3rd party cookies are crumbling. Will your bank really miss them?

computer screen showing cookie allowance button

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the imminent sunsetting of third-party cookies by the internet’s 900-pound gorilla, Google. It all sounds very important and very complex. Is it? Maybe not. And, what are the ramifications for community bank marketers? That’s what really matters!

For starters, what’s a cookie? This analogy, courtesy of Kaspersky, does a great job of summing up, in a succinct, “explain-it-to-me-like-I’m-a-three-year-old way, how cookies work. “To put it simply, cookies are a bit like getting a ticket for a coat check:

  • You hand over your “coat” to the cloak desk. You connect/visit a website and a pocket of data is linked to you on the website’s server. This data can be your personal account, your shopping cart or even just what pages you’ve visited.
  • You get a “ticket” to identify you as the “coat” owner. The cookie (containing the data) is then given to you and stored in your web browser. It has a unique ID especially for you.
  • If you leave and return, you can get the “coat” with your “ticket”. When you revisit the website, your browser gives the website the cookie back. The website then reads the unique ID in the cookie to assemble your activity data, bringing you back to where you were when you first visited, as if you never left.1

Now, what’s a third-party cookie, as opposed to a first-party cookie? 

The difference between first-party and third-party

First-party cookies gather data by observing user behavior that is in response to your marketing, i.e., the content you put out into the marketplace via your company’s website and social media platforms. It’s often analyzed to build out segmentation and targeting efforts. Third-party cookies, on the other hand, come from outside your bank and typically gather data from multiple sources, such as browsing and advertising activities. 

Why are third-party cookies crumbling?

It’s a bit like Big Brother, isn’t it? Well, some folks certainly think it is. While still technically legal in the United States, there’s been a growing regulatory push against them, with the California Consumer Privacy Act and European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation leading the way. Google is simply reading the proverbial tea leaves. And it’s not like this is any kind of late-breaking newsflash, either. Google has given marketers plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable. In fact, it was back in 2020, that Google announced their plan to do away with third-party cookies. The reason?

“After initial dialogue with the web community, we are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete.”2  

Should banks be concerned?

Is the disappearance of third-party cookie data a monumental concern for community banks? I’m not sure that it is, although according to The Financial Brand, “reports suggest that costs for digital marketing and customer acquisition will rise next year as a result. McKinsey reported that those marketers and companies that do not figure out a strategy to grow their access to first-party data may have to spend 10% to 20% more on marketing and sales to generate the same returns.”3 Yes, the last thing you want to hear is that your marketing dollars just aren’t going to go as far this year as they did last year. But, don’t despair; you still have first-party cookie data, and that’s pretty important stuff.

Data, data and more data

Financial institutions, as you know all too well, have mountains of data; so much, in fact, that they’re challenged to store it, analyze it, share it, and extrapolate actionable insights from it. So, are banks crying out for my data? Hardly. Sure, there will be some that miss that third-party cookie data that fin-techs have used so effectively to steal their business. As The Financial Brand points out, “when it comes to acquiring new people looking for banking products, especially people researching online, financial institutions have largely left prospects to be snapped up by other providers — namely, fintechs.” 

And, it’s true. An online consumer surfing the web in search of banking services – such as a low-interest auto loan or to open a checking account – might visit your site, then leave it … for whatever reason. 

A fin-tech then uses that third-party cookie data to get that online consumer’s attention. Again, from The Financial Brand: “Nearly half of the checking accounts opened in the United States in the first half of 2023 were opened with digital banks and fintechs, according to Cornerstone Advisors. Square courted new customers while traditional banking institutions were waiting for people to convert on their websites.” 

Why first-party data is far superior

First-party, existing customer data is much more granular than that gathered by third-party cookies, and can be leveraged for various targeting exercises, whether it’s for marketing to your current customer base or new customers. Remember, thanks to first-party data, as a bank marketer, you know your customer purchasing habits from the accounts they own and the loans they pay, to the transactions they regularly make. And remember this, too; a customer relationship doesn’t end at a sale. There are opportunities to cross-sell and upsell throughout a customer’s lifetime, i.e., their CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value). Using your first-party data to create personas, then tracking cross-sell and upsell journeys over time, allows you to then model these behaviors and apply targeting to similar-looking customers in the future. This also allows you to be more efficient with your marketing budget by reaching people at the right time and with the right message, versus using blanket targeting.  And that means, you guessed it, greater marketing ROI.

Will your bank miss third-party cookies?  

Banks aren’t going to miss third-party cookies as much as other industries because they are already collecting, and hopefully utilizing, a wealth of consumer data. Armed with first-party data, the kind of data that will attract new customers and increase the lifetime value of their current ones, banks can be well prepared to succeed in a “third-party cookieless” economy.

Bank Marketing Center

Here at bankmarketingcenter.com, our goal is to help you with that topical, compelling communication with customers — developed by bank marketing professionals for bank marketing professionals — that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue.  

Our web-based platform puts our client partners in complete control of their marketing production process – and for a fraction of traditional marketing costs. We’re also proud of the fact that we currently work with over 300 financial institutions.

Want to learn more about what we can do for your community bank and your marketing efforts? You can start by visiting bankmarketingcenter.com. Then, feel free to contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or via email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.


1Kaspersky. What are cookies?

2Chromium blog. Building a more private web: A path toward making third-party cookies obsolete.

3The Financial Brand. As Third-Party Cookies Crumble, Chase Shows How First-Party Data Can Be a Boon for Banks. April 9, 2024