How Smart Is Your Store… and Why Does It Need To Be?

Could the secrets to more effective marketing strategies
be lying right in your stores?

How well do you know your customers? I mean really know them. How often do they come in? What do they do while they are in your stores? What services do they buy? Who are the most profitable? Who are the least loyal or infrequent users?

I think you would agree that if you had the answers to these questions and many more like them, you would have a huge advantage in developing marketing strategies that would be likely to yield more productive results. The answers may not be as out of reach as you think. In fact, many of them may already be in your transaction data.

Many retailers have come to understand that the value of their transaction data lies in the ability to connect it to the customer. Not just to total daily transaction activity, or to fulfill accounting and compliance requirements, but to also be able to connect all of those transactions to the actual people who performed them – both customers and staff. Being able to connect customers to their cash register receipts is what gave birth to the dozens of loyalty card programs that offer “member-only” discounts or special offers only to registered cardholders who present their cards at checkout.  Previously anonymous grocery or general merchandise purchases at big box stores or pharmacies were now able to be connected to the actual person making the purchase.

Financial services transactions by their very nature are data-rich with details about the customer. Their name, address, phone numbers, email, physical description, signature sample, banking information and more is routinely collected as part of the onboarding process of a new customer, and then if done correctly, every transaction could, or should be associated with that person.

While all this information may have been captured by your POS or Loan Management system, have you really studied it with regard to the marketing insights that can be mined from that data? If you do, you will realize that you have a variety of customer types or segments, each with identifiable patterns of behavior. If your marketing efforts are targeted to those behavior patterns, they will be more effective in the results they achieve due to their relevance to each segments’ unique needs and behaviors. For example, how many of your customers came in to cash a check at your store and never came back again after the initial sign-up process? If you are like the typical FSC, it’s likely to be nearly half! That’s right, between 40%-50% of the consumers in a variety of FSC databases I have personally studied usually reveals there are this many one-and-done customers lurking in the database. If a marketing campaign targeting this easily identifiable segment of your customers could get just one in ten to cash one more check, you would experience a 4% to 5% gain in check- cashing fees from that effort.

What about your front-line employees? They are your salesforce. Is their proficiency ever really measured? Each signs onto the POS system at the start of their shift, and every transaction they process is associated to them. But how do they compare to each other with regard to metrics such as transactions processed per hour worked, or fee revenue generated per hour, ancillary products sold, etc. These are all easily measured Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that can be rolled up into marketing or sales dashboards that can be reviewed at regular intervals to better manage your business. Like the old adage goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. All of this and more is lying in your transaction data, waiting to be put to work.

But what lies beyond the transactions? Do you know how many customers walk through your doors every day? Does everyone make a transaction? Where do they go in the store and what do they do at each of these places?
Are there self-service zones for ATMs, coin counters, copiers or other such devices? Do they use writing counters to complete applications, sign checks or perform other activities? Are there other ways to interact with
them to share product information, take surveys or solicit feedback?

Progressive retailers today are using infrared sensors to capture traffic data, product interaction, dwell times and other such activity to better understand how the customer interacts with the retail space, so that we
might better communicate with them in each of these zones and improve the overall experience of their visit … you know, that WOW moment we’ve all had at one time or another and never forget.

Armed with the intelligence of how your customers interact with your retail environment, and how that interaction ties back to their transaction behavior, you can plan very intelligent path-to-purchase strategies that
will enhance their experience with you, and more likely their loyalty as well – all while you improve your chances to sell them more per visit and increase their overall value as a customer.

I like to refer to this type of strategy as creating a “Smart Store,” that is one that can capture and, with the right tools, report critical business data back to you to help make better staffing, retail environment, advertising and
promotional decisions, resulting in increased sales. Because you see, not all marketing is about creative strategies and cool graphics. There is a science side to it as well, and when you put that to work for you, it results in marketing decisions that are fact-based, not just unproven hunches or theories.

Grafico Welcomes New Marketing Partner IBT Enterprises

Grafico Marketing Group, the leading alternative financial services design and marketing agency for more than 20 years, is pleased to announce that it has entered into a strategic marketing relationship with IBT Enterprises, which specializes in build/implementation projects for retail and financial services companies. IBT has provided its platform to more than 175 retail clients and more than 550 financial services clients, delivering thousands of commercial spaces worldwide for nearly 30 years.

“Grafico’s vast industry experience and innovative design services have helped redefine the branch environment and increased revenues for many alternative financial services companies.  By partnering with IBT, we can now offer a seamless implementation platform to support large scale retail rollouts with a focus on speed to market” said Lou Costantini, Founder and CEO of Grafico Marketing Group.  Mr. Costantini added, “Grafico works on many regional and national projects that can really benefit from a more cost effective integrated design/build approach, and we have been searching for the right strategic build/implementation partner for many years”.

With IBT, Grafico is able to offer its clients an implementation partner with experience in the alternative financial services space.  More importantly, IBT is a world class company that has developed a proprietary process to minimize construction time, track progress against specific goals, and deliver outstanding value.  And, what is even more exciting for IBT and Grafico is that IBT’s business model is scalable to execute the kind of aggressive conversion plans often experienced by Grafico’s clients.


