Navy Federal and Stride Bank’s CMOs Reinvent Their Roles. Here’s Why — and How

The rapid rise of specialized neobanks, embedded finance, and AI-driven innovations is reshaping banking, challenging institutions to rethink their marketing strategies. As consumer behaviors shift online, and fintechs leverage advanced technologies, we asked banking CMOs at Navy Federal, First Horizon and others to share their perspectives on the emerging realities of their jobs and their departments. The first of a two-part series.

Highly specialized neobanks. Embedded finance and banking as a service. The movement of consumers to online and mobile channels. Ever-expanding tech stacks.

And, of course, generative artificial intelligence.

The fire hose of technology is on full blast, and how all of these disruptive changes will reshape the banking industry is yet to be determined.

It is forcing chief marketing officers at banks and credit unions across the country to rethink how their teams can be most effective.

Consider the impact of neobanks, which Stride Bank’s Lindsey Ogan calls “a massive challenge” for marketers at traditional financial institutions.

“The commoditization of our products had us heavily deploying brand marketing to differentiate, then suddenly we found ourselves directly competing with highly effective product marketing from fintechs that blew our budgets out of the water,” Ogan says.

Now embedded finance is increasingly tightening its grip on consumers’ financial activities. Ogan worries that this further erodes the brand value of banks, which serve only as silent partners in facilitating those transactions.

Both Pam Piligian of Navy Federal Credit Union and Erin Pryor of First Horizon Corp., who are leading significant transformations of their marketing teams, cite personalization as the single biggest trend marketers must navigate effectively to ensure their future success. They also say AI is a game-changer in that effort.

Piligian says Navy Federal is running several AI pilots as it determines the best way to use the technology responsibly.

Ogan points to generative AI as the make-or-break trend for marketers. That’s because it has a major impact across so many marketing functions and accelerates the pace of the work exponentially.

“Content development cycles will shorten until we’re operating like day traders deploying creative, measuring, testing, and adjusting on a daily basis,” says Ogan, who is emphatic in urging marketers to get familiar with the technology.

Here’s how CMOs at four financial institutions see marketing roles evolving, as they assess how the biggest trends in the industry impact what they do.

First up: Navy Federal and Stride; we’ll hear from First Horizon and Fulton Bank in part two.

Navy Federal Reorganizes Marketing Team to Improve Efficiency

Pam Piligian navy fcu headshot

Pam Piligian

SVP, chief marketing officer
Navy Federal Credit Union
HQ: Vienna, Va.
Asset size: $178.4 billion

On the change that is most critical for marketers to navigate effectively: The need to personalize at scale for current customers while managing brand to optimize for growth is paramount.

In other words, we are expected to grow sales overnight while growing brand over time. This means we need to be able to navigate and lead against short-term and long-term KPIs – which requires balance and agility.

It’s not easy and there isn’t one path to success.

On how Navy Federal Credit Union is responding: We’ve reorganized the marketing department to improve our efficiency, and we’ve invested in an integrated martech stack, inclusive of machine learning modeling and automation to help inform the next best interaction for our members.

We are piloting several AI efforts, with a human always between the technology and our members to optimize for the future in a responsible way.

In addition, there is an emphasis on clearly communicating our brand values, inclusive of people, planet and purpose initiatives. Consumers expect us to be a responsible partner. They are also looking for more transparency in these areas as they look to bank with a partner that shares their values.

“We are expected to grow sales overnight while growing brand over time. This means we need to be able to navigate and lead against short-term and long-term KPIs.”

On changes to the remit of its marketing department: We have moved our research team to the centralized member strategy office to create more of a member lens, without product or channel silos. Formerly research was in the marketing department. Member experience is managed by this same team, the member strategy office.

In marketing, we established a marketing operations team. We had project management and martech within our teams, but we weren’t able to be as efficient in our martech expansion and management. Our hope is to bring better metrics to the forefront with our project management and to better balance the work we do in-house with our creative corps team and our agency partners.

The membership events function has moved to marketing, from the membership and savings team, to centralize all event planning and execution.

On the role marketing plays in shaping the overall strategy of Navy Federal Credit Union: Marketing is seen as a growth driver, and we do contribute to the overall strategy. Because we don’t have a sales team, marketing is and has been responsible for growth since expanding our field of membership. Brand investment increased at that point and is now seen as a strategic investment required for growth, versus just an expense.

This point of view has shifted our role into a more strategic one. The recognition of brand reputation as an asset has also kept marketing involved in the strategy of the organization.

As the CMO — the first CMO here — I have a seat on the management council and president’s committee.

Read more:

Radically Rethinking How Marketers Create Value

headshot of lindsey ogan

Lindsey Ogan

VP, chief marketing officer
Stride Bank
HQ: Enid, Okla.
Asset size: $4.57 billion

On the biggest industry changes impacting bank marketing departments in the last 5 years: The surge of neobanks gaining market share is the one change that has shifted the entire landscape of retail banking. Prior to the lobby shutdowns, in-branch account openings were the last stand of resistance for traditional financial institutions. Everyone knew that it would eventually be table stakes to have the ability to open accounts online, but the technology around core integration and know your customer weren’t what they are today.

At executive levels, it was not a particularly urgent matter nor a major inconvenience for customers since opening an account was a one-time event. The lobby shutdowns upended that overnight. Suddenly, our barrier to entry of brick-and-mortar locations that we had leaned on as a competitive advantage vanished, and we were left exposed as digital dinosaurs living in a digital-only world by mandate.

