By Kate Young
When was the last time a bank made you say wow? Given the industry’s stodgy reputation, you might be surprised by how often we’ve been saying it. Then again, we have a front-row seat to all the cool things happening lately at banks of all sizes. Change is everywhere—but perhaps the biggest change of all is that banks are becoming more nimble, adapting and innovating in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
We’re not just talking about the latest gadgetry. Many banks are doing a better job not only connecting with customers’ wallets and digital devices, but also with their hearts, their funny-bones, and their communities.
Looking back over 2016, here are 16 of the bank initiatives that made us say wow.
- Regions Bank’s See the Good. A bank-sponsored website that doesn’t promote accounts, loans, credit cards, or any other product. Rather, it’s a repository of positive stories of service, courage, inspiration, and plain old laughs. Why? According to the site, “We hope that when things may not seem so good in life, we’ll show that the good is really right in front of us all. All we have to do is see it.”
- Eastern Bank’s Express Business Loan. The bank’s tech incubator, Eastern Labs, built this new loan origination system from scratch in 14 months. Now small businesses can complete loan applications for up to $100,000 in one to two minutes—and only two to three minutes more for a loan with an SBA guarantee.
- USAA’s Saver Button. Still in its pilot phase, this device is an actual button (think Staples’ “Easy Button”) that can be placed anywhere. Press it, and you automatically transfer $1 from checking to savings. Will this magically transform users into a cadre of super-savers? Nobody knows. Not yet. But when the results are in, this experiment in behavioral finance could change the way we all approach saving.
- Fifth Third Bank’s TXT vs TXT game. To draw attention to the speed of Fifth Third’s mobile banking app, in February the bank introduced a game to test the velocity and accuracy of users’ texting skills. Players could race against themselves or challenge their friends through Facebook.
- Ally Financial’s Splurge Alert. Sometimes a bank needs to let its customers know it really does care. That’s why Ally launched a financial health mobile app that uses geolocation to warn you when you’re entering a store where you’re likely to overspend. Not only that, it can also notify a pre-selected team of friends and family so they can help support better spending habits. Hey, we get by with a little help from our friends.
- Comerica’s Military Hiring Program. Finding the right candidate for every job is always a challenge—and when you’re recruiting veterans, it may seem like an apples-to-oranges matchup. But when Comerica committed to doing it right, the bank developed a workable system not only for increasing veteran recruitment, but for nurturing employee diversity overall.
- Bank of Ireland’s Mortgage Marketing campaign. Based on extensive customer research, this ad campaign walks would-be homeowners through the entire home-buying journey by portraying a young couple as it moves through the steps: saving for a deposit, searching for a home, settling, and managing payments. A great example of story-telling that makes a complex process more accessible to newbies.
- Citizens Bank’s Low-Interest Adoption Loans. With total costs averaging $30,000, adoption has become prohibitively expensive for many families. That’s why Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank has teamed up with the National Adoption Foundation to offer flexible, low-interest adoption loans for amounts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
- Center State’s participation in Pokémon Go. Is anyone still playing Pokémon Go? We have no idea—but that’s not the point. When Center State Bank introduced Pokémon Go characters in its branch this past summer, what made us say “wow” was the bank’s commitment to innovation, the agility that allowed it to respond to a sudden craze, and its willingness to try something totally different to connect with its customers.
- TD Bank’s WELL Certified Store. A bank branch that’s committed to the health of its employees and its customers? What does that even look like? Turns out it looks very, very good. On a recent visit to the new Bethesda, Maryland branch, we were impressed by the glare-free daylight that flooded the space, the tranquil layout, and the conspicuous absence of our usual dust-and-mold-induced allergies. The branch, which opened in April, incorporates more than 65 environmental and health-enhancing features, including improved air, water, and light quality as well as a “green roof” and a “living wall.” But perhaps the biggest benefit of all was that the staff seemed to truly appreciate working there.
- Berkshire Bank’s Xtraordinary Day. We get it. A lot of banks out there are committed to community service, employee volunteerism, and corporate giving. The thing that got our attention about Berkshire’s day of service this year was that the $7+ billion institution closed its entire organization for the day to allow every employee to volunteer. Not only that, the bank invited the public to participate as well. Now that’s community engagement.
- Capital One’s #DefineYourDream campaign. What’s the best way for a brand to show how it helps people achieve their life goals? Sometimes it’s by letting the customer do the talking. Using Facebook and Instagram as a forum, Cap One posts customer-produced videos that tell the story of how they’ve used the brand in an inspiring way.
- Huntington Bancshares’ Potty Mouth College Fund App. Okay, it’s not a real app—it’s a real commercial for a pretend app. But Huntington managed to find that weird place where babies, banking, and cursing up a blue streak intersect. And for that, we have to say wow.
- Fifth Third Bank’s Express Banking. It’s a serious problem: an estimated one in four U.S. households is either unbanked or underbanked. We all know about the risks that creates for consumer finances. But the simple fact is that many people think they can’t afford the fees and minimums associated with banking. Fifth Third has been working on a solution by offering a no-minimum deposit, no monthly fee, no overdraft account with check cashing and direct deposit, among other features.
- Redding Bank of Commerce’s mobile wallet offering. Plenty of small businesses out there handle a lot of physical checks—and would benefit from a having a mobile payment app, like the Starbucks mobile wallet. Does that seem out of reach? Redding Bank of Commerce stands out among its competitors by offering such an app to its business banking clients.
- Beneficial State Bank’s Impact Website. With a stated goal of changing the banking system from the inside, California-based Beneficial State Bank has a lot to prove. So in addition to the bank’s .com website, which lists all the usual (and necessary) product, location, and “about us” information, Beneficial State also hosts a .org site that focuses on the results of the bank’s mission. For anyone who doubts the ability of banks to nourish and improve the communities they serve, a visit to this site is a must.