5 Customer Retention Strategies

  • 16 Nov 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

It's not a secret that the cost to acquire new customers is far more expensive than the cost to retain an existing one. Smart business owners understand the value of repeat business and how it affects their bottom line. And while losing a customer isn’t as detrimental to a big business as it is a small business, every business – from big to startup – should have a customer retention strategy in place.  Here are a few strategies that can help you retain your customers.

1. Get to Know Your Customers
It is critical to form a relationship with your customers. At the very least, try to greet them by name. Forming a relationship creates a sense of trust with your customer. Going a step further to better understand their shopping habits will ultimately provide them with a more meaningful shopping experience. Customers are equally as motivated by their emotions and by the experience you provide as they are by the products or services you supply.

So go beyond their names; try to find out their likes and dislikes, and even some of their personal life! Ask questions to answer the following: What are the reasons behind their purchase? What other items could be purchased to support their need? Is anything missing? Why did they choose your business for their needs? These questions help you understand your clientele, better serve them for their future needs, and ultimately retain them.

Did you know there is a “Get to Know Your Customer Day” observed each quarter? For 2021, those days fall on January 21st, April 15th, July 15th, and October 21st. Consider using those days to plan a promotion, either by special discounts, giveaways, sending personalized thank you cards – the options are endless! Network with other businesses and share best practices. Use the #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay hashtag on social media as a starting point.

2. Stay Connected
Consistency is key, especially when it comes to communication. Your prospective customers and loyal customers want to know about your new products, services, discounts, and events. We think social media is a MUST, so whether you pair it with snail mail, an email, or a newsletter – just remember to be consistent! When you use social media, you’re able to share timely information while also engaging with your customers. Tied back to our prior section, the more you know your customers’ likes and dislikes, the easier it is to keep them coming back for more.

3. Ask for Feedback
Assuming your customers are satisfied is a poor practice; instead, ask them! Capturing feedback in the moment is critical, but you could also conduct a survey by email or telephone to allow customers to provide top-of-mind insights. Getting feedback immediately after a transaction has taken place is truly the best. Be sure to have customers attempt to identify any employees that may have assisted them or who provided the service. This will allow you to follow up with praise for work well done or corrections for issues that might have arisen. Furthermore, converting verbal compliments into digital reviews can be extremely helpful to gain new customers. As more and more people use online platforms to research before making a purchase, seeing positive reviews helps them feel at ease to try your business!

4. Quality Control
It’s common knowledge that customers seek out quality products and services. One bad product or one service gone wrong can cause you to lose a client indefinitely. Be sure to have quality assurance measures in place. But don’t fret – it’s inevitable that something can and likely will go wrong at some point or another. In this instance, be sure to respond and immediately in an effort to make it right. If someone posts a negative review, responding in an accommodating and prompt manner can create a sense of comfort for prospective clients as they know that you will rectify any issues.

5. Loyalty – Loyalty – Loyalty
No matter the type of business you own, the goal is to generate customer loyalty. You can help create loyalty by offering your returning clients a special deal, access to exclusive sales, discounts, coupons, or rewards. In some cases, it could even call for hosting customer appreciation events. Doing any combination of these things will go a long way toward making customers feel special. In turn, it will encourage them to keep doing business with you. Since 2004, Howard Bank has been helping businesses grow and prosper in the greater Baltimore area. We help business owners succeed in our local market. Today, we’re the largest bank headquartered in Baltimore with an array of product offerings that allow you to take control of your finances. Contact us today for more information on how you can make Howard Bank work for your business and build your legacy.1



( 1 ) The information contained herein is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, tax, legal, or business advice.

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Virtual Onboarding Tips

  • 09 Nov 2020
  • Posted by lmoeser

Onboarding has always been a key component of the success of a new employee. A company only has one chance to make a first impression once someone joins the team. Traditionally, onboarding is done in-person and includes an orientation with Human Resources, a tour of the new office, a series of meet-and-greets with various teams or colleagues, and perhaps some initial training!

Many companies have faced challenges this year with pivoting onboarding practices to a virtual format or a combination-approach. Human Resource teams have learned many tips and tricks to ensure onboarding can still be a success in a virtual environment. Consider the following tips below:

1. Define, align, and communicate the first day/week.
When you have a new hire, your HR team must establish a start date and begin planning what the first day and week will look like. Onboarding a new employee is a team effort between human resources, hiring managers, IT and security departments, as well as others in the organization. Defining roles and expectations will guarantee a seamless onboarding process. Once roles and responsibilities have been defined, it is important to make sure everyone involved in the process knows exactly how they will contribute to your company’s onboarding success. Aligning internal expectations will help make sure that all involved are familiar with the technologies and systems used, along with any additional resources needed for success. While the HR team leads the charge in the overall planning process, hiring managers should outline and communicate a plan for training in a remote environment. Communicating a clear plan of what the new hire can expect on their first day, what they need to bring or send to you, who they will be meeting with that day, and what technologies may be used will help the new hire properly prepare, reduce confusion, and encourage a positive experience.

