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The Continuing Saga of Banking's Battle with Uncle Sam.

It was a few months ago that this story came to light and we wrote about it; here was Uncle Sam once again using its giant governmental mitt to meddle with the banking system. First, with making the postal service a financial services provider, and then with this notion that it’s a good idea to take banks out of the lending business.

At the time, Alex Sanchez, President and CEO of the Florida Bankers Association said that legislation approved by the House Small Business Committee “included an option for the SBA to originate and disburse direct loans” and that this was yet "another zany idea” that’s been floated out by the current administration.

Well, the saga continues. In a recent Center Square article, “Kennedy warns against proposed SBA direct lending program, Louisiana’s Senator Kennedy talks about sensible efforts to put this to bed once and for all. He, along with several other Republican lawmakers and multiple banking associations, warn against crowding out private lending entities in favor of a government agency. Kennedy and others have sent a letter to Senate leadership, focusing on a critical piece of the story: past abuses regarding singular SBA direct loan initiatives. Just a few weeks ago, Kennedy along with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and 18 cosponsors, including Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, introduced legislation to block the proposed 7(a) practice outright. In a nutshell, their letter leveled this criticism: “The report (referring to the Office of the Inspector General’s report),) estimates that the government-run lending initiative advanced $79 billion in potentially fraudulent loans.”

 When this conversation started, Ian McKendry, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, was quoted in “Proposed SBA expansion into direct lending irks banks, credit unions,” as saying that his group “wants to better understand why it makes sense to create a direct lending program to compete with banks that are already meeting demand for 7(a) loans. This could have the unintended effect of making it more difficult for some lenders to continue participation in the 7(a) program.”

Well, a few months have passed now and Mr. McKendry is really no closer to getting a “better understanding.” It just doesn’t make sense for the SBA to make direct loans. Unless, of course, we’re willing to see billions of dollars go out to fraudulent loan applicants.  And unless, of course, we’re also unwilling to believe what’s in the Office of the Inspector General’s report, which states: “Additionally, we have found indications of deficiencies with internal controls related to disaster assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic. Our review of SBA’s initial disaster assistance response has identified $250 million in economic injury loans and advance grants given to potentially ineligible recipients. We have also found approximately $45.6 million in potentially duplicate payments.”

Proponents of the provision, known as Section 100502, or the Funding for Credit Enhancement and Small Dollar Loan Funding, are still adamant about not leaving lending with banks. Just a few days ago, on January 12, Hon. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, wrote on The Committee on Small Business website:

“Since 2020, SBA has distributed nearly $1 trillion in economic relief to small firms. This figure surpasses the amount of money distributed in all other years of SBA’s existence combined. This is an enormous achievement and helped keep millions of small businesses afloat during the pandemic. However, with any emergency effort of this magnitude, problems will inevitably occur. According to investigations, the COVID-EIDL and Paycheck Protection Programs have been vulnerable to fraud. Much of this potential fraud can be traced back to the early days of the pandemic when programs were new, loan volume was high, and the need to get the loans out quickly was the priority. Your report also notes that in 2020, the previous administration “relaxed internal controls,” adding significant stress to the system and creating an environment ripe for fraud.”

Ah, so it was the previous administration’s fault. Isn’t it always? It is, at worst, an interesting story to follow and I can’t wait to see how it ends. Or, should I say IF it ends?

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit BankMarketingCenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

 

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The Power, and Importance, of Positioning.

A week or so ago, we talked about inclusivity and the importance of defining your target audience. Today, we’ll talk a bit about the very important role that the target audience plays in another crucial component of marketing: Positioning.

What is it? There was a great book published back in 2001 called “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind,” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It emphasized the importance and impact of companies taking a unique position in the market, and at the risk of over-simplifying things a bit here, it's "the process of defining the position held by a product or brand in the mind of consumers, in comparison to its competitors.” Trout and Ries went onto say that positioning “is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”

According to HubSpot, and I agree wholeheartedly, “positioning influences everything your business presents and shares about your product and brand with your target audience. Your internal teams benefit greatly from effective positioning, too — it helps sales reps, marketers, and service and support teams create more delightful and on-brand experiences for customers.” For banks, for instance, positioning defines and drives the consumer touch/engagement points across your target’s entire experience, from print ad, website, and Twitter feed to both your online/mobile and in-branch banking experiences.

So, now what? We develop a “positioning statement,” which will ensure that our marketing messaging stands out, resonates with target consumers, and compels them to take action. And, we’ll articulate this in the simplest terms possible; by answering four simple questions:

  1.         Target Market: What target audience are you attempting to attract?
  2.         Market Definition: In what category is your brand competing?
  3.         Brand Promise: What main benefit distinguishes you from your competition?
  4.         Reason to Believe: What compelling evidence supports your brand promise?

 I found what can serve as a pretty good illustration of the positioning process, courtesy of Element7 Digital. 

