Financial Marketing’s Return To Normal: Is There a Normal to Return To?

An In-Depth Insider Conversation On The Good, The Bad and the Future of Financial Services Marketing in a Post-Quarantine World

Gramercy Institute fielded a study at the beginning of the Covid-19 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 intimidate understanding of some of these findings.This is the fifth 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 group of questions that is on the mind of every financial marketer, agency, media company and service provider—right now. The questions are: As we, in financial marketing, reflect back on the Covid-19 crisis and the ways in which it has (or has not) changed our industry, “How do we return to normal?  “Can we return to normal?” and “what will the new normal look like?”

Gramercy Institute invited three together to comment on the overarching question of how financial services marketers are marketing—right now!

PANELISTS

  • Jeffrey Hill, Managing Director, IHS Markit Digital

  • Niharika Shah, Chief Marketing Officer, The TIFIN Group

  • Laura White, Vice President Marketing, Voya Financial

 

WREAKS: Greetings, panelists. Thank you for joining us for this important conversation. This is the fifth of five panel interviews that Gramercy Institute has assembled to shed light on a study that Gramercy Institute launched several weeks ago at the start of the Covid-19 quarantine. I look forward to an engaging conversation with you three. Here we go!

The following question was asked to 141 senior marketers from leading financial firms from major global financial markets.

 

CRISIS DURATION: Please offer your “best guess” to respond to this question: For the most part, the financial marketing industry will be “back to normal” in:

  • 3 Months: 9.52% 

  • 6 Months: 32.38% 

  • 1 Year: 39.05%

  • 3 Years: 18.10%

  • Never: 1%

 

EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK: By what percentage do you believe that marketing teams (across the industry) will be downsizing or up-sizing in the next 3 months? (Question was asked on April 1)

  • -8.4%

GRAMERCY PANEL:

A Virtual Panel Discussion

Gramercy Institute has been moderating about a 90 different financial marketing panel discussions each year for the past 18 years. For obvious reasons, a live-action, in-person panel discussion is not in the stars for our industry now or in the weeks ahead. Still, it doesn’t mean that the brightest minds in the industry cannot step forward to share their thinking in a virtual format for the intellectual benefit of our entire industry. So, here you have it.

 

It should be noted that, when asked about this idea, our good friends at InvestingChannel immediately stepped to the plate to underwrite this series of five virtual panel discussions over the course of the next five or six weeks. Each will have a different theme and the series will feature a wide range of insiders in our field. This is the fifth of five. We extend our deepest gratitude to InvestingChannel for making this valuable series possible.

 

Gramercy Institute welcomes your feedback as well as your suggestions for future topics.

SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

WREAKS: First, as you consider the survey results (above), do these numbers surprise you? 71% of respondents suggested that it will take between 6 months and a year for the industry to return to “normal.” If you were asked (when the Covid quarantine first went into effect) when our industry would return to “normal,” what would have been your prediction? What is your best guess today? 

WHITE:  I  might have been more optimistic and guessed three-to-six months. Now, I think it will be quite a bit longer.

WREAKS: So what’s the issue?

WHITE: Well, while financial markets have rebounded, HOW we do business certainly has not returned to the way it was in February. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

WREAKS: Niharika, How do you feel that we all have adapted? Have business relationships suffered? What’s changed?

SHAH: What has unfolded with COVID-19, as unfortunate as it is, can be seen as a massive global social experiment that accelerated us all to the future. We (and even tech Luddites) have adapted fairly well and quickly to using technology to work, connect and build relationships. 

 

WREAKS: Jeff, what’s your take? Did you guys see this coming? Have you adapted?

 

HILL: Well, there will always be uncertainty in our business as so much of it is tied to investor reaction.

WREAKS: So, was your agency able to adapt fairly quickly to the sudden change in our industry?

 

HILL: In our particular case, we were able to be agile in times of uncertainty and pivot automatically because our ad server is directly integrated with market feeds, a unique position of ours.  

WREAKS: Yes, I’ve heard this. Can you expand a little here?

 

HILL: Yes. Basically, we’ve built a rule-based scenario engine that can prepare for hundreds of different market outcomes and serve an applicable message when that scenario turns out to be true. 