2. Provide a warm welcome & communicate.
Starting a new job in a new company can make even the most confident of candidates feel nervous or anxious at times. And starting a new position in a virtual environment can be even more challenging! Consider sending a new hire a welcome package to their home with a personal note and some branded merchandise to make them feel excited and welcomed to the organization. Help to break the ice by scheduling meet-and-greets to introduce the new hire to the team they will be working with. Notify your team, who may also be working mostly remotely, that you have a new team member joining the organization and invite them to extend a welcome to your new hire.  

3. Check-in with new hires frequently.
Checking in with new hires frequently goes a long way. It provides the new hire an opportunity to communicate any additional needs and helps to define areas for improvement for future onboarding exercises. HR should plan to touch base with the new hire after 90 days to gain feedback on what worked well during their onboarding experience and where there might be an opportunity for improvement. Based on the feedback provided, common themes might suggest process adaptations. Checking in also helps new hires to feel connected while in a virtual environment. Beyond the onboarding period, it is always best practice for hiring managers to schedule rhythmic check-ins and yearly performance reviews. 


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6 Virtual Hiring Tips

  • 07 Oct 2020
  • Posted by lmoeser

The year 2020 has been a year of learning and adapting in many ways for businesses large and small.  In March, many companies pivoted to remote working environments and began to learn what the “new normal” would be for the foreseeable future.  Among many challenges, companies have had to figure out how to navigate their hiring practices in a virtual world.

Hiring professionals have faced hurdles such as being able to continue to connect with job seekers virtually, keeping candidate pipelines open as well as engaged, glitches with technology during online interviews, and ensuring that the hiring process still feels like a personal and positive experience.

Virtual Hiring Tips

Through these challenges, a great deal has been learned regarding the keys to success in hiring in a remote world.  Consider these key components as you continue to shape your company’s virtual recruiting and hiring process:

  1. Personal Connection

In a world of video chats and conference calls, ensure your hiring process continues to have the personal connection it used to have when recruiting was an in-person process.  Ensure the candidate feels valued and comfortable during phone conversations or video interviews.  Many job seekers may feel apprehensive about being visible on video interviews, so try to make them feel at ease through conversation and your online presence.  This will allow for a more authentic view of who the job seeker is and what skill sets they can bring to your team.

  1. Communication

Strong communication has always been an important factor in the recruiting process but it is now more than ever.  Hiring professionals should ensure that the recruiting process and expectations are clearly outlined for the candidate so they know exactly what to expect.  Frequent touch points and updates throughout the hiring process will ensure the candidate feels engaged and interested in the opportunities your company has available.

  1. Technology

Technology is a great tool to be leveraged, but it’s important to ensure that you’re using a platform that has proven to be conducive to successful virtual interactions such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or WebEx.  In addition, hiring professionals should ensure that all parties understand how the technology works.  Hiring managers should be well-versed in using the technology and candidates should be provided step-by-step instructions on how to use the platform your company has elected to utilize as a reference.  Setting both hiring managers and candidates up for success from the beginning will ensure a smooth virtual interview process each time and will make a big impact in identifying the right candidate for your opportunity.

  1. Employer Brand and Company Culture

During a normal recruiting process a candidate typically gets to experience the physical office environment that they will be working in if they’re selected for the opportunity as well as the company culture in the office setting.  This is a chance for the employer to showcase what they have to offer - whether it’s a modern workspace, amenities the company offers, or just the atmosphere or vibe in the office.  While recruiting practices are being conducted remotely, it’s important that your company’s website and team members that the candidates are interacting with truly embody and promote the company brand and culture.  The candidate should come away from the experience with a good understanding of the company's brand promise, mission, vision, and overall culture. A great way to accomplish this is to ensure your company website is strong as well as boosting your online profiles on popular job sites such as Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com.  Candidates may look to these sites for reviews on your company and this is a great way to solidify the culture you have conveyed throughout the recruiting process.

  1. Employee Safety

2020 has proved to be a very trying time for many people and employee safety among the ongoing pandemic has been a top priority and focus for companies.  During the virtual recruitment process, hiring professionals should clearly articulate what steps the company has taken to ensure the health and safety of its employees. Whether the company is operating completely remotely or having employees report into a physical office space, this a great time to reveal the transparency, culture, and character of your company.  Key topics to highlight are how your company has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and what your company continues to do to keep employees safe.  This is an opportunity to have honest conversations with candidates about any challenges your organization is facing and how you’re overcoming these challenges.  These discussions will help candidates feel at ease when deciding to join your organization.

