Banks want you!

A sign reading "Don't get stung by fees" hangs in an Australian bank window.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Most banks are closed today to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday but that doesn't mean they're not thinking of ways to drum up business. More banks want to steal new customers away from, well, other banks. And there's a lot that's new about banking which makes those institutions eager to get your business. We asked Marketplace's Lisa Napoli to investigate.


[Bank Atlantic commercial "Over 20,000 people a month are opening bank accounts at Bank Atlantic. Are you ready to switch banks?" ]

LISA NAPOLI: This East Coast bank wants your money, and to get it, they're offering you a variety of gifts:

[Bank Atlantic commercial continues "Don't you want to get a $77 Master Card gift card for opening a free checking account? Don't you want a portable TV or MP3 player, free?" ]

The answer might be yes, but that's not inspiring most of us to sign up. Fewer of us are switching banks these days, and banks are learning there's more to winning us over than freebies.

RICHARD WESTELMAN: People aren't chasing the toasters any more.

That's Richard Westelman of Hitachi's Dove Consulting Group, which studies banking trends.

He says banks have done a good job of convincing us to do everything electronically. 70 percent of us now use direct deposit and half of us pay at least one bill online. That means it might just be too much work to leave your bank.

WESTELMAN: When I go online to pay my bills, there's now probably 30 different payees and if you told me tomorrow you want me to switch banks, my first question is gonna be, what about all that?

Banks are ready with an answer:

LINDA VERBER: When a customer comes to use we can get them everything they need as it relates to the new account opening process.

That's Linda Verber of Commerce Bank in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Like many banks, they're offering to do the heavy lifting:

VERBER: We've got a concierge service that helps with the tougher stuff, so the tougher stuff is direct deposit.

But how do you convince an entrenched customer that a checking account's not just a checking account?

LANI HAYWARD: You can't really differentiate through product and you really can't outspend or outresource the big guys.

Lani Hayward is with Umpqua Bank, which serves the Portland, Oregon area.

HAYWARD: So we decided that we were going to hone in on something that we felt was missing really in the financial industry, and that was really looking at and embracing being a retailer of financial products and services.

That's marketing speak for making snazzy branches look like boutiques, not banks — and function like community centers.

No desks. Cozy chairs. There's free Internet access at computer terminals and a music download station so you can sample local artists. And after every transaction, you get a free chocolate.

Hayward figures if perks like chocolate make people happy, then they'll tell their friends.

HAYWARD: The best marketing is word-of-mouth. If you want anyone to switch banks or doctors or whatever, it's who tells you about it and that's what this is really all about, is that it's something that's so different and so good that you go tell other people about it. It really is the small things like that just make you feel welcome. Simple.

In other words, toasters may be out, but service is back in style.

I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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