Savings banks—Engage customers

“The key to increasing revenues and defending market share is customer contact.”
Hans-Jörg Kuttler, Senior Manager, zeb


Leveraging potentials, engaging customers, creating growth 

Forecasts predict that the phase of low interest rates will continue. However, if net interest income were to plummet further—without additional growth in retail and corporate banking business—savings banks would suffer a significant decline in earnings. To effectively meet this challenge, institutions need to achieve growth in the higher-income segments of high net worth individuals and private banking clients as well as corporate customers. The customer base and the share of wallet must be increased—both in branch-based business and online.

In truth, however, savings banks have been losing market shares for many years to tech giants, fintech companies such as N26 and other new competitors, particularly among younger, digitally savvy customers. These competitors understood—earlier than many savings banks—that customer journeys no longer start with the customer advisor in the branch and lead to an immediate sale, but often include various platforms and channels.


Savings banks exploit the market potential of their customers in private customer business by only 30% and of customers in corporate customer business by only 40%.

In addition, customers who only have secondary bank accounts at a savings bank (savings or current accounts) are often not recognized by means of existing segmentation criteria in retail and private banking. Many institutions squander the potential of these highly sought-after customers. 

Savings banks also neglect available potentials in corporate banking business. Here, it is mainly short-term lending and payment transactions. Institutions thus often fail to offer what customers would require from a main bank. As a result, they exploit the market potential of their customers in private customer business by only 30% and of customers in corporate customer business by only 40%.



zeb has worked together with savings banks for over 25 years. During this time and together with many institutions, we have proven that growth and increasing net commission income sustainably improve the results of the whole bank—despite low interest rates. Specifically, in retail banking, this means on average three to four percent more income annually and in corporate banking six to seven percent on average.


It is possible to improve profits by up to 4% in private customer business and up to 7% in corporate customer business.

To leverage potentials, changing customer behaviors must be analyzed and communication aligned. To engage customers, new sources of income beyond pure banking business must be tapped and developed. This includes for example proprietary digital ecosystems. Here, savings banks can benefit significantly from the trust grown over many decades that still exists. This level of trust distinguishes savings banks from fintech companies or other financial intermediaries.


To engage new and existing savings bank customers and retain them in the long term, we have identified key fields of action:


1. Planning and management

Analysis of potentials, level of ambition and target systems in retail and corporate banking business

One of zeb’s key areas of expertise is profit-oriented bank management. To find out to what extent a savings bank exploits its potential, we first analyze in detail the potential in its business area—measured against the financial services it actually sells. We often come to the conclusion that a savings bank has very good access to its customers at the respective location, but does not yet serve them adequately in all business areas (“share of wallet”). Quantitatively evaluating this potential and deriving qualitative opportunities from it are the first steps towards increasing earnings. 

Based on how well the region’s potential is exploited, we determine short and medium-term targets for increasing earnings. We usually find the necessary levers within the target system of the institution. The targets of a retail relationship manager, for example, are often based on securities sold. However, their business areas also include real estate management and consumer finance, which is why these categories are also included in the target agreements of the respective employee, their line manager or even the entire team.

Potential-based customer classification in retail and corporate banking business

While it is true that all customers can be assigned to the (sub)segments of corporate or retail banking according to hard criteria, nevertheless, they all have individual potential and the advice they obtain should be aligned on a personal level—even if this means overlooking formal criteria.

At zeb, we support savings banks in correctly classifying their customers according to potential, advisory and online affinities—for the benefit of both sides. This has implications for product development, sales channels and the further training of their employees. The opportunities of demand-oriented customer classification lie in improved customer retention and higher customer satisfaction, while leading to new chances for discussion and business for the savings bank. 


2. Sales activation, optimization and enabling

For many years, zeb has successfully offered an extension of the value chain in sales projects in order to enable sales staff and managers to go beyond pure concept development using innovative methods. This includes long-term individual and team coaching on leadership in sales—from branch manager to board level. 

Our zeb success teams—themselves an award-winning model—help people to help themselves in order to activate local sales units, for example in the branches. This model is used during regular operations, i.e. a branch manager and their employees train sales methods for several months in their day-to-day work and develop targets and measures, which are then continuously monitored.

In classic seminars we train relationship managers in applying the S-Finanzkonzept: We enable relationship managers to apply this concept in the preparation, execution and follow-up of meetings with their customers and to establish it in the CRM systems OSPlus and OSP_neo, so that targets are regularly checked against online checklists. 

Beyond banking in sales

In the wake of digitalization, more and more customers also expect their savings banks to provide financial services everywhere and at any time. By solely focusing on branches with restricted opening hours as well as limited personnel and technical equipment, savings banks can no longer fulfill the needs of all types of customers. Aside from optimizing the branch system, the establishment of a digital advisory unit can therefore be an essential component of an innovative, future-ready sales organization.

Apart from digital consulting centers, establishing omni-channel sales involves introducing a multi-media and automated customer contact management system, the sales front end OSPlus_neo for customer meetings in retail banking and corporate banking and the promotion of digital advisory media, such as advisory services via tablet, which is also implemented in corporate banking.

Depending on the size and orientation of a savings bank, a sensible sales strategy might also be to develop new revenue pools. “Beyond Banking” is the keyword here: For example, savings banks could set up digital marketplaces in which they could combine their regional expertise with the sales power of the DSGV or DSV.