Demand Leads To Marketing:
Is There Ample Demand For Financial Products & Services In This Crisis Environment?
An In-Depth Expert Conversation on Demand for Financial Services in These Unusual Times
This interview is the second of five in a series of interviews designed to bring clarity to the financial marketing industry at an uncertain time. Gramercy Institute fielded a study at the beginning of the pandemic crisis, called “Crisis Response 2020: Understanding Financial Marketing in Uncertain Times.” The results of the study are eye-opening to say the least.
The team at InvestingChannel raised its hand to help Gramercy Institute put some of these findings into context and there is no better way to put research into relevant context than to talk about it with industry insiders who have intimate understanding of some of these findings. This is the second interview in a series of five that InvestingChannel is bringing to the industry with Gramercy Institute.
Gramercy Institute invited the following leaders together to discuss an essential question that is on the mind of every financial marketer, agency, media company and service provider—right now: Is There Ample Demand For Financial Products & Services Today? We marketers can talk all we want about financial marketing, but if demand is not ultimately coming from financial clients and customers, what’s the point?
Rebecca W. Bales, Global Head of Marketing, Issuer Services, BNY Mellon
Alison Bloch, Vice President, Integrated Media Strategy, J.P. Morgan
Valerie Constable, SVP, Client Business Partner, UM
Bob Verrico, Founder & Executive Chairman, InvestingChannel
WREAKS: Panel, thank you all for joining me to discuss this important topic addressing the ultimate demand for financial products and services. It is a pleasure to have such a distinguished group with us today. Practically speaking, this is a perfect panel as it asks for insight from a very senior and seasoned group, with diverse backgrounds and, I presume, diverse perspectives. Let’s get to work.
Before I ask my first question, please consider these facts: In a study survey completed about 3 weeks ago by the Gramercy Institute, it is apparent that financial marketers believe that their customers and clients have more financial needs than before this crisis.
88.54% of financial marketers surveyed believe that Business-to-Consumer clients today have “several more” or “many more” financial needs than they did before the crisis.
86.46% of financial marketers surveyed believe that Business-to-Business clients today have “several more” or “many more” financial needs than they did before the crisis.
WREAKS: I consider demand for financial services products to be one of the most significant indicators for the future of our financial marketing industry—at least in the short run. To me, these high percentages indicate a more or less healthy status for the financial marketing industry. I am not saying that the financial marketing industry will not encounter challenge or suffer attrition. What I believe is that numbers that indicate strong demand from financial clients and customers suggest that financial firms will require marketing to engage these customers and satisfy the demand. I will turn to you fist, Valerie. Do these percentages surprise you? Or no?
CONSTABLE: No. These numbers don’t surprise me at all. With the market volatility we saw in March, and now with the current earnings season upon us bringing more volatility, clients definitely have more financial needs.
WREAKS: Alison, how about you. Are you surprised that such a high percentage of financial marketers sensing that financial clients/customers have more financial needs now, than they did before this crisis?
BLOCH: I agree with Valerie—but perhaps for slightly different reasons. I’m not surprised. This unprecedented crisis is having an impact across social, medical, and financial infrastructure. B-to-B and B-to-C customers alike are facing the same unknowns of how long the economy (and life more broadly) will be in limbo and what will be needed when we come out the other side. These unknowns are prompting consumers and businesses to seek financial institutions’ guidance on many questions they had never foreseen.
WREAKS: Bob, what’s your take?
VERRICO: Bill, I think you know that we at InvestingChannel are focused on financial markets from the financial professional/Investor perspective vs personal finance, my response—on this and other questions—is from the point of view of those people working to figure out their investments, their annuities, etc. and navigate the markets.
WREAKS: Understood. So, do these high percentages—in the mid-eighties—of financial marketers believing that financial customers and clients have significantly more needs now than just a few weeks ago, does this surprise you?
VERRICO: My initial reaction is no. I am not surprised at all. I am not surprised especially as this relates to the professional and individual investor. Financial markets, the economy and longer term investments and plans are—arguably—in jeopardy. This dynamic affects just about everyone (from the hourly worker to the billionaire). Of course, there are those fortunate enough to weather the day-to-day and keep up with their bills (like rent, mortgage, groceries, debt, etc.). Then again, there are the many who cannot keep up. Many who are worried, troubled and scared of this new “future uncertain” state in which we find ourselves.
WREAKS: Rebecca, are you surprised that both B-to-C as well as B-to-B marketers, alike, apparently have more new financial needs than before?
