Thursday, January 3, 2013

22 Industry Leaders Provide New Year's Resolutions for Bank Marketers


This is the third annual installment of my financial institution marketer resolution series which I started two years ago with 'Ten Bank Marketer Resolutions for 2011' and followed up with 'Ten Resolutions that Bank Marketers Can't Ignore in 2012'.

Unsurprisingly, there are similarities from year to year as bank marketers continue to be challenged by increasing regulations, new competitors, expanding channels and products, new technologies and a much higher emphasis on measured results. In addition, the need to focus on the customer experience and find ways to generate additional revenue has become a requisite for bank and credit union marketers.

As I did for the marketing resolutions in 2012, I collected ideas from my travels across the country meeting with banks of all sizes in addition to asking industry leaders to provide insight into what they believe bank marketers should focus on in 2013. I appreciate the fantastic response I received from almost two dozen blogging, tweeting and LinkedIn friends in the U.S. and abroad who provide me with insight and inspiration on a daily basis.

Here are the resolutions that industry leaders believe are most important for financial institution marketers in 2013:

Improve Focus

The fact that I have fewer resolutions this year than in the past is intentional. While I could have easily presented 10, 13 or more resolutions for 2013, it has become apparent that the inability to focus is hampering the ability for most financial institution marketers to accomplish what is required. The noise created by multiple (sometimes conflicting) initiatives is distracting financial marketers and making it difficult to move the marketing needle for many organizations.

Tim McAlpine, president and creative director of Currency Marketing says it best in his response. "Retail financial institutions should resolve to focus. This could be a focus on a singular product or a singular type of customer. Don't forget about everything else, just put 70% of your energy into one big thing that your institution can be the best at in your marketplace."

In the same vein, Ron Shevlin, senior analyst from Aite Group and publisher of the Snarketing 2.0 blog states that, "bank marketers should resolve to NOT fall in love with every new buzzword that comes along." Knowing Ron, this would include, but not be limited to 'big data', many concepts around social media and even some marketing roles/titles. Before moving to the next 'shiny object', make sure you are doing the basics well.

Being focused should not come at the expense of flexibility, however. As Matt Wilcox, senior vice president of Zions Bank and proficient financial blogger points out, marketing plans should remain nimble and fluid. "Marketers should not fall into the trap of making a detailed calendar that must be followed at all costs. Consumers have changed and so should marketing. Seasonality will always play a role, but cater your marketing to your opportunities and go after the business that supports your overarching objectives."

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Grab the Low Hanging Fruit

In the quest to deliver the next great technology or to respond to the competitor down the street, bank and credit union marketers sometimes forget to optimize the acquisition, activation, onboarding, cross-selling and retention processes that are the foundation for success.

Bradley Leimer, Vice President of Mechanics Bank and publisher of The Discerning Technologist suggests that marketers need to focus on the account opening, engagement and onboarding processes. According to Leimer, "Online account opening for new customers can be easily improved, mobile account opening (like we see at USAA) can be added, and ways to get people to the point of commitment and get them onboarded as simply and quickly as possible is imperative." He adds, "We must make it easy for existing customers to add new accounts and accept automated offers, which in turn will help to address the lost revenue from compressed margins, lower fee income and the nibbling of payment income streams by start-ups and payment networks."

Cross-selling existing customers was also seen as important from industry leaders as it has been in the past. Bill Secrest, director of Datamyx reminded financial marketers that some of the best sales opportunities are those that are both easily accessed and easily responded to on a regular basis. He emphasized that credit data can be used to identify customers shopping for a new loan. "The best way to grow and retain your portfolio of credit worthy consumers is through the application of trigger data," states Secrest. 

Additional 'no brainers' from a financial marketing perspective are the pursuit of new movers, the encouragement of utilizing available credit, refinancing loans that have higher rates, eliminating paper statements, encouraging the capture of email addresses and mobile phone numbers and building a strategy for retaining profitable relationships.

Think Digital First

Financial service delivery options are changing faster than ever, with consumers using more devices, more often, and to do more interacting than ever before. As a result, financial marketers need to adjust their service delivery and marketing in an innovative, customer centric manner. Serief Meleis, a partner at Novantas submitted that, "Bankers must resolve to reposition their organizations to be successful in the new digital universe, where people often pick their financial partner based on online research as opposed to the location of the nearest branch."

Jim Breune, CEO and founder of the Online Banking Report and founder of The Finovate Group reaffirmed the thoughts of Serief by saying, "Every product enhancement, marketing initiative, branding play, pricing adjustment, customer service tweak, security improvement and even new brick and mortar investment should be viewed through an online/mobile lens in 2013 and beyond."

