In Deposit Acquisition, There Are no 'Easy Buttons'

As human beings, we are conditioned to look for the simplest solutions. We want to push a button and solve a problem. However, in business – and in life – there are rarely silver bullet answers for our challenges. The reality is that there are very few substitutes for doing the hard work. However, the absence of an easy solution does not indicate the absence of opportunity. Read on to learn where the opportunities exist.

Think Outside the Offer: Why Moving the Needle is a Team Effort

Have you ever completed a project – one that by all means should have been an unquestionable success – and been puzzled when the needle barely budged? You’ve got a whiz-bang product to promote and you’re out there promoting – but… nothing.

Unfortunately, to get results you need more than just a great product. Time and again, we’ve seen that when financial institutions fail, it isn’t just about the offer. Your success in any given endeavor largely hinges on asking yourself these three things:

1.      Do I have the right people?

2.      Do I have the right process?

3.      Do I have the right culture?

If you fall short in any of those three elements, you likely won’t be successful in your efforts. “But,” you may be protesting from your desk, “we have the best rate in our market! That should be enough to get people in the door!”

Well, sometimes it’s not. These three elements are like a tripod – if one leg doesn’t quite measure up, the tripod isn’t as stable… and it just may topple.


There’s a moment we’ve experienced in many a strategic meeting when we’ll be outlining a strategic initiative with an FI’s head of retail and we will ask, “Who do you see running this program?” What happens next is either extended silence, or a roll call of branch staff that might be almost-qualified to work with customers to nurture the FI’s best customer relationships and focus on their cross-sell efforts.

Or the bank will host a local event to prominently position themselves as being a member of the community, and the branch staff attending the event don’t successfully engage attendees – if they talk to them at all!

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Your team is crucial to your success. It’s imperative to identify the qualities of a team member who will best help your organization thrive, and seek candidates who fit that bill when you’re filling open positions.

When that’s not enough, outsourcing is an option that allows you to strategically supplement your team with qualified leaders – without requiring an additional headcount of an FTE.


Think of the last time you integrated an enhancement to your online or mobile banking services – adding a new online application or integrating a new LOS, for example. Did those projects seem to take longer, feel more cumbersome, than you initially anticipated? If so, take a look at your process.

A muddy process creates road blocks at every step of a project – delaying efforts, deliverables, and launch.

Large-scale projects rely on a clearly identified process in order to flow smoothly and launch on schedule. Projects with numerous dependent tasks can easily get derailed by one step being delayed.

Before you tackle a large project, set a realistic timeline for the various steps needed to thoroughly execute your initiative. Does that process feel do-able to all involved parties? If not, gather feedback, revise, and adjust. The best idea won’t be successful if it never sees the light of day.


Of the three, culture just may be the most difficult to honestly assess. You’re probably ready to provide a laundry list of your FI’s strengths: How actively you support local charities, how your employees all dress up on Halloween, your diverse workforce, or the sheer volume of tasks you’re currently working through.

But look at your culture.

Are your colleagues happy to be there?

Do they understand the goals of the financial institution and are they excited about working toward those goals?

Do employees have opportunity for growth?

What is communication like?

How is feedback given?

Your organization’s culture is what truly sets you apart, and it is the one aspect of your business that is not defined by external criteria. You already have a corporate culture – but is it one where people thrive and success is born? A strong corporate culture will allow you to connect with customers, attract and retain strong employee talent, and takes you forward to achieve your company’s objectives.


Taking a critical look at those three key elements can help you identify areas of improvement for your team and where you need support in order to drive future successes.

Of the three elements, which presents the greatest challenge to your team?
Send us an email and let us know! We’ll select five names at random to receive a $20 Audible gift card!

2019 planning: “measure twice, cut once” are words to live by


A Business Case for Setting Solid Goals

Sometimes it’s the CEO looking for overall growth and not considering that it might be an unrealistic expectation.

Or, it might be the CLO trying to deliver what the CEO is asking for (or just being overly-confident when it comes to projections).

No matter the cause, the impact of poor planning can be far-reaching: Unrealistic goals can tax the system, demoralize the team, and leave the bank struggling to meet its targets. Taking the time to research or enlist data analysis is sometimes seen as too time-consuming. But the measure-twice, cut-once philosophy can prove to be far more valuable than taking the quickest path to a perceived solution.

If you find your organization struggling to balance optimism with realism in planning, you might want to consider one of our recent experiences:

Galapagos worked with a bank who set wildly optimistic goals for mortgages two years in a row. They projected 1.5-2 times more than what would have been reasonable.

Did they reach their goals? Not even close.

It wasn’t surprising, since the goals weren’t based on sound market data. And the impact was significant, both on the bank’s bottom line and on the staff that had failed to deliver on this unreasonable request.

When Galapagos was invited to the table to help with the planning process, the situation changed. We were able to take a deep dive into available data and project a short- and long-term mortgage opportunity that considered the bank’s level of coverage, the competitive situation, and the degree of aggressiveness and resources the bank was able to invest in the effort.

  • First, we established accurate trade areas based on the bank’s distribution, customer purchase behavior, and competitive density.

  • Second, we developed a customer propensity profile based on past customer behaviors—then ranked all households in the market against this profile.

  • Then, heat maps that represented purchase propensity and prospect concentrations were generated to identify where marketing and sales resources should be best targeted.

  • Lastly, the overall annual goal was broken down into specific production targets for specific branch markets, originators, and the online channel. These formed the basis of bi-weekly reporting for the organization.

The result was an accurate plan that inspired growth, yet remained achievable. The bank continues to reach the goals that we helped set.  


Quality data analysis provides the ability to see patterns and opportunities. Insight drives strategy. While we understand the desire for aggressive growth, we find, time and time again, that combining optimism with the true story of solid data sets you up best for success.

