Small, regional banks have a tough time trying to get you to switch your business from megabanks, whose main benefit to average consumers is the fact that their branches can be found anywhere in Japan. More locally situated banks tend to grow up around local commercial customers, but they need average borrowers, too. The trick is: How do they make up for the lack of a widespread presence?
One obvious solution is to offer services and products that other banks don’t, and in that regard Jonan Shinyo Kinko, which is headquartered in Shinagawa, Tokyo, is quite creative. Perhaps their most controversial gimmick is a “lottery savings account,” a deal that was apparently frowned upon by the Finance Ministry but which has been copied by some other small banks. If you keep a certain amount of money in a special savings account, the bank will buy lottery tickets for you, and they guarantee that your odds of winning are greater than if you bought the tickets yourself.
The latest product from Jonan (which means “south of the castle,” thus indicating Shinagawa’s position in relation to Edo Castle) is much more edifying. The bank believes that Japanese society is “not safe” as long as it relies so much on nuclear power for its energy needs, and wants to encourage not only conservation but also the promotion of renewable energy sources. For its own part, Jonan has pledged to reduce its own energy consumption by 30 percent over the next three years by resetting its air conditioners and heaters, applying energy saving fixtures and facilities, installing better insulation and buying into a self-generating power system for its own offices.
Then on April 28, the bank made an announcement that it would go even further. Customers could expect more beneficial interests rates on both savings accounts and loans if they could prove to the bank that they were making a concerted effort to be more energy efficient. For instance, a depositor who could show Jonan that he spent more than ¥100,000 on conservation devices such as solar systems, electrical rechargers, or LED lamps would receive an extra 1 percent in interest on savings accounts of up to ¥1 million. Given that most banks only give about 0.02 percent, it’s a sizable allowance. In addition, if a customer takes out a home improvement loan to boost the energy efficiency of his dwelling for amounts between ¥500,000 and ¥3 million, the loan will be interest free for the first year, and thereafter interest will be fixed at 1 percent for loan periods of 3 to 8 years. Most home improvement loans are around 3.5 percent.
Jonan isn’t the only bank that is trying to make a difference since the March 11 tragedy, though it seems to be the only one that has tied its sense of social responsibility to rewards for customers. Sony Bank currently offers limited time savings accounts with special interest rates, of which Sony will donate 0.01 percent to charity. Basically, it’s no skin off Sony’s nose. Jonan, on the other hand, puts its money where its mouth it.