My wife and I had an odd experience at a bank branch this week. We went there intending to opening an account, but the branch couldn’t match the offer of a competitor.
But that wasn’t the odd part.
No, the odd part was that the competitor that topped the branch’s deal was that very same bank. In particular, the branch we visited wasn’t allowed to give us the rate that was advertised on its own bank’s website. And while this may be no big news to bankers, it sure doesn’t seem very sensible to the typical customer sitting in a branch lobby.
Here’s how it all came about. Earlier in the week, my wife told me that she had been shopping for the best current savings rates and had narrowed the choice to two banks. One of the names she mentioned was a national, online-only operator that offered the highest rate of anyone. The other was a large, regional bank with many branches around Houston.
The local bank’s rate was actually lower that the national, on-line bank’s. We figured that in this instance, its account would pay us about $30 less per month in interest. Still (against my wife’s Dave Ramsey-esque dollar-watching instincts) we decided to go with the local guys. The availability of a nearby branch played a large role in the decision.
This particular branch is in a prominent retail and restaurant center in our hometown. (The bank surely pays a pay premium rent for that location.) My wife and I have walked by it scores of times, but never had a reason to stop in. When we arrived at around noon on Wednesday, we saw we were the only customers in the place. We were quickly greeted and were actually sitting at a new-accounts desk within 60 seconds. The manager almost instantly came over to introduce herself, as well.
I was conflicted. Sure, I appreciated the attention; we definitely got the feeling that they were happy to see us. But the skeptic in me wondered whether the arrival of a customer counted as a sort of a “special event” in this branch. (Our visit lasted 20 minutes, and we were the only non-employees in the place while we were there.)
Anyway, our happy little experience began to go south when my wife mentioned the account and interest rate that brought us in. That rate was obviously news to the nice man behind the desk. He began looking over fliers and his pricing sheets, but none had that rate.
When my wife mentioned that she saw it on their website, the young man sighed. This was an online-only rate, he explained.
As it turned out, my wife had misunderstood what she read online and didn’t realize that it was an “internet” rate. To her credit, I suppose, that manager proceeded to throw every product she could think of at us. But we weren’t looking to change our primary banking relationship. And no rate she could offer us matched what we had come in for.
However, we would have been more than happy to write a check and open an account at the rate that the manager’s own bank was promoting, and thereby begin our first relationship with her bank. No dice.
It was obviously distressful to these folks that their hands were tied. Over the next 15 minutes, we discussed several banking issues, including their ongoing challenge to generate awareness and branch traffic. They also shared how their branch teams were a little bothered that their own bank pays a premium to folks to keep them out of their branches.
These guys do everything but hire rodeo clowns to attract people into their branches, and their own bank offers customers a better rate to stay away. Heck, the only reason we were there was that we’d misunderstood the bank’s offer in the first place.)
That manager even offered to let us use the computer in her office to open the account. Of course, she told me she wouldn’t be able to take my deposit (I would have to mail it in), and that her branch would get no credit for the account – even though we had chosen to come in to her branch to open it.
We left feeling sorry for these folks. I suspect that’s not the emotion a bank wants potential customers to feel for its staff.
My wife and I have since decided that the slightly better-paying national online-only institution is a better deal. After all, this “local bank” apparently doesn’t want you to visit its branches, anyway.
Yes, I know that this bank (and others) has a list of reasons why these kinds of policies are in place. But to the average customer (and many average bankers) it seems nonsensical.
And, last I checked, overcrowded branches are not exactly a problem our industry is struggling with.
If a bank’s employees are truly to be what differentiates it, why would that bank punish a customer for preferring to open an account face to face with those employees? And isn’t that exactly the time and place we’re supposed to utilize all of the relationship-building and cross-selling training we’ve spent all of that time and money on?
The more I observe and visit empty or near-empty bank branches, the more I wonder if some folks have it 180 degrees turned around. Maybe we should offer “special” higher-rate accounts that require a customer to actually visit a branch once a month. (I think I’m kidding.)
Are your bank’s on-line services complimenting or competing with your branch network? Not sure? Ask your branch teams. Something tells me they’ll know the answer.
What do you think? Let me know!