Do you need a more data-driven approach to planning? If you would like to discuss building a more effective plan, call Jeremy Kane at 616.608.7359 or email him today (

 Learn more about our planning process and the experts behind it here.

Do Your Planning Efforts Lack Focus? Ask These Ten Questions to Stay on Track.

Does Your Planning Process Cover all the Bases?

Banking is a commoditized business, which makes it even more important that, when it comes to planning, you don’t simply follow a commoditized process. In the past 20 years, 38% of U.S. banks have disappeared from the horizon (Source: FDIC), and this decline isn’t expected to end any time soon. You know the issues all too well: The cost of increased regulation, the need to compete against large banks and fintech companies, and the need to increase revenue so that you are able to reinvest in technology and customer experience.

So why rely on an old rinse and repeat process for strategic planning this year?

As you work to fend off challenges and secure a future for your institution, a proper planning effort can truly make the difference—giving your team a clear direction and your institution a much higher likelihood of success.

Here are 10 must-ask questions from the Galapagos team, to help you get ready for 2019 and beyond:

10 Must-Ask Questions

  1. Do you have adequate data to understand and prioritize the relative opportunity in the markets you serve? Data analysis reveals insight. Insight guides strategy. Don’t rely on anecdotal evidence or “gut feel.” Make sure you have the information that lets you identify the specific opportunities and prepare to fulfill the need.

  2.  How committed are your customers to your bank? How deep are their relationships? How well are you retaining them? How do they feel about the experience they receive and the value you as a bank deliver?

  3. Do you have the data to understand penetration levels for your digital channels? These channels are key to earning consideration from new customers and keeping customers longer.

  4. Do you have a clear road map for your branch and channel distribution and optimization? Many banks are spending the time “feeding the beast” of their existing branch network when the most important step they should take is to align it to growth opportunity and reconfigure channel resources to meet the needs of key customer segments.

  5. How engaged are your employees? Do they understand and believe in your mission? Are they empowered to execute on it? And are they compensated adequately for delivering on it? Don’t underestimate the power of an inspired and engaged team. (And don’t underestimate the true cost of having a team that feels unappreciated.)

  6. What is the level of your brand awareness and how does it compare to market share? If it’s not higher than market share, you have a real problem.

  7. What type of customers do you want and are you applying the proper emphasis to get them? Do you even know which ones are most valuable?

  8. Do you have an HR plan in place to ensure that you are hiring the right people for the future? The community banking model relies on strong relationships. Are you now looking for consultative branch managers, for example, rather than “transactors”?

  9. Are you being realistic about what your team can achieve in the next year? Do you have the right people and the proper preparation in place to ensure a successful process? Or, do you need to look for outside resources or new ways to tackle the more substantial items to give the team the time to run the day-to-day?

  10. How will success be measured next year? And, even more importantly, are those the right measurements and can you easily track and report them?

What’s keeping you up at night? If you are looking to address a difficult issue, bounce ideas off of an objective resource, or discuss our approach to planning, call Jeremy Kane at 616.608.7359 or email him:

Are You Missing a $38 Million Opportunity?


Have you considered the opportunity?

As growth gets more and more challenging, we are surprised to see many financial institutions neglecting what could be one of their best opportunities: small business. Small business is often mentioned as a targeted segment but is rarely given its deserved priority as a separate audience with its own unique set of needs. Some FIs completely ignore this group. Some dabble in it without making a full commitment. Others have made it a priority and point of differentiation. Where does your FI fall?

While the core services offered to small businesses have become increasingly commoditized, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t success to be had. First of all, small business owners still value quality service, delivered personally or digitally, by professionals who understand business and who demonstrate an appreciation for the customer. In addition, their needs are very broad and their “points of pain” vary dramatically. If you are simply focusing on the basics, you are likely leaving a lot on the table—both in terms of the client’s needs and in terms of your own profit opportunities.

Source: Profitability report model applied to a $900 million bank in Northeast region.

Source: Profitability report model applied to a $900 million bank in Northeast region.

Sources: Galapagos data and industry research. Example represents specifics for one sample market in the Northeast U.S.

Sources: Galapagos data and industry research. Example represents specifics for one sample market in the Northeast U.S.

Establish a strategy

So, where do you start? You don’t have to have a complex strategy, but you do need an approach that makes sense—and it needs to be more than just duplicating a retail checking account and giving it a small business label. Here are a few foundational questions to consider:

  • Do you truly have a strategy for this segment?

  • Do you have a realistic plan and the appropriate channels to deliver on that strategy?

  • Do you have the resources to do so successfully? (In particular, do you have the right people? The solution is not branch managers dressed as business specialists.)

  • Does your bank have the products and services small businesses want and need?

Be intentional with your approach

Even if your small business numbers are growing, have you considered the strength of your approach from a tactical perspective? Do you truly know your clients and have a sense of what might be most helpful to them? To a business owner, it becomes very clear, very quickly, whether business is truly a priority and an area of expertise for your FI.

A few years ago, we experienced our own puzzling approach first-hand. Our bank normally met with us annually (to satisfy a requirement related to a line of credit). One year, they brought along a treasury management rep, who introduced herself and then immediately said, “I took a look and I don’t think you are a fit for treasury management now or in the near future.” Our internal response? “No kidding!” It felt like they were checking off internal boxes (1. annual visit, check; 2. increase Treasury Management exposure, check) rather than spending time understanding our business and supporting our goals. We left the meeting thinking: “Why are they even wasting their time coming to see us?”

Just as frustrating to us: the questions they didn’t ask, because we did have real needs: 401k plan design and administration, health care costs, succession planning, and a host of personal banking needs shared by our team members.

Consider these questions:

Are you treating meetings with clients as a “must-do” to meet a business requirement or are you planning ahead and probing for problems you can solve and opportunities you can act on?

  • Do you have the right people handling the business?

  • Do you know what your next-best opportunity is likely to be with your existing clients?