 

WREAKS: OK, panel. Another key question that I hope you can help me with: “What is normal?”  Is there still a “normal” for us to return to? Has our financial services industry changed forever as a result of the Covid pandemic/quarantine?  I’d also like to know if there are there certain elements in our financial marketing business today that have been improved or streamlined because we were forced to do things differently? What are your thoughts?

 

HILL: I believe that the course of history has been changed forever. This is undoubtable. We live in an era where digital dependence is normal. The current turbulence in the world has accelerated more areas of our lives to be even more reliant on this digital dependence. Stay-at-home orders have boosted digital subscription models, and have increased the Connected TV audience base and inventory, for example. So, in some respects, the advent of emerging mediums will now become “normal” and advertisers can (and must) adjust accordingly. 

 

WREAKS: Thanks, Jeff. Laura, what do you think? Do you agree with Jeff? Is there a “normal” for us all to return to?

 

WHITE: Good question. To be honest, I’m not sure what “normal” means anymore. I think the definition of “normal” has changed. For example, we’ve already seen marketers—who were previously working at a fast pace—now working at an even faster pace. Responding to market conditions in hours—not days and weeks. It’s been said that two years of progress has happened in the past two months.

 

WREAKS: That’s an insightful way to look at this. So then, we’ve been forced to evolve. True?

 

WHITE: Yes. I don’t think that we will go back to our old “normal.” Our abilities to adapt, grow and problem solve have been tested—and they have evolved—under unimaginable circumstances. I expect that we will carry much of that forward. 

WREAKS: So, there’s no normal for our industry to return to?

 

WHITE: I will say this, in addition to our skills and adaptability, I believe marketers are now increasingly sensitive to what’s going on in the world—from COVID-19, to market volatility, to race relations. I think—and hope—this will continue, to some degree.

 

WREAKS: The communications technologies (i.e.: Zoom calls, podcasts, webinars, video, social media) that we have all adopted so prolifically to connect with during this quarantine have been with us for years. However, we were suddenly all forced to “master” these technologies.  What role will these technologies play in our industry moving forward?  As business “opens up,” will we revert to pre-pandemic practices? Or are these new tools here to stay? Jeff, what is your take?

 

HILL: Communication brings people together. The way we do that has largely been dictated by technology. In-person interaction is not the same as the way we are communicating now, but nevertheless that does not mean we can’t be as effective. The agency-client relationship has largely been conference-call based in the past. We’re doing that very effectively now, but now with video as well. I believe that those who have adapted successfully and embraced digital communications more will find ways to heighten productivity and ultimately keep those relationships strong. 

WREAKS: Laura, what’s your take on this question? Have we—as marketers—grown as a result of this pandemic. Are we emerging as a different kind of industry?

WHITE: I believe digital delivery of information through social media, podcasts, webinars and videos will continue. That approach is efficient for both the organizations doing the marketing as well as those exploring buying opportunities and doing research. As marketers have needed to master these, I believe that, on the whole, we’ve improved. Content delivered this way can be both informative and entertaining. But, please understand that these media do not replace the sales and client relationship functions.

 

WREAKS: Niharika, as we move forward, what is the role of technology in forging and enhancing relationships? 

 

SHAH: In effect, we have all learned to be high-touch in a low physical touch environment. If this era is to be called The Great Realization, we will question many activities that we, as an industry once considered, “normal”, starting with relationships. I truly believe this is where the opportunity lies: using technology to build stronger, better, more valuable relationships between all entities in the financial services industry. For example, in the wealth and investment management world, intelligence-enabled solutions—such as AI, machine learning, etc.—allow advisors to keep their clients engaged with personalized content and investment strategies at scale without the need for costly and time-consuming physical meetings. 

 

WREAKS: So, Niharika, technology is not a proxy for real relationships—rather it’s more like an enhancement, then?

 

SHAH: Yes, exactly.

 

WREAKS: Thank you. Laura, what’s your opinion on this?

 

WHITE: In my opinion, in the B2B space, sales and client relationship processes have been somewhat inefficient. Teams of multiple people have routinely flown around the country multiple times to build and nurture relationships in the hopes of ultimately doing business together. The model is not particularly sustainable—financially or environmentally. We saw so clearly the benefits of reducing our carbon footprints when we needed to drastically curtail travel and commuting—it would be great to remember that as we get back to “normal.

