Financial Empowerment as a competitive differentiator

Here’s how to turn your bank’s front line team members into financial guides

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on what would become their namesake expedition to explore the US west of the Mississippi. During the journey, the crew documented detailed information about the geography and biodiversity of the land newly acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. They also paved the way for further westward expansion and development.

The expedition was dangerous with unknown terrain, harsh weather conditions, and a lack of food and supplies. So, it’s likely you would never have heard of Lewis and Clark had it not been for the extraordinary guidance they received from Sacagawea.

A Native American of the Shoshone tribe, Sacagawea served as the expedition’s guide, interpreter, and diplomat. She provided the party with geographical knowledge that helped them find their way. Her cultural knowledge was even more valuable. Her presence as a Native American woman and mother helped to convey peaceful intentions. And her ability to speak multiple native languages facilitated communication and trade with tribes along the way – gaining critical supplies and guidance.

For many people, the financial world feels as daunting and ominous as venturing into unknown wilderness. They want someone who knows the language, who can help them make good decisions, and who can empower them to come out financially secure on the other side. This is as true for older customers as it is for younger generations.1

Many of us enjoy the convenience that comes with online bill payment and other simple financial transactions.  But for the larger decisions that come with life changing implications – mortgages, retirement investments, college loans – we want to turn to experts who can help guide us.

Obviously, there are many decisions that come into play when we search for a bank. While we’re shopping, it’s the little things that can make the most difference. If we ask a question on the phone and get a different answer when we show up at a branch. That’s a huge loss of trust.

However, if we get consistently good advice and answers from everyone we interact with, that builds confidence and empowerment, both of which are critical to developing a long-term financial relationship.

Empowerment over Convenience

Over the last several years, particularly after the forced closures of the pandemic, banks have rapidly consolidated their physical branch footprint. The expansion and adoption of digital services meant a lot of banking could be done without entering a physical building.

But where banks have tried to become exclusively digital, they’ve tended to have mixed results.2 Sure, it may be just as convenient to apply for a mortgage online as it is to pay a bill, but with such a massive life decision people want to have all the facts.3 They’ll do a lot of research on their own, but they also want an expert to help guide them.

Traditionally, banks have split their frontline workforce into those focused on transactions, those focused on selling, and those helping to troubleshoot. From the customer’s perspective, they should get all of that from whatever bank employee they speak with. Sitting on hold and being passed from one department to the next disrupts buying behavior and diminishes trust.

Beyond answering questions and providing the required forms, customers want to interact with bankers who can make recommendations based on their unique circumstances. They want someone who can empathize with what’s going on in their lives and teach them about relevant options. They want warnings that map to their financial goals. And they want someone to guide them through the confusing and sometimes conflicting decisions they need to make.

Kevin McCann, executive vice president, and growth and innovation executive for PNC simplifies it by saying, “You can’t substitute having that person shoulder-to-shoulder with you.”4

By now, you might be gritting your teeth trying to imagine how you’ll develop this army of super humans who can handle any customer need. In reality, most of them already work for you. You just need to make it easier for them to access the tools and skills they need to empower your customers.

Empowered Employees Create Empowered Customers

Most of the clients we work with have already established the One Best Way to handle every aspect of their business – from training new hires, to mentoring managers, and exceeding customer expectations. (You probably have them too!) Where they get stuck is connecting all that good information with the front line team members who need it.

If you want your teams to empower your customers with the best possible advice, they need easy access to resources that help guide them and ensure they have the most current information. They’ll also need training and mentorship that meet your quality standards.

A single source of truth

When a client enters a branch to speak with an expert, you really don’t know what question they might ask. Maybe they want to open a checking account for their child. They might want to talk about the difference between a home improvement loan and a second mortgage. Or they may ask a question about tax implications for accessing a retirement fund early. How your employees answer those questions – and how quickly – may determine whether your bank gains or loses credibility with the customer.

The challenge with many banks is their tools are severely outdated. Have you ever tried to find a document on a wiki or internal file server? The bigger your organization, the more likely you had a frustrating experience. The search is terrible, the navigation is worse. There’s no way to determine if the content is current or accurate. And the documents – mostly large presentations or text docs – require you to skim through tons of content before you can find what you need.

With a centralized single source of truth like Acadia, everything is organized by meta data that helps you search and filter based on topic, role, location, and really anything else you need. Documents are controlled and edited with robust workflow tools. They’re also streamlined and include helpful images, videos, and other resources. Critical new information like fraud alerts and new products are highlighted for those who need to see them.

Providing crystal clear guidance

All banks have internal procedures that employees need to follow for everything from closing the branch at the end of the day, to submitting customer information for a credit check.

For critical procedures, providing step-by-step task lists ensures nothing gets missed and fewer mistakes are made. When task lists capture data on who completed them and when, you establish accountability.

Our clients use task lists to ensure regulatory compliance, to capture required information, and identify the folks on their teams who need more training.

Reinforcing what’s most important

Sometimes all you need to do is let people know something’s important. Your associates want to perform well. Nobody wants to make a mistake that puts their reputation at risk.

But if you send someone an email or tell them in a meeting, they may not catch it and you have no way of knowing until they make a mistake.

We’ve found that when we send important information using Acknowledgements, we get better results. An Acknowledgement requires the employee to respond by a specific date. It needs a formal sign-off. And it maintains a record of the transaction for future reference.

All these efforts draw attention to the critical information and help reinforce it with your teams.

Confirming comprehension

When it’s not enough to ensure your associates have gotten the news; when you really want to make sure they understand, a quiz can help you know they really got it.

Quizzing is a simple tool that does a couple of things for your team. It reinforces the importance of the information. It checks that they understood it. And it helps cement the knowledge in their memory.

We share a lot of information with our teams every day. It’s easy to lose things in the shuffle. Using a tool that reinforces the most important information ensures front line team member success and reduces customer impacting mistakes.

Bringing it all together

One of our client’s had internal systems that were making it difficult for branch and contact center employees to provide consistent, accurate information to customers and prospective customers.

After standardizing and simplifying documents, they were distributed by role and location in Acadia. Team members can now perform simple searches and re­trieve the exact document they need in seconds.

Team members are more engaged as well. They regularly provide feedback to improve work processes and documents. This level of engagement improves confidence and has led to lower turnover.

Since implementing Acadia, the quality of the customer experience has improved, errors have diminished, and team member engagement has increased.

Branch managers can exceed quality standards by aggregating branch audit results and assigning remediation steps. They can also identify underperforming team members and provided additional training and job aids.

If you haven’t started, you’re behind… but it’s not too late

The biggest banks are several years into this trend already. They’re building out new products and tools to support customer empowerment.

Here’s what Stephen Baron, head of consumer branch banking at Chase Bank is doing, “We’ll continue to grow and expand financial health workshops, like Chase Chats, to help customers learn how to save, budget and invest. We’ll continue to introduce new digital products and tools to reach more customers and set them up for financial success.”3

If you’re looking for a place to start, let’s have a conversation. If nothing else, we can share some best practices we’ve learned along the way.


  1. Why Millennials and GenZers love going to the bank
  2. Why is there still a need for physical bank branches?
  3. The Future Of In-Person Banking Services: What You Need To Know
  4. PNC changing 1,000-plus branches to automated model

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