  • Have you made your small business program distinctive, so clients see the benefits of working with you?

If you are looking to be a clear winner in the Small Business space, it’s time to dedicate a true and appropriate effort. You will be able to crack the code of a successful small business strategy by meeting businesses where they are and helping them get to where they want to be.

Don’t miss a $38 million opportunity
Take the first step with a complimentary small business market opportunity assessment, including loans, deposits, treasury, and merchant service. Just confirm a single market area to be studied.

Struggling with Checking Deposit Growth? Data Shows That You Aren't Alone


Yes, there is increased competition from national banks and digital-only competitors and yes, the market focus has shifted toward CDs and Money Market accounts. However, traditional checking acquisition programs have grown tired and no longer deliver the same results as in the past. 

Find out how your performance stacks up and what you can do to increase new checking account deposit growth.

Several factors appear to have contributed to this lackluster performance:

  1. The national banks and digital-only competitors continue to provide a superior online or mobile account-opening experience and greater convenience, both features prized by customers.
  2. Account-level churn continues to decline, due, in large part, to the increased “stickiness” of online and mobile banking.
  3. Sales efforts at community FIs are not fully developed.
  4. In the chase for deposits, many FIs have switched their focus toward CDs and Money Market accounts

But the fact remains that traditional acquisition programs, whether they offer rewards-based rates, packaged benefits or free accounts, have become tired.

Those of you who have worked with the team here at Galapagos know that we have never been fans of off-the-shelf, packaged checking account acquisition programs. (See: A different approach …)

Downside of Free-and-a-Gift Checking Programs

  • Generate accounts, not households
  • High year-one attrition rates, averaging 30%
  • ROI is overstated
  • Promotional offers are tired and devalue the brand

There is a better way to grow deposits and it can triple your new account acquisition rate.

Frustrated by off-the-shelf solutions that run counter to the brand position of most community FIs, Galapagos developed a program several years ago that attracted new accounts based on the value of the banking relationship, not the short-lived, easily-copied appeal of a giveaway or some obscure feature.

The Galapagos approach:

  • Targets household relationships, not just checking accounts.
  • Emphasizes the benefits of working with a community FI.
  • Connects with prospective customers in a more engaging way through events and social media.
  • Supports and reinforces the basic tenets of community banking.

Even in the current ultra-competitive market for deposits, the program continues to drive impressive results:

Keys to Success

Sample Map - Customer Base Distribution.jpg

The program relies on careful targeting of prospects who fit the profile of customers the FI wants to attract. For example: 83% of “traditional,” multi-channel checking account users live within a four-minute drive-time of a branch and require convenient branch access as one of their selection criteria.

Communications are crafted carefully to reinforce the FI’s brand and highlight several key messages of inclusion, consistent with the community banking philosophy.

Prospects are encouraged to engage with “brand ambassadors” of the FI at events and through social media. The whole approach invites a two-way conversation during which prospects are more willing to reveal the depth of, and motivating factors behind, their financial needs.

If you would like to learn how the program could benefit your institution, simply provide us with a list of your branches and your acquisition target segments, and we’ll project a year-one acquisition rate for you. If deposit acquisition, in general, is a priority for you, we’ll be glad to chat. We’ve been working with institutions all over the country on this challenge; we’ve seen what’s working and can design a successful strategy for you.

You Don't Need to Be Popular to Be Effective


Sure, it feels great to be liked and adored by thousands. But even if your Facebook page has a lot of likes and followers, your content probably isn’t being seen by all of those people, anyway. Instead of focusing on the number of likes your page doesn’t have, here are 9 tactics to improve the quality of your posts and increase the visibility of your content.

Know Your Audience
Look at your follower demographics. A clear understanding of who’s following your page will help you craft messages that resonate clearly with the people seeing them. Your approach will likely be very different if you’re talking to mostly Millennials than if your followers skew toward Boomers. Once you understand your follower demographics, use our generational marketing guide to help you build targeted messaging.

Sample follower demographic summary for a Facebook page.

Sample follower demographic summary for a Facebook page.

Be Appealing
Have you ever been cornered at a dinner party, stuck in a one-way conversation with someone who only talks about himself and the minutiae of his daily life? If you’re only posting about your checking account features and CD specials on your Facebook page, then you’re “that guy!”

Tailoring your posts to your audience’s interests and needs (now that you’ve audited your followers and know who they are) means that your posts are more likely to be read, acted upon, and shared.

It’s okay to post about account features and specials on occasion (especially if you’ve taken the time to design products that benefit your customers), just be sure to craft your posts with the perspective of highlighting the benefit to your customer base.

Tell a Story
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to communicate in a way that is both memorable and emotional. Instead of telling followers that your FI takes care of the people in your community, tell them about the time your tellers pitched in to buy a neighborhood girl a winter coat when they noticed she was without one. Or, how you earned a customer for life when you loaned a man $20 for his wife’s wedding ring nearly 80 years ago. Tell them that quirky story about the time your drive-thru teller sent a donut through the tube for a customer having a rough day.

As the saying goes, “Show, don’t tell.” Illustrating your FI’s values is much more impactful than simply stating them.

Be a Community Ambassador
You’re a community-based organization, right? Then posts about positive events in your community – great fundraisers, free events, events sponsored by your FI – need to be in your social media strategy. Not only do these posts inform your audience, they position your company as being truly community-oriented in the process.

And don’t overlook your  efforts to support the community. Many companies fail to (or choose not to) talk about their charitable involvement and contributions for the sake of humility. However, visibility is still important. Be tactful in crafting your message for these types of posts.

Be Engaging
People love sharing their point of view (otherwise Facebook probably wouldn’t exist), so give your followers the opportunity to do so. Make your posts interactive by asking questions or creating a poll. But keep it fun – look to current trends, oddball holidays, and beyond to encourage followers to contribute and extend your post’s reach to your followers’ friends’ feeds. Or, consider a contest. A recent report showed that 35% of Facebook users liked a page in order to compete in a contest. Consider photo captions or ‘tag a friend who…’ posts, as they can bring in up to 5.5 times more comments than regular posts.

