March 24, 2011

At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive for a community bank to promote the idea of community unity outside the physical walls of its branches or the region it serves. Generally, a community refers to a distinct locality, common background or society. But taken within the context of commonality through the interest of managing finances, securing credit and loans, or learning how to prepare for the future, BankAtlantic has been working to extend its reach in the community beyond traditional interactions with local residents. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based bank has taken its community-building efforts onto the web.

"Online channels are an extension to build a stronger and more meaningful relationship with the customer," says Tom Triozzi, marketing director for the community bank, which has $4.5 billion in total assets. "Our job is to understand the customer and provide the information they need."

To that end, BankAtlantic (bankatlantic.com) has worked to create blogs, newsletters, social media interaction and educational videos that highlight not only the bank's products and services, but also give professionals within the community a platform to share their expertise with others. Along the way, BankAtlantic has received recognition for its online efforts from The Interactive Media Awards, The WebAwards, The Internet Advising Competition, and J.D. Power and Associates.

While Triozzi says the bank is pleased to receive the recognition, that's not what it's all about. Rather, BankAtlantic has adopted a strategy to provide advocacy and education to its customers, along with information that is relevant to the community it serves, he insists.

"From our standpoint, our whole strategy as a community bank is to differentiate ourselves by getting involved in the community, helping out in the community, lending money in the community," Triozzi explains. "We all live and work and play here, and this bank has always tried to have a special relationship with its customers."

At the Customer's Convenience

In terms of reaching its local community, Triozzi says, BankAtlantic recognizes the shifting demographic of its users. Even at the geographic community level, he relates, some customers choose to conduct certain banking transactions online rather than in person.

"As the banking relationships become more online in the overall scheme of things, we have to figure out ways that we can still have that banking relationship with our customers," Triozzi comments. "We have to figure out different ways to maintain that."

But the online channel is not necessarily driving customers out of BankAtlantic's branches. Instead, Triozzi says, the option to go online to conduct banking transactions or research on products and services at any time of the day adds convenience, increases awareness, and lets customers conduct business at their own pace and on their own terms.

"It's the synergy of all of the channels together, not just online," Triozzi says. "It's the synergy of all our channels -- but everything we do has some sort of online direction to it. We're trying to let people pick and choose. Different customers at different times, depending on their preferences, can choose their interaction."

Simply, Triozzi indicates, it's the bank's responsibility to respond to its customers' habits and provide the tools necessary to empower them to get what they want, when they want.

Blogs, Tweets and Videos, Oh My

If you visit BankAtlantic's blog, floridabankblog.com, you won't just see marketing rhetoric from the company's management. Yes, there are updates from the bank about the bank; but there also are advice columns, advocacy articles and other information from several community members outside the bank's staff with expertise in small business, finance and commerce, Triozzi notes.

"The idea there is to get thought leaders that may not necessarily be right here in the bank," he explains. "Not just the people in the bank, but also people in the community. They're more on the cutting edge of what customers might be looking for in terms of useful information to run their businesses better or how to manage their finances better."

The bank's new "Video Room," available through its website, tells a similar story. Videos are categorized as the most recent, community-oriented, events coverage and financial education. And they don't all feature in-house talking heads.

Triozzi also points out the ongoing utility of e-mail, as well as the growing importance of social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in engaging customers and keeping them informed of bank updates and marketing offers. "[It] allows us to reduce their mail budget and get similar results -- in some cases, even better results -- than we would with our direct mail," he says. "The other part of it is, we can improve our advocacy or respond to things that are happening in the market."

And ultimately, those various methods of outreach are all interconnected. "Since we started using all the social media networks, our web numbers have continued to increase dramatically," Triozzi reports, adding that if BankAtlantic tweets a link to a video, that video's viewership numbers invariably increase.

Engagement, Feedback, Results

BankAtlantic uses Nielsen to scan customer sentiment online. According to Triozzi, the bank is able to informally monitor whether it's getting things right by looking at its numbers, including web traffic, video views, e-mail clickthroughs and Facebook wall posts. And it works to respond to the changing market by monitoring how its customers access the bank's site.

"We just updated our website, and we've seen a lot of positive responses to those improvements," Triozzi relates. "This is one area where you need to constantly be making the wheel rounder -- we aren't going to be reinventing the wheel, but it's really just looking at best practices, and evaluating where your strengths and where your weaknesses are."

All that ongoing improvement has produced results. The bank has seen approximately a 140 percent increase in clickthroughs on its calls to action along with an increase in online account opening, Triozzi reports.

"Some small things we have changed just by watching our customers use the web," he says. "What we're trying to do is improve the level of service -- that's what this channel is all about, that constant improvement. It's easier to get that information and adjust on the fly."

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