As an example of IBT’s scalability, its process has been applied to the implementation of over 1,000 Walmart Money Centers as well as 2,200 Jackson Hewitt Tax Preparation kiosks into Walmart stores to replace H&R Block in a remarkable six week period in order to be ready for tax season. IBT’s value proposition includes its ability to manage large-scale roll-out projects that require fixture manufacturing, case goods furniture, construction planning and project management, permitting, and signage with national reach for simultaneous implementation. Grafico, with its industry leading environmental design expertise, has found the ideal strategic partner in IBT, which has successfully co-located thousands of financial services spaces into retail environments for major national brands via its integrated build/implementation platform.

“Grafico’s environmental design expertise provides us with a more effective full service design/build approach in financial services and the other vertical retail markets we serve. It’s a great synergy, and I believe we can do great things together! ” said Mylle Mangum, CEO of IBT Enterprises, LLC.

Loyalty Programs… It’s About Customers, Not Transactions

Increasing Sales and Building Stronger Bonds with Your Customers

Are you the only game in town that offers the financial services that are available at your stores? Probably not. There are probably plenty of competitors in your stores’ neighborhoods.

Do you sell your services for less than everyone else? Also probably not.  Most services available in the alternative financial sector are either fixed by regulation or market forces.

Do you offer services that your competitors do not? Again, the answer is probably “no” for the vast majority.

How Do You Stand Out from The Competition?

It’s called “Customer Experience.” And Customer Loyalty programs are a proven way to improve the Customer Experience. According to an article in Entrepreneur magazine, Starbucks’ customer-retention program played a key role in its 26 percent rise in profit and 11 percent increase in revenue during a fiscal quarter in 2013. To keep up with major online retailers like and eBay, Best Buy increased reward points from four percent to five percent last year to motivate customers to keep coming back. This strategy, along with additional changes, has helped that company’s stock more than double since early 2013.

Can Loyalty programs be effectively used by small businesses? A joint study by BIA/Kelsey and Manta of nearly 1,000 small business owners found they now spend more than half of their time and budget focused on existing customers. The report, titled “Achieving Big Customer Loyalty in a Small Business World,” reveals that for early adopters who already have a customer Loyalty program in place, 64 percent of them report it’s been effective, meaning that it makes more money than it costs to maintain. It’s important for business owners to keep in mind that customer Loyalty isn’t just for big businesses – a well-designed program can help any size business.

Loyalty or Reward programs have been around for nearly as long as people have exchanged goods to encourage continued patronage by their customers. Consider the farmer who would throw in an extra ear of corn for his good customers. S&H Green Stamps, originating in the early 19th century, created the concept of using stamps earned as a reward and then exchanged for items of value. Today, points are often used as digital currency. This concept has its roots in the first Frequent Flyer program that earned “miles” for distance traveled on American Airlines flights, dating back to 1981.

Modern Loyalty or Rewards programs have their roots in the early 1990s and were developed as a way to create differentiation. As many retail models began to move into self-service modes, they lost personal contact with their customers. Additionally, the brands available were not usually unique to a retailer and consumers began to view products as commodities, often just seeking the store with the best price. Furthermore, advances in technology allowed savvy retailers to study purchasing trends and identify different patterns in various consumer behaviors. This allowed for segmenting customers by their purchase habits, thus resulting in the ability to design rewards for certain behaviors rather than just transactions.

Engaging Your Customers

The most important component of any Loyalty program is customer engagement. Successful programs engage customers at three levels.

First, is at the introduction. Getting the customer to join your Loyalty program is the natural first step. Why not reward them for that and give them a taste of the rewards with their first transaction? Get 500 points – just for signing up – is a strong initial engagement.

Second, use your data on customers to segment them into different groups based on their behavior. Frequent customers can be rewarded not just for their purchases but also for their dedication to your brand. Offer them rewards for new customer referrals. Infrequent customers, on the other hand, can be offered rewards for incremental visits or purchases, while monthly customers like those who have enrolled in your benefits direct deposit program can be notified when checks are available for pickup. These incentives also facilitate harvesting of email addresses or text message opt-ins for future communications.

The third way to engage may not be with communications about transactions or visits at all. It could center around “insider” information only available or released early to Reward Program Members. It could be regarding a new store opening, a new product release, a change in pricing policies or any other activity that would be of interest and make them feel special.

With today’s technologies, successful retailers can have old fashioned two-way conversations with their customers, extending the special bond created beyond just store visits. Loyalty programs are a proven method of increasing sales and building stronger bonds with your customers.

A New Look for Windows

Will prospects walk on by or walk right in?

A New Look for Windows Can Drive Store Traffic

Suppose you were offered a free billboard on a heavily traveled thoroughfare.

Would you ignore the marketing opportunity?

