Community bankers face one of the harshest competitive environments in any industry. At times it can feel we’re adrift on a sea of sameness—in undersized vessels—while gigantic megabanks churn the waters around us.

It’s difficult. We struggle to differentiate ourselves from similarly-sized competitors while contrasting our value against larger banks.

But there’s an alarming trend that I’ve seen emerge from this. Community banks tend to be very insular and cagey against the competition. This is fine—excepting one thing: too many community bankers have never darkened the door of the competition. This leads to making uninformed claims about our own products and service.

We’re the friendliest bank.

Our service is the best.

We’re much more efficient.

But. Do you really know that?

As with anyone thrown on the waves of choppy water, it’s no wonder we cling to what feels safe.

Have you ever opened an account at a competing bank? Have you ever tried their products or services to make an unbiased comparison against yours?

I’m worried that too many of us will say “no.”

Now, this isn’t some kumbaya guide to getting along. Quite the opposite, actually.

You can look at it two ways:

  1. A vital part of warfare is scouting the enemy.
  2. How can you ethically compare yourself to the competition if you’ve never experienced what they have to offer?

You can pick either because both are true.

Perhaps you say, “We don’t cast ourselves against the competition. We do our own thing—our best every day.” That is a valid and admirable approach. But, again, it’s insular. 

You’re discounting the options from which a potential client must choose. I am not suggesting you advertise “Our bank is better than XYZ Bank.” You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) name the competition. But you can rest assured that clients will consider more than one bank when choosing their primary financial institution. It is your job to understand what your bank does better and make very certain a potential client knows.

I suggest that you can enhance how you serve clients and your community by understanding the offerings present in your bank’s footprint. Otherwise, how do you know what is missing from your bank’s offerings? From your client’s experience? What could you offer that no other bank brings to bear? These could be concrete concepts like products or abstract offerings like service and availability.

Perhaps it’s even simpler.

One day, a bank that serves small businesses will realize that the bank is only open during the entrepreneur’s busiest hours. That bank will shift its hours to 10am – 7pm to be available for that client base and will win business.

We tend to internalize that the grass is always browner on the competitor’s side. This is born from a sort of group egocentrism that “we” (wherever “we” might be) is best. Do you remember early in elementary school when you found out that the United States wasn’t the biggest country? Nor the most populous? There was no reason to have this belief. No one had told us that the US was larger.

We do not need to fall into a similar trap with our banks.

What if you find out the competition is actually super friendly? Or incredibly organized and efficient in processing loans? It probably makes you a bit sick at your stomach to consider that the competition is better in an area or two. Perhaps you find out that you kick THEIR tail.

Regardless, if you haven’t shopped the competition, you don’t know. And that’s dangerous.

I believe in this so much, I took $1,000 of my own money and handed it to Mabus Agency copywriter Riley Manning when he was relatively new to bank marketing. I told him to open 10 bank accounts at 10 banks. It was one of the best training exercises for Riley as he learned about banking. But it was also eye-opening as we engaged with several types of banks. We were constantly surprised about which one was really good (or really bad) in certain aspects of banking.

As you prepare to shop the banks with which you compete, I suggest you watch and listen to Riley as he recounts his adventures—and dig deeper into our special blogs that capture, in detail, what he discovered.

Learn from Riley’s direct experience, but also use our rubric in your approach and valuation of the competition. It’s worth the effort. And your grass will be greener because of it.

Read the details of Riley’s adventure in our blog, 10 Banks 10 Accounts.