BALES: The uptick in perceived B-to-C client financial needs seems spot-on. Many individuals are facing unexpected unemployment, in addition to the general distaste for volatile securities markets. For B-to-B clients, I believe that client needs are pretty much on-par with the way things were pre-crisis, although the specifics have changed.
WREAKS: So in other words, it doesn’t surprise you that the B-to-C numbers are as high as they are?
BALES: Yes. Exactly.
WREAKS: But you are surprised that B-to-B marketers are sensing such high demand from their clients?
BALES: That’s right.
WREAKS: OK, then. I must confess that I am optimistically surprised. In my mind I was envisioning our last crisis—when the industry immediately slowed down as “trust” in financial services was “busted.” Demand for products and services from financial firms dropped off as financial customers felt a breach in trust from the financial firms.
VERRICO: You are right, Bill. This seems different. Trust is not broken between financial firm and their clients and customers. And from what I see through our investingChannel lens and what I hear from you all, it seems that this crisis has a planned and strategic response ready and waiting from marketing. The show must go on.
WREAKS: Let’s talk now about what these new client and customer needs might be. What new client and customer needs has this crisis sparked?
BLOCH: Social distancing is forcing people to function more independently, which can be daunting. So marketers are focused on helping clients and prospects access the information and operational capabilities they need to keep moving forward during these challenging times. Many financial consumers are facing questions they never anticipated, and we’re a foundational part of providing access to the resources that existing and potential members of the community may require to get answers.
WREAKS: What, specifically do financial clients want to know?
BLOCH: Many of our clients want to understand how these unprecedented economic conditions impact their portfolios. So we’re inviting them to calls to hear the latest insights from leading strategists. Others are making difficult decisions as they continue to run their small businesses. So we’re providing tools to help them efficiently access available support.
CONSTABLE: Yes. That makes sense, Alison. Consumers have a deep need to understand the implications of the current market on their savings and investing approach. I recently read that in the past recession 5% of consumers over 55 withdrew their entire 401(k) savings, thus missing out completely on the rebound that followed and were then in a worse position that had they not withdrawn their 401(k)s. Obviously in the current situation, many consumers will need to access their money, but deciding how much, and from where is key.
WREAKS: So you are saying that marketing plays a key informational—if not educational role—in times like these?
CONSTABLE: Yes. Exactly.
WREAKS: Valerie, what about financial consumers with more sophisticated needs—those who are more financially secure. What are their needs like today?
CONSTABLE: For consumers who are more financially secure, understanding the implications of their current investment strategy as well as exploring alternate strategies will be useful. For consumers who are experiencing financial hardships, understanding what the implications are of different actions, as well as understanding the infrastructure that’s available to support them, and how to access that infrastructure are all incredibly important.
WREAKS: Bob, do you agree with Valerie? Do these needs make sense.
VERRICO: Yes. Individual investors are looking for guidance on how to navigate these substantial impacts on their financial lives. The perception of increased risks of retirement plans being impacted and pushed out, college funds at risk to not be able to support tuitions, etc. When markets are strong, and seemingly stable, and consumer confidence is up, investors are looking at varying levels of risk-based products based on their goals. This, of course, is different. There are those trading these markets but most people, I believe, are not and have never seen anything like this and need the guidance of those in the know as to what to do. Non-emotional, expert based guidance from both financial service companies and financial advisors is critical.
WREAKS: Bob, I presume that investors’ reliance on advisor guidance at this particular time is of critical importance. And financial marketing is essential to this guidance. True?
VERRICO: Yes, financial professionals need to guide their clients with insights and expert guidance on the impact on their investments. They need to share info on, for example, products that can handle the volatility and recessionary trends. Or how to rebalance their portfolios.
WREAKS: Rebecca, what have you seen—from your perspective? What new needs have emerged from your clients?
BALES: For us, in the Corporate Trust business (debt capital markets), we have seen a surge in the need for supply chain escrows. Pre-crisis, escrow services were an offering on our books, but not with a high volume of activity. Now, we are seeing large hospital systems purchasing significant volumes of medical supplies (such as ventilators). Before they release payment, they want to be sure they’ve received the goods they are buying.
WREAKS: Wow. Interesting. This rise in this demand is in direct response to medical equipment needs of the pandemic. What are you seeing on the wealth management side, Rebecca?
BALES: On the wealth management side, we have seen wealthy individual investors adopting digital account solutions at a higher rate than ever before, for basic banking solutions like mobile check deposit.
