By Kate Young
Banks can do themselves a big favor by connecting with their customers on a personal level. By reflecting their communities’ values. And by taking the time to understand each customer’s needs.
At least few banks out there have even gotten warm and fuzzy—literally—by becoming dog friendly.
What’s the first rule of dog friendly banking?
Don’t talk about dog friendly banking.
Really? Well, obviously, we’re breaking that rule. But here’s the thing banks have to consider: for all the dog lovers in the world, there are many other consumers out there who may not feel the same way.
Some people are afraid of dogs, or have allergies. But others choose not to patronize businesses that explicitly prohibit dogs. It’s a fine line to tread, trying not to alienate either group. That’s where stated policies get tricky.
So we asked a number of bankers what their policy is. Most told us that other than the ADA requirement that service animals be admitted, they had no official policy regarding pets in the branches. That said, many also noted that they routinely see dogs brought into the bank, on leash.
Janelda Mitchell, VP and corporate marketing director at Farmers Capital Bank Corp. in Kentucky said that she’s never heard any complaints about the dogs that occasionally come in, and that they “actually have had pictures posted on our Facebook pages about ‘one of our four legged customers.’”
Barbara Gaul, VP and marketing director at Bath Savings Institution in Bath, Maine added that for the comfort of the other customers, they have signs posted that dogs must be leashed. “Having the dogs in the lobby seems more of a positive thing that a negative,” she said. “Pet lovers are very vocal and thrilled that we are ‘pet friendly.’ This is not a corporate decision, it has just evolved.”
What do dogs have to do with banking anyway?
Americans are passionate about their pets. Need some metrics for that? More than 54 million U.S. households have at least one dog—and nearly 80 million dogs are members of an American household. Then there’s the money trail. Last year alone, U.S. consumers spent over $60 billion on their furry (or scaly or feathered) friends.
As a bank marketing manager and CFMP, Penny Gray of First Security Bank & Trust reports that her bank doesn’t have a policy on pets in the branch. But as a devoted pet owner and Labrador breeder, she’s acutely aware of the bond between people and their canine companions. “My experience with the pet industry and pet owners is they are passionate about their pets and very willing to invest in them,” she said. “Most of our pet parents rarely leave their Lab(s) behind for even a short errand.”
The bottom line is, many people consider their dogs to be full-fledged members of the family and just feel better with their pup at their side. And they appreciate businesses that respect that.
What does it mean to be a dog friendly bank?
Not all banks keep quiet about their attitude toward dogs. Last year, Fortune asked whether JPMorgan Chase might be “America’s dog-friendliest bank.” This came after CEO Jamie Dimon noted in his annual investor day presentation that dogs were welcome in all Chase branches—and could even expect a dog treat. But TD Bank also welcomes dogs in all its branches, posting its policy on the TD website, under a page titled Bank Human.
These banking giants both frame their open-door policy toward dogs as a gesture of community spirit—a claim that may be much easier to make when you’re actually a community bank.
St. Charles Bank & Trust eloquently defines community banking on its Philosophy and Mission page, pointing out that they’re “big enough to handle $50 million loans to businesses in the area, yet small enough to hand out cookies and coffee when you come in the bank, lollipops to kids, and even dog biscuits to ‘man’s best friend.’”
Taking the concept to its logical extreme.
What about the dog that needs more than just a biscuit? A few financial institutions offer savings account products or financial advice specifically for pet owners. If that sounds frivolous, you’ve probably never had a corgi that needed emergency surgery after swallowing an entire tennis sock. Depending on how it’s set up, the argument goes, a designated bank account may provide a more flexible, transparent, accessible alternative to pet healthcare insurance.
Here are a couple of examples of what’s currently out there:
- Marathon Savings Bank in Wisconsin offers a Pet Pride Savings Club, with benefits such as a low minimum opening deposit and no monthly cycle maintenance charge.
- Citizens Bank has a dedicated webpage for helping customers prepare for the cost of owning a pet. This no-nonsense guide to the costs pet owners should expect to face—along with helpful tips—is both pet friendly and finance friendly.
Is there a “slippery slope” risk?
Of course, not all pets are dogs. Walking down Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont, I saw a man walking a large pig on a harness. Sitting at a café on Maple Street in New Orleans, I saw a man walk by with a tortoise on a tether. What should you do if someone comes into your bank with a ferret in his pocket or a cockatoo on his shoulder? We’ll leave it to your management to figure that one out. Just, please. Send us pictures.