Fast Facts: Student Loans

January 22, 2013
/   Insights

The Financial Services Roundtable recently released another iteration of its Fast Facts, reliable, bullet-point research about issues facing the financial services industry. Topics span TARP, Dodd-Frank, insurance, lending, retirement savings and more.  Below are some updated Fast...

Cause and Effect: If you build it, will they come?

July 23, 2014
/   Spotlight

Many financial institutions assume that digital banking is lucrative because the most valuable customers happen to bank online. While there is certainly a correlation between online bankers and higher profitability, quantitative evidence suggests that...

Intuit 2020 Report: The Future of Financial Services

April 11, 2011
/   Insights

Today, Intuit released the latest edition of the Intuit 2020 report, Intuit 2020 Report: The Future of Financial Services, which identifies and examines four key trend areas that will  transform the financial services industry...

The Top 10 Trends in the Digital Banking Industry

December 18, 2013
/   Spotlight

2014 is rapidly approaching and as the year wraps, the Digital Insight team has pulled together the top 10 trends in the digital banking industry based on data and trends from studying financial institutions....

Small Business: Perception vs. Reality

November 21, 2012
/   Insights

In the most recent election cycle, like most others before it, the one sector of the economy that got the most attention was small business.  This is the future, we were told by every...

Industry Perception, Optical Delusion

January 14, 2013
/   Insights

In Washington, they talk a lot about ‘optics.’ This has nothing to do with regulatory scrutiny, or government mandates on eyeglasses. It has to do with perception—how something looks, the way a particular story...

Financial Literacy Month: How are you celebrating?

March 22, 2013
/   Insights

With April approaching, it’s almost time to kick off Financial Literacy Month! Strongly supported by the United States Congress and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, Financial Literacy Month aims to promote the importance...

Social Banking: Blessing or Curse?

August 1, 2012
/   Insights

While the topic of Facebook and banking has generated plenty of heat (though not necessarily a lot of light), the debate seems mostly focused on two broad issues: The much-maligned IPO, and the notion...

I love my mobile banking app.

When I sign in from my New York office, it greets me with a cheery “Good Afternoon,” with a backdrop photo of nearby Washington Square Park. In San Francisco last month, it wished me “Good Evening,” against a nighttime photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure, I can check my balance and transfer money. But I expect to be able to do that. What’s memorable is that this very large bank has managed to add a personal touch to such a straightforward transaction.

The personal touch matters, now more than ever. There was a time when consumers knew tellers and loan officers as real people. In the digital world, though, banks are now competing against a growing group of non-traditional providers like PayPal or Venmo. These days, a personal touch is usually not a matter of a familiar face in a branch. All you’ve got are a few seconds of screen time, a few words your customers are scrolling through. It comes down to what you say — and just as importantly, how you say it.

Talking among friends

For a bank to thrive online, it has to create meaningful conversations with its customers about life’s big financial decisions. But you can’t have a conversation if we’ve tuned you out. A lot of retail banks talk about how they’re ‘customer-friendly’, even though no friend would use the language we see in a typical mortgage application, bank statement, or credit card letter. If you asked a friend for a bit of money advice over a coffee, how would you feel if they turned round and answered, “My proposed risk allocation model is designed to help you look beyond the traditional portfolio model.

You might protest, “we have to sound like that because the FHA/FDIC/FCRA requires it,” but I don’t buy it. For one thing, regulators have been pushing banks to be simpler and more straightforward, so customers know where they stand.

Technology magnifies the problem

These days, people often read a letter from their bank on the same phone or tablet they use for mobile banking. So when a stiff, formal message is only a swipe away from a friendly app, people notice – and it makes them doubt your brand’s broader message.

It’s ironic, because our growing preference for omni-channel shopping actually plays to legacy strengths. Banks have some natural advantages relative to the upstarts, because they have the resources to give us the always-on experience we demand. And when you sound the same across products and channels, you subtly reinforce the messages customers want to hear most: “We’re stable. We’re trustworthy. We’re convenient.”

The truth is, it’s an easy fix

Just change the way you write. We all want the same thing: information that’s understandable to normal humans, not just financial experts. Small print that explains clearly where we stand, and doesn’t make us feel like a sneaky lawyer is looking for a loophole. Banks are poised to win if they can just learn to get these things across in a more human way.

One of our clients, a major bank, recently rewrote some customer service letters to make them easier to follow. After they simplified the language and the structure, the number of people who responded soared. In fact, the response rate was about ten times higher than they’d expected. Frequently, customers are perfectly happy to do what you want – once they understand what you’re telling, asking, or offering them.

Balancing ‘brief’ and ‘intimate’ isn’t easy. And it’s true that writing clearly and simply isn’t always simple to do. But it’s a heck of a lot simpler (and cheaper) than most technology projects, and it may do more to shape our attitudes, too. Sometimes big problems just need simple solutions.


Anelia heads up The Writer’s US office. Her thoughts and words have appeared in books, newspapers, design annuals, magazines, blogs, and up the sides of Guinness bottles. She was foreman of the Writing for Design jury at the 2014 D&AD Awards.


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James W. Gabberty

Gabberty is a professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute, he has served as an expert witness in telecommunication and information security at the federal and state levels and holds numerous certifications from SANS & ISACA.

Marisa Mann

Marisa Mann brings over 15 years of experience in consulting and financial services industries to the Solstice team, working on large scale enterprise initiatives across many technologies, including specializing in the digital space – Internet and mobile. Mann is passionate about mobile and the endless possibilities for the enterprise, delivering business value through strong brand recognition and driving to excellence in the consumer experience. Prior to Solstice, Mann worked at JP Morgan Chase, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, Washington Mutual, Inc, and Accenture.

Zachary Ehrlich

25-year-old writer, and as a native San Franciscan, I am unreasonably loyal to Bank of America, if only for their superhero-like origin story, involving the 1906 earthquake and Italian fruit vendors.

Brad Strothkamp