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In their words: Financial Services marketing leaders share how they are navigating current challenges

77 | Business Express
Mick Smyth
76 | Business Express
Patrick Kampff


By Patrick Kampff, Strategy Director and Mick Smyth, Senior Strategist, Siegel+Gale

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, brands have been helping customers navigate the resulting challenges. While much of this aid focused on the brand’s day-to-day offerings, often it extended beyond regular programming, providing additional support to customers in their personal lives.

Recently, we spoke to fourteen global CMOs and brand leaders from the Financial Services industry to understand how they navigated the pandemic and, subsequently, are utilising the learnings to tackle the economic difficulties the world is currently experiencing.

While different regions are experiencing different stages of global economic challenges, it’s clear that the many themes that surfaced through our study can provide learnings for CMOs across the entire Financial Services industry spectrum.

The pandemic provided brands with a blueprint to navigate new challenges 

One of the critical challenges for brands during COVID was uncertainty. Rather than dissipate as vaccines became readily available and the pandemic began to slow, uncertainty has remained with the cost-of-living crisis and record levels of inflation. It is now clear, like SARS-CoV-2, uncertainty is here to stay. As Simonetta Rigo, Group Chief Marketing Officer with Evelyn Partners in the UK, highlighted, “The pandemic was 2021, hyperinflation 2022, but the red thread we’re seeing now is that uncertainty is never going away.”

However, this ambiguity is ensuring brand leaders experiment with new ways of delivering for their audiences as the balance of online and offline continues to evolve. “It forced marketing to think in a more multi-platform way. I think we’re going to see that hybrid approach continue – and that, ultimately, also fortifies and strengthens marketing,” shared Arielle Gross Samuels, Global Head of Marketing at Blackstone in the United States.

As brands continue to deal with an unstable future within their businesses and for their customers, they are discovering new ways to demonstrate how they genuinely add value to the wider world.

The financial crisis is enabling brands to demonstrate their genuine value to society 

The Financial Services industry was widely blamed for the 2008 global financial crisis. Fast forward to today, society faces multiple challenges, from the climate emergency to the pandemic and, of course, the aforementioned cost-of-living crisis. However, unlike in 2008, Financial Services can help people navigate these challenges—and be recognised as such.

Customer expectations are increasing, and this is particularly felt around issues such as sustainability, as people are demanding more from brands they buy from and the financial institutions they partner with. More people demand to know how their money is being invested, and many organisations are responding positively. “It’s so important that we don’t group people all together. With different inclusionary approaches, you start to see that there are big differences in peoples’ needs. That’s something that we’re always cognizant of, to make sure our research and actions are more inclusive and better reflective of diverse needs,” highlights Michelle Froah, SVP, Global Brand and Marketing, at MetLife.

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However, many topics brands are expected to comment on are also incredibly divisive. It can be challenging for marketers to take a stand without alienating anyone. Purpose and values are widely relied upon to guide decision-making in this regard. As Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing & PR Officer at Ally in the United States, pointed out, “The scariest thing right now as a marketer and leader in a company is deciding which societal issues you should comment on and which ones you shouldn’t. In today’s fragmented political environment, you need to let your brand values guide you.”

Brands are also taking tangible action on things that affect customers in their day-to-day lives, from facilitating financial education through marketing efforts to providing access to much-needed services like credit, particularly for those in society most in need. Othon Vela, former CMO at Brazilian fintech Neon, shared, “We’re working a lot to provide a path to credit. You may have been refused, but I’ll show you how to get credit. We’re trying to provide hope. We’re trying to provide at least a way for people here to get access to credit and improve the quality of their lives.

Reminding customers of the genuine societal value Financial Services brands provide will serve not only individual organisations but the industry.

As complexity in life increases, the desire for simpler experiences increases in parallel   

Unpredictability and complexity are increasing, and people are striving to simplify their lives. Brands can play a significant role in this process. Many organisations are actively seeking to align with customers and become long-term partners. Abey Mokgwatsane, Chief Marketing Officer at South Africa-based Investec, shared with us, “Most people around the world are just feeling a little bit more uncertain about the future. It’s in that context that companies need to be a trusted partner and advisor for their customers.”

When brands partner with customers, they must go beyond the low-hanging fruit and simplify the experiences that matter to people. Jed Scala, Chief Customer Officer at OneMain Financial in the United States, pointed out, “Ease is more than just making it easy to do a transaction. Of course, we want to make it easy for customers to do things such as uploading a document for review. However, for us the concept of ease also encompasses the language we use when speaking with customers. For example, asking a customer if they want us to ACH the funds? May not make sense to them. Ease is also about avoiding jargon, communicating in a straightforward way and making financial concepts more accessible.

Organisations that simplify customer experiences can drive brand loyalty that will benefit them financially in the long term.

Another day, another challenge 

While the challenges facing the industry today will eventually subside, no doubt, something new will replace them. However, the experiences shared with us by our friends within the financial services industry demonstrate that the learnings picked up over the last few years can be utilised for whatever we will face next.

Read the “In their words: Financial Services navigating challenges” CMO study here.

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