Now let’s see how this template can be used to build a brand positioning statement for a make-believe brand called GRAYS Cookies:

 

The Result - A Positioning Statement for GRAY'S Cookies

For the healthy proactive preventers, who want to do more for their health, Gray’s is a guilt-free cookie that tastes good yet allows you to stay in control of your health. That’s because in blind taste tests, Gray’s matched the leaders on taste, but with only 100 calories and 3g of carbs. In fact, in a 12-week study, consumers using Gray’s once a night as a desert were able to lose 5-10 pounds.

Now, go. Write that Positioning Statement!

Here’s the thing — or one of the things, anyway — about positioning... and it's very important. Whether you develop a positioning for your brand or not, you have one. And that’s because it will just “happen” on its own, if you don’t wrangle it. Don’t let that happen. It may not be what you want it to be.

As always, this is not intended to be an MBA level marketing course.  Honestly, a truly thorough discussion of positioning alone could constitute a 3-credit college course. The intent here is to introduce you to the concept, some of the principles and, hopefully, enough inspiration that you’re motivated to take on this challenge. If you do devote the time and energy required, you will quickly find that you now have a roadmap that can take your business far into the future. 

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit BankMarketingCenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

 

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BNPL. The High Cost of Low-Cost Lending.

Granted, I’m not an economist. I’m a marketing guy. So, to a certain extent, when it comes to the economy and predicting what the future holds, I pretty much have to rely on those folks who at least seem to know what they’re doing. But, you needn’t have a PhD in Economics to see that, well, we’re headed for tough times. Whether the fed raises interest rates two times or three times, or even four times next year is up for debate. And, as for the size of those rate increases, that is, too. Where am I going with this? BNPL, or Buy Now, Pay Later.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about BNPL lately. It’s a hot topic. In fact, the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) industry is booming, having generated nearly $100 billion in 2020, and projected to reach $3.98 trillion by 2030. I’m wondering, though… is getting into BNPL a good thing for community banks? Especially at a time when the economy seems just a bit less than robust.

On the upside, I understand that BNPL is convenient and low-cost — at least compared to credit cards — and consumers, especially younger ones, seem to love it. And heck, it appears to be awfully profitable for providers. Lots of non-bank, BNPL service providers such as PayPal, Klarna, and Affirm seem to be making a lot of money. On the consumer side, there’s the benefit, or so I’ve read, that “when used responsibly,” that BNPL can actually help consumers manage their budgets. But I’ve read the same about “responsible use” when it comes to credit cards and alcohol. And so, it goes.

On the downside, I gather that lenders make more money with traditional installment loans than they do with BNPL transactions. In addition, with its fees and administrative costs, BNPL can be expensive for merchants. Yet another downside is “regulatory scrutiny.” The Financial Brand points out, in The Dark Side of Buy Now, Pay Later, “compared to the heavily regulated credit card industry, BNPL providers have operated with relatively limited oversight. This is a risk to BNPL firms, especially as regulatory scrutiny has been on the rise.” FinTech AfterPay, for example, paid a roughly $1 million settlement to California’s Department of Business Oversight, which found that the company structured products to evade otherwise applicable consumer protections and made loans to California residents without a valid license.

Then there’s the potential for fraud. According to the Payments Journal’s article BNPL and Fraud: Riskier than Credit Cards, “It is tough enough to fight fraud when you have sound credit underwriting. Regulatory standards to ensure you “know your customer” (KYC) and that they have the “ability to repay” (ATR) help vet out many criminals. But certainly not every crook gets caught.” With lighter credit standards, BNPL experiences higher risk, and BPNL fraud is on the rise. From CNBC’s Criminals love BNPL, “Buy now, pay later services aren’t just popular among consumers. They’re also proving to be a hit with criminals. Criminal gangs are exploiting weaknesses in the application process experts say, using clever tactics to slip through undetected and steal items ranging from pizza and booze to video game consoles. One of the vulnerabilities is BNPL firms’ reliance on data for approving new clients. Many companies in the industry don’t conduct formal credit checks, instead using internal algorithms to determine creditworthiness based on the information they have available to them.”

Then there’s the risk of default. While BNPL options are becoming increasingly popular, analysts warn of default risks given the lack of credit checks and “opaque” debt reporting. Not checking a consumers’ credit history could lead to underestimating a borrowers’ debt levels when assessing new loan applications. There’s also the risk, some analysts warn, of consumers chalking up more credit card debt in order to pay off their BNPL obligations. According to a study by Credit Karma, 40% of U.S. consumers who used BNPL missed more than one payment, and 72% of those saw their credit score decline. And The Financial Brand goes on to point out that “16% of users admit to having had regrets over BNPL purchases. Among the reasons: the purchase was ultimately too expensive; late fees were high; easy credit led to buying something not needed; and finding that some lenders’ policy of not putting BNPL deals through credit bureaus meant the debt did not build credit.”

Finally, as we are clearly headed toward more economic uncertainty, along with a rise in both the cost of goods and of credit, is making it easier for consumers to borrow money a good idea?

What do you think?

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.