November 14, 2017

By Joseph Bednar

KeyBank is fairly new to the Western Mass. financial marketplace, taking over eight Hampden County branches following its acquisition of First Niagara Bank last year. But its leaders are already fluent in speaking the language of the region’s customers, who want their institutions to be customer-friendly and civic-minded. With a host of high-tech products melded with a focus on helping customers effectively use them to manage their financial health, Key seems ready to unlock more business.

It’s called HelloWallet.

“It’s an online platform that KeyBank uses to help customers make smarter, more confident financial decisions. The user first inputs information about their account balances, income, spending, demographics, and more to produce a score of sorts — a picture of where they are financially, where they want to be, and how to get there, by setting budgets, planning for retirement, and more.

“We focus on bringing financial confidence and wellness to all of our customers — individuals and business — across a broad spectrum of needs,” said Courtney Jinjika, the bank’s regional retail executive for Connecticut and Western Mass. “A key differentiator for us is HelloWallet, an online, real-time financial-assessment and planning tool, which, coupled with personalized guidance from their trusted banker, helps our clients achieve financial wellness and accomplish their goals.”

When it acquired HelloWallet last year, KeyBank saw it as one of several strategies for better connecting their clients, both retail and commercial, to helpful financial resources.

“Our focus is on our clients’ overall financial wellness and helping them make solid financial decisions,” Jinjika explained. “With HelloWallet, we integrated a tool into our system that allows clients to assess where they stand within a few components of overall financial wellness; it actually gives recommendations and feeds information back to bankers, who are able to reach out to clients and help them make difficult financial decisions and guide them to better financial wellness.”

As a digitally based tool, it also appeals to the growing set of customers who prefer resources they can access at any time, not just in a branch, said Jeff Hubbard, Key’s market president for Connecticut and Western Mass. “It’s an exciting tool to offer to customers, and a way to better focus on financial literacy.”

The theme of connection is one KeyBank touts in its marketing efforts and its services, Hubbard noted. When the institution, currently the 29th-largest bank in the U.S. by asset size, acquired First Niagara Bank in 2016, it inherited a large footprint in Western Mass. and Connecticut to complement its existing New England presence in Maine, Vermont, and the Boston area.

And if there’s one thing Hubbard understands about Western Mass., where KeyBank now operates eight branches boasting 70 employees, it’s that customers appreciate a community-focused model.

Those eight branches — in East Longmeadow, Feeding Hills, Holyoke, Ludlow, Southwick, Westfield, and two in West Springfield — have been busy introducing resources including commercial lending, residential mortgage lending, investments, wealth management, and insurance.

In doing so, Hubbard said, it’s also touting the value of “meeting customers on whatever playing field they might want to be on.”

High-tech, Personal Touch

Jinjika said bank employees are skilled at helping customers navigate the various high-tech banking options available to them, from online bill pay and remote deposit capture to the HelloWallet tool, and show them how they can use them to monitor their financial wellness. There’s also an online scheduling tool customers can use to make appointments at the branch and outline what issues they want to discuss.

After all, Hubbard said, online banking hasn’t killed branch banking, not by a longshot. It has certainly forced the branch model to evolve in the ways Jinjika described, but a street-level presence remains crucial.

“Lots of people want to visit a branch for lots of reasons,” Hubbard said. “Here, they’ll visit highly trained, experienced people who want to help them. To be successful in the Springfield market, you need to meet people anywhere they want to meet.”

A decade ago, he went on, products like remote deposit capture for businesses seemed strikingly innovative, and now clients have come to expect them as a baseline. Meanwhile, Millennials might have led the way in adopting technology that allows them to control their finances from their computers and smartphones, there’s less of a demographic breakdown today.

“Millennials get on board faster; they’re quicker adopters, but they’re targeted at everyone,” Jinjika said. “Keeping people out of the branch line is a good thing, so adoption rates are pretty strong.”

In addition, Jinjika said, the vast majority of customers seeking to make major life changes, like a home mortgage, want to sit down with a professional.

“When our clients have a concern or are making major financial decisions, they want to do that in person at the branch,” she explained. “What we find is that they’ll do their research online, but when it actually comes down to fully making that decision, they want to sit down with someone and get answers face to face.”

The same goes for commercial customers, Hubbard said, noting that Key likes to tout itself as a “Main Street bank with Wall Street capabilities,” which can leverage its investment-banking team and industry-specific bankers to bring added resources to commercial clients. We believe that these capabilities, along with our state-of-the-art cash-management services and insurance and benefit consulting services, give us a competitive advantage with our business clients.

He understands the fierce competition in a market that many analysts have called overbanked in recent years, but said loan demand is steady.

“We’re certainly getting our fair share,” he told BusinessWest. “Springfield is a wonderful market with lots of opportunities. We’re grateful to have into some very large clients, very good-sized companies in Greater Springfield, in addition to small, mom-and-pop businesses.”

Another business-minded program is Key@Work, which partners with companies and provides free and discounted banking services employees at no cost to the employer. A dedicated Key@Work ‘relationship manager’ delivers a customized program on site to meet the specific needs of workers through financial-education presentations and one-on-one financial assessments.

It’s another way KeyBank aims to broaden its customer base in its existing branches, rather than having to open new branches to grow.

“We’re very happy with the branch locations we have today,” Hubbard said. “The objective is to get our employees out of the branch into the community and grow our business organically.”

Community Ties

The bank also understands that the region’s community-banking culture means community involvement on a charitable level, Hubbard said, noting that Key expects to make $100,000 in community sponsorships and charitable grants to nonprofits serving the Greater Springfield market in 2017. “We think it’s very important to support the market where we live and work. That’s something we take seriously.”

On a national level, KeyBank also released its National Community Benefits plan last year, which includes $16.5 billion in investments across the communities it serves. The commitments are part of a comprehensive blueprint for steps Key will take over the next five years.

As part of a partnership with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, KeyBank committed to $16.5 billion in mortgage lending, small-business lending, community-development lending, and philanthropy, with the goal of stimulating job and economic growth in those communities. KeyBank has also committed to reducing neighborhood blight as well as maintenance and disposition of foreclosed properties.

Additionally, the KeyBank Foundation is committing $175 million in philanthropic investments for its traditional priorities of education and workforce development. The investments will also focus on the stabilization of urban neighborhoods and rural communities through local capacity building, affordable housing, and building technical assistance to execute locally.

Nationwide, KeyBank employees will support the plan through local service projects and board leadership. Employees will continue to be heavily engaged in their communities, with the expectation of 500,000 of additional volunteer hours over the next five years.

“Key has jumped into this in a big way,” Hubbard said, noting that the effort crosses 15 states, but each market will feel an impact. “This is a broad but very meaningful delivery of strong foundational support.”

The bank has also earned national recognition as one of Points of Light’s top 50 most community-minded companies for the last three consecutive years; a Top 50 Company for Diversity by Diversity Inc. for the last seven years, and eight annual ‘outstanding’ ratings from the Community Reinvestment Act for its levels of lending, investment, and service to low- and moderate-income communities — one of less than 10% of all U.S. banks to achieve that goal.

Those accolades further demonstrate, Jinjika noted, that KeyBank aims to be an effective partner both for customers who walk in the branch and in the communities surrounding those branches.

“We keep clients at the center of all we do,” she told BusinessWest. “We compete where some of the bigger banks won’t, and where the smaller banks can’t. We really think about the individual in front of us when we put together a package that will work for their financial wellness.”