Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
November 14, 2017

What Customer-Centricity Means for Marketing in Financial Services

It has never been more fun — or more challenging — to be a marketer. Some argue that with the advent of digital, marketing has changed more in the past 10 years than the previous 40. Unfortunately, many financial services companies have not kept pace. Organizations need to reassess their current marketing skillsets and organizational structures in order to deliver the highly personalized touchpoints and customer focus needed to win in the marketplace today.

New skills for a new world

To put it simply, digital has completely redefined consumer expectations. Customers now expect the same on-demand, intuitive experience from their banks and wealth advisors that they get from retailers and ride-sharing services. Some have begun to adapt, but are still not seizing the full digital opportunity.

In many financial services companies, the job titles, structures and approach to marketing performance management — even the vocabulary — are still remarkably similar to what they were in a less digital and customer-focused era.

Some established financial services companies have not yet fully come to terms with the implications of embracing a customer orientation, and they still exhibit a product-first mindset when delivering services. They structure their teams around products or monolithic customer segments and they don’t feed customer insights into product development. In these companies, marketing tends to focus on traditional communications and campaigns that are tenuously connected to the product, with more emphasis on building awareness and traffic than engagement and relationship-building.

To make sure they can take advantage of digital’s vast opportunities, financial services companies need data and analytics leaders who can translate their virtual treasure troves of information into actionable insights. In addition, brand strategy, design/UX experience and content creation have become increasingly integral in the delivery of a compelling customer experience.

We’ve seen forward-thinking financial services companies establish new roles and evolve existing ones in response to digital disruption, including chief customer experience officers, chief content officers, design thinking leaders and heads of marketing technology.

Time to rethink structures and strategies

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, 80 percent of marketers believe that marketing needs to be restructured within their organization and 30 percent believe it’s urgent to do so now. Many financial services organizations are finding they need to restructure to place customer experience at the forefront of their strategy.

To deliver a unified customer experience across all touchpoints, organizations must embrace an agile work style with real-time responsiveness. Organizational models are evolving from silos to more fluid ecosystems comprising internal and external partners. Internal centers of excellence can also help leverage the value of the organization’s existing subject matter expertise.

However, the most successful companies understand that structure must follow the strategy — not the other way around. Questions that can help financial services companies shape their strategies include:

  • What values and goals drive our customer agenda?
  • How do marketing roles need to change as the business becomes more digital?
  • What structures and ways of working will support our values and team?
  • How will our culture support this change?
  • Are factors such as our culture and incentive structures helping us to attract and retain top talent?

The messages that seem to resonate most strongly today are overtly values-driven. For example, Capital One is on a mission to “change banking for good” and USAA commits to “standing by you throughout life.” These ideas signify ingenuity, simplicity and humanity to an industry that historically has been viewed as old-fashioned, complex and transaction-focused.

The critical role of organizational culture in the customer experience

An organization’s culture is immensely important in supporting the shift toward greater client-centricity. A company’s cultural patterns can encourage innovation, growth, market leadership, ethical behavior and/or customer satisfaction. We’ve seen culture drive a consumer-first mentality in other industries — one major retailer’s learning culture emphasizes empowerment and flexibility in meeting customer expectations. Employees have only one rule to follow — make customers happy — and have the authority as front-line representatives of the organization to do what it takes to maintain exceptional customer experience. While industry regulations prevent financial services companies from taking a carte blanche approach to service, the lesson of being adaptable to meet the needs of customers is still applicable.

The future of financial services marketing

A razor sharp focus on customer experience is not the new marketing. Rather, customer experience is a conduit to help marketing enable transformation and, ultimately, drive profitability and growth. Financial services companies must be thoughtful and intentional in how they coordinate the delivery of their service offerings across multiple touchpoints — or risk confusing and losing customers to competitors that deliver a better customer experience.

Marie Ford leads Spencer Stuart's Philadelphia office and is a member of the firm's global Financial Services, Digital and Marketing Officer practices. She has worked extensively for leading consumer financial services companies across banking, lending and payments to recruit CEOs, board directors and customer-facing functional leaders. She has led numerous searches for chief marketing officers, chief digital officers as well as for leaders in customer experience, strategy and innovation. Reach her via email and follow her on LinkedIn.