Clubhouse roundtable

Financial services marketers discuss how to keep up with the digital transformation of the industry without alienating existing clients.

Club House
Branwell Johnson

Branwell Johnson, chair, Deputy editor, Marketing Week

Yusuf Aleem

Yusuf Aleem, Digital marketer, (Formerly of Lloyds Banking Group)

Joydeep Bhattacharya

Joy Bhattacharya, Managing director, financial services, Accenture Interactive

Ronnie Brown

Ronnie Brown, Group digital manager, Hiscox

Philip Browne

Philip Browne, Marketing director, Brewin Dolphin Securities

Boon Koh

Boon Koh, Senior digital acquisition manager, Barclaycard

Richard Levy

Richard Levy, Marketing director – UK, Ireland and Nordics, MoneyGram International

Colin McDougall

Colin McDougall, Head of digital, Sun Life Direct UK

Andreas Mavroudis

Andreas Mavroudis, Global digital business manager, Aviva

Anatoly Roytman

Anatoly Roytman, Managing director, Europe, Accenture Interactive

Lisa Wood

Lisa Wood, Head of marketing, First Direct



Marketing Week (MW): In a world where digital technology is transforming traditional business models, how are financial services brands approaching the threats and opportunities?

Lisa Wood (LW): The area where there is most opportunity is just giving the customer simplicity and ease, particularly in the financial services world where it’s a low-interest category. They’re after something quite functional. As for personalisation, we have a long way to go. Social is a huge opportunity but it has big challenges with the regulatory environment and data protection.

Philip Browne (PB): Digital platforms can offer a huge amount, particularly through social media. We need to leverage and complement the traditional parts of the business so that digital doesn’t alienate our existing clients but opens up new markets and customer types through those platforms.

Colin McDougall (CM): All those traditional skills of direct marketing apply just as easily to digital. That’s my background, even though I am working with [a young marketing team].

Joydeep Bhattacharya (JB): It’s interesting the way you talk about traditional versus digital where, looking at it externally, the opportunity really lies in having that seamless channel experience, whether you’re physical or digital. Customers do not differentiate about the experience they get. That’s one area where there’s enormous opportunity to just join things together.

Anatoly Roytman (AR): Yes, it’s about creating a seamless experience across every platform, changing the ecosystem so that it becomes more customer-centric. But who owns that customer? Is it the marketing, sales or service department? Once we get the answer, we’ll know what to do. This is the most exciting period in my career because now it’s becoming a survival game for many clients.

Ronnie Brown (RB): Sometimes there’s pressure to contact the customer but do we really need to? One of the things we’re struggling with is social media. You’re told you need to create contact, but do people really want to hear what we have to say? Can we find a voice that’s appropriate for us and for the consumer? That’s the problem we have with identity. It’s no problem for Nike – they just stick videos of Wayne Rooney on YouTube. But a video of somebody writing an insurance policy? Less sexy.

MW: How do you think brands that are perceived as functional, such as in financial services, are going to get permission from ‘digital native’ consumers to communicate with them through online channels?

Roundtable 2

Boon Koh (BK): Customer 2.0 was comfortable with using the web, but Customer 3.0 is comfortable with every aspect of the web. They’re digitally savvy so what’s in it for them? The word is ‘personalisation’, from a marketing point of view. At Barclaycard, we’re trying to use big data because we have lots of information about our customers in terms of transactional history. We have lots of personal information. It’s about being smart with all that, being able to tailor marketing communications on a one-to-one level. We’re trying to get to a stage where every email we send is individual. That’s next in marketing for us.

LW: Big data is very difficult for us to crack as an organisation. There’s so much data – how do you use it in a timely way to tap in to people’s lives and activities? Trying to do that from a systems and data skills perspective poses a real challenge.

AR: The history of the internet is that every year or two we come up with a new buzzword. It becomes the thing to do. Two years ago social media was the thing to do and you would succeed as long as you had a social media strategy. The year after that it was mobile. Now it’s big data. 

Because the internet is so cluttered, each brand needs to zero in on what it can uniquely provide, otherwise it doesn’t help, it just creates more clutter. That’s one of the key issues. Technology is great but sometimes it’s being used as a way to obstruct the real question. What’s the value? How can I provide it? Who are we trying to serve? And how can we make sure we do it better than somebody else?

CM: It’s easy to be quite scary now because we know so much about our customers. We know every conversation they’re having on social media. So when they say they’ve just had a child, and we say “Congratulations, you’ll be wanting some life insurance,” it could be relevant and it may be timely but actually it could scare the living daylights out of them. I’m trying to find a way of engaging sensibly. 

Permissions are all about data and a lot of our customers – especially the more elderly ones – do not trust financial institutions or the internet. We’re respectful of that, clear about what we want to do with their data, and follow through. Even though our customers think we’re selling to every man and his dog, we’re not.

PB: Going back to the person who announces they’ve had a child on social media, would you follow that up if they told you face-to-face? Would you try to set up a sales meeting? No, you wouldn’t. So the same rules apply in the digital space. To some extent, different rules apply to what you say on Facebook but we have to think: is our response an appropriate message to be putting up in the social space? Because the same rules apply as if it were face-to-face.

Yusuf Aleem (YA): It’s about being creative as well. What’s the imagery you’re using and how does it differentiate your brand? Say you’re engaging with the older market; are you using the right channels? And if they’re not going into branches because they’re using mobile and online banking, what’s the imagery you’re going to use to grab their attention quickly?