Of course you wouldn’t! But far too many overlook the power of the retail storefront for promoting their business. When you own a retail store, your storefront windows are the first chance you have to make an impression on your customers. They can draw shoppers in — or drive them away.

While you cannot communicate everything about your business on your storefront, a well-designed window display can shout to onlookers that something is happening inside and why it is good for the consumer. And since consumer surveys of financial service centers customers indicate that half of all new customers first learned about a business by its storefront signage, these windows play an incredibly effective role in attracting new business.

In retailing, window displays connect with customers and prospects. Think of the crowds that throng to New York City during the holidays to partake of opulent window dressings at retailers. Certain retailers have whole departments devoted to visual merchandising. Bergdorf Goodman windows are a must see for the fashion conscious. Barneys, with a more irreverent approach, is also an ongoing draw.

In financial services, think of the windows as an advertising canvas. A blank page that can utilize photos, graphics, text and other visual devices – sometimes in a 3D fashion – to let the public know who you are and what you have to offer. The best window merchandising visually impacts the viewer and connects a product with the individual’s personal situation.

Even in the retail cacophony of New York City, bold window graphics can break through. Consider RiteCheck Cashing. Its storefronts use a three dimensional system to accommodate hanging graphics panels along with vinyl graphics applied to the window glass to grab the attention of those traveling by car or on foot. Larger-scale banners, vinyl and clings added punch to the marketing mix, as did dramatic night lighting, which further enhanced the 24-hour operation of this 12 store chain. The new campaign literally drew prospects into the store, increased foot traffic and inspired staff.


Design Matters

An effective windows program might take one of several approaches. The first approach is to transform a building into a billboard. The billboard approach works best for high-profile buildings in urban areas. This treatment employs mega-sized, custom-fitted graphics designed specifically for the individual building’s architecture. The impact is an immediate “wow” for onlookers. Even treating a handful of stores in your network with this format can dramatically heighten awareness of your brand.

The second approach is more modular and easier to roll out. The smaller scale graphics, which employ fixture systems with lights and banners, evoke storefront atmosphere. This approach is also effective, but doesn’t have the scale and impact of the billboard-like applications.

Grafico has found great effectiveness with a combination of these two approaches. A few billboard treatments create the marketing buzz and are then backed up with smaller-scale windows strategies in other locations. After all, not all sites lend themselves to the larger-scale billboard application. The trick is deciding which ones will work best for your network.

Regardless of which window program is selected, execution is key. The challenge is to effectively convey your brand’s message while also creating an impactful visual statement. The design process should be very collaborative between the operator and provider and take the overall scope of the project into consideration. Ultimately the design must be flexible, due to the complex nature of numerous buildings that may vary dramatically in size and shape in a given program. The most effective window displays take full advantage of the given architecture and let simple large images do the talking.


What Works For Windows

What are the keys to successful window merchandising?

1. Develop and assess your retail communications strategy.

How would windows messaging support or enhance your current sales and brand initiatives? It’s important not to isolate your windows initiatives. Window merchandising should be part of a larger communications platform and should tie into direct marketing, advertising campaign, and online and in-store merchandising.

2. Consider whether the marketing need is product or brand focused.

Most of the time, window merchandising works best to promote new product introductions, underselling products or enhance a promotional campaign. Are there specific products that could benefit from an added boost with a new, “outside” audience?

3. Conduct a strategic site analysis.

Look at the entire store and its surroundings. Be careful of potential visual obstructions, both exterior and interior. Take into account there are two viewing levels – pedestrian and then further away (either across the street or from a vehicle).

4. Then, determine which stores warrant the investment based on foot traffic and visibility.

Identify which windows have primary and secondary visibility. Not all stores or windows should be treated the same. And, consider if the goal is portability, or the ability to use a similar windows display throughout the network. Start with the primary window locations. Corner locations are often ideal. A pilot with only a few sites could be sufficient to determine effectiveness.

5. Window selection should complement the store architecture.

Some stores already have signature brand elements as part of the building. For others, a brand color block or other identifier might need to be incorporated into the window graphic design. The types of windows may influence the selection. Effective merchandising can be done with Colonial-style and smaller panel windows, but the most effective window merchandising is executed on large-pane glass.

6. In selecting sites, go outside and look at the window, and through it, just as a customer or prospect would.

Is clutter inside the store visible from the window display? First impressions count. Some FSCs have located an ATM or flat screen display monitors close to their windows. Make sure you maintain visibility for these areas when planning the location of window merchandising.

7. Employ a vendor who is experienced at dealing with the logistical challenges.

Installation usually takes only a day or so for a store, but it needs to be done by certified vinyl installers. These experts know how to achieve an end result that looks professional. If windows are extremely large, a lift, crane or ladder may be needed. Installation also hinges on the weather, as vinyl is difficult to install on outside surfaces in colder weather.

8. Many factors need to be considered, including signage codes and lease restrictions.

Since signage codes vary in every community, consider using the window displays as a temporary marketing product with a shelf life of less than 60 days. This can often side step the need for a timely variance approval process.

