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Vito Labellarte

Create a Path to Well-being with Debt Consolidation.

By Mark's Minutes

Over the past few years, runaway inflation has pressured consumers to rely on additional debt to maintain their current lifestyle. According to Experian, overall debt levels increased 4.5% to $16.84 trillion.

In percentage terms, credit card and personal loan debt grew the most in 2023, increasing by 16.3% and 21.3%, respectively.

Today, the typical household has an average of $23,000 in non-mortgage loans, with approximately $6,000 in credit card debt.

With the new year in full swing, consumers will look for ways to manage the increased debt load and payments. This is a great time to introduce a debt consolidation promotion. Key target users will have either a high-balance credit card or a personal loan account.

According to a recent case study by Chimney, several key components made their Debt Consolidation program effective:

• A dedicated landing page explaining the program
• Interactive financial calculators so consumers can see their potential for savings
• Comprehensive advertising and communication outreach, including direct mail, ATM ads, digital lobby screens, branch posters, social media posts, and more.

At Westamerica, we always recommend both targeted emails and direct mail to help ensure offer delivery. Direct mail letters can also include pre-approved cashable checks, mini-applications, and support materials showing the power of debt reduction. Contact us for ideas and samples of effective direct mail.


24% of Consumers Would Choose a Local Institution for Their Next Credit Card read more>

How credit unions can help members to build financial resilience read more>

Members are hungry for guidance and intervention read more>

2024 Marketing Planner – A free tool to help you plan your marketing and brainstorm new ideas. Download>

Deposit Growth Strategies for Q1

By Mark's Minutes

The choices consumers have today for deposit relationships are broader than ever before. Internet banking options changed the game for everyone.

Ron Shevlin from Cornerstone Advisors warns, “The older Millennials predominantly went to Megabanks when they opened checking accounts. But the younger Millennials, and to a good extent Gen Zers aren’t going to megabanks. They are opening up digital accounts with digital banks, fintechs and others. Some are opening up second and third accounts with newer players.”

Today’s consumers demand real value, tech-friendly services, great pricing (rates), and easy account opening. The brand with the most relevance to the consumer wins out.

Winning the deposit game comes down to several core strategies.

While there are many paths to accomplishment, make sure that you explore the following as you prepare for this year. Now is the time to go on the offensive!

Brand Experience

Most of the pressure you will face is the “brand experience.” How does your brand meet the demands of today’s consumers? How much digital adoption have you allowed? How easy is it to open an account electronically? For instance, SoFi has an amazing experience, and they nurture the consumer with many other tools and insights. Prices and fees are not the only reason people select an account. Work hard to fix the deficient areas of your brand experience.

Acquisition Strategies

When looking at your deposit options, note the three unique categories and approaches to grow your base:

• Transaction Accounts – By far, the bread and butter includes checking and savings. Driving new business in this category should focus on key attributes important to your target customer. Many can be leveraged today, including High Rate Checking/Savings, Low/No Fee ATMs, faster access to cash and deposits, and other niche services.

Promoting these accounts can include a broad form of traditional media, targeted email, and direct mail. Some companies are even bringing back gift incentives for opening new accounts. Don’t be afraid to lead with a high-interest checking account.

• CD/Money Market Accounts – This is a price game right now with a 5% minimum APY to be credible in the market. With the Fed halting rate increases and the likelihood of rate stabilization coming in 2024, you’ll want to feature shorter-term CDs with higher initial rates so you can adjust going forward. These products need to be pushed into the market by all traditional media means.

• Retirement Accounts – Don’t forget the demand for traditional and Roth IRAs. These are products that people are shopping for, so don’t be afraid to use more traditional tools such as: Branch merchandising, Outside banners, posters and window signs, Digital and Traditional advertising.

Development and Retention

Cross-selling new accounts is crucial to keeping current clients and creating “sticky” relationships. In a recent case study from Onoative, one of its credit union customers encouraged indirect auto loan holders to open a checking account with an offer that leveraged the original relationship (the indirect loan) and a direct mail letter that included a QR code. The campaign had a target audience of 2,782, and the credit union gained 116 new checking account relationships – an impressive conversion rate of 4.2%.