Write Snappier Headlines
As the famous David Ogilvy quote goes, "On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” But some days, it can be tough to craft an engaging headline that people actually want to read. Using a headline scoring tool will help you optimize your headlines for length, word choice, and action.

Give Your Posts a Boost
Facebook’s current algorithm minimizes the number of unpaid business posts to show more posts from users’ friends. This is great for users, but not great news for businesses hoping for organic exposure.

Sponsoring your content by means of an ad or boosted post extends the post’s reach by prioritizing it in followers’ (and sometimes non-followers’) newsfeeds. It also helps you tailor your audience by demographics and interests.

Picture Perfect
With the average social media user scrolling through 300 feet of social feed every day (about the height of the Statue of Liberty), it's no wonder marketers are relying on visual content to catch users' attention. 

But that doesn’t mean that every post needs to be 100% visual. Strike the right balance by looking at your overall content calendar with the goal of a fair, appropriate balance of images and text posts. For example, posts informing followers of technical difficulties or weather-related closings don’t necessitate a graphic, while a product promotion or brand positioning post does.

The average person's attention span is 8 seconds (source: Microsoft Attention Span Research Report), one second shorter than a goldfish. Make sure your images stand out and get to the point quickly by keeping them clear, distinguishable, and original.

Think Beyond Facebook
Tying your efforts on other channels – like your website – to your Facebook page can create a more impactful experience. Take Facebook Pixels – a site traffic monitoring tool – for example.

Once the Pixel (a small piece of code added to your website) is placed on your website, you have the ability to automatically track traffic between your Facebook page and your website. Site browsing data is used to remarket content that fits that user's interests on your Facebook page.

For example, a user clicks your Facebook ad or boosted post to learn more about your FI. While on your site, they click through to learn more about your mortgage offerings. The Pixel then activates a preset (by you) mortgage ad that appears in the user’s Facebook feed next time they log in, giving a gentle nudge to take the next step in your mortgage process.

If you’re stressing about your follower count, fear not. A well thought-out content calendar and strategy can be just as effective in maximizing your reach and engagement.

Need help getting started? Give us a call, and don’t worry – we won't be "that guy."

Targeting Millennials? Don't Throw The Baby Boomers Out With The Bathwater

“We’ve got to attract the Millennials!” has become the battle cry of businesses – not just financial institutions, but retailers, restaurants, app makers, and more. The thinking is that this in-demand demographic can be wooed by avocado toast and a spectacular user interface … and marketers are finding that it’s just not that easy.

Understanding your audience is as important as it’s ever been. And misconceptions abound when it comes to Millennials and Generation Z. It’s vital that you not only understand who this market is, but that you’re taking their needs into account and not lending too much credence to those stereotypes.


If you were to believe what you read, you’d think that Millennials have killed cable TV, breakfast cereal, chain restaurants, and even banking. But you know that banking isn’t dead – otherwise you’d be on a beach flipping through a NYT bestseller instead of reading this post – it just needs to adjust.

As technology and people have evolved, so must the way financial institutions promote their products and services. What has been successful for your organization historically likely needs to change in order to stay competitive. Each generation has different needs, different communication preferences, different goals. The Silent Generation may not be waiting for you to implement voice banking so it can use Siri or Alexa to transfer money from one account to another and Generation Z isn’t hanging out on Facebook with their parents waiting to hear about your new checking account.

So where can you find them? Generation Z is partial to online ratings and reviews and brand partnerships with social media influencers. As expected, Millennials prefer to be targeted digitally – across a variety of devices and channels. Gen X is receptive to a mix of traditional and digital – direct mail and print ads along with digital display and paid search. The Baby Boomer audience isn’t as strictly traditional as you might think. Though direct mail and television and print ads are effective for this group, they’re not technology averse – this audience wants information and will seek it online.

The methods and the means may vary from one generation to the next, but understanding their preferences allows you to meet each group where they are.

GAL Blog Post Updates 071718.jpg


Acquiring new households and attracting a younger customer base should not come at the expense of your Generation X (and older) base. Why? Though Millennials may outnumber any other generation, Baby Boomers are the wealthiest generation and will remain that way for at least another decade.

A 2017 study of the Galapagos Peer Database showed that Baby Boomers and Gen X customers had the highest aggregate household value by generation. While household value growth for Millennials and Gen Z is projected to grow over the next ten years, Boomers are still extremely valuable to your customer base.

So yes, younger audiences are a desired target, but their contemporaries are still relevant, still valuable, and they want many of the same things the coveted younger demos do: easy banking and products that work. And perhaps not surprisingly, each generation expresses a strong desire for transparency – an important factor to consider when designing and promoting your products.

GALAPAGOS-Generation Data - HH Value.jpg

Okay, but now what?

If ALL audiences are important and they ALL deserve your attention, where does that leave you? Your mission is to review your product and service offering, to understand the generational differences (hint: scroll up, right click, then “Save Picture As” and refer to that graphic later … and often) and adjust your promotion strategies accordingly.

Each campaign strategy should not only clearly identify who your target audience is, but thoughtfully consider the communication preferences of that audience in order to maximize the success of your efforts.

It’s going to take more than avocado toast, but it is possible to win over this discerning crowd. And that phenomenal user interface? It’s probably safe to say that every segment of your audience wants that.

Maybe it’s not just the Millennials – perhaps it’s bigger than that. Be thoughtful, be smart, and take the time to truly assess your market composition and where your opportunities for revenue growth and expansion reside and how your product and service offering aligns.

Need help gauging your market opportunity or composition of your customer base? We can help with that. When it comes to avocado toast, though, you’re probably on your own.

