Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.
In a digital world, consumers can acquire enough information about a product or service on a smartphone or online to make a purchase decision without ever asking a question of a customer service representative or walking into a physical store (branch). Whether a consumer wants to buy a protein bar or new automobile, they can now leverage digital channels at each step of the customer decision journey, bypassing the traditional step-by-step sales funnel behavior.
In this exclusive interview, Abigail Posner, Director of Strategy for Google’s Brand Unit, discusses the importance of having an in-depth understanding of consumers in the digital space and translating these insights into personalized strategies for creative and content development.
Jim Marous: So we were talking before you went onstage about the whole dynamic of the financial services industry, where we have a legacy mentality, legacy organizations, and people who have not been disrupted, that really aren't challenged as much as many other industries. And then trying to take technology and apply that. And you know Google is a technology company first and foremost and always had been.
Abigail Posner: Yes
Jim Marous: We're talking about a non-Jtechnology industry that has to apply technology. What's the biggest challenge you see with that.
Abigail Posner: There's no question. You what know? I talk a lot about technology as you can imagine, but one of the things I make clear to every audience I speak to is that tech is one aspect of the technological revolution. One of the key aspects of technologies changing our world is that we change our mentality with it, right? It means changing behavior. It means changing our structures. It means looking at work differently. It means working, looking at our colleagues differently, looking at our competition differently. We don't see things as a zero sum game, for example. collaboration is extremely important. It's not about trying to be competitive inside a company. Working together. Also being transparent. That's another big aspect to what it means to be technologically advanced in this day and age. So of course the gadgets and understanding data and understanding how to leverage technology is key for success in this new era, but if you don't have a mentality, if you don't have the culture, and the value system that goes along with that change in technology, it's all going to be for naught. Because you're not going to really leverage what technology can offer a company and quite frankly the whole industry.
Jim Marous: Google, from my perspective has done so much innovation, but almost behind the scenes. Where it happens without you knowing it.
Abigail Posner: Absolutely!
Jim Marous: I use the example in my conversations, in my speeches, that you know three years ago you'd go three, maybe four pages before you find what you're looking for. Now because of all the learning is going on, you and I can Google the exact same term, and you're going to get a different response then I'm going to get – and we're not gonna be going off the first page, which is really also what Amazon does from the standpoint of saying "we want to make it so that you don't abandon your shopping cart or abandon your search, by making it easier and simpler." But it doesn't mean something brand new. I mean you know it's sometimes the only change I see is the way you spell Google or you know the dynamics visually of what you do with Google, but with that how much of the innovation has to be dynamic, versus just in the name of the consumer?
Abigail Posner: Such a great question. First of all Google's always about being user-first right. That's been its mentality all the time. And part of being user-first is not being obnoxious, right. And so much so that sometimes it annoys me. Right. I'll wake up and my phone has gone through a reboot because there've been some changes that Google has made to make my life easier. But meanwhile I have to now figure it all out. Like, oh wait a second, now the color scheme is different. But honestly then I relax and laugh about it because within two seconds I figure it out. But the point is they are trying to constantly make my life better without pushing it out to the entire world that they're doing that. They're always looking for "How can we improve? How can we improve? How can we improve?" And by the way going back to your point about culture that's also part of the culture.
Jim Marous: Yes
Abigail Posner: Right. Which is so important.
Jim Marous: Constant and never-ending improvements.
Abigail Posner: Exactly. And not being too precious about anything because if you are first of all you'll be late to market, right? And you want to be first to market. But also there's–
Jim Marous: So it's not good to be a fast follower.
Abigail Posner: If you're following Google! No– [laughs]. So it's definitely fine to be a follower, but put your own spin on it. Right? So it becomes unique to you. And that's really what I was talking about today, which is every idea is somewhat derivative. You're adding your spin to it. You're adding your world to that to come up with something new. So yeah, I mean again, taking advantage of technology means taking advantage of this new culture that came with it.
Jim Marous: Yeah, and we sometimes look at the fact that you know when you do an update you're talking about updates in your phone that the tech companies are all. You see them always on your update list. You don't find your financial institution having to have that delay of a spin to say oh it's not available right now because it just doesn't happen. You don't wait for the big exposure of a big huge fix. It's usually that little turn that Apple uses, or Google uses, or Droid uses that says you know "this thing is just making it easier for you to do things" or whatever that tagline is.
