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Ben Cooper of ThinkFinance.com

You might not have thought much about how your bank treats you. In a world of drive-through windows and automated teller machines, you might not even think about what kind of relationship you have with your bank You take for granted that its policies are more important than who you are, but does it have to be that way? Ben Cooper says no. Ben is the Vice President of Marketing for Think Finance, responsible for marketing for all of their products, including online marketing, offline marketing and brand development. I recently met Ben at the Search Insider Summit conference in Florida and thought you’d be interested in his take on what some traditional businesses are doing wrong in their customer relationships–in this case, banks.


Me: For readers who don’t know about Think Finance, how would you describe it?
BC: Think Finance develops next generation financial products that help people manage life’s everyday expenses. Consumers choose our products because they provide more convenience, speed, ease of use, and transparency. We operate three brands today

  • PayDay One. A traditional, online payday lender. However, unlike most online lenders, we池e state licensed and offer a great rate guarantee.
  • ThinkCash. Provides a new way to pay bills, avoid bounced checks, and catch up on life’s expenses. ThinkCash provides access to short-term loans from $250 up to $2500. Customers choose payment terms that fit their lifestyle, with easy installment payments and no penalties for early payoff.
  • Elastic. Gives consumers more flexibility with two products that work together to help them gain more control over their money. The Elastic Card is a Visa Prepaid Debit Card that can be used to pay bills and make purchases anywhere Visa debit is accepted (which is just about everywhere). There are no overdraft fees and if a customer sets up direct deposit, there are no monthly fees. For a millions of people, the Elastic Card is better than a traditional bank account. The second product, the Elastic Line of Credit, gives customers even more flexibility with access of up to $500 in emergency cash to cover unexpected bills, car repair, and other urgent financial needs. The fees are simple and affordable, and customers choose how they want to pay us back–we’re flexible!

Me: Why do you think traditional banks haven’t taken on this role in the industry?
BC: Over 60 million adults–one-quarter of U.S. households–use alternative financial services, such as check cashing, payday loans, and pre-paid debit cards. These people aren’t on the fringe of our economy–they’re the bus drivers that take our kids to school, the teachers that teach them, and the nurses that mend their bumps and bruises. They’ve seen years of flat wages coupled with a rising cost of living, and many of them have fallen out of mainstream credit. And they’ve been told no too many times by traditional financial services institutions. Most banks have become addicted to overdraft fees–they collected almost $42 billion in overdraft fees last year alone. As a result, they’ve had little incentive to innovate and create new products that meet the needs of today’s consumers. It’s our goal to say “yes” to these consumers and create innovative products that help them deal with the everyday expenses of life. Our latest product, Elastic, provides customers with access to an affordable emergency cash line of credit and a lower-cost alternative to a traditional bank account. Think of it as “banking for the rest of us.”
Me: What’s your favorite Think Finance client success story?
BC: That’s a tough one, because we’re had a many great testimonials from customers. However, there is one that always stands out. We had a ThinkCash customer named Amparo with a Springer Spaniel named Coco Giselle. Amparo had kids, but you could tell that Coco Giselle was the “baby” of the house. One Thursday, Coco Giselle was acting strangely, so Amparo took her to the vet. The vet discovered a gastric issue that require immediate surgery or “the dog would not survive the weekend.” The surgery cost about $700, and Amparo had enough money in a CD with her bank. However, her bank wouldn’t give her access to the funds. Fortunately, Amaparo found ThinkCash, was approved, and had the money in her bank account the next day for the surgery. I’m happy to say Coco Giselle is doing fine, but Amparo’s words to me when we met in person really sum it up: “I’ve been with my bank for years and they wouldn’t give me my money. You don’t know me from Eve, but still approved me for $700. ThinkCash literally saved my dog’s life.” Those are the kinds of testimonials that make it fun to come to work every day.
Me: I’ve heard you speak about how important it is for companies to be contributing to the greater good, helping people, not just making profits. What would you say to someone who thinks it’s impossible for a company to really do that and stay in business?
BC: We have six core values at Think Finance that hang on the walls of our office, guiding every decision we make. Two of those core values address your question above: “Respect our Customers” and “Do the Right Thing.” These values and making a profit are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one of our other core values is “Make the numbers.” I’m an avid cycling enthusiast and there is a sign above the register at my favorite bike shop that perfectly sums it up: “The biggest disservice a shop can do to its customers is not make money and go out of business.” You must be profitable to be able to serve customers, but companies that are focused only on profits tend to lose in the long run. So it’s all about finding the balance.
Me: Can you provide a real example of how Think Finance takes to heart this philosophy of doing good?
BC: We have a program we call “Random Acts of Kindness.” Each month, we randomly select several customers and forgive their loans. It might not sound like much, but it’s a huge blessing for these customers. When we call with the news, about half of the customers cry with joy. It’s such a positive experience that we use it as a reward with our customer service representatives. The CSRs with the highest satisfaction scores are the ones that get to make the Random Acts of Kindness calls.
Me: What other companies do you see that are trying to make a difference in more ways than raking in cash?
BC: I really appreciate companies like TOMS Shoes that have made “making a difference” an integral part of their business plan. I’m really intrigued by the future of social entrepreneurship and hope that some of its values start to rub off on other companies.
Me: How do you see this philosophy catching on? Can hard-nosed business people be persuaded that it is in their best interest?
BC: In the age of Social Media, I think you have to adopt this philosophy to survive. If customers have a bad experience with a company, it’s easy to get the word out and potentially tarnish a brand that took years to build. The goal should always be to give your customers enough value that they would recommend you to a friend. That’s why we pay close attention to our Net Promoter score, which is driven by the ultimate question: How likely is it that you would you recommend our company to a friend or colleague? The Net Promoter score for our new Elastic product is three times the banking industry average. If you aren’t creating products and services that delight your customers, it’s hard to run a profitable business. Traditional banks are now learning that very expensive lesson.
Me: What do you see coming next for Think Finance?
BC: We want to continue to make our Elastic product the best financial tool on the market. We’re going to add high interest savings accounts, budget tools, mobile accessibility and build even more transparency into our underwriting process. We will tell our customers exactly what they can do to increase their line of credit and decrease their fees. We won’t hide behind an ambiguous credit score–we’re going to give them the specific steps that can improve their credit options with Elastic.
Me: What do you see coming next for this whole space in the industry in the long run?
BC: I think all financial services products are going to become more consumer-focused and more transparent. Consumers want products that help solve financial issues, do it quickly, with no hassles, and at a fair price. The companies that evolve will thrive and the companies that stick to the “old rules” for financial services products will experience a slow death.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. Avatar larrsmith07|nanotechnology

    Hi there!.. Good day! I have just read you post and it’s great! Maybe your post can help lots of people because it contains relevant information about the said topic..And also it gives me the ideas on how to improve customer relationships..maybe I can apply it in my business even though my business is not related to bank!..a sweet thanks for your post man!!

  2. Avatar mcts

    it gives me the ideas on how to improve customer relationships..maybe I can apply it in my business even though my business is not related to bank!..a sweet thanks for your post man!!
    —————-
    George

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