For more great ideas for growing deposits, download Westamerica’s Deposit Success Brochure here: Deposit_Success.pdf

Lending Trends in 2023 – Growth Strategies for 2024

By Mark's Minutes, Uncategorized

While challenges with liquidity issues have buffeted the lending landscape, it still warrants a thoughtful strategy for success in the coming year. As you look ahead to what will likely be a challenging market, more discernment and targeted programming will be necessary.

Consumer lending trends for 2023 show:
• Cost of lending increasing for the consumer – Rate increases have made purchases for more expensive items like autos and homes out of reach. Consumers are now unable to qualify for many loans.

• Cost per loan increasing for the institution – According to the Federal Reserve, automotive lender rejection rates grew from 9.1% in February to 14.2% in June. This spike illustrates how quickly economic factors can impact credit access. Credit bureau service costs have also increased, making writing each successful loan more costly.

The economic impact of general softening follows the basic law of supply and demand. The prices of loans have increased, and the demand for items that are the beneficiaries of those loans has decreased. This is borne out by information from PSCU that shows consumer purchases softened in October, and the rate of growth continued to diminish to the lowest point of 2023.

This trend is expected to persist through 2024 and may take 2-3 years to normalize.

How will this impact 2024 marketing?

With demand falling, companies may instinctively cut marketing investments. You want to advocate for a commitment to marketing in these times, as it is often a chance to grow market share.

Biota Li MacDonald, Director of Marketing Strategy at Compremedia, contends their research supports increased marketing investment and showed the following consumer reactions to marketing during this downturn:
• 29% Researched a product or service online
• 20% Clicked on a social media ad
• 18% Responded to an email offer
• 16% Responded to a direct mail product offer
• 16% Followed a company on social media

As you can see, these consumer actions above are not from organic efforts. They come from a planned schedule of intentional marketing campaigns.

Encourage a balanced approach with 2024 lending marketing initiatives.

Maintain a strong marketing foundation in the coming year. However, ensure your efforts and marketing spending align with the current mix of lending opportunities. For instance, data shows that mortgage lending is down, and personal loans are up.

Think in terms of acquisition and optimization to grow your entire lending portfolio.

Acquisition efforts can be externally focused, reaching out to the marketplace for new lending dollars. Think of these efforts as pursuing new money for auto and personal loans from both new and existing consumers.

As suggested above, you want to use targeted media:
• Highly personalized and targeted direct mail with digital response options (QR codes).
• Personalized emails with splash page fulfillment.
• Social media ads around complementary products and lifestyle pages.

Because the lending space is very competitive, you also want to ensure each lead successfully moves through to closing. Consider additional staff follow-up for each loan lead.

Optimization efforts are funds/revenues secured through internal means. For instance, moving a consumer to a more profitable product. Focusing on these incremental optimization efforts during more difficult times can help you improve your overall business and build increased consumer account depth.

Work closely with your data and product teams to identify where there may be opportunities for improvement. Then, reach out to these consumers with email, direct mail, and personal calls to present these options.

The industry is in a challenging place going into the next year. If you need a ready partner for all things marketing, consider your friends at Westamerica. We exist to help you grow!

Fed rates and inflation have pushed consumer debt to new heights.

By Mark's Minutes

The growth rate is slowing, but consumers added $73 billion in Q2 2023, bringing the total owed to lenders to $16.84 trillion, per Experian.

Average credit card balances now range from $3,000 to $8,000, and interest rates have surged to an average of 24%. Rising rates and balances are hitting consumers hard, and the impact is expected to worsen with the holiday season.

Solving the Problem with a 1, 2, 3 approach

1) Consolidation

Prepare for debt consolidation promotions now. As January’s credit card bills arrive, you want to be present with solutions to help.
Direct Mail Invitation: A comprehensive mailer/letter could include a small worksheet to help them identify their current debt challenges.
In-branch and Outdoor Merchandising: Expect to see consumers in January and February as they begin to feel the strain.
Outbound emails: Alerting consumers to the service options. You should include all accounts in these offers.