  1. Feedback

One thing most can agree on is that this year has been a year of adapting and learning.  As you navigate recruiting and hiring in a virtual environment, feedback on the candidate’s and hiring manager’s experiences are more important than ever.  Seek feedback from all who are involved in the process and work to make improvements based on the feedback received.  Touch base with new hires frequently as they are beginning their employment with your company and learn of ways to improve their new hire experience. The more adaptive and creative you become, the better the experience will be for all who are involved.

The recruiting and onboarding experience is a key component of a new employee’s happiness and success working for your company.  Navigating and adapting to the remote hiring world will ensure you are hiring top talent and key contributors to your organization!

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A Q&A with Howard Bank's Director of Marketing on their Recent Rebranding Efforts

  • 07 Aug 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

Months after completing its merger in 2018 with 1st Mariner Bank, Howard Bank’s marketing team embarked on a major initiative to rebrand the entire company. The rebrand was meant to deliver a consistent and relevant brand experience no matter when, where, or how Howard engaged with customers or colleagues. The team completely revamped the look and feel of the Howard Bank brand across all assets and mediums. It was an extensive undertaking, but it is paying off as the bank continues to grow and attract customers.

Erica Starr, Director of Marketing at Howard Bank, provides insight into the steps taken, challenges faced, and the results. Could your company benefit from a rebrand? Read more below.

Q: How did you determine Howard Bank was in need of a rebrand?
A: After merging with 1st Mariner in March of 2018, we felt like we might have a bit of an identity crisis. Howard Bank has always been focused on small business banking and traditionally didn’t put a lot of emphasis on branding and advertising, while 1st Mariner had been focused on personal banking and had spent over 20 years positioning themselves as Baltimore’s Community Bank. On top of that, we had two similar-sized companies coming together so we knew it was important for us to help foster a culture and brand that was something our colleagues at both companies could get behind and call their own. The merger also allowed Howard to expand our focus and physical reach while gaining the capital to support medium-sized business banking.  

Q: How did you decide when and what to change for the rebrand?
The rebrand was something we knew we would need to do, but we wanted to make sure the dust had settled, so to speak. We wanted to align our external branding with our internal culture but we didn’t want it to get lost in the mix. So that meant we needed time to figure out our internal culture. Our approach to the rebrand was “inside-out.” We didn’t really have a set list of things we wanted to change. We just felt like we needed to start looking inside to see what would resonate outwardly.

Q: What steps did you take for the “inside-out” approach?
A: We wanted our brand’s voice to be authentic - meaning no matter who, how, where, when, or why, our voice would be consistent. We also wanted to avoid the redundancies of other banks’ marketing efforts. With the “inside-out” approach, our first step was researching. We spent months confidentially interviewing and surveying employees from every department of the bank and the executive team, and even some of our own customers. Whatever we came up with needed to be genuine and authentic.                                                                                        

Q. What was the biggest challenge in making your advertising authentic?
A: We wanted to avoid being redundant at all costs. We wanted our ads to be fresh, positive, and tell a story. The biggest thing in advertising is convincing someone to buy your product and establish credibility. If potential buyers see the same photo of a product in five different brands, you begin to question what is legitimate. So, for us, it was all about avoiding redundancy and creating our own footprint in the mark. We are Howard Bank, we aren’t Wells Fargo or M&T, so we work hard to make our own images that reflect what we value at Howard Bank, which are businesses in Greater Baltimore and the people who live and work in these communities.

Q: Was it easy to rebrand the bank as a local institution versus a large regional bank?
A: It was definitely easier to rebrand ourselves as a local bank. We aren’t a “plug-and-play” bank, meaning that megabanks from other cities likely use a template to create ads that they can plug and play in markets across the country. There is often little feeling behind them, no real caring. It is based on completing a transaction and them moving on with business. In our case the framework of our business is built upon our Baltimore roots. We are local, which made it that much easier to tell a story we and our customers could believe in. We knew we had a good story to tell so we let it roll. It wasn’t forced like some of the ads we see running in the market from larger institutions.

Q: Did anything from the interviews or surveys surprise you?
We were pleasantly surprised to know what we thought of ourselves was consistent with the views of our customers. At the end of the day, we want to help our customers. As a local bank, we’re focused on supporting our communities. And that’s really what differentiates us from the other banks. We’re Invested, Insightful, Passionate, and Agile – because we’re a community bank. Those four differentiating factors have become our core values, which we lovingly refer to as our “Double-IPA”.

Q: Who was the creative genius to come up with the “Double-IPA” acronym, and what exactly do each of them mean?
 I actually came up with the acronym myself, but defining them was a joint effort between our marketing team and our rebranding partners over at Gigawatt Group. We don’t just work here, we’re from here, so we’re invested in helping our communities succeed. Being from here means we’re insightful – we don’t rely on algorithms to make decisions on the local market; we’ve got the local market knowledge right here in our backyards. And that makes us agile – we’re not hopping on planes, trains, or buses to make decisions. Our executives are at arms-length. And we’re passionate, simply because we know what we do matters. We want to be a place where we are making a difference. Whether we're making someone’s dreams come true, making their dollar stretch a bit further, or simply making their day a little brighter.

