Onboarding Tales: Lessons for Banks Bringing on New Customers

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, yet so often the onboarding experience starts off the business-customer relationship on the wrong foot. 

In this episode, Dallas Wells and Jim Young share stories of onboarding experiences gone awry and discuss the lessons banks can learn from them. They also share tips on ways banks can get it right, right from the start. 



Helpful Links

What a Brooklyn Hotel and a Beer Cart Driver Can Teach Us About Welcoming New Clients (Jack Hubbard)

5 Steps for Effectively Onboarding Commercial Banking Clients (Jack Hubbard)

Trickle-Down Tech Finally Comes to Commercial Clients (Bryan Yurcan, American Banker)

Podcast Transcription

Jim Young: Hi, and welcome to The Purposeful Banker, the podcast brought to you by PrecisionLender, where we discuss the big topics on the minds of today's best bankers. I'm your host Jim Young, director of communications for PrecisionLender. And I'm joined again by Dallas Wells, our EVP of strategic innovation.
Today's podcast topic is onboarding, and it comes in the wake of Jack Hubbard's excellent webinar about this topic, new client onboarding, that we hosted in mid-February, and we will make sure to have a link to that recording in the show notes. Everyone's got stories and personal experiences to share about onboarding or being onboarded, and Dallas and I are going to share a few of ours today and the lessons we've taken from them.
Jim Young: And we're back. Dallas, I actually started to introduce you as our EVP of New Client Onboarding just to see how I could get you to react.
Dallas Wells: I probably would have hung up on you, Jim. Glad you didn't. It's a big challenge across the board for everyone, so we'll be telling you a couple of banking stories today and a couple of non-banking stories because I think really the struggles are universal, and as the world moves more and more digital, it's becoming more and more important.
Jim Young: Yeah. And fortunately for you, we already have an excellent team of people here  who eat, sleep, and breathe client onboarding. Frankly, that makes me look at them a little bit strange, but hey, I'm glad they're here to do that job. Let's turn now to some of our stories, and Dallas, why don't you start us off with one from banking from your personal perspective?
Dallas Wells: Yeah. This will be in the world of consumer banking, but I think the problem translates wherever you live in the banking world, and this is ... I think it highlights an issue that's become more and more difficult for banks, and really I think it's all about channel confusion.
Over the last year, I had to open a new bank account in a different city. We were spending  lots of time around the hospital doing medical treatments, and so I had to have a local bank account there. And I opened it, and then needed to pretty quickly get a cashier's check drawn on the funds in that account. I had opened it online, but the only way to get a cashier's check is of course to go into the branch. Which great news, that's why I opened the local account, and it's been open and funded for a good week at this point.
So I go in and ask to get a cashier's check done. They have no idea who I am. There's no record of the account yet in their system, yet I can pull up the online banking account, turn around my phone and show them like, "Hey, here's your app, here's my account on there and the money in it. I just want to get a cashier's check." And they're like, "Oh, you opened that account online," and they kind of give you the sideways look. It's a totally different department. It's a totally different set of systems.
At some point during the month, those will sync, and they'll do this batch upload of all the online accounts that they've opened. In the meantime, I'm a complete stranger. They have no idea who I am.
Now, I will say the branch staff there was wonderful. They called their own 800-number, and they took the brunt of that pain, so I didn't have to. But I did have to sit in that branch for almost two hours to get a cashier's check done, which the actual printing of it took, I don't know, 45 seconds. And so they had to try to navigate all those internal systems and do all the hand-offs and figure out how to actually get this done. So they made it happen, but it was incredibly painful, both for me and for them.
The struggle here is the bank is saying, "Hey, we need to be able to open accounts online." And that process was actually pretty smooth, but there's limited functionality then when I did it that way, number one. Now, cashier's checks are difficult, I get that. But there are things that you can't do from online, so you have to go into the branch, and now the channels don't line up.
And I think this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue as you have all these systems that now banks have tried to bolt together to be able to offer the new whizbang functionality, and it's hard, and their staff and their customers are really taking the brunt of it. 
Jim Young: Yeah. We're going to get it a little bit more into how you should roll out the digital functionality of onboarding a little bit later because, obviously, you need that now. It can't all be one-to-one. But we'll talk about that. And actually, in the process of you describing that, basically my eye started twitching, and I thought about my various onboarding experiences in the healthcare industry, which I may get to ....
Dallas Wells: Yeah, we won't even go there.
Jim Young: Because there's so many there. We might have to -
Dallas Wells: That's a whole separate podcast, yeah.
