A man running away from bank acronyms

Avoid the “bank speak”: A customer-centric approach to bank communications

By Terry Cole, Chief Content Officer

Every industry seems to have its own language – words, phrases, abbreviations and acronyms that are commonly used and understood by those in the business. Banking is certainly one of the industries that has a language all its own.

  • “Earn an APY of 5.00% which includes a 25 bp relationship bonus when you meet the CAMB requirement in your qualifying linked accounts.”
  • “A HELOC may be right for you if you meet the DTI, LTV and FICO score requirements.”
  • “You may be assessed OD or NSF fees on this account.”

If you are in the banking or financial services marketing business, it is likely that none of this sounds foreign to you. I believe the same cannot be said, however, for many customers or potential customers who may be left scratching their heads when receiving communications like these from banks.

In a world where abbreviations in texting, online messaging and social media are the norm, it’s easy to understand how “bank-speak” in the form of abbreviations and acronyms happens. For the same reasons we use shorthand in texting in personal communications, bankers often use shorthand in internal communications with their colleagues.

After all, it is faster and easier. Why type “combined average monthly balance” when you can type “CAMB” or “home equity line of credit” when you can simply type “HELOC”? We’re busy and so we just do what we need to do to get our message across and then move on to the next thing. What’s more, we are often sending messages “on the go.”  Your work email is on your phone too, and those abbreviations and acronyms really come in handy when you’re sending a quick reply.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using abbreviations and acronyms, including those specific to your business. They really are useful time savers – but only if the recipients of your communications know what they mean. Your bank and financial services industry marketing colleagues are just as likely to understand “OD” and “NSF” as they are to understand “overdraft” or “non-sufficient funds,” so go right ahead and use them in your internal communications. NBD (no big deal)! The issue is that these terms seem to make their way into direct communication with customers.

Do not assume your customers or prospects speak the industry language

While a digitally savvy Gen-Z or millennial audience would certainly understand JK, LOL and TTYL in a message from a friend, understanding a communication from the bank about OD or NSF fees, the APY on a CD or floating rates on an ARM may be another story.  Jargon-heavy communications are likely to confuse, frustrate and even intimidate your audience. What’s more, abbreviations and acronyms are only part of the problem. Using financial terms that are not widely understood in your bank communications can cause as much confusion and distrust of your brand as unexplained acronyms. 

Define bank-specific terms to enhance readability

It’s best to avoid “bank speak” as much as possible to help ensure your communications resonate with your target audience. There are, of course, terms specific to the industry that need to be included in your communications, including some terms that are required by regulations.  

When using bank-specific terms that your audience may not be familiar with, provide the complete word or phrase first (not the shorthand version) and explain it in simple terms. For example, rather than “an NSF fee may be assessed” you might say “A non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee may be assessed when we are unable to complete a transaction because there aren’t enough funds in the account.”  A simple explanation like this can change your reader’s reaction from, “What?” to, “I understand,” and even turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

Why clarity matters

In a service industry like banking where customer experience is a key differentiator, it is important to remind ourselves that communications play a significant role in the customer experience. Clear and understandable communications go a long way to creating customer satisfaction and loyalty, not to mention trust and confidence in your brand, IMO (in my opinion).

MKP communications inc. is a New York-based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.