By Lucia Malon
Building programs that serve each distinct stage of life.
Benchmark Community Bank in Kenbridge, Virginia, sees its customers as lifelong partners in a great financial journey. In fact, Benchmark employees take pride in serving their customers “for life.”
The Benchmark for Life concept was developed several years ago as the outgrowth of an effort to provide customers with products, services, and programs appropriate for each stage of their lives. Combined with the bank’s long-standing reputation for going the extra mile to help customers with everyday financial challenges, it became the perfect way to describe the Benchmark way of doing business.
It took several years to build the current model that supports the Benchmark for Life approach.
And it wasn’t necessarily done as a planned program rolled out in a certain order. It was, rather, the result of recognizing areas of need and filling them—or sometimes, just taking advantage of opportunities to provide a special service. Eventually, in looking at how the bank was evolving—and the products and services that were being offered, the idea of branding it all as Benchmark for Life came to light.
$uccess Checking – Although not intentionally, the process really started in 2007 with the introduction of a rewards checking account that needed a catchy name. $uccess Checking was chosen, the idea being that those who handle their finances wisely are more likely to be successful in life. Fortunately, $uccess was also an immediate success for the bank.
The YES Club – Shortly after introducing $uccess Checking, the idea of developing a program to teach children the value of saving was born. It certainly made good sense to start folks young with this habit rather than trying to convince them as adults. The result, unveiled in 2009, was the YES Club, a program for “Youth Excited about Saving.” Open to kids age 5–12, it was an instant hit with both customers and bank employees. Club membership grew quickly.
$martStart – With the positive response to the YES Club, it became obvious that a program suitable for those over age 12 would be needed. By 2011, it was ready. Called $mart$tart and targeting ages 13-17, the program was designed to feature a checking account with a special debit card that appealed to the teen set. It needed to be a teaching tool involving parents as well. The answer was parental controls and account limits that could be changed as the child aged.
Once both the YES Club and $mart$tart were in place, mapping the progression from one to the other was easy. Upon reaching the age of 13, the child receives a special birthday card with a congratulatory message about being “promoted” to $mart$tart. The parent gets a separate letter informing them that the child’s YES Club account will be automatically converted to a $mart$tart savings account. Additional information about the program and an invitation to open a $mart$tart checking account is included. It’s a formula that works. Most YES Club “graduates” have stayed with the $mart$tart program. A majority have opened the checking account as well. Both parents and teens have been pleased.
The Bridge – Before long, of course, the first $mart$tart members began aging out of that program as well. Although a program for college age students had always been part of the thought process, time had moved faster than product development was able to. The best alternative seemed to be moving 18 year-olds into $uccess Checking. This proved to be a less-than-ideal solution. Many of these young people, especially those headed away for college, wanted a simpler account with certain perks. Their voices were heard loud and clear. One of Benchmark’s young customer service representatives was especially sensitive to this feedback and pushed hard for the creation of an account with the specific needs and habits of college-age students in mind.
So work was begun on a special account for young adults age 18 – 25. Introduced in 2014 and appropriately named The Bridge, it features free checking with refunds on ATM fees. Bridge account holders are also invited to apply for their first credit card.
The Bridge turned out to be the perfect interim account and, along with the bank’s robust mobile banking offering, keeps many students banking with Benchmark, even when they go out of the area to college, or take jobs where the bank has no branch.
By the time an individual ages out of The Bridge, they are ready for either $uccess Checking or one of Benchmark’s 3 other regular checking accounts. Typically, at this age they begin to settle down and have families of their own. Which brings us to another important component of the “for life” process.
Financial Answer Center – As far back as 2006, Benchmark has been offering a welcome packet to people moving into the area. In 2013, as the bank was developing its Financial Answer Center, the idea of also offering a special packet to couples getting married—and probably combining finances—was born. Both the Answer Center and the Newlyweds packet became key components of the Benchmark for Life approach.
New Parents Packet – In 2015, a customer service representative in one of the branches asked, “Why don’t we also offer a packet for couples expecting a child?” Indeed, why not? It was a great idea! The New Parents Packet was added to the mix. It includes a gift for the baby, information on custodial accounts, and a certificate for $10 to get an account started for the child. This, of course, gets the child into the system early on so that when they are about to turn 5, their parents are encouraged to enroll them in the YES Club. At that point their custodial account becomes a YES account. And “the circle of life” continues.
Benchmark for Life is now at the core of just about every communication Benchmark Community Bank puts out to customers. The public as well. Our message is simple and sincere: No matter where you are in life, we’re here to help. And we’d love to have you and your family along for the full ride!