9. Use of the interior side of the glass, or second surface, helps avoid issues with codes and landlords.

In addition, the display is also protected from street traffic. On the other hand, use of outside glass provides a punchier graphic by avoiding reflections, especially with highly tinted windows. The use of both inside and outside surfaces usually creates the most interesting display.

10. Creative should be all about color, shape and texture.

Think big and bold. Avoid wordiness. Consider what attracts the eye. Text should be concise and action oriented. Less copy is better, but can be challenging in the financial industry where disclaimers are often required.

11. Select display elements based on desired impact and budget parameters.

Simple window displays can be created with clings or heavy vinyl attached to glass – a perfect solution for smaller, suburban stores. Effective window merchandising doesn’t have to be elaborate, just to the point and visually attractive.

12. Change-outs should be planned to keep the display fresh.

Frequent change-outs provide the opportunity to communicate with customers about more products and keep the messages from becoming background wallpaper for customers that regularly visit your store. Ideally, the goal would be to rotate displays five to six times a year.

13. Day and night lighting dramatically influences the view of the passersby.

For example, flat screen monitors might be dynamite with night lighting but become invisible during the day. One solution is to install a product to help with daytime reflections. Since tinted windows can reduce display effectiveness, place vinyl graphics on the outside of these windows.

14. For prime locations, more in-depth window graphics can be assembled based on the cost versus return on investment.

To give the display depth, some elements can hang from a ceiling fixture inside the window in front of a backdrop. Other graphics might be put right on the window. A layered look can also be created by using vinyl on both the inside and outside of the glass.  Also, in many jurisdictions, graphics displayed inside the windows are not considered signage and therefore may not be subjected to zoning restrictions or permits.

15. Take advantage of cost efficiencies through partial change-outs.

To make the investment pay off, the backdrop might stay the same for a certain period, say six months. The front display, however, might change every month or so to promote new products or services. Be careful, however, to not just change the message. Having a similar visual over a period of months can soon turn a once eye-catching display into wallpaper.


With creative window merchandising, even something as dull as financial services can be made exciting. Effective window merchandising can drive impulse traffic to the store. A halo effect is often seen in more than just the store with the prominent window merchandising. Such displays create more brand loyalty and also heighten awareness and receptivity. Windows can impact not just individual promotions but also boost other dimensions of the brand. Such an effect is hard to measure, as windows merchandising works very much like other outdoor advertising. Except in this case, you already own the space and don’t have to pay hundreds or thousands per month for the use of the medium.



Information, material, and designs in this document are proprietary to and owned by Grafico, LLC and may not be disclosed to any third party, reproduced, posted on a global computer information network, or distributed in any way without the written consent from Grafico, LLC.© 2014 Grafico, LLC. All rights reserved.

Grow Your Business with a New Marketing Plan for Existing Financial Services

Full service FSCs continue to see check cashing fee revenue in a steady decline as the consumer segment slowly migrates to electronic payments. Small dollar lenders have become extremely hampered by negative regulatory and public perception issues, as well as bank services discontinuance as a result of “Operation Choke Point.”

One bright spot in the landscape lies with small businesses.

  • There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US
  • More than 22 million are self-employed with no additional payroll / employees
  • 52% of small businesses are home based

Why not capitalize on the strengths of your organization’s check cashing skills and available capital by repositioning your services to a different market whose reason for using your solutions are slightly different … and much more lucrative.

The opportunity lies in focusing a specific marketing plan to attract small business owners and their key employees to use your retail network as an alternative to traditional business bank accounts. Using the current infrastructure with the addition of some proven strategies, systems and processes, a high volume, profitable customer segment can be tapped for a whole series of product offerings from check cashing to improve liquidity, a reloadable prepaid card for funds management, and possibly even installment credit products.

A truly successful program will incorporate these five areas. We call them the “5 Pillars of Commercial Check Cashing”:

  1. Marketing – drives leads to your business
  2. Decisioning – manages the special risks associated with this category
  3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – system for tracking customers and documentation
  4. Commercial Prepaid GPR Card – with special features for businesses
  5. Remote Check Cashing – to allow checks to be cashed when not in store
Marketing to Small Businesses Is A Different Game

Unlike consumers, small business operators are not as likely to just walk into your store for your services. They will need to be educated and have their pain points addressed in order to see the value of this service to them. Knowing who this customer is and how they operate differently than a conventional check cashing consumer is critical. From what industries do they come? What is the best way to reach them? Are they seeking a different customer experience than the consumer? And how do you solicit trial, enrollment and loyalty from this unique customer segment? All of these issues must factor into your strategy and should result in effective tactics to address each.

Grafico Marketing Group uses its years of experience in Business-to-Business marketing to provide a lead-generating program that is geared to reach small businesses and stimulate leads back to your retail locations. From access to targeted lists of small businesses to professionally designed sales tools to a disciplined sales process for your front line business development initiatives, the program utilizes the expertise of the industry’s only marketing firm to specialize in the alternative financial services space for over twenty years.

