A paradox is an unanswerable question. One famous example is: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” This question dates back to ancient China and is credited with creating the word “contradiction” in the Chinese language. The adjectives do the heavy lifting here. If something is truly unstoppable, an immovable object can’t stop it, and the force can’t move it.

So, what gives? Nothing. Except maybe our minds—which tend to explode over problems like this.

Banking also has a conundrum.

As part of its Unconventional Convention, the American Bankers Association unveiled a research report by Morning Consult that outlined customer sentiment in banking. This study showed a statistically overwhelming positive sentiment for community banks.

89% of those surveyed indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with their primary bank.

96% said their primary bank’s customer service could be characterized as good, very good, or excellent.

That’s a helluva good job! These are awesome stats, and we celebrate with you. The survey goes on to outline even more positivity, specifically around banks’ response COVID-19.

But as we look forward to a day beyond the pandemic, where we fall back into our norms of loans and deposits, this survey provides a bit more information.

Unstoppable Goals. Immovable Customers.

When you look at the data one way, it shows your customers are likely satisfied (or better). This is good news for you. And bad news for every other bank.

But what happens when you’re the other bank? Most banks are flush with deposits due to PPP funds being held, but those dollars will flow out eventually. The world will return to normal (new or not), and we’ll face our old goals.

We learn from the same survey that only 1% of bank clients are very dissatisfied with their primary bank. Another 1% are simply dissatisfied. Generally speaking, customers have to be on the more extreme side of this scale to leave.

New deposits? New loans? Those come from new customers—and we’re faced with asking someone to leave their primary bank where only two out of every hundred customers are looking to leave their bank at any given time.

This is the paradox. Your bank must continue to grow. But customers aren’t looking to leave.

Loosing the Gordian Knot

Some paradoxes do have answers, but you generally have to cheat—or at least think laterally— to find a solution. Another well-known paradox is the Gordian Knot. If you want the full story, I recommend the Wikipedia entry.

The short version is thus: Alexander the Great was confronted with a prophecy: an oxcart was hitched to a post with the Gordian Knot—one so complex it could not be untied. It was foretold that whoever unraveled this knot and unhitched the cart would be the ruler of all of Asia (then defined as basically the Middle-East).

Although Alexander was great, he first approached the problem as most of us would: when confronted with a knot, one tries to untie it. The problem was the knot was so tangled and intricate that it was truly impossible to untie. We do it all the time. We confront a problem based on preconceived notions. This is the underlying reason why almost all magic shows are entertaining, and most jokes are funny. The payoffs of both subvert our expectations to humorous or astonishing effect.

There’s another saying: “when you’re a hammer, the world is a nail.” We try to find solutions with the criteria at hand.

There are two versions of Alexander’s solution.

The more straightforward version rumors he cut the rope. Another version (for all the purists) says Alexander pulled the lynchpin of the wagon’s yoke, pulled it through the knot (thus unraveling it), rehitched the yoke, and dusted his hands in satisfaction.

It turns out even paradoxes are paradoxes. What is supposed to be unanswerable can be answered. This is even true of unstoppable forces and immovable objects.

Stopping the Unstoppable

You might say, “But Alexander found a loophole and exploited it!” To that, I say, “yes!” Solutions to complex issues can be found more in looking for answers than the problem itself. What didn’t the rules say?

The place to start on our banking quandary is to stop—stop the 1-2% from leaving your bank.

When researching for this article, a startling trend became apparent: folks aren’t thinking about retention. There is a dearth of research on what makes customers leave. There is plenty of data on what they say when they leave, how likely they are to say it, how to re-attract them, the costs associated with customer loss, BUT very little available research on WHY.

The clearest assertation comes from Michael Leboeuf’s book, How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life (2000). Laboef breaks it down as follows:

  • 1% die
  • 3% move away
  • 68% quit because of an attitude of indifference towards the customer by the staff
  • 14 % are dissatisfied with the product.
  • 9% leave because of competitive reasons.

Unless you have a warlock on staff, we can skip addressing “death.” If these general business numbers hold true for banking, the first answer is simple: train your people well. I’m sure when you agree in assuming it’s likely that dissatisfaction in community banking leans more toward product and competitive reasons.

 “We have all the products of a big bank” is a truth, but many of those megabanks outpace the off-the-shelf options given to us by our limited vendors. While there is little you can do about this, you must be willing to push vendors and upgrade when possible. The world waits for no bank.

“Competitive reasons” for banks can probably be expressed as a word: rates. You won’t win every deal. You don’t have to be told this, and there’s not much you can do here. You can determine exactly what’s going on in your bank by performing your own satisfaction survey. It’s a great way to reconnect with clients, hear their needs, and rekindle communication.

We’re only talking about protecting 1-2% who aren’t satisfied, though. Once we have the trickle plugged, it’s time to move onto the more daunting task.

Moving the Immovable

The answer to the first paradox is astoundingly (and perhaps frustratingly simple). What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The force goes around the object. The framework of the problem urges you to solve the problem directly, but more often than not, it’s simpler to sidestep the issue with lateral thinking.

Banks ensnare themselves in this trap almost every time they sit down to create an ad. Look at the field of banking ads. Yes. They’re all the same. And almost all fail to live up to their potential for one key reason: they’re made to convince someone (anyone) your bank is good.

They’re written, designed, filmed, and published to simply inform about your bank. This happens under the guise of “branding.” We have to inform people about our brand!


But now it’s time to upgrade those efforts.

It’s time to consider the 1%.

Before we go any further, let’s back up and look at the numbers. 89% of bank customers are satisfied or very satisfied. Yes, an overwhelming majority, but stop for a second and consider how you’d react if one of every ten customers who interacted with your bank was not satisfied or very satisfied?

One more aside. It’s easy to get too focused on the paradox and say, “Well, if I lose 1% and my competitor loses 1%, we’re just trading customers.” Keep in mind you might have to guard your 1% against ten competitors, but you have the opportunity to grab 1% from each of those ten competitors.

So how do you upgrade your bank ads to win this battle? You create ads for the 1% actually in play—those looking for a new bank. Stop making generic ads stating the obvious to everyone in your town. Think about the person who’s making the drastic decision to leave his/her bank. Would you speak differently to a person you knew was about to make a banking change than one who didn’t give you that information? I hope the answer is “yes.”

While this audience hasn’t raised their collective hands, they’re out there. They’re ready to move. Turn your advertising toward them.

Instead of saying: “We provide really good service!” (like every other bank), say: “Make the move to the banking service you’ve been missing.”

Replace “11 convenient locations” with “Looking for a bank closer to home?” What if they don’t live close to your bank? The message won’t resonate with them. But you know whose bell it will ring? Bingo. Those who live close.

And, yes, target these messages whenever possible. But these are meant as stark examples to confront the innate fear of using a message that might not resonate with everyone in your markets. Would you rather move 100% of your audience 1% or 1% of your audience 100%?

Not convinced? Our methods and philosophies probably don’t resonate with you. It’s ok. You’re part of the immovable 99%. For everyone else, we’ve said enough.

Listen to our bonus discussion with Josh Mabus, Kevin Tate, and Robbie Richardson below.