Help consolidate higher balances into a more convenient, lower-cost option. With most homeowners sitting on record equity balances, a home equity solution might be perfect for consolidating higher-rate loans.

2) Balance Transfer

Today, most consumers possess three or more credit cards. With increasing balances, many will consider consolidating to fewer cards. However, getting consumers to switch requires aggressive marketing and highlighting product benefits beyond lower rates.

According to Mercator Advisory Group’s Report: 2021, here are the most important factors users consider when choosing a credit card:
• 62% – no annual fee
• 50% – attractive points/rewards program
• 33% – a competitive APR
• 23% – strong fraud protective features
• 21% – good customer service

That means you will likely need to have many of these features to move consumers over to your card.

Letter checks are the best promotional approaches we have seen for a balance transfer campaign. The letter check presents a cashable check that can be used to pay off other loans.

3) Education

Like any major life event, correcting a family’s financial health involves a short-term transition like the above, along with some education to avoid this circumstance in the future. Many younger consumers may have yet to learn how to live within their means and will likely repeat this behavior in the future.

Support your efforts above with budgeting and account education programs. These are critical to creating a sound financial footing for your consumers over the long term.

Rely on Westamerica for Your 2024 Marketing Needs

As you finalize your priorities for 2024, remember that we’re in your corner with over 30 years of Financial Marketing experience.

And remember to download our marketing planner for some additional helpful tools. It’s free!

Four Pillars of Financial Marketing Success for 2024

By Mark's Minutes

Countdown to 2024 – Are you Ready?

Happy November! We’re now less than 60 days from the new year, and many are still scrambling to finalize marketing plans and budgets. Will you repeat last year’s basic plan, or have you adjusted to make next year even better?

The Four Pillars of Financial Marketing Success in 2024

Amid all the chaos today, your institution can differentiate by focusing on four key pillars for success:

1 – Consumer Centricity
The Financial Services Industry was built on trust. In today’s environment, reinforcing your position of trust starts with understanding, supporting, and responding before competitors do. The institutions that garner the most trust will be those committed to understanding consumer needs by using insights from deep data.

Mining data to provide timely products shows a level of care that few currently offer. After all, if I can’t count on my primary institution for the best, timely solutions, what type of relationship do I really have?

Having the right data at the right time is a start. Communicating consistently, strategically, and effectively is where the payoff exists. Are you using all channels of distribution – in branch, email, direct mail, and other preferred methods?

Lastly, many institutions have eliminated one fact-filled, quick-read tool that reminds the account holder each month of their relationship – the newsletter. Few consumers visit the website to find out what is going on at your institution. If you no longer produce a newsletter, it’s time to bring it back.

2 – Financial Proficiency
Today’s consumer expects more insight and help with their financial decisions. The increasing Gen Z and Millennial segments understand how to access financial products, but they have yet to learn how to manage finances.

According to The Financial Brand, 69% of Millennials cite getting out of debt as their biggest financial goal, and 96% regret some aspect of their financial picture. This means these same consumers didn’t understand how to balance debt with their financial well-being.

Why? Most financial providers are only interested in the short-term benefit of the product sale. They haven’t embraced the opportunity to be a Financial Coach.

You can differentiate with a commitment to educate consumers while also servicing their product needs. Make the strategic decision to apply “human” staff to a higher level of knowledge and expertise while deploying your technical/digital support towards “transactional activity.”

Fill your branches with printed educational information, planning tools, seminars, webinars and even life coaching information so you can help consumers build their own financial security.

3 – Lending Relevancy
The lending market was turned on its head in 2023. With the costs of funds growing, retail lending and credit card rates have increased substantially. Rates grew so fast that everyone has had trouble realizing the new normal.

This IS the new normal. We need to adjust.

Lending rates must be relevant to today’s environment, not the one we came from. In talking to our customers, we find many “waiting for rates to go down” before they begin promoting loans again. In the meantime, consumers are going to their competitors for loans.

Being “relevant” within the lending space also means being present with fair rates and exceptional support. Your sales proposition should be to provide the best rates you can while delivering the right products to the right consumers at the right time.

