convenience. In smaller communities, the rumor mill might even become a problem for the bank.
Marketing can get ahead of these risks by taking control of the narrative before anyone else does. That means working out a customer communications plan that accounts for more than just the logistics of the closure.
Remind your customers of who you are.
A good start would be to use ads and social media posts to reinforce your bank’s health and community roots. You don’t have to mention the branch closure in these communications. In fact, Scott Miller, CFMP and SVP of marketing at Riverview Community Bank advises against advertising a branch closure. Instead, he suggests that you “place a call to your local business editors, give them the background and some choice quotes to use if they feel it’s newsworthy.”
Craig Rodenberger, marketing director at Ephrata National Bank, adds that he wouldn’t make a public statement to address rumors, “which have a habit of going away almost as quickly as they start.” However, he does advise that you provide bank employees with talking points they can refer to when customers have questions about a closure.
Laura Rowe, marketing director of the Stephenson National Bank & Trust, suggests that this is also a good opportunity to call attention to all the benefits your bank will continue to provide—benefits that some folks might not have been aware of.
When Rowe’s bank shuttered its grocery store branch in 2009, for example, they expanded the hours at the closest branch to replicate the 7-day/week convenience of the in-store branch that had closed. “We advertised that ‘our convenient hours are moving four blocks north,’” Rowe explained. Not only did this messaging remind customers that the bank provided 7-day service, but it also highlighted how close the two branches really were.
Thanks to thoughtful, deliberate wording, they were able to spin the narrative into a positive story. “We chose to say that we were ‘consolidating branches’ instead of closing,” Rowe said. And because employees from the in-store branch redeployed to the nearby office, they reassured customers that they would “see the same friendly faces.”
Other language they used to accentuate the positive:
- “Given their close proximity, we will consolidate the branches and make our XXX Street Office even more convenient by adding staff and extending our hours.”
- “Beginning (date), XXX Street will be open 7 days a week, providing you with a loan officer and personal banker Monday-Saturday. Plus, you’ll have the ease of drive-up banking every day.”
Tell your customers what to expect.
Riverview’s Scott Miller said that when his bank consolidated an in-store with a full-service branch, they sent two letters and two emails about the consolidation to each customer who had been assigned to the in-store branch, as well as any customer who had used the in-store within the previous six months.
They also took the time to call top clients before news of the in-store branch closure became public.
Message points included the timing and the location of the account transfer, as well as a summary of the benefits offered by the full-service branch:
- A drive-up ATM that accepts envelop-free deposits
- Two drive-up teller windows
- Ample parking
- Safe-deposit boxes
- Commercial and mortgage lending
Perhaps just as importantly, the communication also included assurances that the move would not impact account numbers, debit cards, Internet banking access or any automated transactions. While that may seem obvious to bankers, customers may not feel comfortable assuming anything.
Being reassured about the things that won’t change—and being given easy access to answers to their questions—is crucial. Don’t just write up a long Q&A document and expect your customers to read through it. Provide a phone number so that they can call in and talk to a live person who knows the answers and can explain how each customer will be affected.
In the end, it’s important to remember that change can be hard on people—especially when it impacts the way they interact with their money. Being sensitive to customers’ fears and proactively assuaging their pain points goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth transition.
A benefit to individual membership in the ABA Bank Marketing Network is the ability to converse through the ABA Bank Marketing Network Groupsite–a members-only discussion group. The thoughts expressed in this article reflect the collective wisdom of Groupsite responses to the question, “We have decided to close one of our in-store branches…Any feedback would be greatly appreciated on how you’ve battled a branch closing when your bank is sound.” Join in the discussion today.