Winning Strategies for Bank Awards

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia

If slogans like, “We’re the best bank around!” were effective, advertising would never have evolved to a near-art form.

But when the boast doesn’t come from bank itself—but is instead awarded by a third party—then it just might grab the customer’s attention.

Still, deciding how (and how much) a bank should tout its own awards requires the artful judgment of marketing and advertising professionals.

Awards these days are about as plentiful as Little League trophies, with many financial advice websites ranking banks, credit unions and fintech firms on various metrics.

These sites join other well-known entities, like J.D. Power, Forbes and Money—some of which have been in the ranking business since the days before the internet.

We looked into why “best of” lists are popular, how rankings are determined, and gathered some of the collected wisdom from marketing officers on when awards might be worth crowing about.

It’s good business to rank good businesses.

“The award and recognition event industry—from local newspaper ‘favorite’ contests to high publication levels such as Time and Forbes—are big money makers,” observes John Oxford, senior vice president and director of marketing and public relations for Renasant Bank, which has locations in five southern states.

And while awards can serve as a marketing opportunity for a bank, Oxford frowns on paying for recognition. Indeed, some rankings, like local listings of “best doctors” or “best financial advisors,” are thinly veiled advertising efforts.

Still, rankings flourish because consumers seek them out, driving traffic to financial websites. That’s why many sites conduct ratings.

“Most of our content is SEO-based,” shares Priyanka Prakash, content creator at Fundera, which regularly publishes lists of best banks for business. “That means people type in a query like ‘best banks for business’ into Google, and our article is one of the top results.” She adds that “it’s more of an inbound customer acquisition channel for Fundera and the banks.”

What makes a winner?

We probed a few organizations on their procedures for selecting banks for evaluation and determining winners.

Jesse Dwyer, director of content operations for ConsumersAdvocate, explains: “First, a significant part of our research is concerned with identifying which banks or financial services products consumers are trying to learn more about.”

Then, ConsumersAdvocate ranks various products and the institutions offering them. Weighted scores are based on the financial institution’s own published rates and fees, consumer reviews and third-party analysis of the financial strength and stability of the bank.

On its site, however, ConsumersAdvocate discloses that institutions that pay for advertising can benefit on ranking: “When company ranking is subjective, meaning two companies are very close, our advertising partners may be ranked higher.”

At another site, MyBankTracker, various factors such as account fees, convenience and accessibility, and consumer reviews on the site all go into a ranking. If a bank wants to ensure its offerings are correctly considered, it should “contact us with as much detail as possible regarding their products and services,” explains Jason Reposa, CEO of the site.

Indeed, making any bank-generated postings and content as comprehensive as possible may boost recognition. “Banks often release statements where they mention their average loan size or their most popular loan programs, which is where we usually get that information from,” says Fundera’s Prakash.

But other organizations conduct their ratings independently, without any direct participation solicited from the institutions.

For instance, Forbes spokesperson Christina Vega explains that for its listings of the best banks in each state, it uses third-party firm Statista to survey some 25,000 customers in the U.S. for their opinions on their current and former banking relationships. Statista asks bank customers to rate their satisfaction on five categories: trust, terms and conditions, branch services, digital services and financial advice.

So many awards, so little time.

“We rarely, if ever, pay for play in award contests,” says Oxford of Renasant Bank. “However, when being surveyed or asked to participate, we do—if we believe it will offer good PR value for our bank.”

For a recent award presented by Money, “we had to answer a lot of questions,” he continues. “But Money is connected with Time [magazine]and it is a recognizable name that means something.”

With some 190 locations in 150 markets, “we operate on a community franchise level,” Oxford adds. “If you took all the programs, like the ‘Readers’ Choice’ awards run by some 200 local publications, it would take all of a full-time person [to supervise award program participation],” says Oxford.

But at the local level, Renasant can pursue awards deemed relevant. For instance, “We compete as hard as we can for United Way [honors]. Not only are you recognized if you win, but even if you don’t win you’re doing something to get recognition,” Oxford says.

At Glenview State Bank, which has offices in four Chicago suburbs, EVP David Kreiman believes it’s the awards for community involvement that really resonate with customers. He believes it’s worthwhile to pursue applications for local involvement, like the ABA Foundation’s Community Commitment Awards, though it’s time consuming to complete.

Reaping the spoils of a win.

Sometimes there’s reason to keep relatively mum on an accolade, says Oxford. “You might have to pay a licensing fee to use their name and seal [of the organization making the award], depending on where you use their logo.” Such licensing fees can add up to thousands of dollars, and the return on investment can then be hard to justify.

Making a mention on social media, with targeted Facebook posts for local recognition, is usually appropriate, as well as an announcement in a news release, says Oxford. If a particular employee spearheaded the winning effort, Renasant will try to honor him or her at the branch level.

Some awards, like two from Money recognizing Renasant as “best in state” are worth promoting. “We used the recognition on billboards, posters, social media and other media,” Oxford adds.

For internet-centric NBKC Bank, advertising on sites like ConsumerAdvocate “can help bring awareness to the NBKC brand and product offering,” says Evan Ashcraft, product strategy VP.

With only a few brick and mortar branches, “our front door is,” Ashcraft says. “Whether people find us directly or through a partner or review site, we will include both award and customer reviews for all to see. We also feature awards on our various social sites and employer branding sites, like Glassdoor.”

Ashcraft believes that perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of awards are the consumers reading them. “These lists help identify criteria that they should be using in their evaluation.” He adds that for banks themselves, the benefits are limited. “It takes more than just having the ‘best product’ to win new business. But it gives people a starting point to look at us—not just our products but our reviews—and see how we serve our current personal and business customers.”

Marilyn Kennedy Melia is a banking and personal finance writer based in Chicago. Email: [email protected].