The overlooked benefit

Filthy lucre. Literally.

Stinking Cash

WHEN IT COMES TO selling online services, bank marketers typically focus on benefits such as speed, convenience, accessibility, and economy. These are valid, but another, largely overlooked benefit is available, just waiting for the right brave marketer to capitalize on it: hygiene.

In an article for NPR, Michaeleen Doucleff writes,

“… those greenbacks in your wallet are hiding far more than cocaine and the flu. They’re teeming with life.

“Each dollar bill carries about 3,000 types of bacteria on its surface, scientists have found. Most are harmless. But cash also has DNA from drug-resistant microbes. And your wad of dough may even have a smudge of anthrax and diphtheria.

“In other words, your wallet is a portable petri dish.”

Before you run out screaming “Beware of currency!” and treating everyone you meet to a dose of Purell, you need to know that Doucleff says anthrax and many other nasties usually show up on currency only in harmless, trace amounts.

Still, currency gets dirty fast, which is why there’s a good chance it transmits disease.

How does lucre become filthy in the first place? Here’s just one way. Research suggests that more than half of everyday, normal people do not wash after using a public restroom. Now, imagine them handling currency. And imagine someone else licking a finger in order to count it.

You don’t have to be a pathologist to understand how that can transmit disease. And you don’t have to be a germ phobe to find it gross. Especially when you imagine all the other ways currency can become tainted from ordinary, everyday handling.

So here’s a rock-solid benefit: when you convert tangible currency into digital currency, you needn’t worry about where those greenbacks—that is, those digits—have been. The challenge is to present that benefit in a positive, scientifically responsible, non-alarmist, non gross-out sort of way. Any takers?

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The future might just be BIAN

The idea behind healthy competition is that it tends to spur invention, efficiencies, and improvements.

Except, let’s be honest. Sometimes that part about efficiencies is a stretch. When myriad players scramble to build proprietary solutions to a common challenge, efficiency can suffer, and chaos—costly chaos—can reign.

For that reason, sometimes it makes sense even for competitors to compare notes. As technology continues to advance at breakneck speed, this becomes especially true for financial institutions.

Of course, you understand that. We all do. At least, we do in theory. Espouse cooperation and integration from the podium at a financial services industry convention, and you can all but guarantee that a few hundred heads will nod in agreement and pretty much in unison. But nods are a far cry from action.

That is why my hat is off to BIAN, short for the Banking Industry Architecture Network.*

BIAN states its vision this way: “Industry-wide consensus regarding SOA [service oriented architectures] for banking systems, aligned with the business objectives of agility and reduced cost.” Moreover, “BIAN has as its strategy to bring together banks, vendors of banking applications, and service providers.”

Now, you might wonder why BIAN—and I—happen to think that SOA is so darned important. Funny you should ask. On BIAN’s “About” page, you’ll find this: “Why is SOA so important? … When combined with industry-agreed IT standards, SOA will ensure interoperability, whereby different IT systems within a bank can work together as seamlessly as possible, without additional time or cost requirements for integration.”**

BIAN isn’t the first to espouse this lofty goal, but may well be the first to pull it off in a big way. As of this writing, BIAN boasts heavy-hitter member banks and partners like ING, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, axxiome, Temenos, and IBM. Its bank roster is strongest in Europe, but they’re fast making headway in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

I am eager to see the strides that BIAN is sure to make in not-distant future. Keep your eye on them.


*Note to Batman aficionados: Don’t embarrass yourself. It’s not BAIN. It’s BIAN, pronounced BUY-un.
**For a lengthier treatment, not to mention a pasta analogy that is at once apt and delightful, see “What’s SOA got to do with it” by BIAN Executive Director Hans Tesselaar.

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Recap of my Financial Brand Forum presentation

It was an honor to be asked to speak at the Financial Brand Forum. When people actually showed up to hear me flap my jaws, I was as flattered as I was relieved. For those who weren’t able to join me there, here’s a summary of my remarks, written by Bryan Ochalla, posted today on the Financial Brand website.


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Of Barnacles and Banks


Courtesy of

Early in the 19th century, a young man was so taken with barnacles that he actually wrote books about them. One thing that captured his imagination was how easily changes in the water could wipe out most of a population. But he noted that sometimes a few barnacles managed to adapt and survive. These would thrive and overtake any space left vacant by their less fortunate siblings.

Perhaps you have noticed: banking waters are changing. Financial institutions that do not manage to adapt will find themselves losing ground to those better suited to the emerging environment.

