experiments, instruments & measurement book

Banking on Strategies for Synagogues

3/17/14

By Cyd Weissman

“The train is crowded, mind if I sit here?” My usual Don’t sit next to me on the train strategy of coughing or eating smelly foods didn’t deter this twenty some young woman from sitting down.

She parked herself, her winter coat, her tote and package right next to me. “The commute has been wild with all the snow, hasn’t it?” Oh boy – I was in for a talker. Usually on the Amtrak, reserved train folks keep up their Northeast reserve. The unspoken understanding is you open your electronic device and act as if there isn’t another human within miles. However, this blond with the bubble in her voice hadn’t read the manual. As someone trying to figure out how to adapt Jewish organizations to meet today’s challenges, I’m sure glad she didn’t.

“I do this commute four days a week, Philadelphia to New York. I’ve never seen the schedules so off.” Attention. I had to put my device down because that’s my story too. As the conversation went from slithering sidewalks to how to recreate the work of a traditional organization, I asked her “Do you mind if I take notes?”

Was she talking about banks or synagogues? This is what I learned from the Wharton graduate who works for innovative products at American Express.

“People don’t want to interact with banks the way they used to, the way their parents did. It used to be that people built a history and trust with the bank over time. The bank was a constant in the community. People physically walked in. They had credentials, birth certificates and documentation and a longstanding relationship with the bank. But the demographics are changing. From our research, we learned that 30 million people can’t get a traditional account. And, we learned they don’t want one. Today people want it their way.

She continued, “I work on creating new products that help people connect with banks. I used to work for another international bank. They are big… so big that they don’t really care what customers want or which new products they need. But at American Express they need to care.” She explained a lot of her work is, “Soliciting feedback. We need to be asking enough questions to hear what people need. People are getting their banking needs (wow, spiritual/ religious needs) in other non-traditional places. People are turning to Google and Pay Pal because they are listening to what people want. There are no hoops to jump through and a low barrier to entry.”

She explained how banks now have offer different levels of accounts. So if you don’t want to sign up or answer a lot of questions, you can still get a service. People don’t want to hear a minimum balance is required or that you are only open certain hours. They value technology. They move fast. “When I worked at the other bank they moved really slowly. We couldn’t move fast because there were so many committees. At American Express we have enterprise in order to survive. We know people are saying, ‘I like my coffee this way and they get it. So they are also saying ‘I want my banking this way.’”

“How do you figure out what products to test market?” I asked (Hey I took a course at Wharton once).

“We work closely with partners like Walmart, Target, Zynga along with other gaming and travel services. The best partnerships happen when you combine. Positioning is very important. Where do you fit in the customers mind? (GREAT QUESTION… Don’t love the answers that come to my mind.) Where is my position in the market? How can we combine ourselves in the consumers mind; Target and American Express? She went on, “With partners you say, what do I bring and what you bring to the table? And does this meet our goals? This leads you to try different things. And we get an immense amount of feedback. Trying something new every two weeks, we found we’ve had to invest in the emotional part of the product. We think about what the Experience will look like and then we get ten people off the street to go through the experience and, ask ‘What do you think?’”

I could tell that my train companion really wanted to shift the conversation and talk about her upcoming wedding at the Kimmel Center. Her dress was gorgeous and wow what a handsome groom! But, I wanted to spend the time before we hit 30th street getting her advice about how to create ways for people to connect with synagogues. I also know people now want it their way, not the way their parents wanted it, and who can get it from other sources on their own terms.

She had given me the right advice?

  • Try lots of things … every two weeks.
  • Work with partners, and bring what you have together to meet your goals.
  • Ask. And ask again – get lots of feedback.
  • Hit the emotional connection.
  • Be flexible.
  • Don’t get caught in committee.
  • What else?

Let go of that Northeast reserve once in a while. Look up from your electronic device. Something worthwhile may be right in front of you.

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