Auto loan customer journey for banks banktastic

I finally found my perfect ride. Next: the perfect car loan. I have excellent credit and several existing banking relationships. And I know many bankers through social and community activities. So I felt confident that I could get a good rate with a trusted institution.

Here’s what I learned along the way—and what it means for your bank.


my auto loan customer journey
In my search for the best financing, I took the usual steps down a well-worn path:

      • Emailing my bankers to ask for rates.
      • Searching online to see local institutions advertising the best rates and decide who else I should contact.
      • Visiting websites of banks I know and admire to look for their rates.
      • Emailing or calling those bankers to ask for quotes.
      • Asking the salesperson where I’m purchasing my car for his recommendation.

the influencers 
As I moved through those steps, I also considered a number of different influencers. The most important ones were:

      • Friendships/relationships – I shopped where I already bank or with bankers I knew.
      • Brand – I called institutions whose reputations I trusted.
      • Online search – I Googled “best local car loan rates.”
      • Rates – I compared rates.
      • Recommendation – I asked my car seller. His recommendation delivered a great rate and ease of doing business—with a local institution I knew and trusted.

key experiences from my auto loan road trip

One banker was really smart. Besides telling me her institution’s best rate, she also quoted the monthly loan payment amount based on four years vs. five years vs. six years. Some customers are “payment buyers,” while others buy on the total and the amount in interest they’ll pay. She covered all the bases with me, since she didn’t know where I was coming from. She also checked back in with me a week later to see if I had questions or needed help.

A different banker (who I don’t currently do business with) told me her rate and said she would price match any rate I could get elsewhere. I did not receive any follow up from her.

The bank that had the most paid ads in my Google search dominated—I didn’t see very many other institutions advertising. I clicked this bank’s ads to look for pricing. Unfortunately, the ads offered a lot of verbiage but no rates.

Many of the banks I looked at online did not show the rates on their website at all. I was forced to call or email to find out. It felt like a big waste of my time.

One local institution is running a “refi my car loan” advertising campaign with some bonus cash. But I don’t need a refi. I need a new loan.

what this means for bankers
So, what does this mean for bankers who want to drive more auto loan business?

Car loans are a commodity. You’ve got to be sharper than everyone else around you if you want to build more opportunities for your business. Consider these ways to help you win more loans and deeper relationships with customers.

  1. Invest in paid search marketing. Use Google and Bing to see who comes up at the top. See which competitors are buying ad placements. Be sure your traditional advertising efforts are supplemented with online advertising in a strategic manner so that you’re getting a chance to be in the race.
  2. Make sure your website is optimized for organic search. Do you use the right key words plentifully and effectively? Do you have a loan calculator? Bonus points for some video. Don’t assume. Check out your web analytics to see how people are using your website. Notice what happens when they hit your auto loan page. Do visitors bounce or go deeper? Observe how much time they’re spending there. Are you offering them a reason to stay and learn more?
  3. Offer expertise. I love it that one banker presented me with the options on a monthly payment. She helped me think about how this purchase affects my household budget. If customers are not trading their old car but selling outright, do they know how to navigate title transfer and sales tax? Do they know the pros and cons of trade-in vs. selling outright? If you can offer real advice, it could be an additional selling point for you. Time is money: make it easy for them.
  4. Offer a deal. I’m not suggesting you cut your rate simply to get the loan. But can you price match or offer a special incentive if the buyer also opens another account with you—or if she is an existing customer?

I don’t bank with the price match banker and she did not offer me any special “deal” if I were to open a deposit account with her. Nor did she give me any reason I should do business with her bank. This was a missed opportunity.

Make it a deal AND a relationship. Then the deal becomes a better investment in a likely long-term customer. Here are some sales promotion ideas:

        • Give them a year of free safe deposit rental to safely keep their new car paperwork.
        • Give them the first month free so they have a cushion to pay the new registration and insurance fees.
        • Give them a crisp new $100 bill.
        • Partner with a local car wash and give borrowers a batch of wash coupons as a gift with purchase.
        • Partner with a drive-in movie theater and give borrowers some comp tickets to enjoy a night out in their new vehicle.
    1. Make sure the car sellers know your offer. I purchased from a local small business rather than one of the big dealerships. The business owner recommended a certain bank because they have one of the best rates, and they made the paperwork really easy. Be sure your loan officers are making regular calls on people who can refer business to you. The “F&I guys” at the big dealerships may not listen to you. But the independent sellers will. (They might need your banking services, too.) These sellers talk to a lot of people. They can help you market your bank if they believe you’re a good fit and will make them look good.
  • mapping it out

    According to Car and Driver, people are keeping their vehicles longer. In 2017, the average age of a light duty vehicle was 10.5 years. And for pickups, it’s 13.6 years. That means you’ve probably seen your auto loan business slowing because the buyer universe is shrinking.

  • Make sure you’re getting your share of the market—or more—with a smarter, coordinated marketing approach.


    This article was first published in the American Bankers Association Journal on August 9, 2019.

    For help developing marketing strategies to build your auto loans—and other lines of business—call Martha Bartlett Piland direct at 785.969.6203. You can also order her newest book, Beyond Sticky at your favorite bookseller.