After decades of spray-and-pray marketing, financial institutions find themselves at a pivotal inflection point. “We’ve transformed from the Mad Men era to hyper-personalization at scale today,” observes Allison Cerra, chief marketing officer at digital banking platform Alkami.
Yet significant, frustrating gaps persist between new consumer expectations and technologies on the one hand and existing institutional capabilities and execution on the other. That gap, argues Cerra, is throttling bank marketing effectiveness during a time of unprecedented economic volatility.
In a recent conversation with Jim Marous, founder and CEO of the Digital Banking Report, Cerra unpacked the obstacles hampering many marketing teams, and identified the cultural shifts necessary to build trust among anxious account holders.
Q: Could you describe the turbulence now facing financial marketing?
Allison Cerra: First, look at the issues consumers face daily: soaring inflationary pressures, housing unaffordability, and broad financial stress. 80% of consumers say that uncertainty is weighing down their near future.
That should be an opportunity for banks. Our research shows over half of consumers expect their primary financial institutions to respond with relevant money management guidance and resources. Many yearn for guardrails. At the same time, banks hold uniquely valuable behavioral data detailing exact lifestyle preferences through spending patterns — if their teams could access the insights.
Q: What key obstacles do bank teams face in transforming those data resources into impactful marketing and personalization?
Cerra: The fundamental dilemmas trace back to fractured legacy architectures and cultural obstacles. Current core banking systems actively resist yielding actionable insights. Most data remain locked behind convoluted coding, without a user-friendly structure. Exploratory analysis can be glacially slow, awaiting specialized IT tickets and losing relevance after delivery delays.
Culturally, many institutions also lack a unified vision connecting marketing and measurement with the executive leaders who determine strategic direction. Teams artfully overcoming access and activation hurdles still struggle to attain consensus in calculating campaign ROI lift, for example, given inconsistent metrics.
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Q: Many financial institutions are reluctant to prioritize upgraded capabilities right now, given economic uncertainty and pressure on expenses. How and what investments should they prioritize?
Cerra: Technology innovation has accelerated from nice-to-have into a baseline imperative, simply to remain viable amid competitive forces, external disruptors and falling consumer trust. Our research confirms customers expect highly personalized experiences comparable to the most innovative global brands with whom they engage daily, who are not bound by legacy structures. Losing a share of the wallet is compounded by the silent attrition of mass defections to these alternatives, thinning margins severely.
Yet opportunities exist: Banks holding unique existing data advantages can, in fact, move forward faster through platform partnerships, simplifying data harmonization and execution while optimizing spending. Prioritizing maturity improvements now fortifies institutions for impending turbulence later. Delay invites deterioration.
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Restoring Relationships in Trying Times
Q: What specific foundational steps do you recommend marketers take to humanize data and serve anxious consumers?
Cerra: Marketers first must foster working relationships between three key partners:
• IT colleagues controlling data — Work with them to comprehend existing information resources and integrate structures.
• Compliance partners — Collaboratively ensure appropriate data usage procedures meet oversight requirements
• Cross-functional finance peers — Jointly connect activities directly to business health outcomes.
This across-the-organization collaboration can create baseline fluency around available assets, targeting ethical guardrails, technical connectors, and ties to revenue.
Linking Intelligence to Individual Well-being
Q: How important is having an integrated martech stack to execute data-driven personalization amidst economic turmoil?
Cerra: Operating without seamless platforms enabling access, insight development, and campaign orchestration is unthinkable when navigating today’s complexity.
“Solutions, however, don’t drive success; leaders do.”
Solutions, however, don’t drive success; leaders do. I couldn’t coordinate truly strategic initiatives without technology providing customer segmentation clarity so we could intercept audiences precisely when they were emotionally relevant and financially valuable. Values link teams to purpose.
But smooth data ingestion, instant analysis, and interoperable system chains are vital; disjointed tools severely frustrate potential. Eliminating needless friction makes managing orchestration feasible. Getting a minimally viable technology ecosystem aligned and embedded across the organizational culture changes the game.
Democratizing Technology for Shared Financial Wellness
Q: You mentioned economic uncertainty weighing heavily on younger generations today. What specific opportunities exist here for financial institutions to guide the anxious?
Cerra: As next-generation consumers face uncertain financial futures, technology holds incredible potential for democratizing access to resources and securing stability.
Consider the intergenerational wealth transfers ahead. Without good guidance, many vulnerable families may remain left behind. Homeownership was long the quintessential pillar underlying the American dream. Now, mounting barriers place that ideal distressingly out of reach for many citizens now coming of age. Apprehension accompanies uncertainty on all sides.
Yet, the possibility persists if financial institutions embrace technology judiciously, they can remove barriers to personalized money management wisdom. With thoughtful assistance, young consumers need not feel alone.
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Guiding Customers Amid Volatility Via Evolving Channels
Q: How are leading financial brands navigating economic uncertainty by reinventing marketing channels to meet needs?
Cerra: One major banking brand shifted its entire national TV campaign portfolio, highlighting financial guidance use cases with an open invitation to engage trained specialists ready to educate anxious account holders uncertain about managing cash flow shifts. They report a double-digit lift in nurturing conversations and trust perception.
Reorienting channel use cases around relationship building also strengthens resilience to future waves of change. Meet people where they are today. Marketers taking this fluid creative courage can lead change for good.
Emotional Loyalty Outlasts Promotions
Q: Could you provide a few concrete examples of data-driven campaigns executed to help members amid volatility?
Cerra: One credit union harnessed analytics revealing specific account holders’ purchase tendencies before mailing tailored gift cards to spark delight and gratitude. Rather than mass blast generic offerings indiscriminately, they thoughtfully matched merchants to individuals.
One client detected consumers paying recurring subscriptions manually and then targeted them with automated alternatives, earning interchange revenue previously missed. Another identified competitive credit card penetration then crossed-sell differentiated offerings purpose-built for current shifts.
This creative application of intelligence feels magically personal, deepening emotional loyalty beyond transient transactions or intermittent financial tips. Now, systems can scale such thoughtfulness exponentially without losing power.
While staggering complexity slows marketing momentum, courageous marketers remember banking’s timeless social covenant, with every community relying on their guidance now more than ever. New tools should strengthen trusted advisor bonds between financial stewards and all people, not displace them.
For a longer version of this conversation, check out the Banking Transformed podcast with Jim Marous, available wherever you get your podcasts. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Justin Estes is an award-winning writer, strategist, and financial marketing expert with expertise in banking, investments, and fintech. His clients include the NYSE, Franklin Templeton, Credit Karma, Citi and, UBS, and his work has appeared in Forbes, Barrons and ThinkAdvisor as well as The Financial Brand.