Do your banking customers trust you?

Bill Hudson Headshot
Bill Hudson

Why channel and incentive are irrelevant if you can’t answer simple questions.

Bill Hudson Headshot over a geometric background

Last summer, a colleague of mine welcomed a new addition to his family. After the christening, his son had several checks that the family wanted to bank for their son. Surely opening a savings account for a dependent would be a simple task, right? As it turns out, no.

Grant started by emailing his bank’s customer service email address to ask what was involved. The customer service rep responded a day later with the following requirements:

  • The transaction would need to take place at a branch location
  • Social security cards for the child and adult who will be placed on the account
  • Government issued ID for the adult
  • Minimum deposit of $100

The list was a bit different than what Grant expected, so he decided to call customer service to confirm. After speaking with a rep over the phone, he had a new list:

  • The transaction would need to take place at a branch location
  • Social security card for the child and his birth certificate
  • No mention of a government issued ID or social security card for the adult opening the account
  • Minimum deposit of $100

Grant also received some additional information that wasn’t included in the emailed response:

  • The child would be able to make deposits but not withdrawals
  • The account would transfer to him at either age 18 or 21 – the rep wasn’t sure

The next day, with all of the required documents – from both previous interactions – Grant arrived at the branch. He successfully set up the new account, but with the following details:

  • He only needed the child’s birth certificate
  • The account would be under the adult’s name
  • Deposits and withdrawals could be made
  • The account would transfer at age 16 – again the rep wasn’t sure

If you’re keeping track, Grant had interacted with three different representatives from the same bank over the course of a couple of days. He received different information each time, and in the end, he still wasn’t sure when the account would transfer to his son.

In the end, opening the account was fairly easy. But the damage was done. An inconsistent customer experience with this bank now makes Grant skeptical about any future interaction with them. Lack of consistency has eroded his trust.

Trust, still a bank’s most precious resource

Banks live and die on customer experience. This is true now more than ever, as customer experience has become one of the only differentiators in a sea of commoditized product offerings. Customer experience has evolved over the last several years, taking on different meanings at different times, and at different banks.

When I was a banker, customers began to migrate from the branches to more convenient online options. Those options have multiplied and the services included under customer experience have incorporated everything from opening a checking account, to applying for a mortgage, and even buying a cup of coffee.1

I’m not a millennial or a market researcher, but I don’t think the first thing customers are looking for in a bank is a place to hang out and drink coffee. Their decision to bank with you probably also doesn’t hinge on your ability to accept smartphone deposits either.

Across the board, what customers really want when making any type of financial transaction is to trust you.

But trust doesn’t typically begin with a face-to-face conversation about a complex product like opening an IRA. Instead, it begins with a question, usually one as simple as the one my friend asked: how do I set up a savings account for my son?

When a simple conversation turns into a runaround, or worse, results in different answers from different people in the same bank, trust dissolves quickly.

Will I trust my money with someone who can’t answer the simplest of questions? The question of trust is exponentially more critical now. Can I trust my health and safety to that organization?2

The branch is dead. Long live the branch!

Much noise has been made over the gradual decline in the number of bank branches, the employees staffing them, and the services they provide.3 Understandably so, this is one of the biggest expenses for a bank. It is also one of the biggest sources of self-reflection.

Since the advent of the ATM, banks have questioned how much customers wanted to do on their own versus how much they wanted, or needed, help.

The problem with this question is that it’s phrased the wrong way. It’s not a matter of how much the customer really wants to do on their own. In some ways, it’s not even about how easy it is. It comes down to how much they can trust themselves and the bank.

Do I feel like I can choose the right bank to open a checking account? Probably, the services are largely the same at each bank, and my money is insured by the government. So, there’s little risk. Heck, maybe I’d even feel comfortable opening my checking account with Google.4

But do I feel like I can choose the right bank to obtain a home mortgage loan? That gets a little trickier. I have a lot more risk with that type of product. I probably want to talk to someone. And whether I want to do that in person or online is probably a lot less important than whether or not I trust them.

Consumer trust is hard to earn and easily dwindles. Once you’ve earned someone’s business through an entry-level product, working with you has to not just be a pleasant experience, but a trust-building one.

Channel agnostic, consistent customer service

The combination of highly commoditized banking products and easily eroded customer trust makes consistency your best tool for improving customer experience.

One of Acadia’s banking customers saw a baseline improvement in customer service error rates less than a year after implementation. (I consider this as an improvement in the customer trust rate as well.)

Like most banks, our customer has multiple channels to interact with their customers – on their website, through their app, over the phone, and in branches.

And like most banks, the employees interacting with customers across these channels initially had multiple sources of truth. They had what they remembered from training, emails from managers, a traditional knowledge management system, and a few other tools.

When a customer asked a question, the employee would typically look for an answer in the knowledge management system. Unfortunately, the information wasn’t organized intuitively and could be difficult to search. Information could quickly become out of date and sometimes wasn’t labeled or structured well either. So, employees did their best. Sometimes they would find the right information, sometimes not. Sometimes the customer got a different answer from the call center than the branch.

After organizing their information in Acadia, the bank had a single source of truth. They used the same information for training that was available to employees while they worked. New information was updated in the same place. Every employee knows where to go to instantly access the right information at a moment’s notice. Customers are answered consistently, regardless of how they decided to communicate with the bank.

Consumers turn to banks with some of the most important and complex decisions they will make in their lives. Trust drives their decision about who they bank with. When your team members can answer every question accurately, every time, they will build and maintain trust with your customers.


  1. Here’s How Capital One Combines Coffee with Banking to Cater to Millennials
  2. Banking Without Branches a Matter of Life and Death
  3. Bank Branches: There’s No Going Back to Pre-COVID Days
  4. Google is Planning to Break into Banking with New Checking Account Offerings

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