Relationship Retention and Enhancement

High-Touch and High-Tech Channels

Customer Service, Rewards, and Communication

Key Finding from a Previous Report:

In the 2015 Phoenix Synergistics survey, Checking Account Acquisition and Retention, only a minority of checking holders considered their main checking account to be their most important long-term financial relationship and would give this institution most of their financial business. How can providers improve loyalty and strengthen customer relationships?

Research Description and methodology

This study examines consumer loyalty with regard to financial providers.  The key drivers of loyalty, including customer service, rewards, communication, and channels are assessed.

National Internet Survey – The survey will include 1,500 online interviews with consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates

June 23, 2017 – Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.

June 23, 2017 – Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.

August 2017 – Initial results available.

September 2017 – Project Report available.

Strategic Objectives

  • Profile consumers’ financial provider and service relationships. Determine the factors by which consumers consider a financial institution to be main or primary. Assess the breadth of account and service relationships with main or primary providers and the degree of relationship fragmentation.
  • Examine in more depth details of the main provider relationship – including number of years have had the relationship, channels used, reasons for maintaining the relationship, and first account opened. Measure overall satisfaction as well as ratings of main provider features and attributes.
  • Assess recent account opening behavior – type of account or service, time frame in which opened, main or other provider, reasons for provider selection. Evaluate the near-term market for accounts and services and the competitive position  of the main provider to capture these relationships.
  • Probe recent main provider switching behavior – extent and reasons for doing so. Assess the impact of branch closings. Gauge the potential for switching in the next year and reasons why.
  • Examine in detail aspects of customer loyalty – including the position of the main provider when considering new accounts and services, self-perception of loyalty to the main provider and other providers, reasons for this loyalty, and likelihood of recommending the main provider to family, friends or colleagues. Evaluate the impact of media reports and role of social media.
  • Evaluate the impact of experience with alternative financial providers on the environment for customer loyalty. Measure the potential for nonbank organizations as financial services providers.
  • Determine which consumer segments exhibit the strongest traits of customer loyalty – as well as those who do not – in terms of demographic, behavioral, or attitudinal identifiers.

Research Issues

  • Following the great recession and financial crisis, many financial institutions (FIs) suffered an erosion of consumer trust and loyalty.  With the recovery, FIs have been working to re-establish consumer trust, which is essential to customer loyalty.  But what is at the heart of customer loyalty – customer service, rewards, communication programs, channels, or inertia?  Some industry experts feel that channels, particularly online and mobile options, create “stickiness” in customer relationships.
  • There is also the argument that high-touch elements engender greater customer loyalty and longevity.  Branch location has typically been very important in account acquisition – but what role does this play in customer retention?  Is exceptional customer service seen as a value-added feature or an expectation?  Many providers offer reward programs to keep their customers using the institution’s products and services.  How important are communication programs in instilling customer loyalty? What role does inertia play in loyalty?
  • Which of these various aspects is most important in driving customer loyalty and retention?  How does a customer’s NPS score affect loyalty? Winning the loyalty of customers provides a lifetime of opportunities for cross-selling and broadening relationships.  Understanding the drivers of consumer loyalty is essential in developing and implementing successful acquisition and retention strategies.


Building and Expanding Relationships

Communication Strategies

Multi-Channel Integration

Key Finding from a Previous Phoenix SYNERGISTICS Research Survey:

According to the 2015 Phoenix SYNERGISTICS study, Checking Account Acquisition and Retention Strategies, more than four in ten of those who opened their checking account first at their institution say they obtained another account within the first six months.

  F250 Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study examines the consumer experience with the onboarding process including communication strategies and contact methods, cross-selling and follow-up. The fragmentation of consumer banking relationships is also explored.

National Internet Survey – The survey will include 1,000 online interviews with consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates

November 25, 2016 – Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.

November 25, 2016 – Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.