WREAKS: OK, panel. So, we all seem to agree that there are a significant number of new needs that financial services customers and clients are dealing with now—in light of this current crisis. So, now what? Demand is definitely there. Is supply? Is our industry prepared to service these “new” needs? Tell me how.
VERRICO: Oh yes, the financial marketing ecosystem is set up for very effective tiered messaging. Online engagement with content and thought leadership distribution has been well-developed in our industry for years now. The publisher/marketer/audience cycle is well positioned to handle the communications. Having intermediaries in the mix is so important to interpret and communicate messaging. It is organic and from the firms.
WREAKS: So, Bob, do you feel there unique opportunity for financial brands to connect, with clients who were once less-engaged?
VERRICO: Yes—and here’s why. Those who were perhaps more passive in the past on their retirements, their annuities, their 529 accounts, etc. are now—suddenly—paying more attention than ever. It seems pretty clear to me that THIS is the time for brands to “lean in,” fill the void, and become the voice of reason and comfort for clients and prospects. Of course this voice cannot be salesy. In short, this is a great opportunity for financial firms to focus and figure out the touch points to comfort, educate and provide guidance. Customers and clients are focused!
WREAKS: And because of this increase in engagement that you describe, are there certain tactics that simply work better right now than they did before?
VERRICO: I’d say yes. We’re finding that email communications, digital newsletters, etc. are gaining a lot more traction than they ever did. When you think about it, this makes total sense. People are working from home, they are less distracted, less frantic and have time to open-up items that might look interesting to them. Engagement in these types of communications are unusually high.
CONSTABLE: Consumers are looking for answers so from a marketing perspective, tactics that provide relevant content and then syndicate that content are incredibly helpful. Marketers with strong content engines that are able to respond quickly will benefit consumers.
BLOCH: I agree with Valerie. Our industry is absolutely positioned to service these new needs, and I believe this period will help spark ideas for further evolution. We have the means to scale communication to target and support our community–ranging from reminding both B-to-B and B-to-C clients and potential customers that they’re not alone, to offering resources and insights from our various strategists.
WREAKS: What about the human element? Trust is the bedrock of financial services. How does this translate to digital marketing at times when a face-to-face is, well…impossible?
BLOCH: You’re asking a good question. J.P. Morgan, as well as other firms across the industry, has leading digital resources to support our clients’ needs. While in-person meetings have been a cornerstone of our business, marketing and digital resources can now forge important connections in their absence. With marketing data, we’re able to get the necessary resources to our current clients via targeted executions across channels.
WREAKS: Rebecca, our industry may be well equipped to hand these new demands from an infrastructure point of view, but what else should financial marketers consider when seeking to satisfy these new customer and client needs?
BALES: You need to remember, Bill, that responding to these new needs is a delicate dance right now. There is risk of being “tone deaf” with campaigns that are too salesy, or simply an outline of basic features and benefits. It is important for marketers to share their firms ability to be resilient through times like these, and acknowledge the humanity of all of us being in this together.
CONSTABLE: Yes, I agree with Rebecca. During this time of incredible uncertainty, the human connection is even more crucial; marketers need to keep in mind the power of a human voice-consumers turn to brands they love and trust.
WREAKS: Bob, do you agree? Is there a different standard in the way financial marketers should work with their clients?
VERRICO: Yes. I do. And I don’t think this “new standard” is limited to the way that marketers at financial firms connect with their clients. I think that this is an industry-wide shift. For us, strong relationships with content publishers is and will continue to be key. Understanding audience interests, what reading, searching, etc. to serve up the right thoughts, products, guidance, etc. is critical. And we must be very careful to be sensitive and not salesy.
WREAKS: Listen, I want to you all for this fascinating discussion. As I think all agree financial clients and customers have more needs—right now, in this socially distanced, crisis-reality we all find ourselves living. That’s the good news. Also, there’s a strong argument to be made that if there is demand for a product or service—there will be marketing. That’s good news for us in this industry. Further, I think we all agree that not only is our industry infrastructure strong enough to support enhanced demand, it is also adaptable enough to handle new kinds of marketing for this less-personal, socially distant reality. This is good news too.
VERRICO: But this good news comes with a caveat, Bill.
WREAKS: I’ll agree. There is a caveat or a caution from our group that comes in the form of tonality. These are sensitive times. Marketers need to adjust their voice and adjust their tone. We’re all marketers—but its smart business to listen and respond thoughtfully during these unusual times. Thank you panel for a brilliant and enlightening discussion.