Affiliate marketing 101 for community banks and credit unions

Community institutions can use affiliate marketing to amplify market recognition, reach new customers, and stay competitive. Here's how it happens.

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Key points:

  • Affiliate marketing is a cost-effective way for financial institutions (FIs) to reach a wider set of customers and increase conversion.
  • Community FIs can use affiliate marketing to compete with money-center banks despite significantly smaller marketing budgets.
  • Affiliate marketing strategies can be easily used to complement other growth strategies.

Now a multi-billion dollar industry, affiliate marketing has become a reliable advertising model that allows your financial institution (FI) to compensate a third party to help attract new customers and grow your business. With affiliate marketing, you can take advantage of combined brand affinity and customer-reach of organizations, websites, or any other group with an audience you want to expose your products to. 

Unlike other advertising strategies where results can be hard to capture, affiliate marketing is built on delivering a clear ROI. The cost of an affiliate marketing partnership is often contingent on converting site traffic to actual sales as opposed to other metrics like click-throughs or total readership. This makes affiliate marketing a low-cost, high-return strategy for community banks and credit unions—a powerful tool for FIs who want to drive traffic to their site without overspending or losing sight of ROI.

Because of this, affiliate marketing success stories are widespread. More than 80 percent of brands have taken advantage of affiliate programs, and 65 percent of merchants report an annual affiliate marketing revenue of up to 20 percent. Common affiliate marketing practices include creating collaborative content with websites, publications, and other organizations/institutions. This content can include:

  • Banner/text ads
  • Email campaigns
  • Social media influencer campaigns
  • Targeted blog posts

These are just a few of the content types for affiliate marketing that help institutions get their name and suite of products in front of more eyes. Here’s how you can get started and identify strategies that drive value for your institution while helping you forge sustainable partnerships.

The affiliate marketing guide: getting started

So what kinds of affiliate marketing strategies should community FIs be using to attract more customers? A good place to start is to engage one of the many websites that aggregate personal finance products and services for customers. Rate comparison sites like RateHub attract like-minded audiences and target shoppers currently researching mortgage, insurance, credit cards, and other aspects of personal finance. Putting your content in front of a curated audience like the one aggregate sites attract is a way to advertise your products to the population that’s most prepared to buy them at this moment. The key benefit of affiliate marketing is that you get to skip the time-consuming step of sourcing that audience yourself. 

Another effective affiliate marketing method is to engage and promote websites that offer retail discounts, cashback deals, point system rewards, rebates, and credit card offers. Offering this kind of information positions you as an additional resource for your customer base past the products you offer. FIs can even use this method to create followings of loyal customers who view your institution as a resource for saving money completely independent of the traditional services you provide them. This also increases the likelihood that customers will learn about your FI via word-of-mouth referral. 

Common to these two strategies is a commitment to creating quality content that is tailored to the specific reason a customer will visit a website or interact with an organization. Ultimately, there are many ways to generate online traffic with affiliate marketing. With money-center and community FIs alike directing more marketing spend towards affiliate marketing efforts, the larger financial services industry is catching on to this cost-effective, highly efficient mode of advertising, and community institutions can benefit from embracing the potential benefits. We’ve provided a comprehensive list of potential affiliate marketing partners with financially focused audiences below.

Potential additional affiliate marketing partners for FIs

Rate comparison sitesCouponing and dealsContent publishers Social media influencers
Credit SesameThe Smart WalletThe Penny Hoarder@alexhartsuff
FinanceBuzzBrad’s DealsFinance Girl@RamseyShow
BankrateHoneyYo Quiero Dinero@ritholtz
Google ShoppingRakuten (Ebates)A Purple Life@JimMarous
CamelCamelCamelIbottaInvestor Junkie@Fisher85M

A closer look at the benefits of affiliate marketing

As mentioned before, the most obvious benefit of affiliate marketing is that it provides access to a broader market that FIs may not have access to otherwise. This becomes increasingly important as  community banks and credit unions continue their fight against money-center banks for customers. Affiliate marketing is a way to maximize brand affinity and help bridge the recognition gap for these community FIs, and while it will obviously be difficult for community institutions to hold the same household name status as money-center banks, you’d be surprised at the name recognition that these strategies can provide even outside of your immediate community. After you get the name recognition, you’re much better set up to reaffirm the advantages that your community FI offers over the money-center banks (superior customer service, community investment, more flexible approval processes, etc). 