Consider this recent report from “At its investor day, [JPMorgan Chase] confirmed that the headcount at its consumer and community banking division will be cut by 8000 to 149,000 people this year.” That’s a wide spread as predictions go, suggesting an uncertain environmental future.

In another article, Finextra reports, “A third [of millennials] … think that they won’t need a bank at all in five years …” Where do they expect to obtain financial services? This telling statistic appears earlier in the same paragraph: “Nearly three quarters of America’s millennials … are more interested in hearing from tech firms about financial services.”

Note: not as interested in hearing from tech firms, but more interested. Today’s competition comes from the likes of Google, Amazon, Intuit, Paypal, Apple, and myriad others in or soon to be in development. I would be remiss if I didn’t add to the list retailers as well. Like, say, Starbucks, which boasts 10 million using its app for payment and tipping.

These are new waters, in which clients don’t require a financial services provider to have “bank” or “credit union” in its name. Indeed, at the moment, not having either seems to portend an advantage. Bank and credit unions, your branding challenge awaits you.

With 75 percent of millennials inclined toward tech firms, serving up relevant services in a manner that’s easy to access and intuitive to use is paramount. That, and—the newest water change—providing an enjoyable and complete experience. As demand for services delivered online grows, so does demand for extras such as live chat, prompt fulfillment, entertainment, information, discounts, privileges, useful helps, and more.

Happily, there is one thing a financial institution can do that a barnacle cannot. A financial institution can willfully change its DNA. It remains to be seen which ones will.

As for the barnacle aficionado, his father had hoped to make of him a physician and, failing that, an Anglican parson. It was not to be. Robert Darwin’s son Charles had a boat, the H.M.S. Beagle, to catch.

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Online Advertising and Marketing Strategies for Financial Institutions

Part 1: Making it Digital But Keeping it Personal

Once upon a time, families gathered in living rooms and listened to the radio. Later, they watched TV. In the morning before or in the evening right after work, adults in the family perused the newspaper.

Or so I’m told. Whether or not that’s how it really was a few decades ago, that’s not how it is today. Families these days may watch TV together. Equally likely, they may divide themselves among two or three TVs in different rooms, tuned to different stations. Or they may not tune to a station at all, but instead stream content, possibly commercial-free. If there are commercials, they may watch them, or they may run to the bathroom, text, tweet, make a voice call, play Minecraft (or Angry Birds or Candy Crush), talk to others in the room, mute the sound, listen to music, check Facebook, scratch, peruse a magazine, what have you. In fact, they may do all of these things during the programming that the content provider fantasizes holds them rapt.

That, in a nutshell, is why industry leaders harp on the fact that you cannot get the same results from traditional media channels that you used to get. To drive new business and grow relationships, banks and credit unions need a spectrum of digital weapons.

My “digital weapons” list is long, so I shall mercifully serve them  up a few at a time. For today’s digital weapon, I want to focus on the seeming paradox of …

Making it digital while keeping it personal

Your clients want digital, but with a personal touch. Remember the rhetoric about banking as a relationship business? It still is. Preserving it while going digital only seems like a paradox. It needn’t be.

There is no reason you cannot infuse your online presence with personality. You did it back in the Dark Ages with print and broadcast media. You used strategy, tone, and design. Those basic tools haven’t gone away. They are as vital online as they ever were elsewhere. That means that besides making apps that are smooth, fast, intuitive, and functional, you must also design and word them so that they come across as uniquely you.

Here’s a good test. Mask the logos and names on your apps and on those of competitors. If the average client paying half attention cannot see any appreciable difference among them, you have work to do.

As for the relationship side, you have plenty of online tools. Though clients are no longer as willing as they once were to hop in the car and run to your office, they still want interaction with real people. It is precisely that problem that the likes of live chat and voice interaction were designed to solve.

Some companies are guilty of a serious error. They make live interaction options hard to find, burying them behind DIY options such as FAQs, help forums, and email options. The overriding message this sends is, “We’ll do anything we can to avoid interacting with you.” It is the antithesis of a relationship business. By all means, make DIY options plainly available, but make on-the-spot, direct contact via live chat and text equally so. Want to get really wild? Make your phone number easy to find.

Of course, this requires that the people at your end be knowledgable, empowered, and pleasant. Never underestimate that last one, namely, pleasant. Physicians have long known that a good beside manner reduces the threat of a malpractice action. Likewise, your clients will overlook “a multitude of sins” if they like the person they’re dealing with.

More “digital weapons” will be coming up in future posts …

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