Ooops. I said it incorrectly. Even for someone that has worked inside financial institutions for twenty years, I still occasionally make that mistake as I transition from thinking about “features and benefits” to “benefits and features.”

Why is that — a simple reversal of the words — so important? The answer is easy. For far too long, bank and credit union professionals have settled comfortably into the “features-dump” method of interacting with consumers. That is to say, when a consumer interacts with a financial institution representative, that person typically goes into a half-asleep recitation of all the bullet point nuts-and-bolts that go along with a particular product or service. For example, they talk about the percentage rate of a certain lending product or how many boxes of free checks you get with this type checking account.

While features are not a bad thing (and financial institution professionals certainly must know their features) they are a snooze-fest when it comes to the consumer. What the consumer wants to hear (and what is more likely to build deeper relationships) is not a litany of features but rather the benefits to that individual. In other words, “what’s in it for them?” That’s where benefits arrive.

There’s an old saying — “features tell but benefits sell.” This is entirely true. Features are the blueprints of a particular product or service, but that’s not usually enough to entice a consumer to make a purchase decision. Rather, benefits sell because they open up the consumer’s mind to the dream that goes along with that product or service.

For example, while a low percentage rate alone is great, what the consumer really is thinking about is getting behind the wheel of that new car or truck. Similarly, getting a free box of checks with your checking account is cool, but maybe that consumer really wants to hear how this account will help him or her get back on their feet after a financial lifestyle calamity.

Idea In Action

The brand team at UniWyo FCU in Laramie, Wyoming is definitely taking benefits and features to heart. In fact, their staff is so hyped about the brand and ways to nurture it that a volunteer “newscast” developed featuring employees interviewing each other about elements of the brand. In the most recent podcast, one staff member interviewed another about referrals and received great information from their lead referral team member that in turn was shared with the rest of the staff.

“In this podcast, one of our team members discussed her secrets to success when it comes to referrals,” said Tara Springsteen, Vice President of Operations with UniWyo FCU. “Very often, as the employee related, it comes down to listening to our members and then describing our products and services not so much in terms of features but of benefits and positive results for our members. When you explain it in terms of being able to save someone money, the message strikes home quicker and clearer than an awkward and potentially confusing description of features.”

For many years, banks and credit unions have trained to “features and benefits.” The challenge in the emerging hyper-competitive digital financial marketplace is reversing the trend and focusing more on training staff to “benefits and features.”