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This bank merger is child's play

A 6-year-old explains the intricacies of USAmeriBank's acquisition by Valley National Bank.


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  • | 6:00 a.m. May 11, 2018
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USAmeriBank CEO Joe Chillura and Valley National Bank President and CEO Ira Robbins speak with Gavin Houser. Courtesy photo.
USAmeriBank CEO Joe Chillura and Valley National Bank President and CEO Ira Robbins speak with Gavin Houser. Courtesy photo.
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Gavin Houser in a scene from one of the
Gavin Houser in a scene from one of the "Gavin's Merger Lane" videos. Courtesy photo.

When Wayne, N.J.-based Valley National Bank acquired Clearwater-based USAmeriBank for $816 million last year, it faced a number of different challenges on the PR and marketing front. One of the biggest was answering questions from USAB customers who were concerned about how the deal might affect them and their bank accounts.

Instead of flooding customers’ email and snail mail with a slew of literature, though, the bank took a different tack: a series of online videos starring Gavin Houser, a 6-year-old from the Clearwater area who had recently opened up his first bank account using birthday money he’d saved up.

"Gavin ... has his own YouTube channel and says the day he opened his USAB account was the best day of his life." Mark Fernandez, Valley National Bank’s chief marketing and communications executive

“Gavin is a very interesting and unique kid,” says Mark Fernandez, Valley National Bank’s chief marketing and communications executive. “He has his own YouTube channel and says the day he opened his USAB account was the best day of his life.”

Gavin’s mother, Kristina Houser, a longtime USAB personal and business banking customer, wrote a post on Facebook about how much she and Gavin enjoyed their experience at USAB’s Countryside branch. She also praised the service provided by branch manager Lisa Langan, whose boss, USAB Senior Vice President Joe Riggs, got wind of the post.

“On a parallel path, we were talking about how to address questions that customers might have about the merger,” says Fernandez. “And this pops up. It was very fortuitous … very organic the way it all happened.”

The result is “Gavin’s Merger Lane,” in which Gavin sits down for a series of quick-hit Q&A sessions with USAB CEO Joe Chillura and Valley National Bank President and CEO Ira Robbins. The five videos were shot in a single day in March by Three Chairs, a Ybor City-based video production company.

Gavin asks tough questions of the executives, like whether Langan will continue to be his banker and if he will need to order new checks. Fernandez says the videos were only partly scripted.

“We had certain things we had to address, like customer transactional issues that are important,” he says. “But beyond that, Gavin and his mom came up with a list of specific things they care about. Then it was just Gavin sitting down with Joe and Ira … we treated it like a conversation. Both of them have four kids; they are both good dads and that made it easier.”

 

 

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