Jim Young: ... name and date of birth and social security number, and that's for the fifth time I've been transferred in the same call, but ... A
All right, anyways. In addition to the webinar he did, Jack Hubbard also wrote a great article about onboarding for The Financial Brand. We'll have that link as well in the show notes.
In it he takes us through a case study of a bank that really has onboarding down pat. And, Dallas, one of the things that struck me in the piece is the amount of follow-up and personal touch the bank had built into their onboarding process.
That brings me into one of my personal stories that's been carried out in various ways with various software products over the years, and it's essentially something where the company I work for brings on some new software, and they've got some sort of a account rep who gets us onboarded. And we learn the basics of it, and we all do it at the same time, and some of us dive right into it, but a lot of us, like me, go on to doing other stuff.
Then two to three months later, we need to use that product, and we have to essentially relearn it because we've forgotten it. And then we go away and do something else, and then two to three months later we have to get back and use it, and we relearn it again. And it's a cycle that just goes on and on and on.
And sometimes I wonder exactly how you would deal with it, but it's one of those that I've got to imagine, not everybody for whatever product you're rolling out, whether it's a bank product or not, is going to be in that thing every single day, and there has to be some sort of a continual follow-up thing. It's not a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing. You've got to have a system in place in which people can not have to basically have Groundhog Day. Essentially, they're onboarding every single time they're using your product.
But yeah. Enough about me on this one. Let's get back to you, Dallas. Again, when Jack talks about great onboarding, it's really personal in nature. And you've seen, though, on the other side of that, some onboarding that's a lot of outreach but not really helpful or personal outreach.
Dallas Wells: Yeah. This is a bank that I used to work with, and so this was actually part of their commercial onboarding process, although I believe they used the same basic idea in their consumer world, too. The whole marketing and sales process was pretty, I guess slick would be the word I would use. Meaning it was well polished, there were campaigns and collateral and beautiful landing pages and mail pieces that were glossy and high-definition pictures, the whole thing, right? And selling how wonderful the bank is and what wonderful personal service you're going to get as a new commercial client.
And then the deal actually closes, and it's like you're working with an entirely different organization, which in this case it's because you were, right? You got handed off to an entirely different team of folks. And all of a sudden a new set of follow-ups starts, which is a lot less friendly and a lot less polished. And so what goes out is not the glossy color brochure, but a letter that's not even on real letterhead. It's been photocopied like 11 times, so it's kind of blurry logos, and there's a "sincerely" at the bottom of a lot of the letters and no actual signature on them.
Jim Young: Nice.
Dallas Wells: And the letters are really harassing things like, "Hey, you still owe us these three documents to open your deposit accounts, and if you don't have those within X-number of days, we're closing the account." And then that'll be followed up, again, totally separate department, by something else that's glossy in the mail that says, "Hey, it looks like you should actually have a corporate credit card."
So we're trying to cross-sell them something on one side, begging them for more business, and we're absolutely berating them with fuzzy, ugly photocopied stuff. Sometimes the mail probably arrived on the same day, and that's got to be a jarring experience and a pretty clear indicator of, well, I see what they're promising, and then I see what I'm actually going to get.
I guarantee you, so any bankers listening, go check the sorts of things that your clients get once they become clients, and you will be horrified. I had one of the CEOs of a small bank that I worked with for a little while. He had some commercial accounts from some businesses he owned, and he brought in a letter, and I've never seen such a red face. He was as mad as I've ever had a boss be. Pulled his entire management team into a room, and he said, "I want everyone who had anything to do with this letter," and he's waving this thing around, "To stay in the room because I feel like I was verbally assaulted by this."
And it was a compliance thing that the bank had to send out. I don't think he really cared about that. Right? It was that exact issue that he's talking about of we promise white glove treatment, and then how we actually follow up is this combination of semi-relevant sales pitches and then just really ugly account management. And I get it, it's hard. It's being spit out of some of these legacy systems, and you have to do it at scale, and you've got many thousands of customers to handle. I get all that, but look at it from your customer's perspective, and it's kind of ugly.
