Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Banking on Strategies for Synagogues

“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 food like a banana didn’t deter this twenty some young woman. 

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 rule is, you simply open your electronic device and act as if there weren’t another human within miles. However, this blond with the bubble in her voice hadn’t read the manual. As someone who is trying to figure out how to change 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 to talk because that’s my story too. As the conversation went from slippery sidewalks to how to re create the work of a traditional organization, I asked, “Do you mind if I take notes?”

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

“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 over time with the bank. 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 what’s going on now, is that the demographics are changing. From our research, we learned that 30 million people are out there who can’t get a traditional account. And, we learned they don’t want one.Today people want it their own way."

“So I work on creating new products that help people connect with banks. I used to work for Citi bank. They are big they don’t really care what customers want or what new products they need. But at American Express they need to care.”

She explained a lot of her work is soliciting feedback. "We have 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, pay pal because they are listening to what people want. There are no hoops to jump through.  There is a low barrier to entry.”

She explained how the banks now 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 that a minimum balance is required or that you are only open certain hours. They value technology. They move fast. “When I worked at Citi bank they moved really slowly. We couldn’t move fast because there were so many committees.”

“At American Express we have enterprise, we have 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 once took a course at Wharton).

“We work closely with partners. Walmart, Target, gaming, Zynga and travel services. The best partnerships are when you combine. Positioning is very important. Where do you fit in the customers mind? (GREAT QUESTION..don’t love the answer 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? With partners you say, “What do I bring and what do you bring to the table? And does this meet our goals?”

And that leads you to “try different things. And we get an immense amount of feedback.”

“We try something new every two weeks. We see 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?”

Then my train companion wanted to tell me 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 on how to create ways for people to connect with synagogues. I also know people who want it their way- not the way their parents wanted it, and who can get it from other sources and get it on their own terms.

She had given me advice right?
*Try lots of things every two weeks.
*Work with partners-bring what you have and what they have to meet your goals.
*Ask, and ask again, get lots of feedback.
*Hit the emotional connection.
*Be flexible. 
*Don’t get caught in committee. 
*Lower the barrier to entry.
*Listen for what people really need

What else?

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