Four Letters. Infinite Potential.
Giving Thanks Begins with Empathy

Giving Thanks Begins with Empathy

By Mark Roe, National Director

The holiday season is a great time to stop and appreciate your account holders—the lifeblood of your financial institution. How do you show them your gratitude? 

What your account holders would really appreciate is to be treated with empathy all year. A cornerstone trait of emotional intelligence, empathy goes hand in hand with delivering a positive customer experience. Without empathy, you’re left wondering what it is your account holders really want and need.

What is Empathy?

Let’s define “empathy” as:

the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences
by imagining yourself in that person’s situation

Basically, it’s putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Simple in theory … but it takes mindfulness to execute on a continuous basis.

In business, having empathy means deeply understanding a situation, a problem or an inconvenience someone else is experiencing before deciding on a solution. Albert Einstein once said, If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

How Can Empathy Help You?
In 2016, the Harvard Business Review published “
The Most (and Least) Empathetic Companies.” Author Belinda Parmar noted, “There is a direct link between empathy and commercial success. Businesses are more profitable and productive when they act ethically, treat their staff well and communicate better with their customers.”


The data (along with common sense) supports that statement: the 10 most empathetic companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the least empathetic companies on the list.


Having empathy gives a business its moral compass, as well as a way to enact patience and conflict resolution—two key components of excellent customer service.

What Does Empathy Look Like? (And What Does it NOT Look Like?)

A financial institution should consider whether its services and practices are easy to understand, fair and helpful to its users. The only way to get to do this is with empathy.


Take a look at your overdraft service through the eyes of your account holders. What are they seeing? Here are two overdraft models to compare through a lens of empathy:


Fully Disclosed Overdraft Program:

  • Fully-disclosed: “I have all the information to make an informed decision about using the service.”
  • Fixed limits: “I know exactly what to expect each and every time.”
  • Customer service: “The staff explained my options well and answered all my questions.”
  • Program: “This seems like a convenient and useful service and a safety net if I need it.”

Undisclosed Overdraft Program:

  • Undisclosed: “I don’t have all the information to make an informed decision.”
  • Dynamic (or algorithm-based) limits: “I don’t know what my limit is from one day to the next, which is confusing.”
  • Customer service: “The rep couldn’t explain how my transactions would be handled or answer my questions.”
  • Program: “This is a complicated expense that doesn’t provide relief when I’m already feeling stressed.”


Which program, as a consumer, would you choose? Which one is fair, empowering and easy to understand? It’s clear that a fully disclosed overdraft program is the consumer-friendly option. This is what empathy looks like, from the ground up.


Follow the Golden Rule

Empathy offers a very simple litmus test, one that we’ve been taught since childhood: treat others—in this case, your account holders—the way you’d want to be treated. When you offer services that have their best interests at heart, you’re showing them gratitude all year long.


Happy Thanksgiving, and cheers to a year of embracing empathy.



JMFA has been helping community banks and credit unions improve their performance and profitability for more than 38 years. Whether you’re looking for ways to recover lost revenue, uncover expense reduction opportunities or improve service delivery, JMFA has the right solutions to help you not only meet, but exceed, your goals. We are proud to be a preferred provider to many industry groups. To learn more, please contact your local representative or call 800- 809-2307.