In this installment of our series Perspectives in Financial Services, we sit down with Kimberly Lor of Lead Bank to discuss how digital storytelling and fintech collaborations can help community banks build a distinctive brand.
Kimberly Lor is the digital marketing manager for Lead Bank, a community bank in Kansas City, Missouri with plans to expand its digital reach to customers across the US. For two years, Lead Bank has partnered with Self Financial, an Austin-based fintech company to offer “Credit Builder” installment loans — loans backed by a certificate of deposit from the bank that help thin-file and no-file borrowers build credit.
In a previous interview, Keith Floen of Corserv shared with us insights into how community banks can benefit from digital innovation. This week, Kimberly Lor discusses how investing in digital storytelling and fintech partnerships can help community banks expand their client base.
1. When competing with digital banks, telling a human story is key.
Community banks face an uphill battle when competing with commercial banks and fully digital financial services companies such as N26, Ally, or Chime. Larger banks and digital competitors can pour their marketing budget into nationwide campaigns, and have ready access to a geographically-diverse clientele.
To keep pace, community banks need to invest in their digital marketing strategies to build their brands. But Kimberly Lor believes that community banks should avoid imitating digital banks too closely and instead, communicate what makes them unique. “There are so many banks and credit unions who offer similar products. Anyone can open an account or get a loan anywhere. Where you will capture long-term clients is by communicating your mission,” Lor explains.“This is where storytelling really matters.”
Investing in digital storytelling helps accentuate what distinguishes community banks from their digital and commercial counterparts: their commitment to the local community and what they offer for private clients and small enterprises. “It’s about telling customers who you are, what you value, and what you are doing for your community. We support local enterprises, and our bankers volunteer in a variety of community organizations. By telling our story through social media and on our website, it resonates with potential clients inside or even outside the community.”
2. Build your Brand by Digitizing Customer Experience
Lor believes that too many banking websites focus purely on promoting their products. They neglect why customers are attracted to community banks in the first place. As Lor sees it, Lead Bank is an example of how community banks can structure the customer journey to showcase how they empower local people and businesses.
Lead Bank’s previous site was generic in design and difficult to navigate, but their new site presents the bank as a “partner” rather than an “institution,” and focuses on how banking services can help the user succeed. “Our website now is designed to be interactive and to tell a story.” Lor explains. “It’s not just about pushing new products— it’s about getting the prospective customer to engage with our site and reminding clients in the community about our personal connection with them.”
Great design, Lor notes, can and should include the experiential design of physical space. Instead of considering physical and digital presence as separate spheres, smaller banks can excel by making their branches a key part of the complete customer journey. Unlike digital banks that have a broad reach but can only connect with customers digitally, community banks can use their physical presence as an important relationship-building tool.
For example, Lead Bank’s downtown offices feature an open layout with conference rooms and a café that is open to the public. “Clients feel more welcome. Everyone sits side-by-side, and they can come and have a coffee with us,” Lor observes. “Great design is about more than the logo and the colors. It’s about making the client feel like they are truly part of your brand.”
3. Fintech partnerships can create niche opportunities to expand your client base
Finally, partnerships between brick and mortar banks and fintech companies are becoming a key part of the new financial services ecosystem. According to Pwc’s 2017 Global Fintech Report, 82 percent of commercial banks expect to increase fintech partnerships in the next three to five years. Community banks who also embrace the trend can expand their reach and target niche demographics.
Lor points out that community banks struggle to compete with large commercial banks on basic products such as checking accounts and mobile banking. But many, like Lead Bank, believe they can scale more successfully by promoting unique products typically outside the purview of large commercial banks.
Personal loans, for instance, are often considered by larger banks to be too small and inefficient to be profitable. But at Lead Bank, “Credit Builder” loans are part of a brand strategy that leverages digital collaborations to set the bank apart from their commercial counterparts. Because “Credit Builder” loans do not require community banks to lend individual borrowers money, Lead Bank’s partnership with Self Finance has enabled them to underwrite customers who might otherwise present too much of a risk.
Betting on personal loans now is a way to capture a younger clientele who are looking to borrow, and who might otherwise idle at large commercial institutions or digital banks. “Through our partnership with Self, their clients often become ours in the process,” Lor explains. “Once the borrowers pay off their credit-building account, we can generally keep them as our clients.”
By building their brand through digital storytelling and exploring Fintech partnerships, community banks like Lead Bank are finding ways to drive growth and even expand their clientele. The pace of technological innovation threatens community banking as we know it. But the shift to digital banking also offers community banks a chance to carve out a niche space in the new financial services ecosystem. For smaller banks stifled by competition from commercial banks and digital disruptors, now is the time to invest.