Going to Market Faster with Cross Functional Teams

Why Financial Services Are Turning to Agile Marketing

There is a convergence of rising pressure on banks—external demands from new consumer behaviors and internal calls for operational efficiencies. A recent Forbes article noted that while responding to the financial crisis and new regulations, “Banks haven’t re-engineered their businesses to improve efficiency and they’ve under-invested in technology.”[1] Financial institutions are slow to change. More importantly, they are slower to change than their customers, and the customer experience is falling behind new entrants with more digitally centered business models. Financial services marketers need to bring efficiency to their work while also capitalizing on digital solutions to improve marketing performance and customer experience. Agile for Marketing fits the bill.

Wells Fargo is becoming more agile and more innovative while keeping its focus on what customers demand from their financial institution: a trusted relationship. Timothy J. Sloan, COO, Wells Fargo
  • Key Trends Drive Need for Agility

Most industries are facing major technological and digital changes, but financial services may be among the most complex. Because recent years have been spent on recovery and regulation activity, the financial services sector finds itself a bit behind the rest of the retail services world. They need to transform quickly. The sector is only getting more complicated with more options available to consumers and new providers for banking, insurance, and investing.

The Customer is Changing
In their everyday lives, consumers are accustomed to a variety of immediate, personalized, and mobile services. They can get what they want quickly with a click or two. As shown in the graphic, the use of mobile and online banking is rising quickly. Customers demand a certain ease of doing business. They expect personal relationships with their financial institutions although their experience is primarily handled digitally. This creates both a challenge and an opportunity because the digital channel lends itself to quick changes, testing and learning, and personalization through the use of tools. Financial institutions must go to market faster in order to meet customer demand.

Financial Services is Changing
Beyond the digital revolution, financial services sector contends with a variety of other complications to its business. Regulations such as Dodd-Frank and repercussions of the recession have increased pressure on business models, while keeping the spotlight on banking practices and economics. Meanwhile, the shift to online and e-commerce has required significant data migration activity. The sector is also seeing an increasing number of alternative players enter the field such as PayPal, Venmo, Avant, and SoFi which touts, “we’re not a bank, we’re a modern finance company.” CB Insights reports that funding to digital banking startups has jumped more than 10x since 2010 with a sharp rise in 2015.[2] These non-traditional competitors are challenging the established order. Unlike traditional banks dealing with legacy data systems and complex technology stacks, these new players are built from the ground up with customer-centric innovation.

Financial Services Stats

Marketing is Not Keeping Up
While the speed of marketing and innovative service delivery are ever-increasing, more traditional financial service providers are struggling with legacy processes and structures. Instead of real-time operations, marketers are more likely to spend six months getting to market. The approvals process continues to be burdensome and many marketers are unable to cut through internal red tape to go to market quickly.

In our discussions with financial services marketers, they have cited several barriers to achieving better performance in their marketing:

  • Lengthy go to market processes
  • Siloed approach to marketing
  • Higher volume of work than ever before
  • Risk and legal reviews
  • Disparate, unintegrated systems
“Citi applied agile marketing principles, bringing all relevant departments like legal and marketing together from the get-go. Our banking culture is more methodic, more like one foot in front of the other. But we want and have to become more nimble.” Heather Cox, Chief Client Experience, Digital & Marketing Officer, Citibank
  • Marketers Must Be Agile

Amidst the disruption in the financial services sector, marketers are struggling to better anticipate, react to, and capture opportunities. Facing these internal and external pressures, their marketing teams are expected to adapt to change, gain new customers, and provide excellent service to those they already have. In response, several financial service companies such as Citi, Capital One, Wells Fargo, and Scottrade have been rebuilding themselves to address new market realities. They have adopted agile marketing practices to be more adaptable and customer-focused in their strategies and actions. Why? Because agile marketing helps marketers put the consumer at the center of business strategy, and deliver on their needs and expectations quickly, consistently, and efficiently.

