Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Undercover Shoppers Help Banks Detect Own Rough Spots

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Undercover Shoppers Help Banks Detect Own Rough Spots

Article excerpt

Wanted: Skilled actors and actresses to be trained for special purposes. That's theater, not banking, you say? Well, consider this: The would-be thespians are trained by Service Intelligence, Inc. to go into banks, pose as customers, and report back to management on various aspects of customer service. A branch manager can submit figures and say what goes on in his or her branch. But only a customer-or someone who looks like one-can tell if policies that come down from the top are really being implemented.

Some may say this is bad for morale and condemn it as spying. But banks are under attack from several quarters for alleged practices that are unsavory as well as illegal:

[] Mortgage redlining

[] Discrimination against women or minorities in granting of credit.

[] Failure to inform customers that investment products are not FDIC-insured.

The accusations sometimes come from rival industries or from self-appointed consumer watchdog groups, so they may not be disinterested. Just the same, the only way banks can fight back is if the managements know that policies are not just posted on the walls of branches but actually carried out. Hence Service Intelligence, a Seattle-based customer research firm that serves name-brand clients in retailing, hospitality, high-tech/telecommunications, and financial services.

According to Susan Smith, vice president and principal in charge of the banking practice, SI was set up five years ago, but the principals have an additional five years before that at other market research firms, performing services for banking clients.

She said that SI "actors" are far less likely to be little old ladies in tennis shoes; more likely they are graduate students, or adults in middle life who are between jobs, and they are hired for temporary periods, perhaps a month or so. …

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