Few subjects are as personal as money but many people are so ashamed of the poor way that they handle their finances that they stress out about it and don’t ask for help or even discuss it. Helping to improve that situation is what Carrie Roso says first attracted her to bank marketing.
Roso, named Director of Marketing for the fintech Simple in June 2020, comes to the BBVA USA subsidiary at a time when its particular slant on personal finance has even more relevance than usual. Many Americans have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or have seen their income drop in the wake of the COVID-19 slump. Simple’s heart is an FDIC-insured account and app linked to a Visa debit card and a group of budgeting and savings tools that some consumers rave about.
“Simple’s mission has always been to help people feel more confident with their money,” says Roso, “and that’s more critical now than ever, as the world adapts to the ‘new normal’.”
“Our biggest opportunity now is to double down on our foundation of budgeting, managing money, encouraging savings as much as possible, coupled with paying really close attention to what our customers are going through — not losing sight of their hardships,” says Roso.
Doing so will help Simple further refine its offerings to help consumers cope with what looks increasingly like a rough road ahead. Roso actually had a Simple account before taking her new job, in part to explore how the fintech approached its target consumers and how it marketed its services.
Roso came to Simple after spending nearly a decade at Umpqua Bank, working in a succession of positions, mostly in marketing, culminating in the post of Director of Brand Marketing. Umpqua has often been on the leading edge of innovation, some digital and some more personal, such as its “Go-To” program which uses a proprietary messaging app to link consumers with their choice of human bankers.
Roso says moving to Simple will enable her to continue working on ways to help people with their finances.
“I see Simple as a great place to push that and to build on the idea of reinventing community and community banking,” says Roso.
Starting Out on the Front Lines of Retail Banking
Roso speaks of being a banker for 20 years, and she actually means “banker” — she started out on the front lines at Wells Fargo, in the branch system as a branch manager.
“I think my experience on the front lines is a superpower for marketing,” says Roso. “Having that experience and that empathy goes a long way. It’s an additional credibility that not a lot of people in banks have, especially on a marketing team.”
Adds Roso: “Spending three or four years on the front line felt like 20 years, because it’s hard work. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it was definitely valuable experience.” Knowing first-hand the kinds of challenges consumers face with their finances has helped Roso all through her marketing career, she explains, helping her craft better messages and also work better with other functions at the bank.
“The biggest opportunity for me as a marketer here at Simple will be affecting the user experience, paying attention to the little things, the pain points and the opportunities,” she explains.
Roso’s decade of experience at a progressive bank like Umpqua is supplemented by something she considers equally important: learning how to craft strong marketing in the context of being a highly regulated financial institution. With the exception perhaps of pharmaceuticals, no industry faces the regulatory and compliance challenges to clear and clever marketing that financial institutions do.
“This is a challenge to technology companies that venture into the financial services space,” says Roso. “It’s a bit of a reality check for them. Having that background and knowledge is going help me and the company be more agile.”
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Digital is the Neighborhood Where Simple Lives
On the flip side, Roso notes, she is coming into an organization that already lives where American consumers have been headed, in an accelerated way, due to COVID-19. She says that while many people have been pulled into digital banking before they were ready, the trend away from branches had already begun and many won’t go back. This plays into Simple’s hands.
“Simple is built digital first, and started out built on technology,” says Roso. “That makes it much easier to change, to innovate, and to move faster than traditional banks.” Simple was created in the urban equivalent of a Silicon Valley garage— founder Joshua Reich’s Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment and subsequently moved to Portland, Ore. Roso is looking forward to product iterations that can be pulled off quickly.
“At Simple you can make shifts that change user experience in one quarter, not in two years.”
— Carrie Roso, Simple
Up until now, she watched that from the outside.
“Simple was as much a competitor as any other bank, and we were paying close attention to the fintechs all the time,” she says. “The biggest mental transition for me is understanding the impact we can have on customer experience and user experience. That isn’t as much of an opportunity for a marketer in a traditional bank, but here you can make shifts that change user experience in one quarter, not in two years.”
Roso believes that consumers have come to expect that pace of improvement.
“Traditional banks are really focused on stability and expertise, and planning for the future,” says Roso. “All those things are important. But consumers are more value-driven than ever, and the bar’s been raised by nonfinancial service providers like Amazon.”
As a marketer and branding expert, Roso finds this very exciting. “We have the opportunity to raise our bar a lot faster.”
Roso’s job will include suggesting improvements to product design, but she points out that it’s not solely her responsibility. At Simple every employee is encouraged to make suggestions.
“Simple is kind of unique in that anybody at the company can do this,” says Roso. “A customer service agent with an idea can write a brief and affect product design. It’s been fascinating to watch this.”
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How Financial Marketing Needs to Change
Roso says she’s watched bank marketers work to catch up to other industries as they move further into the digital world. A common mistake, to her thinking, is that many tend to do so while leaning on their historical pattern.
“They still try to be everywhere and be everything,” says Roso.
“We have to pay attention to where customers and potential customers are looking for our services. This allows you to be more efficient with your marketing dollars.”
She argues that the time has come for more focus.
“We have to pay attention to where customers and potential customers are looking for our services,” says Roso. “This allows you to be more efficient with your marketing dollars and allows your institution to be much more relevant in capturing those people who are actually interested in using your services.” This means not trying to be everywhere with digital promotion.
“You have to be more purposeful about how you’re reaching them,” Roso explains.
For example, more attention to “bottom of the funnel” tactics will produce more business, especially in digital channels, she says. The biggest focus for many institutions right now, including Simple, is social media, she says, but that’s a medium that needs reevaluation in the current environment.
“This is a moment for all marketers to reflect on how we’re using different channels to reach our customers,” says Roso. During the COVID-19 crisis and the protest movements “people are just using their voices in different ways and engaging with other people in different ways. It’s a passion of mine to figure how people are communicating, getting their information and sharing content.”
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Improving the Content of Content Marketing
Roso is a big believer in content marketing, but gives the industry overall only a “C” for execution.
Much of what banking institutions try to do in the content area is somewhat muted because of regulation, she points out. This has caused Roso to consider looking outwardly, instead of inwardly, to find input for content.
Not from freelance talent, however.. She’s talking about tapping consumers themselves.
“I’m thinking of things like turning financial literacy on its head,” says Roso. Instead of talking to consumers seeking financial guidance, there may be something gained by facilitating discussion among them. Roso calls this community-based learning. A few small forays in that direction have encouraged Simple to go further.
“People are trying to figure things out on their own as much as they are trained to look to other resources or content to learn from,” she says. “So I think this may be the next frontier for content marketing in financial services. It could help content grow a lot richer.”
This plays right to Simple’s target market. While it’s commonly thought of as Millennials and, increasingly Gen Z, it’s not solely demographic but attitudinal.
“These are people who really want to be engaged and smart about their finances, even though they may not have a lot.”