6 Considerations When Choosing a Text Messaging Platform for your Financial Institution

Speech Bubble with Text Provider
(Last Updated On: June 9, 2020)

You’ve made the decision to start texting your members. Smart move. Texting opens up a new communications channel that’s both convenient (and preferred) for your members, while helping your financial institution make more money.

Note: Before you read any further, you’ll want to get caught up on our SMS series. We begin asking why you’d even consider a text/SMS solution. Start there. Knowing your “why” is essential before diving deep.

We’ll be upfront. There are a lot of SMS platform providers on the market. Like other vendor searches, it can get overwhelming. It’s easy to just put it off for a future date, “when we’ll have more time to take a serious look.”

First, that would be a mistake. You’re losing potential revenues and connection opportunities with members now. Second, you don’t have to attack the long list alone. In fact, we’ll help narrow it down to providers which have a track record in your world.

Third, we’ll share our recommendations for what you need to consider as you look at provider options. And finally, we will help you put together your list of “nice-to-haves and must-haves” to make that search easy.

Before we review the top considerations, be sure you know your financial institution’s text messaging objectives. Here are some essential questions:

  • What are you trying to accomplish through this channel?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Which internal teams will need access to (and training for) the platform?

Once you have a clear idea of your goals, it’s much easier to review the considerations and narrow down your provider list.

Top 6 Considerations When Choosing a Text Messaging Platform

1. Cost

Dollar Sign

It’s about serving members. It’s also about being able to afford to do so. Thus, cost is a primary factor when looking at a potential new tool for your marketing, sales, and support strategy. Budgets are finite. Any new relationships need to make use of those funds efficiently.

Most text message providers offer a similar pricing framework. At least that will be consistent during your search. Billing is either monthly or annually; you choose. Variations arise from:

  • How many texts you want to send per month
  • How many licenses you’ll need for your team
  • How many keywords you want to use (ex. Shortcode keywords enable one-way texts such as: “Text BALANCE to 222-22 to access your account balance”). FYI: “BALANCE” is a keyword
  • Month-to-month or annual contract

Beyond these factors, pricing between providers differs along with the features they offer or you select:

  • Platform integrations
  • Messaging channels (ie. Do you want one-way SMS or also real-time, two-way chats on platforms such as Business Chat on iOS?) 
  • Level of customer support during onboarding
  • Customization (ex. Whitelabeling so it natively integrates into your app. This can be expensive, though possibly valuable for account holders.)

Unlike most products covered on the Learning Library, pricing is straightforward and upfront! Many text providers post their pricing models right on their websites. Save the time doing endless platform demos just to get to the “what’s it cost?” question.

After you’ve done all the below considerations, we do still recommend setting up a meeting with the providers you think are best fits. Then you can discuss exact needs to get an accurate pricing quote.

2. Integrations

Puzzle Pieces - Integration

A text platform that operates as its own silo is going nowhere fast. You’ll grow to despise it before ever getting any benefit. So, make sure the platforms you consider can integrate with your:

  • Core banking system (ex. Symitar Episys, Corelation, Fiserv DNA)
  • Lending department (Including: Loan Origination System (LOS), Collections System, Call Center, e-Signature platform)
  • CRM
  • IT Systems (Even better, invite an IT team member as the discussion progresses)

Why demand integration? Isn’t that just going to bump up the price? Yes, it may cost more to have a platform that can talk to all your systems. However, without these integrations, you’ll be stuck doing all the work manually.

Here’s some things you don’t want to do by hand:

  • Reports reconciling
  • Contact information updates
  • Tracking of customer interactions across multiple platforms

Remember, this was about making customer interactions and management easier! Take the time to make sure everything can integrate up-front. Your future self (and team) will thank you. Plus, ensure any projected transitions are supported as well.

One last thing on integrations: Without them, you don’t get to use advanced text marketing features such as audience targeting. If you can’t pull from and update contact info in your CRM (or core), you’re stuck with generic or loosely-targeted blasts.

That’s not your style.

During your due diligence, double-check all integrations are to the extent you expect. As always, asking for references, and following up, can save you time and energy later. You may decide to build your own integrations, but try to find pre-built APIs first.

3. Features

Email Across Devices

Everyone’s favorite section: The features and benefits! Ok, it’s great to read down a long list of amazing capabilities. Will you use them all? Will you use any? Here’s where we separate the razzle-dazzle from the reality.

What are capabilities that are non-negotiable? Once you’ve learned the basic feature set, draw two columns: “Nice to have” and “Need to have”. Be aggressive about this, because that will help narrow your vendor options right from the start.

Enter this planning with an open mind. Remember, you can always move a feature from one column to the other. Let’s just try to keep the “must-have” consistent. Once you have that list, are there any which require a higher cost? What’s your budget for them?

