Beyond CRA: A Marketing Strategy

By Jamie Serino

How corporate social responsibility can positively impact business across the board.

Adhering to Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations is mandatory. But it’s critical for banks to put a stake in the ground when it comes to giving back to their local communities—for reasons that extend beyond compliance. Yes, ad hoc efforts might fulfill CRA requirements, but organizations that develop and publicize comprehensive community engagement programs—both internally and externally—can achieve much more than simply checking off the compliance box.

A more holistic approach presents companies the opportunity to better serve their local communities through results-driven CRA initiatives.

Financial institutions typically engage in a variety of activities to help meet the credit needs of the local areas in which they operate, activities such as:

  • Opening up new branches
  • Offering credit counseling or financial education courses
  • Setting up programs for people who may not qualify for certain types of loans

What financial institutions may not be doing is creating holistic programs around these separate activities, or effectively publicizing these efforts to better engage employees and attract more customers.

When organizations take a “check the box” approach to fulfilling CRA requirements through disjointed initiatives, they may be missing out on a number of benefits.

Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities that are ripe for the picking.

Recruitment and retention.

A company’s social and environmental commitments have never been more important for today’s workforce. According to the 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study:

  • 58% of people consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.
  • 55% would choose to work for a socially responsible company, even if that results in a smaller salary.
  • 51% won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social or environmental commitments.

The numbers are even more striking when it comes to retention:

  • 74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided with opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
  • 70% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to important issues.

Banks can receive Community Development credit for CRA compliance through three key types of activities: loans, services, and qualified investments.

Within these activities, there are many ways to get employees involved and excited. For example, an employee’s volunteerism with a local nonprofit may qualify as a CRA community development activity, depending on both the organization and the nature of the service. If this is the case for your organization, involve employees in the process of choosing which nonprofits to work with, and be sure to let employees know the total impact of your institution’s affiliation with nonprofits—share impact stories in emails, all-hands meetings, or corporate meetings to raise awareness.

Clear results are absolutely key in ensuring employees remain engaged and feel good about the difference they and their employers are making in the local community.

Other CRA activities allow employees to directly engage with community members through providing financial literacy education for local youth and/or entrepreneurial training for small business owners. Encourage engagement by allowing employees the opportunity to lead these events and the option to create their own curriculum based around the areas in which they specialize. Again, sharing results is key.

Spotlight employees who are directly engaging with community members to inspire other employees to do the same. If employees see this behavior around them, and if they see their leadership applauding this behavior, there’s a good chance that giving back will become engrained in the culture, taking your community engagement to new levels.

Customer acquisition and loyalty.

Externally, CRA efforts also have the potential to assist in customer acquisition and loyalty. This can be particularly beneficial in standing apart in the crowded banking space as you compete for customers.

Looking toward changing demographics in the United States, millennials have made up the largest generation in the workforce since 2015 and account for an estimated $1 trillion of consumer spending. Furthermore, baby boomers, the biggest and wealthiest generation in U.S. history, will transfer roughly $30 trillion in assets to their Gen X and millennial children over the next few decades.

Cumulatively, this represents a potential boon for banking institutions. By the same token, however, millennials are more mindful of where they do business than previous generations:

  • 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.
  • 91% of millennials would switch brands to give their business to a company associated with a cause.

When it comes to signing new (and newly wealthy) customers, publicizing holistic CRA efforts has the potential to be more effective than ever before.

By definition, CRA efforts relate directly back to the communities in which financial institutions are located.

One way to publicize CRA programs outside of the organization is to involve community members directly in the process of creating a holistic program that goes beyond simply meeting compliance requirements. Would residents find walk-in “credit clinics” on a weekly basis helpful? Or perhaps a “Financial Accounting 101” course for aspiring or new entrepreneurs? Your key stakeholders outside of the organization will be more engaged when CRA programs are specialized toward community needs. And the stories of the results will be easier to tell and more impactful.

When building out community engagement programs, reporting and results have never been more important. Yes, CRA is required, but going above and beyond to bring disparate activities into cohesive, holistic, and measureable programs will benefit financial institutions in ways far beyond being in compliance with federal regulations.

Jamie Serino is director of Marketing for Blackbaud Corporate & Foundation Solutions. Email: [email protected].