David Gerbino, digital product, marketing and strategy manager at Provident Bank in New York went even further with his recommended resolution by saying that banks need to say 'goodbye' to the web as we have known it. According to Gerbino, "Whether a customer uses a tiny screen mobile device like an iPhone, a small screen device like an Android phone, 7 inch tablet, 10 inch tablet, all the way up to an old fashioned laptop or desktop computer, one website needs to support them all through responsive web design."

Bryan Clagett, the chief marketing officer at Geezeo concurred when he mentioned that the entire online banking experience needs to be holistically reviewed. According to Clagett, "The digital user experience needs to take precedence, with the definition of a 'banking website' being re-written."

Integrate Mobile Capabilities

With smartphone penetration crossing over the 50 percent threshold, the importance of serving customer's mobile banking needs seamlessly between channels is imperative. It is also important to view mobile as more than just a delivery channel, but also as a revenue generation opportunity as was highlighted in the October 15, 2012 Bank Marketing Strategy post entitled, 'Monetizing Mobile Banking'.

Fred Hagerman, CMO of FirstMark Credit Union out of San Antonio, TX emphasized that marketers must make all channels work together. "A disjointed online and mobile experience will be one of the fastest ways to lose existing customers. But it goes beyond that - if you can't provide expert advice to customers on the phone and in person when they contact you regarding their online/mobile questions - it's over," stated Hagerman.

Jeffry Pilcher, publisher of The Financial Brand, emphasized that bank marketers need to accept the fact that consumers only want new additional channels, not new replacement channels — something to keep in mind while the industry wrestles with mobile and social delivery options. Pilcher states, "Branches aren't dying anytime soon. Neither is the call center, ATMs or online banking. Consumers want more and more and won't settle for less." Pilcher warned, "Try taking a channel away and see what happens." Pilcher also believes that marketers need to begin to look to mobile marketing opportunities as well in 2013.

With so much emphasis on mobile delivery and marketing opportunities, Brett King, author of the new book Bank 3.0 and founder of Movenbank provided a very succinct resolution for retail bankers . . . "Appoint a head of Mobile."

Enhance the Customer's Experience

No resolution was as unanimous among the industry leaders I contacted this year than the importance of enhancing the customer experience on every front. This was also the overriding theme at the Marketforce Future of Retail Banking conference in London where I was both a speaker and a co-chairperson. The difference this year than in previous years is that institutions seem to be ready to put actions behind their words, with the goal being to exceed rather than just meet customer expectations.

"In 2013, innovative disruptors and intermediaries will be putting even greater emphasis on user experience in an all out assault to position themselves at the center of the consumers financial life," mentioned Nate Gardner, vice president of strategic partnerships at Provo Utah based MoneyDesktop. "Financial marketers need to help spearhead smart technology decisions that attract Gen X and Gen Y while making existing account holder loyalty a no-brainer," he added.

Mary Beth Sullivan, managing partner of Capital Performance Group, LLC supports the theme of laser focus in building a better customer experience by sharing, "Retail bankers should resolve to define exactly what makes a specific group of customers better off for doing business with their bank versus another, and then invest resources to improve this advantage in an extremely crowded marketplace."

Andy Will, senior vice president of deposit products and card services at BMO Harris believes that a component of an enhanced customer experience is to create better product and service solutions to support conversations the field has with customers. He also believes that banks need to improve the ratio of sales to non-sales staff expense which has moved unfavorably over the past several years.

Innovate and Differentiate

Over the past couple years, many U.S. banks have stood on the sideline as non-bank competitors and financial institutions in other countries developed new and exciting products and services. As opposed to taking a wait and see approach, several industry leaders believe it is time for financial organizations to 'get into the game' by testing new ideas that support an organization's overarching goals.

Alex Bray, retail channel solutions director at Misys in London believes that institutions should focus on a larger number of smaller beta tests as opposed to tackling larger innovation challenges. In an interview, Bray stated, "We've seen so many fantastic ideas in retail financial services this year - especially in the mobile payments space - but so few have originated in big banks. With the green shoots of recovery slowly becoming more robust, retail bankers and bank marketers need to do better than the new entrants. They need to prepare for an improving economy were providing the best service and functionality will once again set the market leaders apart."

Bryan Clagett from Geezeo added, "I hope to see more brick and mortar banks forming 'innovation labs' and similar means, to spark new thinking and methods to enhance relevance and differentiation."

A great analogy was provided at the Mobile Commerce and Payments Innovations Summit last year by Karen Webster, CEO of Market Platform Dynamics when she said that banks need to approach innovation as if they were playing roulette, "Retail bankers should place bets on several smaller innovations hoping that one of the ideas will hit it big."

The fallacy that big banks or community institutions can't innovate or differentiate themselves because of legacy operational systems or existing infrastructure is being proven false by start-ups like Simple, Movenbank, Square, Paypal, Bluebird and Google that are differentiating offerings despite using much of the back office already provided by traditional banks.