Q: What exactly ended up changing and why?
 Our name obviously didn’t change and that’s because our name is our legacy and holds sentimental value denoting our humble beginnings. Our logo remains the same with its red, yellow, and black color palette to represent Maryland, where we’re from. But pretty much everything else ended up changing! Our tagline “We care about here” points simply to our local dedication. Our mission and vision statements were adjusted to expand on the fact that we’re literally helping to fund people’s dreams and helping to build their legacies. Once we ironed those details out, we were ready to start getting into the visuals.

Q: Do you think being known as a local bank gives you an edge over more large scale national or global banks that have set up shop in the Baltimore area?
A: No question about it. I think being a local bank for sure gives us a competitive edge over large national or global banks that are in Baltimore. It’s got that home team-feel. We’re run by Baltimoreans, for Baltimoreans. Your banker at Howard could be your neighbor or a parent you’ll see on your kids’ back to school night. Our motto is “We care about here,” because we mean it. I just don’t think that a bank that has set up shop in countries across the world can have that same connection to the community.”

Q: How important was it to you to rebrand yourselves as a community bank that serves small businesses?
That is what we do, serve small and medium-sized businesses. We live, breathe, eat, and sleep small and medium-sized businesses. In the Baltimore market, there are thousands of small businesses. It is what makes Baltimore go. Being known as a bank that serves that market is critical. So, when we are contemplating rebranding, the small and mid-size business market was front and center.

Q: What was your biggest challenge throughout the entire process?
To be honest, we had the help of great partners. The Gigawatt Group really helped to guide us and helped harness the creative. I’m not really sure there’s been any challenge in the discovery portion. Although, we did try to capture footage by drone out on a customer’s tugboat in the bay during an Orioles game which turns out to cast a pretty wide “no-fly” zone – but we made it work. That was fun though! But in all seriousness, the entire process was smooth. We had so many customers willing to let us shoot footage of them and in their facilities (or on their tugboats), our colleagues were supportive and involved, and it was all happening right here, at home.

Q: Where do you go from here? How do you measure success?
Right now, we’re focused on helping our customers maintain their legacies during this difficult time. The pandemic has caused so much disruption and we’re dedicated to making sure our communities are equipped to bounce back stronger than ever.  In March of this year, we opened a new Bel Air branch that reflects our new look and we’re currently working to revamp the rest of our branch network later this year. Since launching our new brand we’re seeing success from everything we’ve done.  We’ve seen a lift in customer engagement, we’ve attracted some top-tier talent from some of the larger-name banks, and according to a recent market research analysis, we’re seeing an impressive lift in both aided and unaided market awareness. To top it off, Howard Bank recently received two MX (Marketing Excellence) Awards from the AMA Baltimore chapter for Best New Brand Identity Campaign of the Year and Runner-Up for Grand MX Campaign of the Year. We’ve been really thrilled with the results and are appreciative of the recognition from the AMA. 

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Online Shopping Safety Tips for the Holidays

  • 25 Nov 2019
  • Posted by dgriffitts

Year after year, it seems like more shoppers are opting to do their holiday gift buying online. And it makes sense—why fight the crowds when you can shop from the comfort of your own couch? Technology has made online shopping a breeze, but it doesn’t come without risks. Here are a few simple tips and tricks to protect yourself and shop safely this season.

  • Use strong passwords
    • You know that one password you’ve been using for years and just changing the last few numbers? Yeah, it’s time to create a new one. We know you’ve heard this advice before, but trust us, using strong and unique passwords is a simple way to add a layer of protection to all of your accounts.  
  • Do not give out sensitive personal information
    • Legit retailers will never ask for your social security number. Trust your gut with this one; if you’re being asked to provide personal details that you’re not comfortable giving—don’t.
  • Avoid making purchases while using free/public Wi-Fi
    • Remember what we said earlier about shopping from the comfort of your own home? Try to stick to that. Or, at least shop on a secure network. The risk of data interception is much higher when you’re on public Wi-Fi, such as at an airport, coffee shop, or library.
  • Pay for purchases with a credit card when possible
    • Plain and simple: you have better liability protection when paying with a credit card.
    • Bonus Tip: It’s best to avoid saving your payment information within online accounts. Sure, storing it is super convenient for the next time you log in to make a purchase, but it also makes your personal data vulnerable to identity thieves and hackers.
    • Bonus Tip: Howard Bank understands the importance of security. That’s why we offer the same liability protection as a credit card for our debit cards. Simply put, it means you’re covered if there are any disputed, fraudulent transactions.
  • Ship merchandise to a secure location
    • Beware of porch pirates! If you won’t be home during delivery, try finding an alternative location that’s safe and secure. Depending on the retailer, you may be able to get your package delivered directly to the store for pick-up, or at one of their shipping lockers.
  • After purchasing, monitor your accounts closely
    • Online and mobile banking are great tools that can be used to monitor your account activity in a safe and convenient way. You may also be able to set-up customized alerts. So, if your account falls below a certain balance or an external transfer is made, you’ll be notified right away.
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National Entrepreneur's Day: A Q&A with Howard Bank's CEO, Mary Ann Scully

