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Six Steps to Agility in Financial Services

by Barre Hardy, Associate Partner

As a financial services marketer, your team’s challenges are no doubt increasing. Demographic, regulatory, and technology changes are speeding up, but your customers’ expectations are not slowing down. Organizational siloes and unscalable systems won’t let you serve modern customers and adapt to their expectations for technology-driven, multichannel services. While your team is no doubt moving aggressively, it’s likely you don’t feel you’re delivering value at the speed required.

There are a number of changes needed to enable financial services to increase marketing performance. All of them center on being more agile:

1. Live the customer experience

While many businesses claim to put customers at the heart of their efforts, very few actually seek to “live” their customers’ experiences, uncovering their specific and urgent pain points, and expectations. Building differentiation in financial services starts with understanding your business from your customer’s perspective, and synchronizing planning with their priorities.

When you begin to view your marketing activity from the customer’s point of view, and not an internal lens, you will identify areas for improvement and innovation. Stepping away from assumptions and taking an outside-in, design-thinking approach is critical to success.Put Customers First

Gaining a solid understanding of your customer is the top priority, and the ability to address where you are not currently meeting customer needs is a close second. Having a formalized way to understand the customer journey includes identifying areas where your organization is not performing. Design your investigations to learn how product launches are experienced and how campaigns impact customer experience. It is only by close observation and measurement that you can learn and improve your delivery.

Case in Point: Wells Fargo

Wells-Fargo is an example of a company dedicated to a customer-centric mindset and a more experimental, agile approach. In an interview with Steve Ellis, the bank’s EVP and Head of the Innovation Group, MarTech blogger Greg Satell reports, “Today, Wells Fargo is a well-oiled innovation machine. Every six months, [the team] uses ethnography studies, customer councils and insights gleaned from internal metrics to identify ten priorities. Then they get to work, developing, testing, and deploying new services every 90 days.”

One of the drivers of this fast pace is the simple fact that 16 years ago, the bank was doing zero transactions online. Today, their commercial banking unit processes $11 trillion dollars per year online. Wells Fargo made big changes to adapt to their customers’ behaviors. They implemented an agile system to enable continual adjustment and innovation. The result? Wells Fargo sits atop the U.S. banking industry and consistently beats market expectations.

2. Integrate across functions with a focus on outcomes

Customers don’t do their banking or buy their insurance according to org charts or channel definitions. They are confused when their experience is inconsistent, and when one part of the business doesn’t have the information that another one has (or should). More subtly, consumers get frustrated that the onus is on them to discover how to get a task done, when they could be enjoying the bank’s partnership with achieving their goals.

When a bank takes a customer-first perspective, it’s able to ensure that a customer’s needs are met throughout the journey. Plans for work shift from “how should we refresh the website content about 401Ks?” to “how can we help customers take the shortest steps to build security?” Asking the first question locks teams into a list of tasks; asking the second connects teams across the organization to design holistic solutions to customers’ problems. Thinking in terms of customers’ needs forces teams to work across business units (wealth, retail banking, etc.). Not only does this deliver a better experience, it also allows the business to capture more information on customer needs so improvement is iterative and constant.

Customer focus and cross-functionality work together in order to:

  • Solve problems and drive holistic commercial solutions
  • Keep teams focused on the customer’s POV
  • Foster solving for customer experience versus internal forces
  • Improve integration and resulting customer-facing experiences

It’s not uncommon for teams to have no access to the data and insights other groups have collected around their customer, let alone a full picture of the customer journey. Financial institutions who break down these barriers and start working collectively to drive solutions for customers will win in the market.

3. Empower teams with decision making and accountability

Marketing is regularly hampered by internal approval processes. Approvals can delay timely market activity with unwarranted micro-management which does not serve to add value to the end-customer. Removing unnecessary layers of approval for creative and budget sign-offs helps keep the focus on building customer-experience value. In agile organizations, appropriate decision-rights are given to teams, and designed so that there are no more than two layers of approvals—one to recommend and one to approve. No more are needed. Jointly accountable and empowered teams result in:

  • Better understanding of the market
  • Greater speed of anticipation and response
  • Better and faster decision making

4. Work in rapid learning cycles

It can take just a few months for new technologies or services to emerge into the mainstream. Today’s financial services sector requires speed to keep up with customer-focused value creation. Learning how to learn quickly is part of the process your team will need so as to learn how to adapt quickly to external and internal forces.

When applied to marketing, the Agile methodology sets a solid framework from which to deliver in an iterative and adaptive manner. Financial service institutions have a wealth of data. Putting together the various pieces of the puzzle to get an integrated view of the customer, and then using agile sprints to rapidly test and learn what drives customer value and aids their journey with your brand is the critical to improving your marketing organizations performance.

An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Jack Welch

5. Bring the agency in house

Traditional agencies are optimized around the work of designing “big bang” campaigns. The process to do so has been rooted in a “waterfall” style process that results in fixed deployment after a long-planned launch. Because of the influence of social media and the importance of mobile platforms, in most cases, there simply isn’t time for this method. To gain capabilities in flexibility, control, speed, and real-time insight, we recommend bringing the agency in-house. Internal agencies can work much closer with cross-functional marketing teams to enable the company to own the performance data associated with campaigns. This real-time, end-to-end insight can immediately inform strategy and creative production for continual improvement.

6. Improve alignment with compliance and legal

Current regulatory requirements have driven lengthy review and approval processes within compliance and legal teams. In order to reduce cycle times and get to market faster, many marketing organizations have pulled compliance and legal into the creative development process earlier. Some even invite them onsite at advertising shoots to ensure alignment and minimize re-shoots. The critical idea here is a structure that ensures marketing, compliance, and legal are communicating and operating according to a common set of priorities.

  • Becoming Agile

Delivering business value is a function of delivering customer value. The financial services industry is no exception. The industry faces the difficult challenge of breaking down internal barriers to more effectively understand and appeal to today’s modern banking customer. Marketing teams in financial services must change the way they work, altering or killing practices that are slowing them down or causing poor service for their customers.

The adoption of agile marketing can help align resources to:

  • Deliver superior customer experiences that add value for the customer and the company
  • Empower teams to solve problems and make decisions
  • Enable teams to learn continually and adapt quickly

With committed leadership and an empowering governance program, leaders will foster the organization’s capacity to be Agile. For companies who truly embrace Agile Marketing, leadership leads by example to support effective omnidirectional communications, clarity of objectives, and speed of learning. With an Agile mindset and methodologies, companies improve at anticipating and addressing both opportunities and threats.

Adopting Agile methods is neither a Herculean endeavor nor a single dash. Rather, it’s a journey of continuous improvement in repeated phases developed to:  learn, design, pilot, improve, and scale. In this rapidly changing market, the only way to stay competitive is to foster a dynamic understanding of your customer—and to act on that understanding faster than the rest.

Would you like to learn more? See why financial service marketers are turning to agile marketing or read about CMG’s Agile for Marketing services.