What's Truly Different About Your FI?


Perhaps you are familiar with the board game Guess Who?  It’s a popular game, quick and straightforward, that was first introduced nearly 40 years ago. Two players compete by asking well-crafted questions that help them identify which of the 24 individuals pictured on the gameboard matches the card in their opponent’s hand.

Those who excel at the game know how to ask yes/no questions that quickly eliminate a large group of people pictured: “Does your person wear glasses?” No. “Does he have a mustache?” Yes.

Now, let’s imagine you and a collection of your favorite FI competitors as part of a financial “Guess Who” game. 

What identifying factors do you have that would let you eliminate everyone else and leave you standing alone, demonstrating how you are truly different from your competition?

Let’s consider some of the responses FIs give when asked what makes them unique:

  • We have the best employees
  • We support our community
  • We have a great mobile app
  • We have great rates
  • We are your local solution
  • We offer the products you need

If you were applying these characteristics to a financial “Guess Who” Game, it's likely that nearly all of the competitor candidates would still be standing after those statements.


Maybe there are unique benefits that already exist and you just need to uncover their significance or maximize the opportunity they might represent. Then, perhaps most importantly, communicate their value. For example:

  • “Our digital presence was voted Best in the Midwest and we are adding new customers at the highest rate in 10 years, thanks to the value they are finding in our extensive digital services.”
  • “When we say we have the lowest rates, we work hard to make sure that is the truth. In the past five years, our fixed mortgage rates were lower than our top competitors 90% of the time. You can count on us to save you money and get you approved more quickly.”

At the least, digging deeper and defining proof of some of the above responses may be a starting point as you work to differentiate yourself from the candidates in this competition.

  • What’s different about the way you support your community? Perhaps you offer late-night hours with financial planners on hand to advise customers. Or, do you have examples of how your service to the community goes beyond presenting oversized checks for the cameras? Are you able to prove the impact you make?
  • What unique storytelling opportunities can you capitalize on? Take this heartfelt example from a Midwest bank that demonstrates the human side of banking and demonstrates brand values in a personal and inviting way.

It might also be time for you to forge ahead and develop a higher-level position that goes far beyond a single feature—something attractive, unique and valuable. Either way, the exercise of identifying those attributes that truly set you apart is a valuable use of time in a sea of undifferentiated brands and commoditized product.


Perhaps it’s time to explore this further. Take time to buy your best team members lunch and play your own version of financial “Guess Who.”

Consider, also, a reverse game and the valuable insights it might provide. Take your strongest competitors and see how easily it would be to identify their unique position, leaving them as the last one standing. Don’t forget to include your non-traditional competitors on the game board. It always helps to identify what you are up against.

Product Redesign Pitfalls to Avoid


But as community FIs compete for valuable deposits and face lower acquisition rates for important lead products like checking accounts, a thoughtful product redesign might be exactly what you need to help retain and grow your business.

Perhaps there is an opportunity to draw in new business with a more attractive deposit account that could fill a valuable gap in your product line. Or, it may be time to revamp your entire product mix, reconfiguring the features and benefits you offer in a way that would change your business for the better.

To make it easier to move forward and ensure success, here are a few strategies from the product redesign team at Galapagos:

1. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for you—or for your customers. Don’t jump into a product redesign without knowing your customer and your market opportunity. 

“We always start the product redesign process by gathering both customer and market data to determine gaps and opportunities,” said Jacqlyn Burde, Strategy Executive at Galapagos Marketing. “The foundation of all of our product recommendations is built by studying the distribution of the current account line-up and looking at market potential for growth. Understanding the customers you have, and what types of prospects are available within your footprint, is what drives a strong recommendation.

“Identifying your product gaps and customer needs will help to justify the inclusion of a particular feature/benefit in your lineup. Conversely, if you don’t do a competitive review, and are mistaken in thinking you have a unique or differentiated lineup, your rollout will not yield strong results.”

2. Don’t assume that you can buy it better than you can build it.  

Many banks are surprised to discover that it actually may take longer, cost more, and be more restrictive to buy from a third party than to put in the initial work yourself to build the products. Ensure that you understand the buy vs. build options and set realistic expectations before you proceed.

 3. Don’t begin the redesign project until you define what success will look like. Clear up any assumptions from the start.

Start by establishing your redesign goals—and ensure that everyone is on the same page. You might be interested in increasing fee income or perhaps you want growth and are willing to give up fees to get that. If you have multiple goals that clash, you won’t get far.

It’s also beneficial when your internal team has a clear picture of how far they want to push. It helps us successfully work within those parameters. We have had clients say, “Don’t let core system limitations persuade the recommendations,” while other clients ended up objecting to many potential solutions because they didn’t want to deal with the implications to their core.

The same holds true for deciding what you are willing to pay for acquisition (either by reducing account fees or paying higher interest).

 4. Don’t underestimate the value of a strong offer that’s also logical and easy to understand.

While the data element is very important, it’s also critical that the end result is a strong offer. Don’t make your accounts illogical. For example: Why would there be higher fees on a non-interest-bearing account than a standard account? Why would there be a high minimum direct deposit requirement for an electronic-only account when it may be prohibitive for the very audience you’re targeting? Be thoughtful and consider who the account target is when designing the account.

5. Be sure to consider the unforeseen consequences of your product design choices. Consider the following:

Will your revised product offering confuse the customer?

Are you making your bank or credit union all about “free” and undervaluing what you offer—an increasingly important issue as FIs work to reposition themselves around advisory capability.

Is there a chance your changes will lead to attrition? (One Midwest bank incurred a 34% attrition rate in the first year of new free checking accounts opened.)

6. Don’t just make it about a checking account product. Perhaps it’s the household relationship that you need to consider.

Some organizations define success by a simple number (we want to add 500 checking accounts), but Galapagos has helped clients focus on adding certain accounts that develop quickly into broader relationships and prove to be more successful.