  • 18 Nov 2019
  • Posted by Mary Ann Scully

Mary Ann Scully

Q1: What made you decide to start a bank?
The decision to start a bank was in part opportunistic. I had chosen to leave a larger bank upon consolidation and had become firmly committed to the need for a local business focused bank to provide family-owned businesses in the region with a committed and experienced alternative to the growing number of financial institutions neither commercially focused nor headquartered close to their clients. Like all entrepreneurs, I combined a passion with a purpose at the time of a competitive opening in a market.

Q2: What was the hardest thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?  
A: My hardest experience as an entrepreneur was starting with nothing – no capital, no clients, no locations. It is a rush of reality that all formerly successful entrepreneurs inside a larger company experience when they leave that nest. It is a time of great uncertainty and significant risk. Asking others to join you on that early journey is an awesome responsibility.

Q3: What was the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
A: The list is too long, but all the rewards for me revolve around three things: Creation - of the names, logos, products, and teams; Impact - making a difference for employees, customers, communities, and investors; Relevance - achieving sustainability.

Q4: What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?
A: The best piece of advice I ever received was to go for it - believe. The worst piece of advice (which I did not take) was to lead with emotion rather than hard facts.

Q5: Looking back, what would you have changed on your road to success?
A: While my journey through entrepreneurship has brought many successes, it also had painful moments and failures. I am a firm believer that our path forward is completely dependent on the setbacks and failures. They allow us to be better risk-takers. They provide us with a roadmap of how to be better in general. And they make us much more empathetic along the way.

Q6: Why are entrepreneurs so important to our city/community?
A: Entrepreneurs are a major source of new ideas, whether that be products or delivery models; they are job-creators and seek out similarly innovative thinkers. They show the path to managing risk vs. reward at an exponential level. And because they are often so dependent on specific local or virtual communities, they focus on enriching those communities that are their lifeblood. They are sincerely invaluable.

Q7: Who are the types of individuals that should make up an entrepreneur’s sounding board?
A: It truly takes a village to sustainably launch a successful new business. In addition to traditional advisors, you need trustworthy accountants, attorneys, technology platforms. Every successful entrepreneur needs some devil’s advocates too; those who will honestly tell you what may not work so that you really can fix it even if it is not yet broken because at the end of the day, that’s what distinguishes entrepreneurs - they fix it even if it is NOT broken.

Q8: What advice would you give an upcoming entrepreneur today? Are there things a Baltimore entrepreneur should leverage that entrepreneurs in other markets don’t have the opportunity to leverage?
A: My best piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to leverage your connections. Baltimore is intensely relationship-oriented, from neighborhoods to school associations to grassroots organizations. Those relationships form the best kind of networks for capital raising, awareness raining, client introductions, advisory sounding boards. They provide a stronger basis of trust. This relationship orientation is one of the primary reasons why we initially looked north to Baltimore when we started Howard Bank.

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Three Reasons Every Merchant Needs Chip Card Readers

  • 14 Dec 2016
  • Posted by estarr

3 Reasons Every Merchant Needs Chip Card ReasersAt the supermarket recently, I had the opportunity to chat with the manager. I noticed that the store, part of a regional chain with a huge corporate owner, had not yet installed readers for the increasingly ubiquitous chip-cards, so I asked him why not.                          

After all, chip cards are meant to protect consumers from fraud. And there’s plenty of evidence that they’re working as intended.

The manager’s response surprised me. He told me the chain wasn’t worried about the cost of upgrading, but about the prospect of losing business. He explained that transactions take longer with chip card readers. And he worried they’d lose customers if they force people to do that.

My view is that they’re much more likely to lose customers if they don’t upgrade (more on that in a moment), but the store is far from alone. According to the business management consultants at the Strawhecker Group, only about 29 percent of American merchants were ready for chip cards — also known as EMV cards, which stands for Europay, MasterCard®, and Visa® — as of September.  

That’s disappointing. Chip cards are our best defense against card fraud. According to the trade newsletter The Nilson Report, U.S. card losses for banks and retailers reached $8.4 billion in 2015. And that number is expected to reach $12 billion by 2020.  

