9 Big Ideas From The Financial Brand Forum 2015

Here are nine big ideas explored at the Forum 2015 that should be shaping your financial institution's strategy.

Real. Simple.

Forum 2015 keynote speaker Josh Reich, CEO and founder of online bank Simple, challenged attendees’ assumptions about their customer experience. Are you doing enough to simplify the lives of your consumers?

Through Simple, Reich is committed to giving consumers a more simple and visual understanding of their financial picture. “We will never profit from customer confusion,” as he likes to put it.

So what should you doing to help make banking easier? Reich offered the following ideas.

Takeaway #1: Make Everything as Mobile as Possible.
More and more of your consumers will never set foot inside a physical branch. They are increasingly using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. If your financial institution cannot provide the majority of his products and services in a mobile environment, you are going to be way behind the curve. Consumers need to be able to open an account, apply for a loan and fully access their money all from the ease and convenience of their smart phone or tablet.

Takeaway #2: Have an Authentic Culture.
Consumers are particularly savvy to cheesy corporate speak. Your bank or credit union is a part of the communities it serves, therefore it must be a real and authentic part of it. This means having your employees in logo gear working in communities and special events and projects and not just throwing money at them. An authentic culture bridges the gap between jaded and cynical consumers and a financial institution. The less time they have to spend figuring you out, the better. (More on culture-building below.)

Takeaway #3: Streamline Your Services.
Do you really need 17 different checking accounts? With 33 different bullet point line items under each? Are your consumers actually reading the dozen different product and service brochures in your lobbies or online? While every financial institution has a different niche market, a universal principle holds true for all — your consumers want it kept simple. Cutting down on the clutter, both in products and services and marketing materials, can help address that need.

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Turn Staff Into Brand Ambassadors

Plenty of financial institution marketers are probably sitting in their offices right now, confident in their branding efforts. They put in the hours, sweat, tears and money to create, cultivate and disseminate their own unique brands. So why shouldn’t they feel great?

Because there’s a potential Trojan horse. A mole.

What could that be?

Your staff.

In a three-hour workshop at the Forum 2015 on internal branding and culture building, facilitators from Weber Marketing Group including CEO Mark Weber explained that most financial institutions are staffed by qualified professionals dedicated to their jobs and their consumers. But (and this is a BIG “but”)… less than 49% of employees believe in their company’s brand idea, and even less are actually equipped to deliver on it.

If that number doesn’t scare you, nothing will. Less than half of your staff might not believe in your brand idea? Fewer than that will have the knowledge and/or the desire to deliver it. This should send shivers down your spine.

So, how can financial institutions cultivate their staff into brand ambassadors? Here are a few ideas.

Takeaway #4: Cultural Onboarding & Brand Orientation for Staff.
This applies to both new and current staff. Yes, you can onboard existing staff. The onboarding process will not only educate staff about the importance of living as brand ambassadors, it will also help you weed out those that simply won’t do it. Not every applicant is the right applicant for your financial institution. If, during the onboarding process, it becomes evident they simply don’t have what it takes to live as a brand ambassador, it’s best to let them go before it becomes a real problem. Simply putting a warm body in the seat can do irreparable damage to your brand.

Takeaway #5: Use Your Staff as Social Media Brand Ambassadors.
The majority of people today now use at least one kind of social media in their personal lives. While many financial institutions shy away from allowing staff to use social media as part of their work, a different approach is to actually encourage it. If staff will use their social media platforms in a positive manner that not only reinforces your brand but also shares it as real and genuine with their followers, so much the better. Social media is the new go-to source when it comes to people investigating and vetting brands they might interact with.

Takeaway #6: Empower Staff to Live the Brand.
If you hired and cultivated the right people, empowering them to live the brand is the next step. This frees and liberates the smart and savvy brand advocates on your staff to serve consumers quickly, nimbly and simply. If you are fortunate enough to have the right people in the brand driver seat, they need not be shackled to volumes of employee behavior guides. Yes, you need a written policy about living the brand. But what you need more our employees confident in their ability to serve consumers in a way that honors and nurtures the brand.

For as much time and money as financial institutions spend on branding, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Unfortunately, all too often that weakest link comes somewhere in the staff chain. Taking steps now to the shore-up your staff as brand ambassadors can go a long way towards gaining increased wallet share and consumer loyalty.

Why Serve Y?

One of my biggest takeaways from the Financial Brand 2015 Forum is the importance of anticipating the needs of and serving Gen Y… and the next generation. Just a few minutes into a keynote address from Jason Dorsey, the “Gen Y Guy,” and I was a changed man. Dorsey’s presentation was energetic, approachable and chock full of great information.

Dorsey said that for the first time ever, there are four generations active in the workforce, and five generations in the marketplace. He refuted a common myth about Millennial consumers, reminding attendees that Gen Y is tech-dependent, not tech-savvy. But he also affirmed a widely held belief that today’s younger consumer feels an extreme sense of entitlement.

What are some key take away your bank or credit union can learn from this? Among the many interesting insights and tips shared, the following stood out.

Takeaway #7: Win With Millennials… or Die.
When it comes to both hiring for your financial institution and trying to reach out to consumers, Gen Y is a dominant force that will only grow in importance in the coming years. Ignore them at your own peril.

Takeaway #8: You Must Make Mobile Tech Simple for Gen Y.
We see Gen Y people constantly tethered to their mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and, eventually, wearables). However, this doesn’t mean they have a clue how many of these things work. Most of them don’t and most of them don’t care how they work. All they really do care about is that these devices actually work. Your bank or credit union must have a strong presence in the mobile space in order to do business with Gen Y, but these platforms must be simple to use, easy to understand and reliable. (Note: Josh Reich made this point in his keynote as well, so you know it’s critically important.)

Takeaway #9: Millennials Become Financially Ripe Later in Life.
Gen Y is actually responsible for the creation of a new life-stage which he referred to as “delayed adulthood.” In fact, most Millennials say they are entering adulthood five or more years later in life than what older Gen X and Baby Boomers would have considered legitimate “adulthood.” Your bank or credit union must accept this and find ways to bridge the gap with products and services specifically targeted to and designed for Gen Y use.

Dorsey told attendees they need to beware. The oldest Gen Yers are now about 35 (basically old enough to be grandparents), and the next generation is already chomping on their heels. Banks and credit unions must pay attention to all generations, not just Millennials. Just when you thought you might be getting a handle on Gen Y, it’s about time to start figuring out your strategy to the consumer of tomorrow.

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