Serge Milman, CEO and founder of Optirate believes that differentiation is the key to survival for many organizations. He is tired of the lip service of “great service” or “community involvement” or “local decision making", etc. and believes that the core of differentiation for banks - and particularly community banks - lies around the concepts of understanding and anticipating customers’ needs by offering the right products before the need arises. Milman believes banks can stand out by offering service when, where, and how customers prefer to engage.

Given the increasing number of choices consumers have for financial service providers, Emily McCormick from Bank Director Magazine also believes bank marketers need to prioritize the differentiation of product offerings, branding, and even the branch. McCormick adds, "Social media, with a well-thought strategy for engagement, needs to come off the back burner."

Humanize Analytics

With so many marketing channels available to marketers and consumers, all of the industry experts agreed that the industry needs to do a better job of turning data into decisions on the individual customer level. This does not necessarily mean digging into 'big data' (both structured and unstructured), but using data readily accessible to build better algorithms that will lead to optimal results. 

Nicole Sturgill, research director at CEB TowerGroup believes that 2013 needs to be the year that financial institutions 'humanize' analytics. According to Sturgill, "Analytics have to move from IT to the front line, improving the experience for each individual customer rather than broader customer segments."

Jeffry Pilcher from The Financial Brand also believes that financial marketers must resolve to take data analytics seriously. According to Pilcher, "The results of good analytics helps marketers win points in the C-suite and get invited to the decision making table."

Finally, Mark Zmarzly, vice president of financial services for ACTON Marketing emphasizes the need for a singular focus on a test and learn philosophy. He warns, "Be careful not to rely on broad industry trends or 'vanity metrics', especially with regard to social media, and it is important to build a much stronger awareness and capability around attribution, cohort metrics, etc."

Build Partnerships and Take Action Now

Unlike typical resolutions that are individually focused like 'losing weight' or 'stopping smoking', none of the resolutions compiled for 2013 can be accomplished by a bank or credit union marketer in a vacuum. Each needs to be done in partnership with fellow employees, outside providers and/or the organization's customers. This dynamic reflects the expanding complexity and importance of the marketing function within the financial services industry.

As Bryan Clagett from Geezeo stated as part of his bank marketing resolution input, "There will be a significant increase to the scope of marketing in the years to come, as the industry comes to terms that it has the means to build consumer centric experiences. To develop more complex solutions, however, technologists, marketers and even customers will need to finally unite in this effort."

Jelmer de Jong, global head of marketing for Netherlands based Backbase and editor of the BANKNXT blog probably summarized all of this year's contributions the best when he recommended that retail bankers take advice from Nike and 'Just do it!' Jelmer proclaimed, "There is a lot of talk about new channels, an improved customer experience, better mobile apps, paradigm shifts around measurement and fancy innovation. To succeed, bank marketers need to stop talking about what needs to be done. Instead, they just need to get real and do it!"

Is there another resolution (or two) you believe should be added? What should the priority order of the resolutions be? I would love to hear additional thoughts from readers.


  1. I would like to add "Rebuild trust", which in my opinion is one of the major tasks for banks in 2013

    Kind regards from Germany

    Hansjörg Leichsenring

  2. Jim,

    I appreciate the inclusion in your initial post of 2013. Your blog is always a great source of industry insight. I expanded on my thoughts above at and am really looking forward to your next post on changing trends in banking and fintech. Continued success in 2013 my friend.

    Brad @leimer

  3. Solid summary of the challenges ahead for banks. Particularly like the point about the complexity of these resolutions - they can't happen in a vacuum. It's a tough year for banks with trust at recession lows, but these resolutions are evidence that many leaders on right on track.

    1. The key to success for all financial organizations is the same as for non-financials. It is difficult to get anything done without laser focus and a strong commitment to pre-set goals. Unfortunately, as I look at the resolutions from 2011 and even those that I knew were set even farther back, many are the same with several of the same issues. We need to move forward as an industry.

      Interestingly, as I was writing this response, I realized that I could use the same recommendations for our government. They are also stuck in neutral (or reverse) much of the time.

  4. Great blog, Jim. You covered the key issues beautifully and you talked to some great industry visionaries. Will you be at the American Banker Best Practices in Retail Banking Conference in March? (Catalyst is presenting a case study on how we developed First Niagara Bank's humanizing web site ... it boosted their online account opens by 30%. Stop by and say howdy.)

  5. Going to Phoenix earlier that week for the BAI PaymentsConnect and the CBA instead. Lots of banking conferences that week.

  6. Awesome stuff you have added to your post. Complete information with a perfect conclusion makes it worth reading. Thanks for sharing such an informative piece.

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