When Amicus FSB, a subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, launched electronic banking services three years ago, Canadian consumers were fairly eager to switch from their traditional brick and mortar banks.
Stephen Corsi, VP Marketing for the institution's Safeway SELECT division explains, "Canadians are much more likely to try new things and adopt electronic at a much more rapid rate than Americans. There's also a big cultural difference -- Canadians hate their banks more. They've been getting poor bank service for a lot longer. Americans are getting better service, it's harder to convince an American to switch to an electronic bank."
After successfully offering electronic banking services in the southeastern US through a private-label partnership with supermarket chain Winn-Dixie, Amicus decided to penetrate the US further through a partnership with national supermarket chain Safeway SELECT.
Despite earlier success with Winn-Dixie, Amicus was sensibly cautious in its Safeway roll out. First Amicus launched test banks at carefully chosen locations; one in a very "wired" Northern California neighborhood, one in a much less wired Southern California area, and the third in a Denver Colorado neighborhood representing a median.
Amicus built a banking pavilion in each store, which contained lots of poster slots, infovision TV screens, and several PCs for online banking use and personal demonstrations. Two-to-three Customer Associates who have undergone two weeks of "solid classroom training at the head office" staff each pavilion.
Corsi says, "We don't expect people to just automatically bank online. We have to show them and teach them how to do transactions on the Internet. In the pavilion, we have the Internet set up and the Customer Associates will show them how to use the banking Web site in person. Part of our sales training is, 'There's never a dumb question.' We're on the side of the customer and if that means answering basic questions about the Internet that are not specifically about banking, then we'll do that.'"
Amicus coordinated closely with each Safeway store manager to figure out when the most effective staffing hours would be based on foot traffic. Most pavilions are staffed 75-80 hours per week.
Rather than just waiting in the pavilion all the time, Customer Associates aggressively seek customer contact. Corsi says, "They walk the aisles and engage customers. They wait until they make eye contact and then say, 'Excuse me have you heard about Safeway's SELECT bank? Are you interested in saving money?' We also train them to look at your grocery cart for clues about what your banking needs would be. If you've got diapers, there's a pretty high chance you have a baby and you're perhaps saving for something down the road. It's a conversation piece, 'Do you have a newborn at home?'"
Customer Associates, all of whom are Amicus employees, come from either retail or banking backgrounds. Amicus encourages sales by paying them a combination of salary plus sales commissions based on hitting certain goals. In addition to their initial training, they also get in-store aisle training and ongoing coaching. Corsi explains, "Our mentoring program pairs the weaker with the stronger."
Corsi used local radio and cable TV media buys to support each pavilion launch. Rather than experimenting with media buys, he based his media decisions on the time-tested media buys each local store was already using. Each launch was also promoted heavily in-store with a grand opening weekend. As Corsi says, "On launch day we blanket the store! There are shelf talkers, ceiling posters, free-standing posters throughout the store, signage at checkout, balloons and juice for the kids, coffee for the adults, and lots of free giveaway items such as fridge magnets, mouse pads, chip clips and jar openers." Festivities continue through the following week.
The word 'free' features heavily in all promotions -- free groceries, free checking, etc. Corsi says, "People love the word free!"
The Safeway SELECT Web site itself was designed based on Amicus' three years of banking Web site design changes and tweaking. Corsi says, "We've found people want simplicity. They want simple functionality. They want to understand it easily. They want to enter one password, click on the button and get right to their transaction screens. They don't want to enter 15 different passwords to get into banking."
Amicus' three Safeway SELECT trial bank launches in October 2000 were so successful that the company has now launched a total of 49 SELECT branches in the US and plans to roll out more over the next few years.
Post-launch focus groups have revealed that Safeway customers who signed on in October quickly adapted to the concept of an electronic-only bank and were migrating all their transactions online to save time and money. Corsi says, "Customers were 100% behind it. We've asked Safeway SELECT Bank customers 'Have you changed your banking behavior?' and they answered yes in two ways. Number one, they spend more time at the grocery store to do their banking online and number two they use the Internet more than they thought they would. That's good news for us. They've successfully moved to our banks from other banks."
Why have they been so successful? Corsi says, "Customers want face-to-face, but they don't want to pay the high banking fees associated with it. Customers also want electronic touchpoints, it's just so much more convenient for them. The Amicus model combines the best of both worlds: online banking with face-to-face presence in the grocery store, and it's supported by brands customers already know and trust."
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