Cooperative banks—Evolve products and sales

“Grow where growth is possible, and work efficiently where growth is no longer possible.”
Burkhard Käser, Senior Manager, zeb 


“Thinking from the customer’s perspective”—also in the financial sector, this has long been THE approach for developing products and solutions. For a while now, traditional products in particular are not very differentiated in the banking world and have become replaceable. Standing out from the crowd hardly ever works by asking “What?”, but increasingly through “How?”: it is about not just offering customers the right solutions, but creating emotionally loaded customer experiences that tie them to “their” cooperative bank.

Cooperative banks must develop from branch-centered institutions to omni-channel organisms in the long run - customer-centricity is the top rule.


Customer centricity means using customer journeys to identify the true needs of customers. Only these have a differentiating effect and influence purchasing decisions. What do the customers really need? What channel do they want to use to communicate with the bank? What questions and worries motivate them? When do they want personal advice and when does self service suffice? These are just some of the questions that should be asked when embarking on a sales development project. Products are then the final step in the process—and that is the essence of the rethink. 

When creating the product and service portfolio, the traditional overall need should no longer be the focus. The view should increasingly be focused on clearly addressable advisory situations in the customer’s life cycle. True customer loyalty arises when the bank manages to supply customers with appropriate offers from their youth through to retirement. 

Long-term success in increasing competition will only be had by those cooperative banks that link product development to a clear management and pricing logic. That essentially also means understanding sales potentials on the market and in the portfolio as well as orienting the valuable sales resources to promising services. This is the only way that sales can become both efficient and individual. 



Thanks to our close contact to cooperative banks for over 25 years, we know the supply and demand situation in detail and develop tailored products on this basis—and always with respect to the actual customer demands:

Understanding true sales potentials
“Grow where growth is possible and work efficiently where growth is no longer possible”—this strategic direction in the sales model is currently followed by a wide group of supporters. What is needed is a sound and primarily data-driven perspective of available potentials of customers and the market.

Here the focus should be on economic and latent potentials in the customer base. The use of data analytics for identifying economic potentials, purchase probabilities, “next best offers” and product affinities will become an increasingly important discipline in sales and should be urgently considered by all sales-oriented banks. Particularly in considering potentials for customer segmentation, there is a chance to utilize valuable sales resources where it is sensible. The internal perspective and the derivation of potentials in terms of bank data must be specifically enhanced through external data—in particular, due to enactment of PSD II, smart data will be a new playing field for banks.

In addition, an analytical look at the market is always worthwhile to assess income potentials for retail and corporate customers in the bank’s business area. For this purpose, the zeb.Retail Banking Study and zeb.Corporate Banking Study are valuable instruments. The basic idea in the search for income potentials is for the bank to assess which potentials in selected fields of services and demands can be leveraged on the market for the defined business segment and where (sales ) activity pays off. Here it helps to link internal bank data with external data sources. Banks then receive not only a look at the potentials of individual business segments, but also a sound planning foundation for all customer business. 

Expanding product, segment and pricing excellence
In terms of lending and commission business at cooperative banks, potentials are nowhere near exhausted. More growth and profitability is possible in lending business through consumer and mortgage loans, and in commission business through securities and insurances. We calculate down to a euro to what degree banks can increase their yields—even within the first year. And keep in mind: one of the most important success factors is always the process environment associated with products—both from a customer and an employee perspective. A good product is important, but not enough for the bank’s product excellence—the process environment associated with the product is at least as critical for success. Our approach consists of increasingly integrating product and process management into the bank’s organization. Thus, it is ensured that for customers not only the service offer and customer experience fit, but also that the processing is designed in an effective and efficient way.

In individual and private banking, new and existing customers must also be engaged long-term. These segments exhibit untapped growth potentials for the cooperative group and opportunities for commission income that must be leveraged particularly during the low interest rate phase. At the same time, we keep an eye on the core business of regional institutions, which consists of offering financial services throughout the region.  

In terms of pricing, aside from implementing profitable current account models, the focus is on cost structures for loans and securities. This example illustrates the enormous degree to which pricing drives profit: Even a one euro increase to account management fees significantly influences income when looking at 100,000 customers per year. 

Furthermore, experience shows that many institutions sell credit at too low a price—and overestimate the individual price sensitivity of their customers. We can also help to optimize the custody of securities accounts in a more income-oriented way. At the interface of securities accounts, current accounts and lending business, there are many up-selling potentials, particularly in online banking. 