Jim Young: Yeah, no doubt about it. And as you mentioned about looking at it from your customer's perspective. I think that's a really critical element of this because I know I used to work in an email marketing automation software company. And look, again, full disclosure, I think we do this sometimes, too. When you work every day in the product, you are so familiar with all the things it can do and all of the potential of it and all the ways to tap into it. And it sometimes can be a little bit easy to forget that the other person, they do not spend 24/7 in your product. They need to come to it for a specific thing and a specific time.
And so you fall into this trap of thinking that they're using the product the way that you know they can use it. And then for us in email marketing, sometimes we would look at and be like, "My gosh." Sometimes we would find these guys have been with us for six months, and they haven't sent an email yet. What are they even doing with our software? Or you would find the ones that are doing only the most rudimentary ... Again, because Seinfeld is relevant to everything. When Jerry gives his dad the Wizard, and his dad's using it to calculate tips. Right? You find that sort of-
Dallas Wells: Yeah. That's exactly right.
Jim Young: And so it is a problem that happens over and over again, which is you can't make this assumption that they know how to do this stuff or that they will immediately intuitively figure out how to do this sort of stuff. They're going to do it to solve the immediate problem they came to you with, and if you don't stick with them and really help them understand how to take the next step in that journey, they're probably going to stay on step one until they get to renewal time, at which point they're going to say, "Now, why am I paying you all this much to do this really pretty basic thing that I'm doing?" And that's where it really can come home to roost. 
Dallas Wells: Yeah, that's absolutely right.
Jim Young: Yeah. Let's go back to banks here. And you were kind of touching on this a little bit, this pitfall of onboarding, which is that monitoring process or rather the lack of it. Banks obviously know how to do monitoring, right? It's a critical function of it. And yet in this particular area it's a struggle.
Dallas Wells: Yeah. Again, I think this is part of the transition from prospect to client. You make this transition where you're trying to sell, to where you're trying to both actively manage a customer but also actively manage the bank's risk. And so part of that is monitoring of that customer, collecting ongoing financial statements, and the bank has a pretty clear reason for that, right?
Number one, if you don't have current financial statements in the file, when it's exam time, you've got big problems, right? So it is very much a self-preservation thing for banks to, if nothing else, keep files current. And then what they're supposed to be doing with that, of course, is ongoing risk management. We should be looking for signs of deterioration in those credits. So are there signs of weakness, and do we need to be proactive in managing our credit risk there?
And this is where the old trope about banks have so much data, but they don't do anything with it, this is another example of it.
Find another industry where your clients send you quarterly or at least annual financial statements. And I'm talking deep financial statements that show every nook and cranny of the business. They willingly send it to you. And what do banks do with that? Well, either nothing, or they come back and say, "Very bad news, Mr. Customer, but you've been downgraded from a grade four to a grade five, and we've triggered a bunch of loan covenants, and this is now the worst day of your year." If that's the only action that's going to come out of that, then you're doing it wrong, right?
If you're looking for ways to cross-sell, it's not to offer everyone who has a checking account a credit card. I'm sure that works, right? And I'm sure that you opened some credit cards that way. But for the commercial line of business, look at those financials and look at it not through just the lens of risk but through the lens of cross-selling. What are they doing with someone else? What other business opportunities are out there? And if you really want to add value, what are they not doing with anyone that they should be doing, right? Where can you go to them and say, "Hey, look, thanks for sending in your third quarter financials. I noticed these two things, and so if you did this with your insurance coverage or if you added this treasury management product, here's what it could mean to your business," right? Be a true value added partner. They're sending you this treasure trove of data. Don't just immediately hand it off to a credit analyst, and you're onto the next thing.
So there's some one-to-one, manual, heavy lifting processes there. But if you look at the article that, again, we'll link to, that Jack Hubbard wrote, it's a lot of one-to-one touchpoints as a part of his case study of onboarding for commercial clients. And the bank he talks about even has board members reach out, which I think is incredibly powerful. Again, obviously, you can't do that for everyone, but could you do it for your top five or 10 deals that you close every month? Yeah. Make your directors earn those fees. Right?
So the one-to-one stuff is really important in the commercial world, and it really works. And use things like the monitoring and the general maintenance that you have to do anyway, use it to your advantage. Make some good come of that pain and effort that you're going through.
Jim Young: Yeah. I skipped over one. This is your non-bank story I wanted to touch on before we wrap this up because you were talking about that one-to-one, and that's ... You do need digital tools, though, in various points to do things properly and to do it at scale. But you really need to be thoughtful about how you roll this out and your onboarding process or if you get sort of quasi-digital, part-digital, then you can make things worse. And I wanted you to share your last story here on this.