Affiliate marketing is also perfectly positioned to be used in tandem with other growth strategies because of its cost-effectiveness and flexibility. Previously, we explained how online account opening can help community financial institutions unlock more marketing efficiency by boosting conversion rates. We found that many community banks and credit unions who invested in online account opening were able to hit their goals without spending their whole budget. They’re often faced with the question of what to do with the marketing money left over. Affiliate marketing is the next logical step in the process—when your institution has more marketing budget at your disposal due to smart digital investments, this complementary strategy can help you get the most bang for your buck with that leftover budget. Larger banks can afford to be wasteful with broad marketing campaigns. Most smaller banks aren’t as lucky. So why overspend on bringing in leads when you don’t have to?

Affiliate marketing gives you a targeted, affordable, and effective way to stay competitive. 

Affiliate marketing also works in tandem with the internal work your team does building brand affinity and customer trust. This is one of the largest advantages community FIs have over money-center banks, but they run into difficulties getting the word out. If your brand today is a scrapbook collecting dust in the attic, affiliate marketing gives you the chance to leverage common-minded websites and organizations to turn that scrapbook into a folder of digital photos—easily shareable, able to spread further and faster. These strategies are built to help you amplify the brand you worked so hard to build—the same brand that makes your customers trust you more than they would a money-center bank.

FIs can also use affiliate marketing to access detailed online traffic monitoring that allows you to gather more data on customer acquisition efforts. This makes your affiliate marketing success stories repeatable, which will be an important part of your institution’s continued success. It also allows you to capture data insights from multiple organizations, unlocking larger consumer trends that can inform decisions. The cost to join affiliate programs is usually a fraction of the cost of other marketing strategies (some are completely free of cost), meaning it’s a low-risk way to get started in the digital marketing space. And as your institution grows, you can use data insights to expand your affiliate marketing strategy to be more complex. Some options include:

  • Co-branded email campaigns
  • Social media collaborations
  • Cross-promotional blog content

Looking at cross-promotional content specifically, many big banks provide advice sections in their blogs that give users a reason to visit a different piece of content in their ecosystem. CIT Bank does a good job of this by making sure every blog page has links to other places where content can be found (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube for example). What this demonstrates is an opportunity for institutions to create intentional customer journeys in their content within their marketing networks, using brand equity to create a trackable, conversion-friendly, and customizable journey for every person their content reaches.  

You might start small, but the highest-performing community banks and credit unions are the ones that keep expanding the reach and complexity of their affiliate marketing efforts.

Pay per click vs. pay per conversion

As mentioned before, banks and credit unions that offer online account opening (OAO) already have a leg up to benefit from affiliate marketing. What community FIs should always do as they decide which affiliate marketing strategies to pursue is understand which will provide their team with more value: pay-per-click pricing or pay-per-conversion pricing. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Pay-per-click: You’ll pay your affiliate marketing partner every time someone clicks on a piece of your content that lives on their platform.

  • Pros: Incentivizes your partner to advertise more of your content, allows you to drive traffic to your website
  • Cons: Clicks do not guarantee conversion—it’s possible that you end up paying for a high number of clicks that result in a low number of conversions due to a number of factors that may cause customers to abandon your site after they’re directed to it from another source.


  • Pros: This may help you identify more quality leads by incentivizing your partner to direct traffic to your site that they believe will result in customer conversion. 
  • Cons: You may experience a smaller quantity of visitors to your site, reducing conversions that may come from unexpected customers or customers being exposed to what your institution has to offer for the first time.

How MANTL can help banks launch effective OAO

MANTL provides online account opening software to banks and credit unions, lends industry expertise to help seamlessly integrate our platform with your online and mobile banking, and plugs right into your institution’s core banking system.

FIs that use MANTL are able to convert 4 out of 10 customers compared to other solutions that yield conversion rates of 1 or 2 customers. High conversion rates hold the potential to drive marketing performance, increase leads, and boost overall sales. Banks can expect strong results when they use affiliate marketing in tandem with a platform like MANTL because of the strategic flexibility offered by a high-converting solution.

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