Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Little Note From BankSimple

After hearing about the vision of BankSimple several months ago, I decided to see if the development of another new online bank would be different. To begin with, I accepted their invite to be part of their beta test once the bank officially launched some time in 2011. Yes, I accepted an opportunity to be on a waiting list to potentially open an account.

As a lifelong bank marketer, I also followed the story of the bank's founders and the development BankSimple (The Buck Stops Here). I was intrigued by the fact that BankSimple would not really be a bank at all, but instead, simply provide a better front-end experience with a myriad of banks being used behind the scenes to generate the highest returns (and lowest costs) for their customers.

According to their web site, the bank was going to require only a single account and one card, use simple language, treat customers as people and not account numbers, eliminate surprising fees and provide a heightened level of customer service. They would provide online, ATM and mobile access to their accounts and would provide financial tools to help a customer manage their money. Sounded good . . . but not much different than almost any bank promise.

Today, however, BankSimple set themselves apart from any of my current or previous banks.

They sent me a personalized, seemingly non-promotional email from a Customer Relations Representative named Rachel acknowledging my request for an invitation to try their bank and asking for my 'story'. Rachel asked for my "loves, hates, quibbles, desires, hopes and dreams" regarding my financial life. Her email used a Helvetica type and had no fancy creative elements included (just like an email from a co-worker or friend).

Doesn't sound like an email that was developed by a committee that then went through a bank's compliance and legal departments after several levels of management approval, does it? Rachel then went on to say that the bank was committed to building the best service a bank can offer and wanted to know "what's up?" (when was the last time your bank asked 'what's up'?). The email was so personal (it was titled 'A little note from BankSimple' and allowed me to respond directly to Rachel@banksimple.com) it begged for a response as to what I would love to see from my bank.

For those who are cynical by nature and don't believe there is a real Rachel, she was just hired ONE WEEK AGO by the bank as one of BankSimple's first Customer Service Representatives with an accompanying press release.

I responded to Rachel with some of my visions of a perfect bank. I also tweeted about the email from Rachel since the experience is so unusual for a bank. I don't know if the dialogue will continue via email, but I was again surprised when I got a response to my tweet about my email (in 10 minutes at 9PM et) from RACHEL!

Interestingly, even if I don't get an email response, the bank (and Rachel) have already surpassed my expectations, and there will be part of me that will feel like my response might have had an impact on the bank's development. Not a bad way to build an affinity and loyalty before the bank has even opens it's virtual doors. And when it comes to word of mouth marketing, I think they did pretty well in my case.

Finally, if you wonder if there is a demand for another online or bricks and mortar bank, simply watch the very robust discussion on Twitter around BankSimple and the desire for a traditional bank alternative. Up to now, this new financial entity has done a lot of things right. It remains to be seen if they can perform to this level once they start to handle money in addition to PR.

What is your bank doing to build trust, dialogue and word of mouth? Does your team have a Rachel?


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  2. Jim, thanks for mentioning the word of mouth potential that BankSimple is creating with this approach. Most banks talk about their "good service," and often they are being honest that they do provide good service...but they don't realize that "good service" does not start conversations. It takes an over-the-top experience of some sort to spark conversation: surprising, extreme, hard-to-believe, etc. Your experience with BankSimple is a very, well, simple example of the word of mouth banks could enjoy if they would learn more about how WOM really works.

  3. Not totally surprisingly, this blog entry (definitely promoted by a significant amount of twitter mentions by leading industry leaders) has generated 4X the level of views than any entry I have done over the past year. So, WOMM has worked for BankSimple and for my blog. Watch for an update this evening on Twitter around my email from BankSimple this afternoon.

  4. This seems like such a simple (excuse the reference) thing that BankSimple did: having a live person correspond with you. You are right that it should "already surpass" your "expectations," but what does that say about your/our expectations?

  5. Interestingly, I received a very personal email from Rachel last night to my specifics as to what I wanted from a bank. She took apart every single request I had (make it simple, watch out for me, reward me) and provide a specific link to an area of their website that referenced my needs. Even more interestingly, when I asked about how they would be impacted by the changes in the interchange (one of the primary sources for their financial model), she again responded very quickly with a link to their founder's blog around how BankSimple should not be impacted. So, you are right. My expectations from a bank (or any company) have been set rather low. But in the last 48 hours, I have received 4 personal emails and two personalized tweets from Rachel. BankSimple 6 - My current banks 0 if anyone is keeping score.

  6. Great post, Jim! And truly brings into focus the power of both WOMM and delighting a current/potential customer. Having a bank become engaged with us around OUR goals and aspirations, while actually carrying on a dialogue (vs. a monologue), is a huge step toward building a life-long relationship, profitable for both the customer and the institution.