This means you will likely need to increase your marketing budget for loan acquisition. With a tighter market and more competition, you’ll find greater success in using all your tools for building awareness and presenting relevant offers.

Use the power of pre-approved loan offers delivered via mail and email to a consumer who has shown a likelihood for a loan. Pre-approvals leverage data to drive convenient lending.

4 – Deposit Sufficiency
The current deposit environment will continue in 2024, so it’s essential to build a strategy around “sufficient” rates to help fuel your lending needs.

Generating deposits is easy when you have the highest rates in town, but few can afford it. When you adopt a strategy of sufficiency, it means you must work more diligently to acquire deposits. Key activities include:

• Ongoing outbound mailings and emailing to high deposit accounts and consumers.
• Retention programs that protect the deposit base
• Switching campaigns to move checking money to longer-term accounts with rate incentives.
• Staff incentive programs that support retention efforts
• Bundling campaigns to build more deposit relationships with the sale of other products.
• A stronger effort in longer-term and retirement products

Lastly, make sure to educate all staff members on how and why deposits are important. Many have never experienced a rate environment like this.

Rely on Westamerica for Your 2024 Marketing Needs

As you finalize your priorities for 2024, remember that we are in your corner with over 30 years of Financial Marketing experience.

And don’t forget to download our FREE marketing planner for additional helpful tools.

Strategic Creative Planning for 2024

By Mark's Minutes

It starts with your collective team including outsourced resources.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Andrew Carnegie

Who Makes Up Your team?

As you start planning for 2024, evaluating inward and outward resources is essential. Who makes up your key team members? Which roles are handled from inside your department, inside your company, and outside through your vendor team?

Today, many of our clients manage departments of varying sizes. Some have large contingents of personnel representing creative design, data analytics, content marketing, web admins, email/digital specialists, and more.

Inside and Outside Teams

Successful organizations often rely on an even number of inside and outside resources to get things done. In fact, the best departments will expand their external teams to gain access to the freshest and most objective ideas. Ironically, sometimes working with the inside team can even be more difficult than working with an outside provider!

Often, the biggest drawback to effective department synergy is a combination of 1) failure to establish a project goal and 2) strong communication and feedback about reaching the goal.

Goal Setting

Nothing is more powerful in an organization or department than a unified goal. You make the effort real when you state the goal to your team clearly and succinctly. (The SMART goal format is a great place to start). How-to-write-a-smart-goal-template

Once you establish the goal, it’s your job to keep momentum by updating your collective team on progress.

Communication and Feedback

When you break the project goals down to individual responsibilities, it’s easier to keep everyone on track. Every member of the team should be clear on expectations and completion dates.

Outside teams can also offer more support and perspective when they see the entire picture, not just the small sliver of activity that represents their contribution.

Course Correction and Adjustments

If the assumptions you made or expected results are not materializing, you must be flexible to change. Course corrections during the journey are warranted if it means that the journey will be more successful.

A good practice is to check in with key team members and ask if goals are on track or off track. Nobody wins if plans come up short of the true goal.

Building your team and creating a unified focus is critical to your success. Let us know how Westamerica can help.

Don’t Let it Sneak Up on You – Holiday Marketing Planning Starts Now!

By Mark's Minutes

If you wait until Halloween to start thinking about the Holiday season, you’ll miss the opportunity. That’s why major retailers are already displaying holiday items in their stores…right now. You can actually purchase your pre-lit Christmas tree today at Costco.

The Holiday period is traditionally seen as immediately following Halloween. From November 1 through December 26, you have the chance to build business opportunity for your organization and your consumers.

Holiday Marketing Opportunities

Holiday promotional themes are as timeless as the holidays themselves. In fact, The Financial Brand has reported on the major holiday promotional opportunities. It’s an extensive list but some our favorites include proven tactics such as Holiday Loans, Skip-a-Payment Promotions and Free Gift Wrapping.

Holiday Loan Campaigns

During this time of year, consumers are looking for that little extra to get them through the heavy shopping period. It’s a natural time to reach out with a lifeline for some extra funds.

We are fond of small loan amounts that can be presented in many ways including branch merchandising, direct mail letterchecks, email announcements and statement inserts. The key is to ensure that all consumers have a chance to participate at their appropriate lending level.