Big Risks, Big Rewards – Decisioning is Unique for Small Businesses

While the reasons for cashing checks payable to a small business may be similar to those of a consumer in the desire for more liquidity and flexibility that is available from a bank, these checks are really very different. Making the decision to cash a particular check is similar in key respects to any other check cashing decision – except that the verification of the ‘non-natural’ payee requires a few extra layers of diligence and documentation.

First, they are made payable to a legal entity rather than to a natural person, so the identity validation necessary to verify the legitimacy of the organization is a new step in the process. Then there is the issue of the person presenting the check. Are they authorized to cash this check, and by whose authority? Are there multiple people from the same organization that are authorized to present checks for cashing? These are all realistic considerations that have to be faced when making a decision about the risk of cashing these types of checks; not to mention that their average size is considerably higher than those typically presented by a consumer as a paycheck or benefits payment. Collecting, managing, and reviewing the requisite documentation is one key to a successful commercial program.

Joe Coleman of RiteCheck, one of the industry’s premier check cashing minds, has built a very successful Commercial Check Cashing business and has developed proven solutions to assist in the risk assessment and underwriting process to help protect your interests in taking on this new business segment. He is now sharing this opportunity as a consultant and has formed The Coleman Group to bring his success to the industry at large through his experience in building this 5 Pillars program.

Customer Relationship Management – More Than Just Transaction Tracking

Most POS systems today used to track financial services transactions are just that; devices to track transactions. Considering that they also hold a great deal of customer information makes them a valuable and necessary tool to effectively manage your business.

But try to pull some valuable information about the customers that are performing certain transaction types in marketing oriented reports, and that is a different matter altogether. The ability to segment heavy users from casual users, reward behavior with a loyalty program, or associate multiple users with a single company becomes substantially more difficult than just tracking transactions and balancing drawers at the end of a shift.

To really perform some meaningful marketing analytics, the data needs to be removed from your active transaction database – you don’t want to be running heavy analytics on your full customer data that will slow down your systems while your stores are trying to access it for live transactions. The ability to track transactions, associate multiple “pre-approved agents” of the entity authorized to cash the checks, manage returned items, manage the requisite documentation, and even consider any type of loyalty or retention programs, is all based on the ability to enhance your POS data with a more comprehensive reporting system than is currently available from most of the consumer-oriented POS solutions on the market. Further, your CRM must be able to manage the additional CTR requirements of checks cashed by an agent on behalf of an entity.

A Prepaid Card Exclusively for Businesses – Part of the Secret Sauce

A common feature of a GPR Prepaid Debit Card is that it can act like a virtual bank account for its user. But the general consumer-oriented cards cannot serve a small business effectively. A prepaid card designed for small businesses needs to be able to …

  • Be issued to a legal, non-human entity with an EIN number, not a Social Security number
  • Be able to load larger amounts of money than the typical $5,000 – $10,000 maximums
  • Be able to have multiple sub-accounts tied to the master account for use by employees
  • Have a different fee structure more in tune with the purchase patterns of businesses

While more card issuers are studying this opportunity, some more progressive ones have already introduced such a product. Supporting this program is FirstView with a GPR Prepaid card specially designed for this small business customer segment. The card can be used as is or privately branded to your specific identity or marketing program. This card provides a powerful connection to your relationship with your commercial customers and provides them with a money management tool that makes incremental revenue for you.

Then you can cash checks for your best customers … even when they’re not in your store with Remote Check Cashing!

Remote Check Cashing – it’s the buzz amongst the industry. If using a check cashing center is mostly driven by convenience as much of the research suggests, then this is the ultimate. Small business customers are often highly mobile. While some of your stores may be convenient for them from time to time, imagine their ability to cash a check with you from anywhere and deposit the funds onto your small business prepaid card. Why would they ever want to use another check cashing service if you can offer that convenience?

But it’s awful risky, right? With the casual consumer that occasionally uses your service, it sure is. But then again, this is not your casual consumer customer. You have a “thick file” or a great deal of information on file with this customer and eventually, a great track record and relationship. The small business customer is probably the least risky customer to whom this service should be offered, especially if they have to earn the ability to use it through past performance. It is the ultimate competitive differentiator creating tremendous stickiness to your best commercial customers.

The FirstView Prepaid Card that is part of this program, comes equipped with the ability to accept funds through a mobile check cashing app powered by Cachet Financial Solutions, one of the financial services industry’s leading providers of Remote Check Cashing technology.

By bringing it all together through the implementation and effective management of these 5 Pillars: Marketing, Decisioning, CRM, A Commercial GPR Prepaid Card and Remote Check Cashing we believe this approach provides the critical components for a successful Commercial Check Cashing program.

When was the last time you saw a new product or service that could make such a positive impact on your business … all while using your current skills?