Dallas Wells: Okay. Yeah. I couldn't remember what story you were talking about, but it struck me there. I think this one will resonate with a lot of people. Anyone who's bought a car in the last decade, this should make sense to you. Good old SiriusXM radio.
When you want to sign up for SiriusXM, it's incredibly easy, and there's lots of channels to do that. So first of all, the car you buy these days probably already has a little starter subscription, but you can also sign up through an app, you can sign up through a website, you can call them. I'm guessing you could send them a letter, and they would turn on the service for you. So they make it really easy to buy.
What they don't make it so easy to do is anything else. So if you've ever tried to cancel or transfer service from one vehicle to another, you go to the website, which again is nice, slick, modern, professional-looking website. And after going through a pretty confusing series of button clicks, our engineers and designers would be appalled at it, but after you go through that, you've probably now spent 10 to 15 minutes on the website, and what you get to is a screen that says, "Please call," and there's an 800-number.
And boy, are you in for a really joyful time with that 800-number because if you want to cancel, you've now got about another 30 minutes of really just trying to convince them that yes, you really do want to cancel no matter what smoking hot deal they're got for you to stay.
So there's lots of other issues there of ... That's probably a whole separate conversation about ... That's an interesting topic, right? Of deals that you have for new customers versus existing ones, and how far you'll bend to keep things and the pricing stuff around that. That's interesting.
But to me the bigger deal is when you have customers who prefer to use a channel. When I sign up for things, I'm going to do it online, and I'd really like to be able to manage that account online, I'd like to be able to close the account online. Is your bank able to handle that?
So again, back to my bank account at the very beginning. That was a temporary thing. We came back home, didn't need that bank account anymore. I opened it online. Do you think I get close it online? Heck no. Right? I had to ... That's now a process I'm trying to handle from a distance, and it's incredibly frustrating. So it went from something that could have been, hey, I needed that bank temporarily, they stepped up, they were there, I will always speak well of them, and when I need something else there on the list. They're on a list now, but it's a four-letter list that I can't say on the podcast because you'll beat me.
So some channel consistency in a lot of ways, right? In that your systems talk to each other and that your customers are allowed to do all the things they need to do through the channel that they prefer. Don't make them jump through hoops. Don't make them listen to sales pitches when that's not the appropriate time for it. Basic stuff. But again, it's things that the salespeople at the bank may not be paying attention to because it's somebody else's group, it's later in the process. But you're the one that made the promises to the client. Check in on those things, see how they're actually doing. Follow Jack's little recipe in the article that we're linking to. If you close some of those loops, you'll probably be surprised at what you'll find, and you'll probably end up with some much happier clients.
Jim Young: Absolutely. And again, we mentioned that we'll link to that article, Jack Hubbard's on The Financial Brand, but also highly encourage you to check out the webinar that he did with us back in mid-February, and we've got the recording of that on the site on our resource section of precisionlender.com, so definitely encourage you to check that out because Jack really understands that selling that product is only part of the way. Really, your ability to have that long-term and growing relationship hinges upon how well you can onboard that new client.
All right, well, that'll do it for this week's show. Now for a few friendly reminders. If you want to listen to more podcasts or check out more of our content, you can visit, again, I mentioned our resource page at precisionlender.com, or you can just head over to our homepage to learn more about the company behind the content. Finally, if you like what you've been hearing, make sure to subscribe to the feed in iTunes, SoundCloud, Google Play, or Stitcher. We love to get ratings and feedback on any of those platforms. Until next time, this has been Jim Young and Dallas Wells, and you've been listening to The Purposeful Banker.

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About the Author

Jim Young

Jim Young, Director of Content at PrecisionLender, is an award-winning writer with experience in a range of positions in media and marketing, from reporter to website editor to content marketer. Throughout his career Jim has focused on the story – how to find it, how to understand it, and how best to share it with others. At PrecisionLender, he manages the many ways in which the company shares its philosophy on banking and the power of relationships. Jim graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke University and holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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