Three years ago Jeff Stephens was depressed. As the head of a marketing consultancy with a focus on the financial sector, he was confronted day after day with bank customer indifference and apathy. As Stephens told Bank Innovation, “People would just say, ‘It is what it is.’”
So when Stephens decided to start his own online alternative to the traditional bank, he knew he’d do things differently. Most importantly, the product should be something customers were passionate about.
And so Wag Bank was born. The service, which was announced about a year ago, recently began beta testing with a group of about 50-60 dog lovers primarily based in the Pacific Northwest. Wag Bank will be the model for several other affinity-based banks if the concept is successful. (Spoiler alert: It seems to be.) The overall organization is called Tribed.
Wag currently partners with Town & Country Bank to offer Dog Lovers Checking, its sole banking product at the moment, though much more is planned.
“Banking is about relationships, but it’s hard to develop relationships with customers now,” Stephens said. To help build relationships with and between customers, Stephens came up with the idea of Tribes, affinity groups that, no matter where members live or how much money they may have, truly have something in common.
Wag is the example that Stephens decided to roll out first, but there are at least 30 more in the hopper, each fitting into one of three categories: Passions, Hobbies, and Life Stages. Wag fits in the Passions bucket. Under Hobbies, Stephens said, we might put cycling, while Life Stages could include students, retirees, or newlyweds, all of whom have very different financial goals.
The tagline Stephens uses for Tribes is “Meaning in Your Banking.” The incentives with Wag and affinity banking with Tribes will be “mostly emotional in nature,” said Stephens. This is not to say there won’t be rational incentives such as discounts on dog-related products in the case of Wag, but there are also fundraising opportunities, for example, donations to dog-related charities, and community events involving members.
In an age of struggling community banks, Stephens’s idea seems like a new take on community banking. “We’re very community-oriented, and social-oriented.” he said. “It’s hard to create meaning without a significant social compact.” He added, ”The Wag product is not a checking account. It is the overall experience.”
Through one-to-one feedback and focus groups, Stephens is satisfied that Wag is delivering value to its beta customers.
It is very refreshing in our cynical age to see meaning and community so strongly connected with banking. If customers love their bank, they will be advocates for it and will stick with it, and won’t hesitate to communicate their feelings. If you’re interested in how truly engaged customers interact with their banks, keep your eye on Wag Bank.
Stephens said it will be “at least a year” before other Tribes are up and running. Stephens is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Creative Brand Communications, a marketing consultancy for banks and credit unions.