Building Trust with Your Brand

Do you have a brand? I don’t mean a name or a logo, but a brand. Your brand is about the customer experience with your business, the way you differentiate your store or chain of stores from other financial service centers, the personality of your business. Everybody has a brand. It’s how they use it that makes it a successful brand or just another also ran.
One way to strategically use your brand is to create trust with your customers with it. Why is this important? Because you perform mission critical transactions with your customers. They trust that you provide them with the cash they need to manage their lives, they entrust you with considerable amounts of personal information and they trust that when they hand over their money to pay a bill or wire funds that they will get where they need to be in a timely fashion.

Also in today’s economy consumers are becoming more and more skeptical with their financial institutions. According to the 2011 Edelman Trust in U.S. Financial Services Survey, of the top factors listed by 75% or more of consumers surveyed, financial institutions came up short of expectations. For example, 91% of those surveyed indicated that Honest Communication was an important factor in the reputation of their FI, but only 67% of those consumers perceived that their bank lived up to that aspect of their relationship. Similarly, 84% said Open and Transparent Practices were important, but nearly 1 in 3 said their bank or credit Union fell short. 75% said fair and competitive prices were important, but only a little over half felt that they were provided. In these areas where financial institutions are suffering from an enormous trust deficit, financial service centers seem to excel. This may provide a rare opportunity for FSCs to not only secure their relationships with existing customers, but to reach up demographically into a whole new pool of dissatisfied bank customers.

So how do you build trust with your brand?

Create a Brand Personality – stand for something.

Whether it’s the best customer service, the cleanest stores, the most product offerings – whatever you do best – be sure to associate it with your business. Having a unique identity helps customers not only find you, but to distinguish you from all of the other FSCs in the market and to associate the things that make you different with your brand.
Use the Voice of the Customer – solicit feedback from your customers. Meet them in the lobbies, train tellers to interact with them and ask questions, address them by name and ask for their suggestions. Incorporate their comments into testimonial statements in your in-store advertising and graphics. Show happy customers in the ethnic varieties that comprise your base. Develop referral programs that reward customers for bringing in friends and family as new customers.

Recognize and Reward Loyalty – All too often consumers’ patronage today is taken for granted.

Acknowledge that you value the business your customers bring to you. Create frequency programs with incentives for cashing checks or paying bills. Offer scratch off tickets, sweepstakes entry or a free gift with purchase.  Everybody likes to get something for free, especially when it is in the form of a thank you for  your business message.

Show Respect – Focus on good customer services.

After all most banks are not, so this is an easy way to beat them at that game. Address customers by name. It’s right there in front of you, on their check, bill or other paperwork used to process a transaction. Make cross sell suggestions based on past purchases. Again, your POS system likely has their recent transaction history right there on the screen in front of the teller. And be sure to tell them what’s new. Most consumers appreciate that.

It’s really very simple to build trust. Do the things listed here and customers will believe that you really do have their best interest at heart. Trust is the bedrock of every brand. You simply have to mean what you say, say what you mean, do what you say you will do and live up to your promises. After all, wouldn’t you trust someone who did those things for you?

PBS Feature – Life in the Cash Economy for “Underbanked” Americans

See the work of Lisa Sevron, a professor of urban policy at the New School in Manhattan, who has taken on the research project of why people choose to use RiteCheck and other check cashers as opposed to traditional banks. Video article features RiteCheck stores, branding and signage as well as their fearless leader, Joe Coleman.

Technology in Marketing: More Than Social Media

Are you connected? I don’t mean as in who you know, but how you keep in touch with friends, family and most importantly how your business stays in touch with its customers.
Social Media, SMS / Text Messages, Websites, e-mail and so on are in the forefront of many discussions on the topic. It’s interesting to note that many of these are marketing tools were not even around as recently as ten year ago. So how do you keep up and how do you know what’s applicable to your business?

Before you get started, there are some basic tenets that must be followed to help you to achieve success.

Know your audience.

Understand your customer’s preferred form of communications. Today, more people are using the Internet via mobile devices than by desktop computers. Conduct some research with customers. A few brief questions to hundreds of people per can yield rich, accurate results.

Align business objectives with appropriate tools.

Different tools are better at accomplishing specific goals. For example, a text message would be effective to an existing customer reminding them that they can pay a recurring bill with you; while an interactive store directory on your website would attract new customers by providing hours, directions / map or even rate information as appropriate. Doing it in a mobile format would be even better, since it is estimated that over half of all local searches are done with a mobile device. Define who you want to reach, how you want to accomplish it and what metrics will result in success.

Think beyond advertising and promotion.

All too often, it’s easy to think of marketing only in terms of advertising or promotion and not as the strategic business tool it really is. Decisions regarding product offerings, go-to-market strategies and customer relationship management are just a few of the areas that will play crucial roles in your business’ future. The traditional retail model for financial services is still a viable distribution channel, but is in the process of being redefined to meet market changes. To evolve, in fact to survive it is crucial to look at marketing through a new set of eyes and be aware of the various tools available to you.

Some practical thoughts about a few strategies that are being effectively utilized by industry thought leaders include:

Websites – both informational and transactional.

