Irish Bank Uses DM to Pull Best Customers to Phone

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DUBLIN - Allied Irish Bank, Ireland's largest bank, is using across the board direct marketing to keep its best customers and switch them to 24-hour telephone banking.

Telephone banking has begun to take off in Ireland as the "Celtic Tiger's" economy continues to boom, said Jim Kidd, who manages the program for AIB and is a former head of the Irish DMA. Internet banking is also moving ahead, albeit more slowly.

"We started fairly small and grew the program organically. We know the target audience that we want. They're our customers, the best out of the million we have, and our main consideration is keeping them loyal to the bank."

In addition, 24-hour phone banking takes some of the pressure off local branches where transactions have been growing. "When you're on the phone you don't have to stand in line at the branch."

Nor does AIB limit phone use to simple inquiries that automatic systems can handle. "We use our phone people for handling multiple transactions like moving money from there to here or for giving advice on more complicated financial type products.

"We'll talk to customers about mortgages, for example, and we'll also use the phone to sell products. You can get a loan on the phone here just as you can in the US."

AIB, Kidd noted, had to move into the customer retention area to fend off growing competition from domestic and foreign financial institutions. While there is no big influx of foreign banks, the Irish market is too small to make it worthwhile, some have come in.

"Our campaign is a traditional mix. We use targeted mail shots. We do some press. We do some above the line stuff also. We're running a significant year 2000 TV campaign on financing auto purchases."

Number plates are being changed on autos, he noted, and the bank is using the occasion to run a steady stream of DRTV spots with the bank's phone number inserted at the end.

Among domestic financial products, "credit cards have moved ahead very swiftly and have become more competitive. Assurance - life insurance and pension products - have moved ahead, though we don't sell them on the phone."

AIB is thinking about selling financial products in Europe but hasn't done anything about it yet. But it does own two banks in Poland which Kidd thinks is Europe's "next" economy and a good place in which to operate.

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