“If we were to define a product that we are working daily to deliver to our stakeholders, that product would be catalyzed behavior change.”

A downstream effect of the sequence of events it triggered was a proliferation of highly specialized neobanks popping up everywhere, nimbly bringing reimagined banking products to market that were laser-targeted at nagging customer problems that unspecialized banks and credit unions weren’t solving. So not only were they beating us at digitally delivering our standard products and services, they were deconstructing it and innovating at a pace that we were ill-equipped to compete with.

This became a massive challenge for marketers because the commoditization of our products had us heavily deploying brand marketing to differentiate, then suddenly we found ourselves directly competing with highly effective product marketing from fintechs that blew our budgets out of the water.

Meanwhile, embedded finance is tightening its grip on consumers’ financial activities. This creates an enormous shift for bank marketers because, in a world where bank products are pulled under the surface of the water and embedded directly into another brand’s buyer’s journey, banks will see their brand value nosedive. We will need to think radically about how to create value with our marketing skills and teams if more of our offerings get folded into purchases as the silent moving of money.

On the change that is most critical for marketers to navigate effectively: Every marketer’s most immediate concern needs to be to familiarize themselves with the current and near-future capabilities of AI and be ready to move on it. With how quickly it is advancing, if we don’t, we will quickly find ourselves outgunned in the marketplace of competitors.

“Most bank marketing teams are using 10x the number of vendors as we did even just a few years ago.”

The release of ChatGPT to the public democratized so many marketing functions — research, copywriting, strategy development, design, among others. During the AI Workshop at The Financial Brand Forum in May, Ron Shevlin of Cornerstone Advisors pointed out that it’s unlikely that AI will take your job, but someone that is better at using it than you very well might.

This is especially true now that fintechs, powered by chartered banks, are direct competitors. The pace of marketing work is about to increase exponentially, and content development cycles will shorten until we’re operating like day traders deploying creative, measuring, testing, and adjusting on a daily basis.

(See Ogan’s op-ed on AI urging marketers to “embrace the suck.”)

On how Stride Bank is responding: As an early adopter of the BaaS banking model, Stride is well positioned for many of these developments from an organizational level, but from the marketing perspective, we are actively and urgently rethinking teams and roles to prepare us for the future that is quickly approaching. We’re planning projects around training AI for jobs that it can do effectively and responsibly then using our teams to drive it towards continual innovation and improvement.

We’ve also recognized the increasing importance of vetting and managing tech stacks across a variety of functions throughout the bank. Most bank marketing teams are using 10x the number of vendors we did even just a few years ago, and this is happening everywhere. Most banks are not built to scale IT and vendor management processes to accommodate the incredible propagation of technology used across the bank in recent years.

On changes to the remit of the marketing department: The frictionless and connected customer experiences that neobanks introduced into the banking system require marketing teams to be involved in anything that touches the customer. We can no longer hide at the top of the funnel, pushing our messages from our pulpits with our ears covered. Everything is connected now. If a customer experiences a service failure, they will have that conversation with us publicly on social media channels and review platforms.

Retail experiences at banks being multichannel also requires that marketing teams serve as the cartilage between functions to ensure the customer experience isn’t bumpy and disjointed. That has become the shaper of brands more so than broadcast commercial storytelling.

Brand consistency across communication and service channels at every part of the buyer journey is what is creating strong brands today, so the involvement with retail, sales, customer service, corporate culture initiatives, and even product development is increasing.

On the role marketing plays in shaping the overall strategy of Stride Bank: The marketing function we are building at Stride is ultimately an influence factory. We believe that marketing skillsets can be used in a variety of ways to create value, but if we were to define a product that we are working daily to deliver to our stakeholders, that product would be catalyzed behavior change.

Whether we are assisting efforts to persuade prospects to bank with us, recruits to work for us, customers to adopt a new product, or employees to stay with us, we know that if we can equip and empower our teams to create and sustain desirable change, we will continue to find ourselves with assignments when strategic initiatives are instigated.

I think marketing was previously seen as a team that works to influence the public to generate new customer acquisition exclusively. In recent years, as customer experience has been top of mind, marketing teams are increasingly leading or partnering with other teams that were previously solely responsible for things like cross-selling, adoption, and retention.

A connected brand experience requires that the marketing teams that are making the promises are involved in preparing our sales, product, and service teams to deliver on those promises. This is true internally and externally, too. As recruiting and retaining quality employees has been increasingly challenging, strengthening the marriage between marketing and HR pays dividends.

Read more:

Coming tomorrow: CMOs at First Horizon and Pennsylvania’s Fulton Bank.

About the CMOs

Pam Piligian: Piligian worked at advertising agencies for more than 30 years before taking her current role at Navy Federal Credit Union in May 2017, where she oversees a team of about 200 people. She is part of the credit union’s executive committee, reporting to Chief Operating Officer Kara Cardona.

Lindsey Ogan: Ogan has more than a decade of experience in community bank marketing, having worked at BancFirst, Great Plains Bank, Citizens Bank of Edmond and, since August 2022, Stride Bank. While serving as the chief growth officer at Great Plains Bank, she earned a spot on American Banker’s 2021 Most Powerful Women in Banking Next list, which recognizes standout executives ages 40 and under.

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