Arleen Sullivan and Carl Jones with Anchor Bank

Banking on service featuring Arleen Sullivan and Carl Jones with Anchor Bank

Written by John P. Palen for Minnesota Business Magazine February 2014

It's no secret that the banking industry overall has received bad marks in customer service and loyalty over the past 10 years. With public perception low on banking, it takes a fresh perspective in leadership to inspire customers to see one bank as different from another - better than another. It takes more than one individual sticking to principles and promises.

The executive leadership team at Anchor Bank embraced this truth by energizing core values established 30 years ago. The recession taught them to leave the corporatized branch mindset behind and make all levels of the bank approachable and accessible again. Training across their 15 Twin Cities area locations and a renewed approach to serving customers beyond the typical one-to-one banker relationship have supported stronger assets and sales.

"We call it 4Deep," explains Arleen Sullivan, who has served at the bank since 2003 and is now Market President, Business Banking East, serving the East Metro hub offices. "We want to ensure that a team of people within Anchor are assigned to each of our business customers. When we know our customers, we serve them better."

The team generally includes someone from Anchor Bank's leadership team, a relationship manager, and an expert in services such as cash management and credit. The goal is to ensure the customer forms strong working relationships with the right experts. For example, if a business owner has a question about succession planning or acquisitions, they have direct access to the right expertise, including CEO Carl Jones.

"We want to move as fast as a small business when decisions need to be made," explains Sullivan. Being flexible and nimble suits this bank, founded in the 1960s by entrepreneur Winton Jones, who grew it mainly through acquisitions in its early years (in the past 15 years, it's grown organically). His son, Carl Jones, now CEO, joined the bank in 1992 after pursuing a career in science and biomedical technology. Today, Anchor Bank is the seventh-largest bank in Minnesota.

Approachable executives are part of the Anchor Bank core value system, with key leaders meeting with customers on a regular basis. "Being in banking is a great way to give back to a community," notes Jones, who recalls his father always making customers his first priority and being involved in their business strategy and problem-solving. Through the bank's foundation, 5 percent of profits also go back to the communities in the form of scholarships, charitable, donations, and community development efforts.

Internally, Jones is the representative of the Jones family, supporting long-term customer relationships, seeking bank acquisition opportunities, and supporting the leadership team. That team has transformed in recent years from individual branch oversight to a larger focus and responsibility for the bank's role across the Twin Cities.

A metro focus rather than branch focus means that Sullivan and others have the access and support of the entire Twin Cities leadership, making the 4Deep program internal as well as external to operations. "Our prospective customers and employees tell us it's the active participation of our executives in our customer relationships that differentiates Anchor Bank from its competitors," she says.

Time will tell if the 4Deep program, launched in January 2012, can mend the fences of banking's past and play out in continued growth and loyalty for Anchor Bank, its customer base, and employees. But bank leaders who step out of their offices and back into deeper customer relationships can go far toward bank loyalty and a competitive reputation.

Tips for Deep Customer Service

  1. Make sure that customers have strong relationships with more than one person, with defined roles that add actual value to the relationship.
  2. Provide regular access to decision makers to strengthen the bond.
  3. Introduce multiple services to enhance a customer's sense of value and loyalty.
  4. Operate like a united company rather than a group of individuals or separate business unit.