Informational websites are essentially electronic brochures with the ability to communicate everything about your business. They have essentially replaced yellow pages directory advertising for many retailers since so much more information can be shared for so much less cost.  Many providers of retail short-term credit are also finding that by adding a website to their delivery channel, they are not cannibalizing their store traffic, but complimenting it by attracting new customers from beyond their traditional trade areas or from people not comfortable using financial services centers. As capital requirements are declining due to declining check counts, consider re-allocating that capital to small short-term loans like payday advances, lines of credit, title loans or even installment products.

Text Messaging

In the past five years, the CTIA, the International Trade Association of the Wireless Industry – reported that the number of SMS or text messages grew from about 159 billion per year in 2006 to more than 2.3 trillion per year by the end of 2011 – a 1,450% Increase! This is truly becoming a consumer’s preferred choice of communications.  But they are not seeking overt advertising messages, but an optional way to communicate and do business with you.  Payment reminders, transaction tracking on their prepaid debit cards, EBT payment alerts … these are the types of activities consumers are seeking that may drive them to your stores better than any advertising message.


Yet another opportunity to connect with your customers beyond their visits to your stores. Again, avoid being overtly promotional as people do not want to subscribe to advertisements. But information about new product offerings, coupons for services, featured events or activities, offers to subscribe to other services like signing up for text messages or liking your Facebook page, these are all excellent ways to use email communications and nurture an ongoing relationship with your customers.

If you are not sure where to start, don’t be afraid to consult with a professional.  A small investment in an education on your options could save you considerably compared to a trial and error process.  Attending conferences, national and local, provide opportunities to attend workshops or meet with vendors that are experts in their fields. And of course the Internet itself is an incredible research resource for learning about various technologies and strategies. However you choose to get started is less important than getting started. Because in today’s world, if you’re not connected with your customers, someone else will.

The Appearance of Your Employees Can Dramatically Impact Your Business

Whenever neighborhood financial service centers consider marketing strategies for their businesses, the first things that tend to come to mind are the store signage, interior posters and teller signs, buck slips to be distributed to customers, advertisements in broadcast media or outdoor venues, social networking for word-of-mouth and the like. Seldom do many operators consider the marketing power that lies within their employees. One simple area that is easy to overlook is the appearance of your front line employees.

This crucial group can be a potent extension to your business’ brand statement and merchandising strategy and can go a long way in creating a positive impression of your company to both customers and other constituencies. In fact, as part of its Store Appearance Best Practices Guidelines, This FiSCA committee even included Employee Appearance as a integral part of the focus on store appearance and how the employees can impact that area. Below is an excerpt from the Best Practices Guidelines that pertain to Employee Appearance:

  • An employee’s appearance projects an image that supports the company’s customer service and business objectives.
  • Dress and grooming standards are in place to reflect a sense of professionalism that would be considered appropriate for a business environment.
  • Dress standards do not allow the wearing of clothing that would be typically used for exercise or any other such leisure activity.
  • Dress standards do not allow any clothing with words or pictures that may be offensive to customers or other employees are not permitted to be worn in the workplace.
  • Dress standards do not allow clothing to be in wrinkled, dirty or poor condition.
  • Grooming standards provide for styles for hair, jewelry, makeup and other personal items that are workplace appropriate.
  • Employees adhere to good grooming and personal hygiene practices.

Setting a dress code can improve your company’s marketing efforts by providing these crucial benefits.

Sets the “personality” of the company. A neighborhood financial services center whose employees look like they just rolled out of bed does not impart a feeling to your customers that the employees respect them enough to show up to work dressed appropriately. Public perception of this industry begins with the external appearance of the stores, but is ultimately impacted by the customer’s experience with your staff. A clear, concise dress code policy makes it easy for all employees to fulfill the company’s objectives in defining the personality of its brand.

Eliminates Distractions: When the dress code is clear, it can reduce distractions caused by outrageous attire, inappropriate language printed on garments or the negative image often associated with tattoos and body piercings. This also means people are more likely to be focusing on work rather than chatting about what their coworkers are wearing to work “this time”.

Reduces employee confusion: a clear dress code means your employees don’t have to wonder “what” to wear or whether something would be appropriate to wear to work. It either meets the dress code requirements or not.

Not sure how far to go in establishing a Dress Code Policy for your business? When I consult with financial services center owners about this topic, I suggest that they adopt one of three different levels of employee dress standards for their stores.

Level One: If you don’t want to limit the dress of your employees, I suggest that you adopt the first level of store employee identification: the name tag. The name tag is nothing more than a pin-on sign that employees wear for identification purposes. This makes it possible for employees to choose their level of dress. You will notice that most retailers who use name tags still have dress codes that limit certain types of clothing but this at least provides some level of personalization and accountability. If security is a concern, limit the name tag to a first name basis.

Level Two: The new trend in retail employee dress codes is a sport or polo shirt. This shirt most often matches the store’s colors and is embroidered with the store’s name and logo. In some cases the retailer also specifies that no jeans be worn and suggests the color of slacks to be worn. This level has become the most common standard for many companies in our industry as it is easy and reasonably inexpensive to implement and most employees find it acceptable.

