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BirdsEye View

when the bank next door gets acquired

The article below talks to the tactics of capitalizing upon other banks' acquisitions. The market is heating up again, so opportunities for customer capture are abound.

Also, our family just returned from a very special trip to Israel, where Dick and I renewed our vows, and Egypt, where we were awed by what amazing achievements their civilization has reached 5000 years ago. Pictures of the wedding ceremony (in both Dick's ad mine original garb) and other trip highlights are posted on www.anatbird.com.

I trust you're having a cool and profitable summer,

When The Bank Next Door Gets Acquired

Many industry observers are predicting another wave of mergers, which makes 2007 a promising year for community banks. Mergers not only cause the digesting banks to become inward focused for some time, but also create major opportunities for customer dislocation for community competitors. Their tactics vary widely, from billboards advertising "We're your only local bank" and banners announcing "Welcome community bank customers" to more subtle approaches such as renewed telemarketing efforts and scripted teller discussions when customers visit the bank.

There are five pivotal events that create customer dislocation opportunities that community banks eager to capture market share should focus on. These are:

  1. The announcement.

    The day the deal is announced is not too soon to start planning your customer acquisition campaign. It may be an excellent time to start buying print and radio space to highlight the localness of your bank and what makes it different from those out-of-state folks who don't know the community and are less likely to invest in it.

    Also, if you did your homework in advance (which is highly recommended) and targeted key businesses and households that currently bank with the acquired competitor, today is the time to give them another call and renew the dialog.

  2. The disclosure. The acquired bank's customers will receive in the mail what is typically a long, incomprehensible brochure that is written in legalese describing the new procedures and fees they will be subjected to. This disclosure often awakens the more lethargic customers that are caught in inertia, and certainly makes them more open to your advances.

  3. The first statement. The first bank statement with the new fees imposed by the acquiring banks (almost invariably, fees rise when a bank gets acquired) provides another jolt, especially to those customers who don't bother to read legalese-written booklets. The point has now been brought home that the acquired bank has indeed changed, and that it is less friendly and more expensive. This provide yet another impetus for customer defection, and makes them further vulnerable to your marketing.

  4. The new checks. In most cases the acquired bank's customers must get new checks since the numbering schemes of both banks often overlap. Customers really don't like this event. They are used to the old account number and now they are required to have a new one. This is a great opportunity to offer your own checking account, since they are already subjected to an account number change. It seems trivial but is quite important to countless bank customers.

  5. The signs come down. When the old bank's name signs are removed and the new ones are put in place, the reality of the acquisition is brought home with force. The old bank is truly gone, even if the people are still in it (which, as we all know, rarely happens). At this point, the full magnitude of the change impacts the customer: new people, new name, new fees, new products. It's a good time to ask: Is this what I want in a bank? If the customer doesn't ask, you should.

In addition to capitalizing upon each of these opportunities to help the acquired bank's customers make the decision to change, there is another important decision to make: should your campaign be negative or positive. Some banks opt to attack the newcomer and differentiate through negative advertising. Others choose to be positive and avoid knocking the newcomer down. By emphasizing their own localness, strength of product line and customer orientation, they leave the customer to complete the differentiation by comparing these characteristics to the newly acquired bank. Bank styles vary, but I believe that positive competition and highlighting your own strengths without putting the competitor directly down is a more effective approach in community banking. We don't have to show how poorly run the new bank is; we only need to demonstrate how good we are, the other will pale by comparison.

The most important step in preparing to capture share as acquisitions occur is to be prepared. Know in advance your posture, the target customers you want to go after (including those who seemed hopeless for years) and the marketing campaign you intend to launch. Swift response to market changes as soon as they occur will give you a leg up, and will demonstrate once again that you are a nimble and non-bureaucratic organization, unlike your competitors.