Agile helps marketers achieve greater performance through three key practices:

1. Outcome-focused, Empowered Teams
Customers experience a company across siloes and functions. They expect a seamless customer experience, yet most organizations are not structured to deliver a consistent experience. Agile marketing structures teams to break down cross functional barriers and to focus across function on commercial outcomes. Cross functional teams are empowered to work together to solve problems, experiment, and test and learn to improve the customer experience and ultimately, achieve goals and objectives. In essence, teams are given a problem to solve and are accountable for the “how” of solving it. They self-determine how to use the team’s time and resources to maximize value for the customer. With leadership support, they are empowered to experiment and trusted to act without the hurdle of bureaucratic red tape. When the goals and priorities are shared, clear, and attainable – the team is given the keys to get there, and feels more accountable because they drove themselves.

This shift to collaborative, jointly accountable teams drives improvement in culture, motivation, and satisfaction among employees. A recent CMG client describes her team as having completely transformed to a more collaborative, empowered, and integrated team. “They’ve embraced a lot of additional responsibility. Because they own certain things, they drive them differently than they would otherwise. It forces them to look at the business purpose of what they’re doing. Generally speaking, it makes them smarter.”

2. A Strong Customer FocusBanking CX
One of the biggest challenges for many financial companies is to be customer centric. While 61% of financial companies consider a customer-centric business model very important, only 20% feel prepared for it.[3] Agile marketing puts the customer at the center of strategy by driving decision-making and prioritization based on the impact to the customer experience and building in flexibility to adjust and iterate based on actual customer motivations, behavior, and responses. Agile marketing delivers value through disciplined focus on the quality of the customer experience and understanding what it takes to deliver personalized communication that helps move customers through the buying journey.

Agile marketing starts with the customer front and center with a discovery process defining personas, customer journey, and how to best influence a customer to take the next step. These data-driven insights become the backbone of the work to grow segments, achieve marketing KPIs, and set priorities that drive value for the customer and the business. Data is used to assure that marketing efforts will meet (or anticipate) the customer need at each touch point along the buying journey. The financial services sector is one of the most data-rich, and the migration to digital creates a large amount of customer interaction and behavior data. By using data to understand the customer better—and learning how they change over time—banks can close the gap in perception that exists today.

3. Rapid Learning Cycles
Agile methodologies, operating in short-term cycles (“sprints”), can help give marketing organizations the structure and discipline to test their hypotheses about the customer experience and really understand how to optimize their decision journey. Each sprint is a learning opportunity where you revisit your priorities, plan your work, execute, and review learnings to help inform the next sprint. Agile centers on learning. At the end of each sprint is a sprint review to discuss what you have learned about the customer and your marketing performance, and a sprint retrospective to discuss how to get better in how you work together. The goals from each sprint should be to determine what insight would help you make better decisions, better use of spend (etc.), and to test in those areas. Mapping your buying journey and identifying tests along the continuum will help you more effectively acquire and retain customers. The real results of market tests will help build both meaningful performance and customer relationships.


  • Improve Performance with Agile

Agile marketing will help financial services improve their marketing ROI via more effective measurement, conversion, and retention. Ultimately, the value of agile marketing in a financial services environment is to more easily identify and stop the market activities that aren’t working, and do more of what is working. The iterative nature of the learning cycles focuses teams on getting better over time, measuring results, and making adjustments. It helps align cross functional teams on clear priorities to ensure that they don’t lose sight of long-term objectives.

Agile marketing will enable financial services companies to convert and retain more customers with nominal changes to their budgets. As regulatory pressures continue to constrain profitability, agile marketing offers a new way to achieve greater commercial outcomes. A recent survey of financial executives by Broadbridge cited the increased pressure on the sector for efficiencies and cost-savings, “Many of the biggest opportunities for cost-savings now lie in the back and middle offices, where banks can introduce new technology, automate procedures, and reengineer processes.”[5] Agile for Marketing is just one of the ways that marketing can contribute through greater productivity and an impact on the bottom line.

To learn more about improving performance, check out CMG’s Agile for Marketing Operating System.

The only sustainable competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition. Peter Senge, “The Fifth Discipline”