That’s why a consortium of card issuers, banks, and others developed the EMV standard for cards and readers. These chip-enabled cards, which customers “dip” instead of “swipe,” provide greater security from fraud. That’s because swipe cards create a record that crooks can grab and use to make purchases. “Dipped” cards, on the other hand, create a one-time code that can’t be reused. 

Europe has been using this technology for a while now, but it really got going in the United States last year. So far, banks have issued about 600 million chip cards to U.S. consumers, according to the U.S. Payments Forum. And starting Oct. 1, 2015, the liability for card fraud at most merchants without chip-card readers shifted from the card’s issuer to the retailers. And many more U.S. merchants will start accepting chip cards by October 2017, when gas stations will start facing those same liabilities. 

However, many retailers still resist purchasing the upgraded reader. That’s why I want to share with you three reasons why just about every merchant should be chip card-ready: 

1. Peace of mind for you.

A store clerk recently told me that she didn’t understand the “hassle” behind chip cards. So I put my banker hat on and explained that the chip-card machine takes the liability off the merchant (her boss) and puts it on Visa® and MasterCard® if there is fraud. It’s as simple as that.

For those merchants who say, “I never had fraud before,” well, how do you know that? MasterCard® and Visa® were taking it on the nose for you before. They’re not doing that anymore. So if you’re a merchant that hasn’t installed the new card readers, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s an easy, inexpensive upgrade that will protect you financially.

2. Peace of mind for your customers.

Your customers know that card fraud is happening. They’re seeing odd charges pop up on their credit card statements — and then spending hours on the phone cleaning those messes up. Chip cards reduce the likelihood of fraud significantly — and your customers are learning this.

You don’t want them to be afraid to use their credit cards in your store. So, being up to date on your POS technology will give them peace of mind as well. You’ll gain their trust.

3. You'll gain an advantage over your competitors.

Staying on top of chip card equipment now means you’ll be more comfortable with the next rounds of payments technology — including chip-and-PIN cards (which allow customers to input a number instead of signing), “tap” cards (which allow them to simply tap their card against the reader), and mobile payments. The more forms of technology you’re familiar with and ready for, the more potential customers you’ll have. And that translates into more dollars coming in.

The Smart Choice

Card fraud rates are already down thanks to EMV. According to Visa®, chip card-friendly merchants recorded a 47 percent drop in card fraud from May 2015 to May 2016. That shows why every merchant should be installing EMV technology if they haven’t already. Your customers will soon be expecting it — and may choose to patronize someone else if you don’t have it.

Most community banks, including 1st Mariner Bank, provide merchant processing services. That means they can get you access to industry-leading chip card POS equipment and solutions. To set a retailer up to take EMV cards, we gather information, fill out applications, get everything through the approval process and order and install equipment. And if our equipment doesn’t fit your budget, we can even help you find better deals.

If you’re ready to get started, or for more information, just contact our business banking services department.

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Vetting a New Bank for Your Business? Ask These 4 Questions

  • 16 Sep 2016
  • Posted by estarr

I have a friend who researches everything to the Nth degree. He dives deep and never lets a penny get by him. You probably have a friend just like him. (If you’re smart, you are him.)                         

We were talking recently about his relationship with his bank. And when I asked him what questions he asks whenever he’s vetting a new bank, his answer intrigued me.

His most important query wasn’t about the bank’s services or its lending process. “Those are questions I ask, of course,” he said. “But really, here’s what I want to know: Am I going to be able to get in touch with you? And how do I get in touch with you? Do I get your phone number and email, or do I have to make my way through a phone tree?”

I got what he was saying. He was asking about what kind of relationship he could expect to have with his bank. Would it be hands-off or collaborative? Would he work with an individual, a team, or a machine. 
And so, in the spirit of my friend’s questions, we’ve put together this list of Top Questions to Ask Your Banker. You’ve checked the bank’s interest rates and branch locations, and you likely are ready with some inquiries specific to your situation – but these are four questions you should always ask.

“What will our relationship be like if I bank here?”

As my friend’s passion demonstrated, he thinks it’s essential to have an advocate at your bank. If you agree, make sure you’ll be assigned a relationship manager, and clarify how they’ll handle your business. Will you meet regularly at the bank or at your business? Will you be able to get your relationship manager on the phone quickly?

Your advocate can guide you through the loan process. They can let you know about important new products and answer questions about them. They’ll give you news about the bank before you hear about it on social media or the evening news.

Nail down how easy it is to get in touch when you need to – and typical response time to such queries. Be assured that your phone calls and emails will be answered quickly.                              

Plus, that relationship shouldn't end at the bank itself. Community banks can help you connect with the local business circle. Those sorts of connections can lead to customers, advisors, contractors, and even other lending options.

Finally, don’t just take the bank’s answer to these questions for granted. Seek out your peers and grill them about their relationships with their banks. Let that lead you to a great choice.

