Communication Strategies for Banks in Transition


By Maria Geokezas

These are turbulent times. Even though the economy seems to be rebounding, banking and finance businesses are still not running at their typical pace. It’s an environment ripe for change. If you are rebranding, opening new markets or party to an acquisition or merger, your communication strategy can make all the difference in not only maintaining your customer relationships through the change but also set up for long term growth and success.

The goal of any communication strategy at this time should be to reassure and build trust in the new bank in order to protect the existing customer base. This is especially true when a bank gets taken over by the FDIC. In this situation, customers have already started withdrawing their money. And those customers that remain are a high attrition risk. The communication tactics listed below are all easy to execute at a low-cost. They need to happen immediately after the bank changes ownership. Time is of the essence.

  • Send each customer a formal letter signed by both the out-going bank president as well as the new bank president explaining the transition and introducing customers to new bank branch personnel. If the change is due to an FDIC take-over, the FDIC will also send a form letter. However, this letter is typically not customer-friendly. Rather, it is legal speak and can be perceived by customers as confusing and harsh.
  • There will be operational questions from customers about getting new checks/debit cards, etc. These changes should be listed out very clearly in an FAQ that is customer friendly and minimizes bank-speak. The FAQs should be available online as well as in hard copy with the letter of introduction or when customers visit the branch.
  • The Branch Manager should be present and visible throughout the transition period to welcome customers who visit the branch. In an FDIC take-over situation, typically FDIC representatives will be at the bank the first few days after the take-over to explain the situation. To ensure long term success and protect the customer base, a representative from the new bank should be there as well.
  • Hold an open house to welcome customers and invite discussion with customers. Serve food and beverages.
  • Make available a “back-pocket” retention offer. If customers are taking their money out, arm tellers and personal bankers with a rate offer to get them to keep their deposits at the bank.
  • Develop copy points for the staff so they are comfortable talking with customers about the situation. Transitions can be very complicated and confusing to the staff as well as to customers. Make sure branch staffers are is clear on how to respond to customers’ questions to minimize the potential of miscommunication and false rumors.
  • Identify customers that have recently left and invite them back with a special rate offer. This could be done by call-downs or via direct mail.
  • Identify top customers of the bank (highest deposits, multiple accounts, etc) and have the new branch manager personally call them to notify them of the change.
  • Ensure that messaging is consistent across all marketing channels (in-branch and online). If the bank failed, their website should be redirected to the new bank’s website with a special flash page explanation of the transition, welcoming customers to the new bank. Online access to accounts should not be interrupted. Ensure that messaging is consistent across all channels.
  • Make all customer-oriented transition information like FAQs available online.
  • Create a special email address for customers to contact with questions and concerns. Ensure that these questions are answered in a timely manner and are consistent with other communications. Create an escalation procedure for those issues that are more complex.
  • Outdoor temporary signage (sandwich boards, easels) should welcome customers with old and new logo. Lobby signage should reinforce the transition.