“We worked with one eastern U.S. bank and recommended that they add a relationship checking account,” said Stephen Willard, Senior Data Analyst at Galapagos Marketing. “With that change, they experienced tremendous growth in both checking and loan relationships. The average deposit relationship for these households is 6x greater and their average loan relationship is 10x more than their other consumer checking households.”

7. And don’t be too narrow in what you define as a “product” when you configure a new offering. 

Channel convenience has become a primary driver in selection and may take precedence over rates, price, and other features.   

8. Don’t shortchange employee training.

You can design the greatest products in the world, but if your sales team isn’t on board your success will fall flat. The frontline staff needs to know the new products inside and out, understand how they work, and importantly, why customers should be interested.

9. Don’t forget to properly map a customer-friendly process for account migration.

Whether you will be moving customers to new accounts automatically or letting them self-select, make sure you have considered the implications and mapped the product moves and the steps to success.

 10. Build in enough time to create and implement a thoughtful communication program, one that includes simple and effective ways for existing customers to learn about and open these accounts.

Be prepared to effectively sell this account in the ways that matter to the customer or prospect. That means that you are adding it to your online account opening selection, promoting it effectively in your branches and your digital space, and marketing it through your onboarding and CRM programs. Don’t rely on it to sell itself just because it’s on the product list, and don’t make it more difficult than it should be to get started.

We encourage you to consider whether a product redesign belongs on your organization’s “to-do” list. If you are willing to accept the challenge and avoid these pitfalls, the end result could be an extremely valuable solution that achieves your business goals and also makes your customers happy.

Interested in discussing your product strategy or the need for new products? Contact Jacqlyn -

Planning for a conversion? Many of the same pitfalls apply. Contact Dan for more tips on a successful outcome -

Been through this yourself? Share your own “Pitfalls to Avoid” with us. We may add them to the list.

Conquering Your Core System's Shortcomings


While reading about the Naval Academy freshmen attempting the Herndon Climb recently, we couldn’t help but liken it to how bank marketers have to face major obstacles—like their core system—to be successful.

If you aren’t familiar with the Herndon Climb, it’s when the Naval Academy freshmen (also known as plebes) work to scale a greased, 21-foot stone monument to capture a cap that has been placed on top. It is the ultimate test of the teamwork and perseverance taught during the Naval Academy’s plebes’ first year. They don’t quit until they accomplish it – and it is a major milestone that leads them to their subsequent training and future military career.

So, what’s the connection?

Sometimes, a core system can feel like a steep, slippery, uphill climb requiring great strength and creativity to find a way over, around or through the challenges in order to achieve customer satisfaction and robust organizational growth.

If this is the challenge that you are facing, take a minute and find comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone. In fact, a recent NTT research study found that 2/3 of bankers identified at least one major challenge with their existing core deposit banking systems. Now, let’s consider how you can use teamwork and perseverance to find your way to greater success.

 Here are a Few Ideas for Getting Over, Around, or Through the Obstacles of your Core System

Claim a Seat at the Core System Table Don’t let your core system be seen as simply a technological or operational function. Make sure it does what EVERYONE needs it to do. It’s a key driver in marketing and customer experience, and all interested parties and users should be present and have a voice when core system decisions are being made.

One of our clients recently proceeded with a new version of core software that also included valuable service screens to help diagnose and solve customer service issues. However, they didn’t involve the frontline staff in the plan and implementation—and went live with the new system, but without changes to the service screens in place.  This resulted in problems ranging from fixing payroll issues to difficulty opening CDs.  Customers were impacted, productivity was affected, and the bank employees were uninformed and frustrated. With the right people involved, this wouldn’t have happened.

Probe. And Be Persistent. When your core is managed by an Operations or IT department, valuable information often ends up siloed within the core and within the bank. We know of a high-performing credit union in the Midwest that actually created a corporate initiative to counteract that. It involved all areas of the organization, with each department creating a wish list. An expert from the core provider then interviewed the participants and discussed what existed—or what could be built to address the company’s needs.

The credit union discovered new functionality, as well as better ways to use what they had. For example, the marketing department expressed its desire to add a cross-functional communications preference field to satisfy operational needs while also improving targeted marketing efforts. The core representative confirmed the limitations of the operationally-oriented solution offered, but then gave advice on a simple and smart way to program a broader solution within the system.

A process like this can be valuable to your provider as well, as their evolution is essential.  If they are paying attention to the changing competitive environment and your unfulfilled needs, they can be improving their offering—and communicating it more effectively. 

Find the Suppliers who are Doing What the Core System Can’t. For all of the things that your core system provider can’t offer, there are many other companies out there ready to successfully address those challenges. Online account opening, an expert digital offering, automated onboarding and “next best” cross-sell: There are other suppliers for all of that. With the right approach, success can be found. (We’ll share tips on how to select the right supplier in a blog post next month.)

At a recent Galapagos Marketing customer forum, one of our outside presenters speculated that we may soon get to a place where a financial institution simply shops a series of cloud-based apps that can truly connect and offer the required functionality, making it easier to stay competitive without overhauling an entire core to do so.

Sometimes, a Band-Aid is the Answer. As an example, there are “online account opening tools” that look like an online experience to the customer but require your operations team to actually open the account.  Before going this route, it makes sense to explore online account opening tools that will actually integrate with your system.  But if none of those are feasible, there are times when a band-aid beats the alternative of no viable offering on the horizon.

Don’t underestimate the value of your involvement in core selection, operation, enhancements, and even replacement. It could make a significant difference in the value your system offers (or, on the flip side, the challenges it creates).

Striking The Right Balance: Smart Overdraft Solutions


A financial institution in the Midwest engaged Galapagos Marketing to analyze their checking product line-up. Because one of the goals for the redesign was to increase fee income, we broadened our analysis for this effort to include a review of their overdraft fee strategy. 