February 2017 – Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • How widespread and numerous are multiple account/service relationships with the main financial provider among consumer households? To what extent do checking accounts play a “lead role”  in this?
  • What is the profile of recent account opening activity – within the past five years – among consumer households? What accounts or services have been obtained?  Did comparison shopping take place?  Which channels or sources of information were utilized?  What product or provider features were important?  Which application channels were used?
  • Did consumers experience onboarding tactics during their most recent account opening – such as being asked about their additional financial needs, being informed about other accounts and services, or receiving welcome materials? Were other accounts and services obtained as a result of these efforts and what types?  Were other ancillary or value-added services obtained or used as a result of onboarding tactics?
  • What experience have consumers had with onboarding tactics during a short time frame after their most recent account opening? How soon were they contacted and by what channels?  What were the outcomes of these contacts in terms of obtaining any additional accounts or services or using any ancillary or value-added services?
  • What attitudinal or perceptual factors impact the onboarding process? Are customers receptive to being asked about their needs or do they regard it as an invasion of privacy?  How often do they want to be contacted by their institution, if at all?   What is the position of the main provider relationship in terms of obtaining additional accounts and services?
  • What preferences do consumers have for future financial shopping and onboarding activities – in terms of information channels and content, application methods, follow-up messages, and time frame for follow-up contact?
  • Are certain consumer segments more receptive to onboarding than others?  Are there indicators – such as demographic, behavioral, or attitudinal traits – that are useful for designing and targeting onboarding strategies and tactics?

Research Issues

  • Onboarding programs are receiving a great deal of attention in today’s financial marketplace.  These programs are designed to develop and enhance financial relationships from inception.  In essence, onboarding is a short-term strategy that can lead to long-term and loyal relationships.  There are a number of steps that can be part of the onboarding process.
  • The first step is often an assessment of customer needs when the product or service is first purchased.  This step can be followed with some form of thanking the customer for the purchase.  A series of steps can follow such as inquiries about product usage, satisfaction, and problems or concerns.  These steps can utilize a variety of forms of communication from traditional mail, email, telephone calls, as well as a mix of channels. It is valuable for these contacts to occur early in the relationship and that they are personal and frequent. As a result of these contacts, cross selling can either follow or additional sales may be an adjunct to the onboarding process.
  • While most onboarding is associated with checking accounts, purchases of all types of financial products and services may benefit from the onboarding process.  In developing and implementing onboarding programs, it is essential for providers to understand the consumer perspective. How do consumers respond to the onboarding process?  Do consumers consider some steps as valuable, while others are seen as too much of a good thing?  What channels are preferred?  This Phoenix SYNERGISTICS survey will examine these issues as well as others to provide financial institutions with clearer insight into the consumer perspective on the onboarding and sales process. [F250]


Cash, Checks, and Cards

Online and Mobile Payments

New Competitors

Key Finding from Previous SYNERGISTICS Research Surveys:

Based on findings from previous SYNERGISTICS surveys, it becomes evident that consumer usage of online PC bill payment has experienced incredible growth over the past decade and has now stabilized.  Are there opportunities for further growth.

Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study examines consumer payment behavior at the point of sale and online, as well as for bill payment. Current usage of various payment methods and consumer reaction to innovative payment options and technology are assessed.


National Internet Survey – The survey will include 1,000 Internet interviews with consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates

September 23, 2016 – Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.

September 23, 2016 – Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.

December 2016 – Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • How do consumers approach the wide array of options that exist for making payments and transactions? What are the preferences and relative share of activity for cash, checks, debit cards, credit cards, and prepaid cards? What perceived benefits and drawbacks do consumers associate with various payment methods?
  • Do consumers’ payment preferences vary among different point-of-sale locations? Does cash still hold a primary position for certain locations or purposes?  Can these preferences be shifted with new payment options or technology?
  • What is the overall profile of consumers’ bill payment behavior? Is bill payment via mobile phones and tablets displacing some PC-based activity?   How can financial institutions react to preferences for biller sites/apps vs. FI sites/apps?
  • What are consumers’ payment preferences for online purchases and transactions? Does this vary with type of transaction?  Have alternative payment options – such as PayPal Credit, Visa Checkout, or MasterPass – captured a significant share of this activity?
  • How are developments in payment technology – such as mobile payments at the point of sale, mobile person-to-person payments, and mobile card readers – impacting consumers’ payment behavior? Do consumers’ perceptions of the implementation of chip card (EMV) technology require a response from providers?
  • Which payment methods or options do consumers see as most – and least – secure against fraud and misuse?  How should providers respond to these perceptions?
  • Which customer identifiers – such as household demographics, attitudes, or current payment choices and behavior – are useful in evaluating the potential for new payment methods and options?  How should customers committed to traditional payment options – particularly checks and cash – be marketed to?