Here is a great example of a campaign we prepared for our client, University Credit Union: Instant Loan UCU.pdf

Skip-a-Pay Offers

Skip-a-pay loans have been popular for years. It’s a simple concept with big benefits. And it’s one that consumers appreciate. Especially during the holidays when things can be tight.

The concept is simple, and you can use with many types of accounts.

For instance, if you have an auto loan that you want to promote for your skip, simply allow the consumer to skip the next payment, and add that payment to the end of the loan. Some institutions add a small charge for the convenience which helps to offset the loss in the loan revenue.

An example might be a $600 car loan payment that you allow to skip for a $75 convenience fee. That $600 gets added at the back end of the loan so you haven’t lost it.

In most circumstances, this is a win for both you and your account holders as the small price they pay to skip a loan is a big benefit over the next payment they may have to make. That extra breathing room might be enough to help them avoid missing a payment and incurring late charges or start a downhill slide.

Gift Wrapping/Paper

How about a nice premium that brings people into your offices? Custom gift-wrapping paper and/or gift wrapping service allows you to generate some much needed face time with your consumers. It gives you a chance to help them with an important holiday chore, and reconnect with your staff and products.

Customized wrapping paper featuring your logo and/or design can be produced for pennies. Offering consumers both free wrapping paper and wrapping services are a sure fire method to generate attention.

Staying Top Of Mind – Proven “Old School” Methods

By Mark's Minutes

I’ve been working in the marketing communication space longer than I care to admit. (Actually I do admit it at the bottom of the page! 😃)

I’ve seen our approach to consumer communication shortened, streamlined, and sped up. All in an effort to be “more efficient and effective.”

The shift from analog to digital, along with the programmatic methods of connecting, targeting, and pushing has eliminated some fond and friendly methods. Methods that were steeped in tradition, and valued for their relevance and impact.

Digital media does not build emotional connection like print media

In 2016, researchers from the University of Maryland published their findings on this topic in The Journal of Experimental Education. Their research suggest that printed marketing materials tend to outperform digital when it comes to reading comprehension, recall, emotional impact and persuasiveness.

The researchers first asked college students which medium they preferred to use for studying, and which they felt offered them the best recall. Ironically, students overwhelmingly chose digital content for both responses. However, when they were tested on their actual retention of information, the results demonstrated that these students clearly had better recall after reading printed materials.

Explore some favorite ways to add more balance to your Marcom mix

Like any good mix, strive for a balance. New and old. Digital and analog. Online and in person. Here are some great (many forgotten) tools that are still being used by many of our clients:

The Wall Calendar – The printed wall calendar is alive and well. In the past week alone, I’ve received two wall calendars in the mail from organizations I do business with. The obvious benefit – I think of them every time I look at the calendar. Make sure to create one that is relevant to you and your audience. We produce many with photos submitted by clients. You can pull together imagery of all types all long as it is relevant and supports your brand. Consider customizing the dates with important local information, suggestions, or helpful tips.

The Thank You Card – Does your organization have a formal thank you card that your front line team can use? A thank you email is one thing…and EVERYONE uses them (along with a survey that nobody wants to answer). But the card that is handwritten knows no equal in impact. People open them, read them, sometimes share them and often keep them. Do you have a stash of professionally printed thank you cards with matching envelopes? Perhaps you should.

The Holiday Card Mailing – Do you reach out to your clients on the holidays? Few people do anymore. Instead, they send out another email wishing “wonderful seasons greetings” or some other worn sentiment. A thoughtful card, preferably signed, is a message that will likely be displayed around the office. Plus, the creative options are endless. From ornaments to music playlists and funny photos with QR codes to link to videos, the chance to put a smile on a face and a warm spot in the heart is increased.

Interested in some of these ideas? Just drop me a line and I’ll send you samples for your review

Winning the Battle Against Buy Now & Pay Later Programs

By Mark's Minutes

The field of players in the “Buy Now Pay Later” service, or BNPL continue to grow. This year has seen the addition of Apple into the mix with their “Apple Pay Later” offering. Apple joins a growing field of payment providers that are offering the “installment loan” solution to purchases.