What Is Your Lending Process for Businesses Like Mine?

It’s tough to get a loan. Community banks are approving only about half of their loan requests. Big banks are even more daunting; they approve just 21 percent. So before applying, you want to know that the process is simple and straightforward. If it’s not – if the banks starts obfuscating before you even submit an application – walk on. Here are three things you should determine before you get started …

  • Does your company qualify for the loans this bank offers? Many banks won’t loan to businesses under a certain size, or that have less than a three-year track record, or that are seeking a loan of less than $5,000.
  • What is the lending process? What financial records and tax records are required? Will there be interviews, and to whom will you speak? Is the decision made locally?
  • What’s the timeline? How long does the approval process take after you apply?

Most importantly, find out whether you will have an opportunity to sit down with bank representatives before you kick off the loan process. This is yet another chance to build a relationship and pick up advocates who can guide you through the lending process.

What Is the Financial Strength of the Bank?

Do some homework before sitting down with a bank representative. First off, don’t even think of approaching a financial institution not insured by the FDIC. Additionally, look at the bank’s ratio of non-current loans to total loans (if it’s above 10 percent, walk away), deposit growth, available cash, and “record” with the FDIC.

Then, when you get in the room with a bank rep, get a feeling for the overall health of the bank. You want to hear – with confidence – that the bank is doing very, very well, that it’s well capitalized, that it’s lending lots of money. Listen for buts. 

What Are the Banking Services I Need Right Now? What Will I Need in the Future?

Have a list of what services you think you need: easy online access, anti-check fraud services, wire transfers, credit lines that cover cash shortfalls, etc. If you’re not sure what you need, then just be ready to discuss your business; a good banking relationship manager should be able to connect you to the right services for you. Also, ask how the bank charges its business customers: Is it à la carte or a full menu?

As for the services you’ll need in the future, your representative should be able to make some predictions but the answer mainly depends on how your business evolves. The important thing here is to start building a relationship. You want to bank with someone who’ll let you know what you need to add – and what you can drop – as your business grows. They’ll also alert you to new services the bank is offering.

Finally, keep an eye on this during the vetting process. If the bank asks you what services you’re currently paying for and, critically, whether you’re using them, that’s a good sign. This is our chance to save you money. If the bank you’re assessing is smart, they’ll want to do just that.

If you have any further questions – or if you want to get started your vetting process – get in touch. 

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8 Benefits of Social Media for Small Business

  • 01 Jun 2016
  • Posted by Admin

People were skeptical of social media for business in the beginning, but with the explosion of social media over the last few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a marketing expert who doesn’t recommend social media as part of a holistic marketing strategy. That said, you may be wondering, what are the real benefits of social media for small business, and is it really worth the time and effort to build a social media presence if you’re just running a small operation rather than a big corporation? Short answer: There are plenty of benefits for small businesses in social media.Start taking advantage of them with these eight simple, proven advantages of social media marketing for companies of any size:

1. Social media can reduce your overall marketing costs Social networks are a cost-effective way to get your brand in front of fans and prospective customers. It doesn’t cost you anything to tweet a message, pin a product photo to Pinterest, or promote a discount on Facebook, so there’s no cost outside of your own time spent. If you do have money to invest, these channels offer advanced but affordable advertising platforms that you can use to target consumers with demographic, keyword, and interest-based campaigns. The highly specific targeting parameters offered by Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can help you get the biggest bang for your marketing buck.

2. Social media can impact your organic search results. When it comes to impacting your website’s position in search engines, you need to create optimized and compelling content if you want your domain to appear high up on the search results page. By sharing this content on social media as well, you can get in front of interested readers who may visit your website, like or share your content on their own social networks, and link to it from their own domains. Google and Bing both pay attention to social signals like this when they decide how to rank links on the search results page.

3. You can offer better customer service with social media. If you’re looking for a way to field customer comments, concerns, and questions, then you are going to find social media to be extremely beneficial. Customers using one of the common platforms like Facebook or Twitter can communicate directly with you, and you can quickly answer them in a public format that lets other customers see the quality of your customer service. The impact of this activity can be huge: 71 percent of consumers who receive a quick brand response on social media say they are more likely to recommend that brand to other people.

4. You can design your own online personality. Social media is meant to be more like a cocktail party than a business meeting. You will always do a lot better in a social situation if you are more like yourself and less like a corporate robot. Social media is a great way to display your business’ personality, as well as behind-the-scenes information about you, your employees, your workspace, and more. When you humanize your brand in this way, it makes it easier for consumers to connect with you and develop loyalty.

5. Social media lets you associate with other businesses. The fact that you are able to connect directly to the consumer means you can use this platform to also connect to other entrepreneurs and business owners. From possible strategic business partners to new distributors, social media lets you have real conversations with actual people who might otherwise be socially or geographically inaccessible in the real world.

