Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Not to Lose a Customer

Reg E changes. The term sends shivers down the backs of bankers all over the country. For those who aren't familiar with the changes, effective August 15, the Federal Reserve revised Regulation E to address checking account overdraft fees on certain consumer transactions. The final rule limits the ability of financial institutions to assess an overdraft fee unless a customer agrees, in writing, to the overdraft service. The consumer will be asked to either "opt in" or "opt out" of the service. If they don't respond by the effective date, they will automatically be opted out.

While this seems like a very consumer friendly act, it could very easily turn into a major issue for our customers. Many banks provided customers with a form of overdraft courtesy, essentially allowing customers to overdraw their account, pay the transaction, and charge a fee. While it is often abused by some, it can also prevent those occasions, like at the grocery store, where having your purchase declined would be really embarrassing. It's going to be pretty difficult to explain to a customer as they are closing their account because you "did this to them".

So it is incumbent on us to educate our customers before this goes into effect. But there's the real challenge. How do you explain the impact when they weren't even aware of this unadvertised, behind the scenes service? Bottom line is, for the sake of our customer's, we better figure it out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Too Much Snow and TV

After spending way too much time snowed in and watching a lot of television in the last couple of weeks, I felt it was time to get something off my chest. I am really put off by the Ally Bank commercials.
You know the ones, where, for example, the girl is offered a ride on a bike then told she can't ride outside of the box without a penalty. The implication being that their competitors are too restrictive. On their web site, they highlight their high deposit rates, low overhead, and their well capitalized status, exceeding the guidelines of the FDIC.

Hey, as a consumer, I'm all for competitive rates and a great customer experience. And a lot of banks, especially big ones, made some really bad decisions over the last few years. What really bothers me is this company, with this management team, is leading this charge. Here are some facts:
  • Ally Bank is the former GMAC Bank started in 2001 and re-branded in May, 2009. It is a unit of GMAC Financial Services, an organization that, since December of 2008, has received $16 billion in TARP Funds.

  • The senior management team is run by former executives of some of the largest (and most troubled) banks including Bank of America and Citigroup.

So basically, we have an organization that is run by the same people who built these "traditional banks" that they say don't meet the needs of their customers. And their capital comes from the Federal Government, which stepped in and saved the failing parent. Interesting.

For those of us out here in the "real world" of financial services, who didn't get TARP funds, don't have the luxury of a new start, and struggle with a myriad of confusing regulations, give us a break. We really are trying to do the right things for our customers.

Wow, glad I got that off my chest. Now if this damn snow would just go away......

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Social Networking Systems in Japan

Despite the challenging travel conditions around Baltimore yesterday, we had the pleasure of meeting with Daisuke Ishii and Yukihisa Hode, two Senior Researchers from The Center for Financial Industry Information Systems (Japan). The FISC is a Japanese nonprofit research organization founded in 1984 and supported by some 700 Japanese financial services organizations and vendors marketing to that industry. The meeting was coordinated by Michael Parentice, an independent consultant based in the United States.
FISC's current research project relates to new media and social networking in Japan's financial services industry. As input, they are seeking best practice examples from leading U.S. financial institutions that are leaders in the use of social media. Based on Mr. Prentice's research, he felt that 1st Mariner Bank was one of the organizations that they should meet. This was the first visit on their five day trip across the country that includes meetings with
Bank of America, Umpqua Bank, and Wells Fargo. We are honored to be included in this short list of U.S. financial institutions.
There are over 700 banks and credit unions in Japan, ranging from four mega-banks to over 600 smaller community institutions under $2 billion. Adoption rates have lagged behind other industries, where 10.5% of all businesses are active in social networks while FI's are at 6.9%. Mixi, the largest social network in Japan, has over 17.9 million users, so there is plenty of opportunity to connect with these consumers.
As we discussed the evolution of our efforts, it became clear that there are significant challenges to their FI's involvement in social networks. Here are just a few of the points articulated by our guests:

  • Given the conservative nature of the banking industry in Japan, it has been very difficult to get consensus across the organization to engage their customers through the social networks.

  • The Japanese culture is one of collaboration. So many of the initial social media efforts have focused on internal corporate use for information sharing and communication.

  • Selecting and agreeing on the target markets. Again, by working through a consensus management style, it takes time to make these decisions and take action.

The challenge they face is that social media is messy, always changing, and an uncontrollable space. Sometimes you just have to have an initial plan, make the leap, and learn on the fly.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Every 9 seconds a kid drops out of school

I've been a supporter and volunteer for a great organization called the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Founded in New York in 1987, NFTE's mission is to " provide entrepreneurship education programs to young people from low-income communities." The goal is to encourage entrepreneurship, increase financial literacy, and provide participants a reason to stay in school and continue their education. The Baltimore NFTE office works with over 200 middle and high school students through teachers certified to teach the NFTE curriculum. Throughout the year, the students identify a business idea, build a business plan and, if possible, establish a business. They work with mentors from the private sector to refine their business plans and develop their businesses. To encourage these young entrepreneurs, there are numerous local and regional business plan competitions, where they compete against students from other schools for cash prizes.

For those who are good enough to win these local competitions, there is the opportunity to be nominated and compete in the national business plan competition in New York, for $10,000. Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon , from award-winning filmmaker Mary Mazzio, follows these students as they prepare for and compete in this very intense competition. As a NFTE volunteer at Patterson High School in East Baltimore, I am the mentor for two students, William Mack and Ja'Mal Wills (pictured above), who are featured in this film. Their company, J & W Sensations, produces an all natural skin lotion. As a mentor and friend of these guys, I am incredibly proud of them and all they have accomplished. The film was released nationally in November and will debut on BET this Sunday, February 7th at 12 noon. I encourage everyone to watch this powerful and moving story about these young entrepreneurs from around the country.