Installment loans are the age-old method of “paying later.” Most of the early installment loans were retailer driven. You wanted to buy something buy couldn’t afford it, the retailer would book the sale and take your down payment and then bill you for the difference. It might be a 12 or 24 month schedule with interest payments included.

New “No Interest” Payment Programs

These BNPL loans are now referred to as point-of-sale financing.

Buy it now, but pay it later. And, without any interest payments. This sure seems like a free lunch. However, if you miss a payment there often is a large late fee for some providers. In the case of Apple Pay Later, if you miss a payment your future purchases are prohibited.

Still, many are signing on to the service. It’s estimated that today, there are in excess of $100 Billion in annual loans and growing.

Younger Consumers are Using BNPL

According to statistics from Cornerstone Advisors, the usage of BNPL skews younger, with the largest segment being Millennials. Currently, 41% of Millennials are using the service:

Gen Z (21-25) 36%
Millennials (26-40) 41%
Gen X (41-55) 30%
Boomers (56-75) 18%

With so many younger consumers using the service, it’s critical to maintain a retention strategy to avoid losing these relationships.

What Can You Do to Compete?

Cody Banks from PSCU explained the challenge this way, “Institutions should package BNPL services in a way that promotes responsible use AND aligns with the institution’s vision.”

Today, you can partner with a provider to offer similar services to remain relevant in all categories of payment/lending services. But this isn’t a winning strategy on its own. You must also leverage the other advantages that your institution brings to the relationship.

Leverage BNPL to grow the Complete Relationship

Offering a BNPL is just one leg of the service stool. Like any tool that facilitates spending, it can be misused. For many it can lead to unintended consequences…like spending more than you earn.

Instead, resolve to be a proactive resource with financial wellness initiatives and products that feature low fees and low interest. Actively reach out to the younger segments to help them build good credit habits with a starter credit card, or offer a balance transfer from a higher rate card to yours.

Because these are smaller balances and transactions, this strategy won’t drive short-term profits. However, it will build a deeper relationship and a meaningful access to these consumers as they grow and evolve.

Solving Borrowers Long-term Needs

By Mark's Minutes

The economy keeps chugging along despite the predictions from seemingly everyone. Although interest rates have increased, all signs are showing that the economy is resilient. But things aren’t exactly what they seem. It depends on where you look.

There are areas of growing consumer risk.

Credit Card Debt is Climbing

A recent article from CBS News reports the following:

“More Americans are racking up credit card debt as inflation pushes up the cost of food, utilities and other staples.” And, “60% of credit card holders have been carrying balances on their cards for at least a year, up 10% from 2021.”

“59% of Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year carry a credit card balance from month to month,” the reporting notes. “The percentage drops slightly to 49% for those who earn between $50,000 and $80,000 and dips again to 46% for people making $80,000 to $100,000 a year.”

Most people don’t want to compromise their lifestyle choices when they are coming up short during these inflationary times. So, they are making up the difference with credit card spending.

And with some of today’s credit card rates hovering around 25%, it doesn’t take long to rack up massive debt.

The Real Cost of Consumer Debt

Making excessive interest payments is not a healthy practice. The credit card trap relies on those that get into a terrible habit of running up balances, resorting to the minimum balance payment, and never paying off the principal. Once you arrive at the cycle, it’s almost impossible to break.

And, when someone does default, everybody else pays for it through higher rates and fees.

Repackaging Loans and Educating Consumers

Before things get worse, now is that time to reach out to those account holders in need. You can pro-actively move those high balance accounts into lower priced options, such as home equity loans. But just as important as solving that initial problem, you can augment this effort with some financial education to help your users from becoming a statistic.

Tools that can help you focus their efforts on sound financial management include:

• Webinars covering the ABCs of household finances

• Educational web pages sharing the true cost of financial decisions

• Financial planning brochures with worksheets and budgeting tools

• Individual counseling

While many of these tools have been in existence for years, often people don’t notice their availability or their need until they are beginning to face financial discomfort. And that becomes the time that you can help them plot a new trajectory for their life.

Help them now…and forever.