6. Customers can validate your business on social media. The idea behind allowing customers to correspond directly with you is so that they can get the best customer service possible. When this occurs, it happens in a very public forum that can be seen by other prospects. So when customers sing your praises to their friends, it not only boosts your online reputation, but increases the chances that someone else is going to give you a shot next time they need your services.

7. You can provide value with social media. The idea that you can provide a truly valuable service to your target market means you are positioning yourself as an expert in your industry. Whether that’s educational and entertaining blogs, posts, or tweets, if you are solving a problem or providing information, you’re adding value that customers will appreciate.

8. Social media helps you gain a competitive advantage. The true advantages of social media are the ability to get a leg-up on your competition by connecting with your current and prospective customers in an organic way across the web. If used correctly, social media can help you boost your search rankings, provide better customer service, craft a compelling online personality, connect with new business partners, build connections, and earn word-of-mouth marketing from your brand advocates. If you aren’t using social today, we recommend you start posting and start reaping the benefits of social media.

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The 5 Must-Haves For Selecting a Commercial Banking Partner

  • 21 Apr 2016
  • Posted by estarr

There’s much at stake when it comes to choosing a good bank for your business. More than just a payment processor and cash depository, an excellent bank is a business partner. Your banker should be a key advisor on everything from setting up bookkeeping to deciding whether to open up more locations; a “seal of approval” to potential customers and vendors; and even a gateway, opening doors to your community’s business circle and providing key introductions.            
That’s why we’ve put together these five tips you can use to find a bank that best fits your business.

1. Know Your Needs

Start with the basics: Identify what kind of checking and savings accounts you’ll need. Consider the number of transactions you’ll make per month and the lowest amounts you’ll keep in those accounts. If you plan on doing online business, do you want a separate merchant account for that? The types of business accounts banks offer – and how much they charge – vary widely.

Also consider if you’re going to need loans, whether you need local branches (do you have to make cash drop-offs?), and if you have online/mobile banking needs.             

2. Consider the Relationship

Whatever size your business is today, you’ll likely need advice and face-to-face interactions from your bankers as you grow.

If your bank is truly a partner, then you’ll want a partner who knows you. So ask some questions: Where are lending decisions being made, and by whom? Will you have an opportunity to meet with the person making the decision, or will decisions be made by a central authority in another city?

Can you speak with your banker when you need to, or will your questions by some call center? It’s easy for a bank to be there for you when business is good, but who will be there if things go cold for a while and you need advice about, say, smart ways to cut costs? Will your banker return your call? Will he or she know how to help you?

3. Consider Your Options       

Generally, you have four options: big banks, local banks, Internet banks, and credit unions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

National banks have lots of locations solid online services. However, they’re often disconnected from the communities they serve, won’t always make time for small or even mid-sized customers, and can be tight with their lending practices, especially during economic downturns.

Credit unions, on the other hand, are deeply connected to their communities and, because they are nonprofit, usually offer lower fees. However, they cannot always lend to small businesses and sometimes lack robust online features and mobile services.

Community banks account for 50 percent of all small-business lending, even though they control just 18% of all U.S. bank assests. That's becuase they gnerally offer the best and most face-to-face interaction, and they generally work hard to cultivate relationships with local businesses. Ineed, they can sometimes be your connection to local customers and vendors.       

4. Talk to Everyone                                          

Talk to your business peers and personal bank to get an idea of which business banks offer the best services and have the best reputations. If you can, get referrals to the banks at the top of your list. Referred customers are usually worth more and are more dependable. So they may be more likely to offer you better service and lower loan rates.

When you make on-site visits, look at the banker, not the bank. This is who you'll be working with. Again, you want a business partner, not a salesperson. Go in with a list of questions – and be ready to answer the banker’s questions. Consider this a two-way interview. Your relationship with your bank is a longtime collaboration, not a one-time transaction.

A great banker will introduce you to prospective clients and vendors; help you set up your accounts payable and receivable operations; and perhaps one day aid in your search for a controller or CFO. Can you see the person sitting across from you doing all that?

5. Reevaluate Regularly

Once you've chosen a bank, start building a relationship immediately. A solid collaboration leads to more likely loans at more favorable terms. It also leads to those critical ties to the local business community.

But don’t get too comfortable with your bank. As your business grows, a different bank may serve you better, so make a point to review at least annually whether your current bank continues to serve all of your needs.

When you do that review, ask yourself: When was the last conversation with my bank? What was it about, and who initiated it? When I call my bank with a question, do they call me back? How quickly? Do I actually like my banker?

According to a 2013 poll by Gallup, 32% of businesses were "actively antagonistic"  toward their bank. You don’t want to find yourself there.

A great bank is a rare and precious resource. So take time and effort to make this important choice. And to set up a conversation with one of our Commercial Relationship Managers, just reach out. 

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