Banking for humans: don’t lose the person in the numbers

When it comes to finding a place to store their dollars, today’s customers have plenty of options. Financial brands compete to help customers do more with their money. And many of these brands offer the same thing—access to money, digital tools, low interest rates and complicated small print.

Few offer a truly open ear.

And that’s why so many banks miss the point … by missing the person.

The strongest bank brands know the value they provide isn’t sitting in vaults, fee-free accounts, or mobile apps. Nor is it nestled in conveniently placed ATMs or low interest rates. The real value of a great bank lies in giving customers the tools to build a life.

Strong banks reward employees for seeing a person before they see an account balance. They equip bankers to help customers struggling with their money to build a better path forward. Employees are rewarded for building relationships along with balances. This takes time, and taking time has its costs. But taking that time also has multiple rewards, not only in profitability but by helping customers build a secure financial future and helping employees feel like they make a difference.

Small banks often have the upper hand in this human approach to banking. They know a customer is more than an account number–she’s someone you see at the post office, the doctor’s office, the grocery store. The lines between life and business become blurred in good ways.

When you don’t have the luxury of being small, you have to learn to listen well, realizing that you don’t know how a customer feels about money until you ask. Instead of stereotyping by assets under management, do the research to understand what really matters to the person in front of you. Because no amount of financial experience can replace knowing what’s really going on in someone’s life. Invest more in learning and relationship building and less in using finance jargon and creating catchy promotions. Consider giving up a basis point or two in favor of gaining a lifetime of brand loyalty.

That’s why every bank can benefit from thinking like a small bank. Know what matters to your customers. Help them access the knowledge and resources to get them where they want to go. Remember that great banks require purpose, focus and humanity.

Great banks require humans helping humans.

Eliza Evans is a senior brand strategist at Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.