Jonny Rose: We’re in the midst of great change in financial services at the moment. Notably, both you and Antony Jenkins have spoken about the ‘Uber moment’ in banking. What does that phrase mean to you?
Jarvis Cromwell: When you think about Uber – it’s disruptive. Particularly in the way that it is bridging technology and the real world of physical assets that have to move from point A to Point B. Financial Services is now at that same point. Whether you are in banking with its big branch networks or in Insurance with tens of thousands of agents – it’s all moving online.
The Uber moment is not just about moving online, though – it’s also about how you deliver a personalized experience that moves beyond product-peddling to serve customers with an improved value proposition.
It’s mainly fintech disruptors that are leading the charge on this. They are exploiting the distrust that has accrued towards traditional providers who are seen as not serving their needs as individuals and are able to use technology – and often sophisticated personalization — to give customers what they want.
These disruptors are able to say, “Jarvis – we know this a great credit card for you because we know that you are travelling to the UK, and our card has no foreign fee exchange and can save you money”. This is an excellent experience because, firstly, it really seems like that offer is relevant to me and my unique situation, and secondly, it fulfils an expectation set by the other services I enjoy such as Amazon, Spotify or Pandora.
By contrast, my traditional bank service seems so dumb when it comes to knowing much about me. This is why banks, insurance companies and asset management firms are in a position of needing to change quickly.
Rose: And do you think banks will successfully realize that vision in five years time?
Cromwell: I’m suspicious of predictions of where things will go. However, I will say that banks that don’t reimagine the way they serve their customer are going to be challenged. The competitive field is changing rapidly.
Apart from the challenge of competing against new disruptors, banks also have the challenge of being interesting. Personalization and convenience is one thing, however, you also have the problem that 80% population in the US doesn’t really like to deal with money or finances. That means banks will have to get more sophisticated at bringing content and media into their customer experience. Some financial institutions like American Express have been doing this for a while.
This mix of media and personalization means that a few years from now I think you’re going to see experiences that really don’t look like anything that you’ve seen in financial services before.
“The Uber moment is about how you deliver a personalized experience that moves beyond product-peddling to serve customers with an improved value proposition.”
Rose: In this new world where banks become publishers and incorporate owned media into their customer experience, where does that leave traditional financial services publishers?
Cromwell: Historically, there has been a wonderfully symbiotic relationship between the financial services marketer (representing the bank) and the publishers. Those publishers are amassing great audiences, which you – as an FS marketer – want to be adjacent to with your ads.
Now that is being turned upside down because marketers can not only buy the channel, but also be the channel. Take, for example, Red Bull, an extreme sports channel, or American Express creating its own channel with Open Forum.
But it gets more interesting. Let’s look at more disruptive examples of media: NerdWallet is both a publisher and a product recommendation engine. It is using some solid tech tools alongside its content to recommend the right financial products to the right individual needs. As a result, they’re going win business from banks over a traditional financial publisher such as Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
This presents a problem to traditional financial publishers who lack that level of sophistication when selling ad space to the likes of Citi. Particularly since that same piece of content on NerdWallet could generate a more meaningful engagement with the reader and a revenue opportunity in the shape of the lead that NerdWallet serves back to Citi.
To further confound the issue, Citi may well decide to be on NerdWallet but also decide “We should try and become NerdWallet, too” – and build a similarly sophisticated media proposition.
So, really you have a three-way battle between the fintechs, the traditional financial services providers, and the media. Frankly, it’s a free-for-all right now – there is no certainty on what the landscape will look like when the dust settles.
Rose: All that being said, does the legacy of traditional financial services publishers mean that they will have more consumer trust than FS branded content?
Cromwell: The bad news is that in today’s world we don’t really trust anyone apart from ourselves. Corporations, Congress, financial services – a whole bunch of places are in the toilet. And while I think the media in general is not as trusted as it should be, it’s reputation is stronger than many.
But, you have to ask yourself “What is trust?”. Trust is a value of exchange where two parties agree that “We can move forward on this exchange because I believe your interests and my interests are aligned”. Or, better still, “I don’t think you’re so in it for yourself – but you are also in it for me”.
However, I’m not sure that the traditional media can rely on just that anymore, though. The media now needs to figure out how to use new tools to deliver a personalized and curated experience that directs users to the right solution. Media used to direct you to solutions through advertising – which didn’t always work: We’ve all seen magazines advertise a bank while also criticising them in the same pages!
“Financial services media now needs to figure out how to use new tools to deliver a personalized and curated experience that directs users to the right solution.”
“It’s incredibly useful that you are able to identify what people’s interests are – the next opportunity is being able to serve to people what they should be reading.”
Rose: Our core thesis at Idio is that ‘You Are What You Read’ (i.e. the content we choose to read is highly indicative of our interests and needs): What do you think about this idea?
Cromwell: It’s incredibly useful that you are able to identify what people’s interests are – be it ‘Emerging markets’ or ‘China’ – and personalize the content they see. The next opportunity is being able to serve to people what they should be reading even though they’re not.
We’re more likely to read Upworthy or Buzzfeed than click on ‘What you need to know about your 401K’. If you can infer from what you know about someone – not just their content habits – but their profession and age and other data, and make a content recommendation that “you should be thinking about this” – then that’s an even more exciting aspect to ‘You Are What You Read’.
This also comes back again to the trust issue of making sure Financial Services are serving people content that they should be reading for their own good – not just what they want them to read.
Rose: Finally, what’s one unorthodox or controversial opinion you hold about Financial Services marketing?
Cromwell: I think that the Financial Services industry operates in an area that is perceived as notoriously dull.
I would argue as we enter into a more content-driven experiential world – both online and offline – that the industry is going to have to be perceived as more interesting or dare I say, occasionally fun.
Anybody who can move up that scale is onto a winner. However, I don’t think the industry is there yet, I don’t think the marketers are there yet, and I don’t think the content purveyors are there yet either!
“Apart from the challenge of competing against new disruptors, banks also have the challenge of being interesting.”