Expanding sales management to omni-channel management
Cooperative banks are strong in the controlling of activities in the branch, but often have considerable deficits in managing online and non-stationary activities. We see major potential in the precise orientation of online marketing activities by business segments and in expanding data-based sales. 


Banks increasingly have to react to their customers' multi-hybrid behavior in omnichannel business.

Institutions that verifies sales signals better will stand out from the competition: “Today a bank might only know that a customer has been saving for a home for three years, but hasn’t visited the branch for two years. The bank has an eye on the processes there,” explained zeb Partner Thomas Stegmüller. “But it could know much more. For instance that she visited a real estate search page last week or used the bank’s loan calculator—both of which are strong indicators that she is looking for a home and a great discussion opener for the customer advisor.”

Moreover, many customers use online and offline formats at once. They seek advice in their branch, but take out the loan on the website—service provision and profit are no longer clearly connected. To understand and improve the user journeys, banks should analyze where the customer begins and ends interactions. So far, most institutions measure by output, i.e. where customers purchase their products. But the target for modern sales management must be to measure activities and use behavior by input. This is the only way that banks can provide their customers with needs-based and channel-oriented offers and guide them through the sales channels.

Digital marketing in mortgage lending
Digitalization in mortgage lending is one of the greatest opportunities for banks: The construction boom is continuing driven by interest rates and the products of cooperative banks—advisory services, financing and services that accompany financing—are withstanding the quality competition. Today, the major challenges for banks are their visibility as well as access to the market and customers. “Traditional” advisor and branch-focused sales no longer suffice to secure a respectable “share of the cake”. To keep up in the battle for customers, banks should digitally enhance their entire service portfolio relating to mortgage loans.

The task starts far before the actual core service of a bank as part of residential funding: Comprehensive, digital marketing approaches and a well thought-out platform strategy are the basis for creating a modern kind of perception and paving the way to the bank’s core services. Subsequently, the customer is guided through the entire sales funnel. One very important element is the design of appropriate landing pages. The customer experience for inquiry and advisory services, application and offer processes as well as review, contract and payment phases must feel cohesive. Customers expect that banks act seamlessly, i.e. without interruptions—not doing so means that they no longer fulfill one of the important hygiene factors in customer communication. 

At the end, what matters is addressing the customer emotions during their important phases of life and providing them an excellent purchasing experience. Here banks should be encouraged to involve customers when designing their full service toolkit—maximum customer benefits only arise through maximum customer integration.

We at zeb bring our market knowledge gained over 25 years as well as comprehensive and practical digital marketing knowledge and top expertise in mortgage lending. Not to mention our exceptional expertise in designing and managing advisory and production processes. We are thus able to not just advise cooperative banks in this important field, but also support them beyond implementation.

Digital marketing in corporate banking
Working with corporate customers is and will always be the main income lever for banks—especially for cooperative banks, the promotion of regional businesses is at the core of the brand and hardwired into the bank’s statutes and order book. According to a survey by IfM in Germany (Center for Small and Medium Sized Business Research), SMEs feel confronted by numerous challenges—at their core: driving company growth through innovation in a digital environment and greater use of digitalization.

In the most recent zeb.Corporate Banking Study, we analyzed the associated fields of opportunity and starting points for cooperative banks under the chapter “Digitally connected partnerships” and consolidated to four essential fields of action:

  • Building corporate banking portals for cross-bank end-to-end transaction and product availability as well as supplementary service offers except for the classic banking offers
  • Digitally charged corporate banking advisors for increasing efficiency in customer support—here the digital cooperation between the customer and the bank (P&L, balance sheet, news feed, etc.) contributes to the processing of sales impulses, always looking for the next best action. Moreover, it is about positioning value added services such as sector comparisons, rating simulation, etc.
  • “Beyond banking” offers for extending value creation to the customers, partly through services relating to digital billing services, bookkeeping, controlling/accounting, ERP, company and digitalization consulting
  • Entering the platform economy based on a strategy that helps occupying the customer interface in platform competition and secure higher profit potentials

Our clients trust in our long-standing expertise in corporate banking of cooperative banks, as well as our sound strategic knowledge and implementation competence in digitalization. So we deliver cooperative banks a comprehensive zeb package from a single source.

Feel free to contact us


Burkhard Käser

Senior Manager


Thorsten Ströhl

Senior Manager