 

WREAKS: Laura, do you think that our “new normal” will borrow elements from our Pre-Covid and Post-Covid worlds?

 

WHITE: In a competitive world, we may slip back into old habits. However, I’d like to see more digital engagement in parts of the process, at least. For example, rather than having five people fly across the country for a presentation in which some parties only speak for 15 minutes, perhaps we could have only two primary presenters travel and then three could join by Zoom or a similar technology. Additionally, from a client service perspective, rather than have four in-person meetings with clients annually, perhaps conduct two electronically and two in-person.

 

WREAKS: Panel, let me ask you this: Financial marketing has often been described as being a personal business. Moving forward, will financial marketing be as “personal” as it has been in the past? Has remote communications technology made our industry more personal? or less personal? 

 

HILL: Maybe even more so.

 

WREAKS: More personal?

 

HILL: Yes. As digital accelerates and technologies become even more accountable. I think that financial marketing will become MORE personal.

 

WREAKS: So, Jeff, you’re saying financial marketing is emerging as a more personal business as a result of our forced social distance. Expand on this if you would. Any examples come to minds?

 

HILL: Finances are a personal thing. At Markit Digital’s core, for example, we provide the tools and intelligence investors need to successfully navigate the complexities of global financial markets. Personalization or user-based marketing has been a successful solution of ours for many of our clients for many years. 

 

WREAKS: Laura, do you agree with Jeff. Is our industry actually emerging as a MORE personal business?

 

WHITE: Yes. I believe remote communications have actually made our industry more personal—something else I would not have predicted in February. With all the challenges we have faced, I believe people and marketers are putting in more effort to listen to—and understand—each other. Further, in addition to our efforts in to learn about each other, technology continues to evolve that allows us to understand customers’ and buyers’ needs and interests. Buyers are telling us every day by their actions and engagement how they want to be treated as people. It’s up to us—as Marketers—to listen and respect their wishes. It’s a great time for a reset to make sure we are making connections human-to-human.

WREAKS: Niharika, moving forward, is there room for our industry to be more personal—and will even higher degrees of personalization be delivered to us through technology?

 

SHAH: The path to growth, as cost pressures only move downward, will be enabled by firms that embrace technology to do more for more—more quality, more services, more value for a larger number of people while being compliant. In fact, I could argue that distribution, marketing, investment management has not been as personal or efficient as it could be, and if for a second you stipulate that the channel of communication is immaterial, we must take this opportunity to implement solutions that are designed with the customer in mind and provide highly personalized value at scale.

WREAKS: Niharika, I love the optimism in your tone—and in your words. What I am hearing from you is that through all this that this pandemic has dealt us in the financial marketing industry, there is a silver lining to this Covid cloud?

 

SHAH: Yes. We must look at this time for the good that has come from it. Moving forward, as an industry, we can redefine, for the better, a new marketing and distribution ROI paradigm which has been imprecise for too long.  

 

WREAKS: Let me ask you this, Niharika—and this will have to be our last question. Niharika, do you feel that those companies in our industry that have embraced new technologies during this pandemic are better suited to succeed than those that have not?

 

SHAH: That is exactly what I am saying, Bill. The path to growth, as cost pressures only move downward, will be enabled by firms that embrace technology to do more for more—more quality, more services, more value for a larger number of people while being compliant. In fact, I could argue that distribution, marketing, investment management has not been as personal or as efficient as it could be.  

 

WREAKS: Expand on this a little, Niharika. 

 

SHAH: If for a second we stipulate that the channel of communication is immaterial, the time is now to implement solutions that are designed with the customer in mind and go beyond just automation to provide highly personalized interactions at scale. This is what we at TIFIN are focused on - combining financial intelligence with technology - to help advisors deliver better outcomes for their clients.

 

WREAKS: Panel, I thank you all for this insightful discussion. I am certain that our Gramercy Institute audience will as well. I sense optimism in your thinking. I also feel that you your take is that we—as an industry—have been dealt a tough situation that is ours to learn from, and grow from if we choose to do so. 

 

Thank you Niharika, Laura and Jeff!

Please Note: Voya Financial, IHS Markit Digital, The TIFIN Group, and the Gramercy Institute are separate and unaffiliated entities.