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Bank marketing: What happened to the toasters?

By Norman Poltenson


The year was 1979. President Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker as chairman of the board of governors for the Federal Reserve System. Volcker’s challenge was to tame the “stagflation” crisis, which he did by raising the federal funds rate from 11 percent in 1979 to 20 percent in 1981. In the same year, the prime rate peaked at 21.5 percent. The tight-money policy ended in 1982, but not before triggering a recession where unemployment topped 10 percent.

The same year that Volcker became the Fed chair, Susan M. Valenti, a 1976 graduate of Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics, launched her career in bank marketing. Her first bank employer was the Monroe Savings Bank in Rochester, where she became the assistant vice president of marketing and corporate planning. “This was still the age of mass marketing,” notes Valenti. “We used print, radio, and television primarily for our promotional campaigns to attract customers and prospects to buy CDs (certificates of deposit) and to open checking accounts. The rates were very attractive. The bank also offered drills, china, and toasters to encourage customers to open new accounts.

“There was a lot of competition to convince the public to deposit their money with us,” continues Valenti. “Targeting and niche marketing were not … [household words], because we didn’t have a lot of data with which to segment the market. This was also a period of deregulation when the money-center banks downstate were allowed to come upstate and compete with the community banks. It was a time when ATMs were new, and banks were opening new branches and experimenting with placing ‘branches’ in drug stores and supermarkets. There was no online banking; the bank footprint allocated most of its space to transactions.” 

Valenti left Monroe Savings in 1988, two years before the bank collapsed in the middle of the savings-and-loan crisis and was subsequently bought by M&T Bank. At the time of the acquisition, Monroe Savings had $486 million in deposits and 11 offices.

After nine years at Monroe Savings, Valenti joined JP Morgan Chase as a marketing-communications manager. Living in the Rochester area and commuting weekly to world headquarters in New York City over a 23-year period, she also held positions as affluent-marketing and communications executive, retail-marketing executive, retail re-branding project lead, and Chase private-client marketing executive. Valenti joined Tompkins Financial Corp. in 2012 as a senior vice president for corporate marketing and was promoted to executive vice president in May of this year. 

Technology’s effect on banking
“Technology has changed the banking world,” asserts Valenti. “Today’s banks reflect the move to online banking with real-time payments, image banking (remote-deposit capture), instant security alerts, and access to client information [24/7]. Consumers want many of their banking interactions on a mobile platform, while their personal banking interactions reflect a need for assistance with more complex situations. The branch footprints have changed as a result, with a reduced allocation of square footage and more interior space reserved for consultation. That’s because branches have become financial centers that offer not only access to cash, deposits, and loans but also wealth-management and risk-management advice.”

Competitive changes
The world of competition has also changed. “When I started in banking, the community banks competed against each other,” Valenti posits. “Today, community banks compete against money-center banks, large credit unions, and more recently, alternative banking options. (The alternative banks or neobanks include credit-card issuers such as Walmart, online payment processors such as PayPal, and crowd-banking firms such as LendingClub and Kickstarter.) The challenge for a community bank with $5 billion in assets is how to compete technologically with a [national or international] bank that has far more resources to invest in innovation.”

For a marketer, perhaps the biggest change is the amount of data available on customers and prospects and the ability to segment the marketplace and target promotions and communications. “The digital world has given bank marketers the tools to create analytics by which to measure the results of our efforts,” observes Valenti. “The old adage that ‘half of our advertising worked, we just didn’t know which half’ has been replaced by the capacity to know exactly what works and what doesn’t. We need to know our audience better in order to tailor our offers and to communicate [via the proper channel]. 

Since banks have become financial centers offering not just deposits and loans, but also insurance and investment products and advice, marketers also have a challenge to understand the complexity and variety of our options. Bank marketers today are dealing with a better educated consumer and also a marketplace in which women are taking a larger role in financial decision-making. To respond, we really need to understand the consumer’s needs,” Valenti says.

Having cited significant marketing changes over the past 35 years, Valenti notes what hasn’t changed. “We are still in the long-term relationship business, she stresses. “The idea of knowing your customer, going the extra mile, and offering outstanding service doesn’t change even if the means of delivering it does. Tompkins Financial is a holding company for four community banks. That means we are part of each community we serve, whether it’s volunteering or supporting nonprofit organizations financially. Each bank has a local president who lives in the community. That’s how to build relationships and stay current. All of our employees have to reflect the values of the bank and understand the importance of the customer. Our commitment to valuing long-term success above short-term opportunities is more than how well we market and how many branches we have; it’s our reputation, our brand. What ultimately matters is the trust we have established with the public.”

Valenti joined Tompkins Financial in March 2012. Her 35-year career in banking marketing/communications has included the following disciplines: advertising, events, collateral, promotion, database marketing, online, public relations, and internal communications. Between 2004 and 2007, she led the rebranding effort at JPMorgan Chase to integrate Bank One, and she also was responsible for rebranding the Bank of New York branches. Valenti earned her M.B.A. from the Simon School at the University of Rochester in 1984.

Tompkins Financial (NYSE MKT: TMP), with headquarters in Ithaca, is the holding company for four banks: Tompkins Trust Co., The Bank of Castile, Mahopac Bank, and VIST Bank. The holding company also includes Tompkins Insurance Agencies, Inc. and Tompkins Financial Advisors, a wealth-management firm. 

Tompkins Financial serves an area from Central New York to Western New York, the Hudson Valley, and Southeastern Pennsylvania. The 2013 corporate year-end statement reported $5 billion in assets and $50.9 million in net income. At the end of 2013, Tompkins Financial employed 989 people and had 66 banking offices and 84 ATMs.          

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