Research Issues

  • The consumer payments market continues to evolve as numerous innovations in technology and payment alternatives are introduced.  The adoption of EMV standards – chip cards – in the United States in response to widening concerns over payment security is one of the more significant developments in recent years.  Concurrent with this is the ongoing progress toward a digital wallet – a concept discussed for a decade or more but never quite realized.  The introduction of Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and similar options represent a significant “leap” in this area.  The eventual impact of these developments on contactless card products is a question of great interest among issuers, processors, and merchants.
  • At the same time, traditional payment options still have a role in consumers’ payment behavior.  Both industry and government data show that check writing frequency is declining.  However, previous findings by SYNERGISTICS suggest that there will be segments and purposes wedded to check writing for some time to come.  Similarly, recent data from the Federal Reserve indicate that the usage of cash for small value payments at the point of sale is far from dead, despite long enduring proclamations to the contrary from industry observers.  In addition, credit cards and debit cards are widely used and popular forms of payment.  Prepaid cards have found a particular niche for certain types of everyday expenses.
  • The emergence of third parties – such as telecommunications companies, Internet content providers, and P2P organizations – may pose a challenge to the traditional dominance held by banks in the payments area.  This study examines the scope of consumer payment behavior. [F248]


Credit Cards, Debit Cards, and Checking

Revenue vs. Relationship Building

Custom and Combined Rewards

Key Finding from the Report:

Results from SYNERGISTICS 2014 study, Optimizing Reward Programs, revealed the extent of participation in various reward programs.  Credit card reward programs were most widespread, followed by debit card and checking relationship rewards. The 2016 survey will reveal any change in consumer participation in various reward programs.

F245 Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study evaluates the consumer perspective on reward programs for financial services including credit and debit cards and checking.  It examines reaction to pricing, custom reward programs, and combined reward programs.

National Internet Survey – 1,000 consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates

June 24, 2016 – Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.

June 24, 2016 – Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.

September 2016 – Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • How should financial institutions evaluate and assess the current state of their reward programs? What results are the best measures of success – greater market share, strengthened relationships, or increased fee income?
  • What is consumers’ current behavior profile in terms of usage of reward credit cards? Is usage of multiple reward cards a factor in the market and what is driving this?  Is there revenue potential in marketing reward cards?  Do premium or prestige credit cards represent the next step in reward credit cards?
  • Is there potential for a resurgence in debit card rewards? To what extent do consumers participate in these programs and how much appeal do they have?  Are combined debit and credit card reward programs a viable option?
  • How strong is the potential for relationship-based reward programs tied to checking activity? What has been the experience of consumers with these programs?  Are these programs effective in terms of increased customer activity, new account openings, and relationship retention?
  • What is the current attitudinal and behavioral environment impacting the design and positioning of reward programs? Do consumers prefer lower-value rewards that are given quickly or those with higher value that build over time?  What perceived advantages or benefits can be incorporated into marketing strategies and tactics?
  • What is the experience with and potential for innovative reward programs and delivery methods — including customized rewards, experiential rewards, and targeted messages or alerts based on spending patterns and preferences? Is there receptivity to mobile apps for managing and optimizing reward programs?
  • Do certain reward programs appeal to specific market segments in a way that can be used for positioning and targeting?  Are there consumer segments that represent wider potential for strengthened relationships or revenue opportunities?