Level Three: This is the high-power “business suit” level. A suit or sport jacket with a tie or a blouse and skirt adds status and increases the perception of professionalism and respect. Although this may not be appropriate for every company’s brand personality, there are several operators who do use this strategy. Many even carry it to their corporate office personnel to communicate a consistent appearance throughout the organization.

Regardless of which strategy you adopt, the important part is that you adopt one, communicate it clearly and enforce it consistently. Like improving the appearance of your facilities, this is another step in making this industry more professional and mainstream in its retail image and marketing, all which lead to improved performance of your business.

The Silver Bullet & The Next Big Product

The world is changing rapidly. How many times have you heard that adage?

For anyone over the age of 40 that seems like an obvious statement. We’ve seen men land on the moon. Computers become powerful miniature devices that we cannot live without. Cell phones were originally envisioned as Dick Tracy’s wristwatch or Maxwell Smart’s shoe.

In the financial services world there are also changes occurring that no one ever thought would happen. Futurists and science fiction writers predicted the day when we would be a cashless society – and we all laughed.  And while we may not see a cashless society in our lifetime, there is no doubt that electronic payments have rapidly changed the face of our industry. In the last ten years alone we have seen the introduction of small dollar, short-term loans change the face of the industry. We have seen the introduction of prepaid debit cards go from something that consumers did not understand to a device that is now estimated to be in the hands of 6 billion users who loaded more than $140 billion according to a recent Federal Reserve study. The study also indicated that this was the smallest, but fastest growing payment category, up 22% from 2006 – 2009. What’s more, the amount of money loaded onto the cards is expected to reach $552 billion in 2012 from $330 million three years ago, according to the Mercator Advisory Group, a research firm. Seems like a real opportunity.

While these two items held the hope of being the next silver bullet in terms of bringing revenue and profits to an industry that has lived too long on a single product model, there are probably very few readers that could make a case for a successful business model over the next ten years based solely on either one of these products.

The alternative financial services industry is currently at a redefining crossroads. Most businesses have one or two products that comprise 85% or more of revenue. If one or heaven forbid, both of those products were to go away in the next few years, these operators would be out of business. This is an issue that I am sure keeps many of you up at night.
The real challenge is that while the under-banked population is growing in numbers, the traditional services being offered are not able to effectively capitalize on the opportunity. Additionally, new forms of competition are looking to enter the financial service space serving customers that don’t like or want to use banks. Large chain retailers like Wal-Mart and Sears Holdings have already entered the check cashing and money services arena as have several large grocery chains like Kroger and Safeway. They are all vying for the shrinking pie of check cashing. On the loan front, banks and credit unions are lurking around the fringes of this space.  They see the opportunity in the demand for short term, small dollar loans but will likely never be back in the payday advance space. Once the code is cracked on how to make a profitable product, they are highly motivated to find new revenue sources in this highly regulated and uncertain environment.

So how do you plan for the future?

How do you make sure you business is relevant to your customers five, ten or even twenty years from now?

Well one thing we do know for sure is that your customers like the services that you provide! Multiple surveys of consumers visiting and using alternative financial services centers are very happy. According to FiSCA consumer studies conducted in 2000 and 2006, customers are very happy with the quality and perceived value of doing business in financial service centers consistently scoring high satisfaction levels of 2/3 to 3/4 of consumers surveyed responding to these areas positively. Banks could only wish to have the kind of customer satisfaction ratings our industry receives, especially in the current environment.

Then how do you continue to experience the type of success that you have traditionally enjoyed with the single product models of the past? In a word: diversification.
Today’s consumer is, if nothing else, time starved. They already trust you to provide good service at a good value. The more that they can do in your stores to handle their personal business needs, the easier you will make their lives … and this will not come from a single product offering as it once did in the past.  Today you need to be the supermarket of financial services to your customers.  The more that they can accomplish in a one-stop shopping experience, the more they will continue to do business with you.
Carefully consider the mix of services you offer, balancing traffic generation with good margins. The consumers using your services have needs for a variety of services regarding their personal business. Tax preparation, auto insurance, title/tag services, cash for gold, legal document preparation, discount prescription plans, internet cafes, small business centers, cash & coin services … these are all potential opportunities that could be fit into the current retail distribution platform and reach thousands of qualified prospects daily. Even modest close ratios like 10% – 15% could result in a viable business model given the margins available with these types of services.
This consumer is also far more prepaid savvy. If you don’t have a solid prepaid debit card program in place, you will lose this consumer to direct deposit once their government benefits check, and eventually their paycheck goes away. Can you move them to a check-based direct deposit program that keeps them coming to your stores? What other services will they come to you to access?

Want to learn more about these opportunities? Be sure to attend the FiSCA Annual Conference and Exhibition where more than 100 vendors providing product and service offerings to your customers are on hand to show you their wares and how it can fit into your business model.

With the pace of change moving as rapidly as it does today, you need to look outside of the box that may have been your business model in the past. If you stand still, the market will pass you by quickly.