Here are some common features across most providers to help generate a baseline for both columns:

Floating Text Callout
  • SMS outbound messaging (Basic offering of all platforms: one-way SMS messages) 
  • Two-Way Messaging (Chat)
  • Landline and Toll Free Texting
  • Group Texts
  • Auto-Reply
  • Custom Branded Keywords
  • Targeted Drip Campaigns
  • Custom Audience Segments
  • Analytics and Reporting (Level of sophistication will vary by platform)
  • Multi-Platform Support (ex. iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger)

4. Onboarding

What’s the timeframe between saying yes and having texts traveling? That’s one important question. So are many others. Why? Because onboarding is about more than setting up the system; it’s the process for getting the most out of it through your entire relationship.

Here are a few other questions to consider:

  • Is the platform an out-of-the-box solution that you can set up yourself, or will it require 60-90 days?
  • What level of support comes with your service? Is it 24/7? Do you have a contractual guarantee on reply time?
  • Do you have access to a training academy or resource hub? What’s their policy for ongoing training (both to inform new staff and continuous education)?
Tool Crate with Teddy Bear
How’s their toolbox? Does it come with a teddy bear? That’s important.

Onboarding may not be your first thought when considering a new tool. However, it’s a crucial part of ending up in your institution’s “toolbox”.  Good onboarding ensures everything is set up properly before sending your first text.

A well-implemented and tested system reduces the chance for embarrassing “oops” messages to members.

After all, you are paying for a service. Shouldn’t you understand how it works and ensure your institution is getting its money’s worth?

5. Industry Fit

Which would you prefer?

  1. A platform that you help retrofit to meet your financial institution’s needs.
  2. A system tailor-made to fit the unique objectives of financial institutions.

This sounds like an obvious choice. And, you’re right. There’s no trick here. Having something made for you saves time, money, and energy. Most vendors you find offer the same basic set of features. We shared them up in #3. Are they enough?

Some providers are happy to work with your institution. And they may do a great job. Even though their product is built to meet the needs of a different industry, say, eCommerce.

Tailoring Clothes
Ensure your program is a perfect fit.

Do your other providers specialize in serving financial institutions? Why might you care?

Explore the website of your potential provider to discover how much content and/or use-cases they provide for your industry. If you find yourself searching for reasons why they could be a strong partner, it may be time to move on to another vendor.

Departmental Needs

Another consideration: Your financial institution has a range of departments. What works for lending may not for marketing. We always suggest bringing all involved parties into the decision-making process. It’s no different here.

The platform you choose should help enhance the workflow and success of your lending efforts. At the same time, it also needs to compliment marketing and help everything tie together. For members, it all comes from you, so consistency is essential.

Discuss internally what each department would like to do with the platform. Their wish list, as it were. Then put it all together and present that to the provider in your conversation. If they immediately say, “yeah, we’ve got it!”, ask to have a demo of each feature to be sure.

Grain Silos
You know, silos. Great for grain. Bad for your financial institution.

Here are some examples we’ve seen:

  • Marketing: Send out one-to-many text messages about a new promotion
  • Collections: Send out individual late payment reminders. Allow replies in a one-on-one secure conversation where payments can get processed.
  • Lending: Share links to loan protection product explainer videos after notifying members they are approved for a specified amount.

And, of course, all of this would integrate with your own systems, so there’s no jumping around from one program to another.

You’re putting time, energy, and money into this decision. Make sure it works for everyone involved!

6. Compliance

We left this section for the end on purpose. It’s no fun. It takes a lot of time. It’s also essential.

Gavel

Compliance plays a critical role in financial institution communications. You know the TCPA requires getting written consent before you can even start interacting with your members over text. There’s also steps to ensure all future communications are compliant as well.

What sort of things will you need to consider? Here are some basics:

  • Protecting contact information at rest (ex. Storage)
  • Properly and promptly removing data if someone opts-out from communications
  • Following data safety protocols when sharing confidential information (ex. Loan documents)

Remember, SMS and MMS messages are unencrypted. So, if you plan on sharing confidential info over text, you need a platform that encrypts what you send. Typically, that’s done by sharing a secure link over text. Making it easy reduces friction for all parties.

Can you do this yourself? Sure. You could buy access to a text platform and manage all of the steps. Or, and we highly recommend this, you could partner with a vendor that prioritizes compliance at every step of implementation and operation.

Beyond just your communications, it’s essential your provider keeps current with evolving FCC and TCPA regulations. That way, you can avoid regulatory headaches and instead focus on serving your account holders.

Texting To Greater Success

Person Texting on Phone

Do you have your priorities in order? Did you lay out the texting objectives across all departments? Is there a budget range approved by management? Perfect, you’re on your way to selecting a provider!

We’re putting together a Best SMS Providers for Financial Institutions article right this moment. Be sure to Subscribe to the Learning Library now and you’ll be among the first to know when it’s available!

Not at that point? Make sure you got everything you could out of our other articles in this series.

We’re here to help you on your due diligence and education journey across a range of products/services. From GAP to VSC, Executive Benefits to Marketing, we’ve got you covered.

Photo credit: Oleg Magni on Unsplash

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.