Two community banks lure customers with gas instead of toasters

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2013 - 11:17 AM

Two Minnesota banks joined a national campaign to promote community-based lending — and tricked-out accounts.

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Two community banks in Minnesota are joining a national promotion this week to attract customers by offering free gas.

Photo: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

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Forget toasters or tech gadgets.

Two small Minnesota banks are giving away free gas next week as part of a national “Take Back Your Banking” campaign to promote themselves and the bigger concept of community banking.

It’s a new twist on the promotional giveaway, an age-old bank tradition for luring customers that still thrives even though many lenders are up to their eyeballs in deposits and searching for ways to lucratively deploy them.

It also illustrates how small lenders are tapping the public’s cynicism about big banks, which has grown since the 2008 financial crisis. In another example, Minnesota’s credit unions have been running a “Bankziety” campaign online and Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, one of the state’s largest, gained attention with its “Ditch Your Bank” ad campaign.

“We want to make consumers aware that there is a difference between banking at a community bank and banking at a megabank,” said David Krause, CEO of Pioneer Bank, a $291 million-asset bank based in Mapleton, Minn., near Mankato.

Pioneer Bank is giving away $20 in free gas to the first 200 motorists at the Kwik Trip on Commerce Drive in North Mankato on Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m.

On Thursday, Coulee Bank is doing the same in St. Paul from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Highland Park BP on Randolph Avenue.

About 40 community banks and credit unions around the country are joining in the gas giveaway.

Specifically, they’ll all be pitching their free Kasasa brand checking accounts. Motorists in North Mankato will get a quick sales talk, but also some gas, and probably a free soda and chips, Krause said.

The Kasasa accounts are part of a suite of products offered by BancVue Ltd., a company in Austin, Texas, that offers services to small lenders to help them compete with the big guys.

There is no shortage of organizations trying to help small institutions find a point or two of difference to grab some market share, but BancVue is one of the larger ones, said Thomas Hershberger, president of Cross Financial Group, a bank marketing consultant in Lincoln, Neb.

Hershberger said he hadn’t heard of gas giveaways before.

“I absolutely love the idea,” he said. “It’s a natural if you want to generate a captive audience.”

It’s also economical. It can cost around $250 or more to attract a new checking account customer, he said.

Mark Thorn, senior vice president at La Crosse, Wis.-based Coulee Bank said the Kasasa rewards checking accounts have been a big hit. The bank, with $284 million in assets, now has about 3,500 Kasasa checking accounts. Coulee’s main Twin Cities branch is on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.

The bank pays BancVue a monthly fee based on the number of accounts it signs up. In return, BancVue provides structural, software and marketing support for a Kasasa checking account that pays a high 2.55 percent on the first $15,000. The account at Coulee can tie to a savings account paying 1 percent. Plus, customers get a debit card that pays 3 percent on purchases and works at any ATM. If certain conditions are met, Coulee rebates up to $20 in ATM fees.

As an added bonus, customers earn $5 a month toward digital downloads from iTunes or Amazon for the life of the checking account.

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