The goal was to ensure that they had a solid overdraft strategy in place, that it was being applied appropriately, that it was operating within the current regulatory environment, and that it was a successful configuration for the bank while also remaining a reasonable program for the customers.


To ensure a thorough review, we began by understanding what the current process was, as well as the strategy behind it:

  • What are the rules?
  • How did it align with the bank’s overall customer strategy? 
  • How often are fees overridden…and why? 
  • Do these reviews involve manual processes?

Once we understood the bank’s current procedure, we looked at:

  • The competitive environment
  • The bank’s desired approach, in terms of both philosophy and value
  • Customer behavior and needs

Then, we dug deep into the data:

  • Our calculations and analysis were designed to find opportunities and consider a broad range of scenarios that were in tune with the bank’s larger customer strategy, that satisfied the current regulatory environment, and that would be intuitive to both the internal staff and the customer.


  • The bank was waiving more overdraft fees than expected. Top-performing community financial institutions have collection rates of 95%; they were below that average, and also continuing on a downward trend.
  • There was a significant level of arbitrary and discretionary waiving of fees not guided by procedural rules.
  • Waiving those fees involved a time-consuming, manual process that further eroded profitability.
  • There was an opportunity to increase fees and, correspondingly, income—while still maintaining competitiveness and the integrity of the overall customer strategy.

We understand the desire to balance increasing income with being as customer-friendly as possible. It was no surprise that differing opinions existed within the organization regarding how the fees should be handled, as well as how fee changes might be viewed from a regulatory standpoint. To effectively address this, we considered multiple calculations/scenarios and provided a middle-ground recommendation, along with other options, to ensure we effectively represented the impact of the different decisions being considered.

The bank is finalizing their decision, and we will be working with them to implement their updated fee strategy effectively.  This straightforward analysis will increase the bank’s fee income. In fact, with minimal effort, they could be on track to increase it by more than 10% annually.

Interested in exploring your organization’s fee income opportunities? Wondering if it’s time to explore a product redesign?

We would be happy to discuss our thoughtful approach with you.

What to Do When Mortgage Production Falls: Six Strategies for Growth


Mortgage originations were down nearly 20% in the first quarter of 2018. This followed a decline in 4th quarter of 2017 and represented the lowest quarterly production level since the end of 2014, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

We can talk about the “whys,” but none of the reasons are likely news to you: higher interest rates, first-time home buyers scared away by higher home prices, and the dread of participating in what can be a cutthroat process in a sellers’ market—as just-listed homes receive multiple cash offers on the first day and end up selling well above listing price. Add in the fact that annual mobility rates within the U.S. seem to be stuck at a postwar low rate of 11%, and the listless market is no surprise (Source: U.S. Census).

Even before this downturn, you may have found yourself facing a more competitive selling environment.  Mortgage providers have gotten more aggressive in their acquisition programs in recent years, leaving you working against more competitors, more attention, and that ever-present issue of enhanced technology.  How can you compete?

Many of our clients are successfully doing so, despite the factors noted, with the implementation of strategic and tailored solutions that reflect the conditions in their areas and the people in their market.


  1.  If home prices are rising in your area, look for prospects who might refinance to eliminate their PMI, lower their payment, or shorten their term. The financial benefit you can provide to these customers often outweighs a higher interest rate.
  2.  Increasing home equity also gives you the opportunity to find customers who would like to access extra cash. (A recent HELOC expansion program we implemented delivered an ROI of more than 3.0, and a separate program to spur use of inactive HELOCs resulted in a phenomenal ROI of 99.0.)
  3. Even if the interest rates aren’t reflective of a great refi market, you likely have pre-retirement customers and prospects who are realizing that it’s time to get more aggressive about paying down their mortgage. Look for ways to help them lower their rate and shorten their term.
  4. Watch for short-term opportunities—and have a campaign or program waiting on the shelf. When mortgage rates hit 5%, ARM products typically become immensely popular.  If you plan now, you can be first to sense the altered demand and quickly have your program in the market. Alternatively, in some markets, Jumbos afford opportunity.
  5. Increase outreach to centers of influence–particularly realtors and builders. Strong relationships with these individuals can boost pipelines of profitable new business.
  6. Commit to your course and promote, promote, promote!  Make sure your name is out there and your value is communicated. (Recently, for example, a client launched a campaign stressing the value of their experience and expertise to consumers struggling to understand and react to the changing market—a welcome opportunity to promote value beyond just rate.) Have access to a library of content in your CRM system? Encourage your team to launch automated touchpoint campaigns that target prospects and previous customers in meaningful ways–with messages that are relevant to their particular circumstances. Leverage digital campaigns, with lower acquisition costs. Do everything you can to ensure you will be top of mind when the customer is ready.

It’s helpful to note that success can often be achieved through straightforward programs that don’t require elaborate efforts to implement. We have seen strong results and positive ROIs (a 6.0 on our most recent effort) when we work with clients and target customers and prospects—even with simple mortgage propensity programs. We’re able to use customer data, P$ycle segmentation data, and other relevant information to target effectively. 

A look at three recent direct mail campaigns executed by Galapagos Marketing.

Not to be discounted is the fact that these programs can also improve the lives of customers by helping them get what they needed: through better rates or terms, access to cash, and increased convenience.  Growing your business and improving your customers’ lives is, of course, a winning combination.

Let us know the greatest challenges you are facing in the mortgage business. Email or call us anytime.

Your Brand, Your Story: How Storytelling Sets You Apart


In 1940, Frank was preparing to marry the love of his life, Barb. Frank, a farmer in a poor rural community, saved for months in hopes to scrape together enough for a modest ring. But as their wedding day – September 20 – approached, Frank was still short on cash for his wife-to-be’s ring. He sought out a loan to make up the difference. When other banks wouldn’t loan him the $25 he needed, his local community bank did.

