Let’s Stop Banking on Assumptions

“Confidence starts here.” “Make today the day.” “What would you like the power to do?”


If I saw these lines in real life, I likely wouldn’t conclude that this message was coming from a bank. Or that this bank could help me. But wait. Should I seek confidence, affirmation or power from my bank?


These messages are examples of how banks, perhaps unintentionally, put distance between themselves and the communities they serve by acting like modern magicians set to bestow magical gifts upon all who engage.


When almost 40% of Americans can’t pay $400 for an emergency expense, then maybe the confidence a bank promises really is magical – as in, not real. And how much does anyone – financially stretched or not – look to a bank for empowerment and affirmation? Ask around. Of little surprise to a normal person (a non-marketer, or marketer wearing their “person” hat), it’s not much.


So this leads me to an ongoing question: In a category filled with blanket affirmations and empty promises of achievable milestones, how do you create a bank brand that invites people in?


I would say the easiest way banks can enable people to actualize their best financial selves isn’t to prescribe one-size-fits-all (or perhaps more offensively, one-size-fits-most) solutions but to listen more than assume. Predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the way we interact with brands. Banking has immense customer data accompanied by fully regulated security features. So when it comes to developing personalized products, services and brand experiences, banks, if leveraged properly, may already be steps ahead. Accenture calls it hyper-relevance: understanding people’s needs and context during key inflection points in order to drive higher levels of trust, stickiness and satisfaction, which all contribute directly to higher customer lifetime value.


A great example is robo-advising, which democratizes tailored solutions once reserved for the affluent. Another example I’m excited about is Bank of America’s AI/Machine Learning solution, erica. Erica is already well on its way to delivering personalized financial education in an app. Over time, if executed to embrace humanity, erica has the potential to shift both the rational and emotional relationships we have with our money.


So the question remains: If technology can deliver a hyper-personalized experience, why does most bank marketing still assume I need to be fixed, helped or empowered? PWC predicts “customer intelligence to be the most important predictor of revenue growth and profitability,” so it seems it’s time to reflect this rich customer data throughout our financial services marketing.


I’m not recommending moving away from brand-building. In fact, quite the opposite. What I am recommending is that we stop making assumptions about our audience at the brand level. It’s about meaningfully utilizing the full marketing funnel by developing a nonassumptive, brand-building message that drives lower cost per acquisition when paired with hyper-relevant activation down funnel. It’s this crucial mindset shift that can help invite people in, genuinely welcome them at scale, and then grow the relationship based on need and context.


Banking personalization is here. It’s the marketing message that needs to catch up.