Research Issues

  • Rewards have become an almost essential element for many financial services, particularly card products.  They have become an expectation among consumers and now represent the cost of doing business for many providers.  Over the years, the types of rewards that are popular have fluctuated, being influenced by economic factors and changing consumer opinions.  Are certain types of rewards now more popular to certain age and household income segments.
  • Rewards can be associated with credit cards, debit cards, checking accounts, and various other financial accounts and services.  Some reward programs are tied to balances, while others depend on frequency or volume of product or channel usage.  In some cases, consumers have the option to customize their reward experience by selecting rewards or other features of a product or service.  In addition, rewards may be combined based on usage of multiple financial accounts and services – such as usage of credit and debit cards.
  • In developing reward programs, providers need to identify their objectives – fee revenue, account acquisition or customer loyalty and retention.  This study examines consumer usage of and reaction to reward programs for financial services such as credit cards, debit cards, and checking accounts. Relationship and balanced-based rewards, as well as opportunities for fee revenue and account retention and acquisition are evaluated.  This study will help providers gain an understanding of consumer preferences, attitudes, expectations, and behavior patterns, which will assist providers in revitalizing their reward programs. [F245]


Pricing and Product Design

Online and Mobile Access

Packages; Value-Added Services

Key Finding from the Report:

Results from SYNERGISTICS 2015 study, Checking Account Acquisition and Retention, found that most checking holders believe they have a free account with no monthly fees or service charges, no minimum balance requirements, and no transaction charges. A minority are aware their account has fees or service charges that can be waived by meeting certain requirements.  To what extent do consumers still perceive they have free checking?

F244 Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study evaluates the consumer checking account market exploring strategies for designing checking products.  It examines pricing, packaging, access methods, value-added features, and online services.


National Internet Survey – 1,000 consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates

April 29, 2016 – Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.

April 29, 2016 – Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.

July 2016 – Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • Do household checking accounts continue to fit the conventional image of being a stable financial relationship? What degree of volatility exists in terms of recent account opening or share shifting?  What are the factors or motivations influencing any market movement?  Is multiple checking account usage an issue in the marketplace?
  • Can providers strengthen the checking account relationship with various “value-added” services and benefits? Is there positive response to relationship reward programs?  How important are features such as free ATM access, overdraft protection, and debit card “on/off” capability?
  • To what extent has the checking account become an online or digital experience for certain customer segments? What is the behavior profile in terms of devices used and activities performed in the digital environment?  Does there continue to be growth in adoption of mobile RDC?  Is there potential for digital “no check” accounts?
  • Are there opportunities to improve customers’ satisfaction with the checking account relationship? How wide is satisfaction overall?  What specific features or aspects – such as customer service, pricing, or access channels – represent areas for possible improvement?
  • Should providers be concerned about converting the small segment of consumers who do not have checking accounts? What reasons or motivations drive this non-adoption?  Can this segment’s needs be met by alternative products?
  • What checking account pricing arrangements have been accepted by consumers? Is there still a wide perception of free checking in the market?  How receptive are consumers to alternative fees, minimum balances, or activity requirements for various checking features or benefits?
  • How should checking account design be tailored to specific customer segments?  Can checking account features, services, and benefits be “matched” to certain demographic, behavioral, or attitudinal traits?

Research Issues

  • Checking accounts are the heart of most financial relationships.  Today, depository institutions can offer an array of checking account products ranging from basic to more complex versions. Accounts can be designed and promoted for specific segments such as teens and students, while virtual checking accounts have been designed to appeal to millennials. Additionally, there are premium level checking accounts designed for high balance customers.  Mobile apps that link checking and savings accounts are also appearing. In addition, a variety of features can be provided including overdraft protection, account management tools, and rewards.
  • Checking account providers promote the convenience aspects of checking accounts and the ability to make deposits with a mobile device.  While the days of totally free checking may be behind us, many consumers have accounts that are fee-free but have balance and transaction activity requirements.  Free access to ATMs nationwide can be an extremely attractive checking account feature. Overdraft protection is an important aspect of checking accounts.
  • Providers now offer the ability to apply for checking accounts online, as well as features to encourage switching behavior.  While applying online is convenient, it also represents a missed opportunity for developing a face-to-face relationship.  For some consumers, traditional checking accounts may be a thing of the past.  As new types of accounts and features continue to appear, it is important for depository institutions to measure consumer behavior, attitudes, expectations, and needs. [F244]