Nearly eight decades later, Frank and his wife are still in love – with each other and that bank. They still bank there and, according to Barb’s recently-completed bank survey, "couldn’t imagine banking anywhere else."


This is a story from one of our clients. It epitomizes what they stand for and how they do business. In essence, it’s come to be its brand: A Midwest-based community bank that’s been around since the 1800s, they pride themselves on helping others when no one else will. They have dozens of stories like this one that all connect with the crux of what their brand stands for – strong community relationships through support of its individuals.

Those who work at financial institutions know that the bulk of the workday is spent assisting customers with their transactions and making sure that all systems are operating effectively and securely. Is that work important? Absolutely. Compelling, when described in this manner? Not so much.

Every activity that occurs in a bank or credit union, large or small, is a difference maker for the people they affect. And finding your brand story is just a matter of looking beyond the transaction, getting to the human element behind the mechanics of banking.

Why Tell Your Stories?

Your stories help differentiate your company by creating a sense of connection and understanding that communicates your advantage far beyond theoretical concepts of banking products and good customer service.

  • People connect to stories. In many ways, stories allow you to communicate information about your company that audiences might ignore if placed in formal marketing communications.
  • Your audiences will see beyond a standard list of financial services and know that your company has something more to offer.
  • People will likely want to align themselves with your company, because your values seem to align with their own—giving you opportunities to deepen relationships with existing customers and develop relationships with potential ones.

Recently, we’ve seen a flood of community financial institutions invest in the power of brand. In a sea of sameness – predictable logo colors, similar mission statements, similar product offerings – it’s time for an awakening of sorts. As we work with FIs, we’ve seen how the power of finding your institution's stories can frame the definition of who you are and what your brand needs to communicate. We’re helping community FIs redefine their brands, and storytelling is at the heart of it all.


Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to communicate a brand’s values. Making a human connection through a story – rather than a recital of facts and product offerings – provides the opportunity to connect with an intriguing, authentic narrative and a strategic message that enhances the brand, customer relationship, and organization.

So, why aren’t you telling your story?

Every company has a story to tell, but have you ever been able to put your finger on what yours is (or should be)?

It’s probably easier than you think, and your story can practically write itself. So, how can you get started?

Discover the Stories

  1. Start with your employees.  Engage them in sharing their favorite experiences and encounters while working at the bank. Look for the human or emotional connection.
  2. Don’t stop with one. There are many chapters and layers to your brand and your success. Keep looking for them.
  3. Find the stories that connect with your mission and plan, then use them to convey key attributes of your brand. Is your bank consistently warm and thoughtful? Perhaps you lend to community members who other banks hesitate to take a chance on. Find your theme and tell stories that support it.

Successfully Share Them

  1. Take care to articulate the story well. Include the emotion or element of humanity that will resonate with your audience.
  2. …but keep it short and sweet. An impactful story is one that can be easily remembered and re-told. Focus on the problem, the solution, and the success.
  3. Tie these stories to the value proposition that you offer your customers and community.

If you need help telling a compelling story—or help finding a strong story to tell—contact us.

Feeling Buried? A Lesson From the Legendary St. Bernard

TWO out of THREE organizations will fail at implementing strategic plans this year. Here’s how you can be the one that succeeds.

Long before these high-spirited, drool-coated canines found a place in our hearts (and next to us on the sofa), St. Bernard dogs made a name for themselves during the late 1700s by saving lives. Monks used the burly dogs to help them on rescue missions during treacherous snow storms in the St. Bernard Pass, a path that led travelers through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland.


The dogs, working in pairs, continually made rescues for 150 years – saving buried, tired, and injured travelers. One dog would lay on the stranded traveler to provide warmth while the other alerted the monks for help. The dogs became so reliable, that when Napoleon and his 250,000 soldiers crossed the St. Bernard Pass between 1790 and 1810, there were zero casualties.

What does this have to do with your marketing strategy?

While we sincerely hope your corporate hallways are not as treacherous as the St. Bernard Pass, come April every year they may be susceptible to an avalanche of their own - the one that comes with first-quarter strategy stall.

In our 20+ years consulting with community financial institutions, we’ve seen organizations' enthusiasm for strategic execution fade as people get buried by their day-to-day workloads. ‘I’ll start that tomorrow’ turns into ‘Let’s push that to next quarter’, and good initiatives die on the vine.

While you may feel it’s only your organization experiencing this, think again. Two out of every three organizations will fail at carrying out their strategic plans this year. Lack of execution is top-of-mind for every exec. In fact, when Harvard Business Review surveyed CEOs about their biggest concerns, strategy execution topped the list – right along with the economy, innovation, and topline growth.

Many organizations buckle down on strategy with antiquated methods to get back on track that end up further stalling progress – see HBR’s ‘Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About It’ video -- but sometimes, it's the simple fact of being buried that stalls progress and points to, if not a brandy cask, then a strategic partner to help dig out and get your agenda back on track.

That’s where Galapagos comes in.

Community banking is our focus. We understand the organizational and market challenges you face in executing effective strategy. We’ve purposely built our team to complement yours, providing specialized help in the areas of planning, market insight, project management, and marketing communications – precisely when and where you need it. 

To get a better idea of how we help, take a look at some of the projects we're working on for other community FIs.

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7 out of 10 bank executives agree: Strategic planning fails to deliver

Perhaps that’s why 87% of organizations fail to execute on the plans they produce every year? It’s difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm and tenacity required to execute on a plan that fails to inspire. So check out ten questions to ask to make sure your plan stays relevant.

The Changing Basis of Customer Loyalty

Let me guess – you compete on service. The majority of community banks say they do. It makes perfect sense when 94% of customers cite excellent service as the #1 consideration in choosing their banking provider, according to our most recent Community Bank Customer Commitment and Loyalty Survey.

But do you know what comprises “Excellent customer service” in the minds of your customers?