MW: There’s a plethora of different connected devices and platforms and you have to make choices about your budgets but consumers don’t care – they just want a seamless experience. So what are the barriers to getting to a seamless customer journey?

Roundtable 3

Richard Levy (RL): The customer doesn’t care about a lot of the internal discussions we have about joining up A, B and C, they just want to see the end result. So from a communications point of view, we’ve broken it down into two questions: When is it relevant to communicate and what is the message? We sit here as companies thinking customers want to hear from us – and often they don’t. 

You can end up in a negative place. If you over-communicate with them, it puts them off. In the end, they will just want less of it and will opt out unless it’s more personalised. The challenge to make it a seamless experience is to start from the basics. Why do they want to hear from you? When do they want to hear from you? What’s the message? The latest fad is something to be wary of.

Andreas Mavroudis (AM): We stepped back and accepted that previously we had been externalising some of our internal issues, trying to shoehorn a customer type and a product into a very specific experience. So what we’ve done with our digital strategy team is try to go back to basics and understand what the customer’s needs are from the start, identifying the touchpoints and the propensity to use digital at those touchpoints and mapping out an illustration of the journey based on customer needs.

That means we do not duplicate innovations and we don’t over-engineer the journey. If the customer’s touchpoints are digital, we take responsibility to join them up, regardless of over 200 years of offline legacy. Where we’ve identified that a process has to be done manually, we do that. It’s not only about the experience becoming seamless digitally – to be the best digital insurer it’s about understanding when not to be digital. That’s when the penny dropped. The technology joins up properly and the customer has that useful experience, which adds to their propensity to come back.

RB: I really don’t agree with having a head of customer experience. Having worked in organisations that have somebody in charge of customer experience, everybody defaults to them and, as a result, does nothing. Customer experience must be endemic in the culture – whichever department you are in, you hire people with those values. I’ve also worked for a company with a head of innovation and, as a result, we did no innovation.

LW: That’s hugely dangerous. One thing that First Direct prides itself on is that it was born out of a customer-centric culture so every person in the organisation is passionate about the customer experience. Everyone will own the customer experience so there isn’t any one person who owns the customer or owns customer experience because everybody has a passion for it. It’s cultural and that takes a long time to develop.It worries me when someone in an organisation asks: “Who owns the customer?”

MW: Another problem posed by digital transformation is which metrics you should use to measure performance. What are your thoughts?

Roundtable 4

YA: There are so many metrics, you can get lost in them all. The most useful one is how many people click to get a quote and then how many conversions you get. If you’re getting a lot of people through the door, what are you doing that prevents them purchasing the product?

Going back to customer experience, the best metrics are where they look at the emotional journey. In an emotional journey, from telephone to online to purchase, you can see where customers are dissatisfied and address those issues to make the customer journey really positive.

AM: In our part of the organisation, we’re always getting requests for apps and mobile. It’s almost become the flavour of the year or a knee-jerk journey towards becoming digital – how you move towards that ‘digitalness’ is supposedly by having an app for your team. 

We’ve tried to calm that down by having a digital strategy and trying to unify global strategy, which is about having appropriate useful applications and capabilities that are designed into that customer journey to fulfil people’s needs. So we’re not designing technology for the sake of it but designing it for a very real purpose. 

Technology is an exciting thing to engage internal teams on: participation is really high on the hack days and innovation days that we run.

BK: We focus a lot on conversion rates on a desktop site, but [chasing conversions] doesn’t make much sense with an app because an app is very much used on the go. So we’re really trying to tailor the experience on an app for content that you wouldn’t get on a mobile website.

We also see measuring conversion rates on an app as a barrier because you are actively asking customers to download an app and take up space on their screens. To get them to open it again and again, it has to add value and not just replicate your mobile website in an app shell.

RB: The most ridiculous apps have been pitched to me. A department head says, “I have an app”, so the department has been digitised – there’s an app to do this, an app to do that. You have to have a filter on that kind of thing.

AM: The other dimension to that is you’re not consistently doing it across your group if you have different offices around the globe because everybody’s at a different stage of the development journey. Trying to move everyone up to this target of future digital excellence at the same time is nigh-on impossible. 

I handle the UK, Asia-Pacific and China and we’re all at different stages. I’ve got colleagues over in France today establishing the needs and current digital capabilities of teams over there. It’s almost a different conversation. But if we can identify where everybody is to start with, we can interject with a different conversation at the right time. And then we can move everybody up.

MW: How are your brands addressing the problem of information-sharing through your organisations?

BK: It’s a big problem. At Barclays we have lots of financial products, from mortgages to savings to credit cards. The customer sees Barclays as a single organisation but internally we see it as current accounts, mortgages and so on, and each of the products has its own marketing team. 

One of the challenges we face is how to take that single view of the customer and make sure we’re not hitting them with five ads, one for each different department, which is not only a waste of money but shows we’re not joined up. How do we join up marketing and communications seamlessly where each department has its role to play at each part of the customer journey, making sure there’s no overlap? That’s one of the things we’re working on: making sure we have a single view of the customer and a single customer journey.

MW: So do financial services have specific barriers or regulations that hinder the creation of a single customer view?

LW: One of the things we’d like is to be in the social space more, because we’d like to be able to join up our overall multichannel strategy and have social customer service. One of the barriers we have is that when customers interact with you, you have to take them into a secure channel to give them any information. Once you’re in the social space, you may have a different Twitter handle [from your real name] and we don’t have the data to tie up who someone is in the social space with who they are as a customer. If they’re complaining in the social space, how do we interject and make good?

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