Abigail Posner: It's constant, yeah. So it keeps you on your toes. That is for sure. But you also know it's in the name of making either your life easier or your life more inspired or more particular personalized to you. So it definitely has its benefits.
Jim Marous: So yes personalization you have digitization and a lot of that takes more data and more understanding each individual consumer. But with that comes privacy. What role does management and leadership have to take from the perspective of leadership. And I'm sure it's harsh privacy.
Abigail Posner: Well Google takes that very seriously. I am not an expert at that. So I can't speak with much confidence about exactly what they're doing. But there is no question that for Google it is very important that we maintain those boundaries when people want them. So you can opt out of things for example. You don't have to open yourself up if you don't want to. I personally like that because I like personalization. The only thing I don't like about personalization is sometimes I'm not exposed to other things because the system thinks that this is what I want all the time and I do want it. That's my appetite. That's my menu of things I like, but you never know when something out of your comfort zone will be interesting too. So that's my only issue with it not so much the privacy.
Jim Marous: Is it an opportunity or challenge do you believe? Privacy.
Abigail Posner: Ummm....I think any challenges is an opportunity quite frankly. I mean that's, again, part of the mentality.
Jim Marous: Because it's that value transfer, where if you do data application well, then you're raising the value exchange that you're not just taking the information. You're giving me something return.
Abigail Posner: Exactly.
Jim Marous: But if you don't do that, you've broken the bond and I don't want to share that with you anymore. We've seen that. We saw that with Facebook to a degree and other entities.
Abigail Posner: Absolutely, and we're all you know we're navigating through this. The thing we sometimes forget is technology is advancing at such speeds, and there's always gonna be some chink in the armor. Until you fix it. So we have to all recognize that sometimes there are going to be issues as long as we're together going "OK. Let's fix them together," let's not go and throw the baby out with the bathwater, but fix it together like we fixed everything over time.
Jim Marous: So we sometimes get so caught up in the whole digitalization concept and data and all that. But brand's still important. You talked about that today at the Financial Brand Forum. How does brand play into this and is it more important now that everything's so technology and advanced, to bring that humanization to it and make sure your brand is still front and forward.
Abigail Posner: Absolutely. At the end of the day what our brands, they're stories. They're stories about these companies and products. It's a way for us to understand who they are, what their values are, what they bring to the table. So storytelling is fundamental to human existence, right. That is what we're all about. And at the end of the day brands want to connect with us. They don't want to compel us. They don't want to convince us through logic. That's what happens when you know it's an added bonus it has fewer calories. What they want to do is connect with us on a human level, and they need stories to do that. And so what the digital stuff does is actually – hopefully – make those stories better because we understand human beings better. Because we've made it faster so we can focus more time on the storytelling and less on the digital stuff that goes on behind the background. Listen I talk a lot about A.I.; I am not the world's expert on A.I. by any means, but we use artificial intelligence every single day. Every single day. And one of the things I try to impart especially to creative worlds who are scared of it, is like they're taking away all the grunt work, right. All the work that you'd have to do by hand, they're taking away. So now you can take that and leverage it for more creative means, and that's the same thing with technology. I don't think anybody in the technology world wants to somehow usurp humanity. No they want to make it better.
Jim Marous: And get rid of the grunt jobs. I mean, we've watched this before now. The challenge is going to be, how do you educate and train the new and old generations to be able to still play a role in an environment that has fewer entry level jobs that can be replaced by A.I. or robotics or anything else.
Abigail Posner: Well I think partly it's to explain really the role of technology because I believe those folks who feel like their jobs are getting usurped, or their worlds and cultures are getting usurped, if they really understand the role of the technology and the value of it. I'm not saying it's not going to wreak some havoc. It will. And technology always has – has always since the dawn of time since we figured out fire. Look what happened today. Fire dismantled one of the most historic buildings. Now would you say we don't want fire? [Referencing 2019 Notre Dame fire.] We don't have fire, we wouldn't have lights. We couldn't cook. We couldn't stay warm. So we've always seen both sides of it. So I'm not saying I'm not Pollyann-ish. I'm not saying that everything is gonna be hunky dory, but I think it starts with a true understanding of the role of technology and what it's used for. And if we do that maybe those folks who feel like "Uh-oh it's gonna take over my job, maybe they say wait a minute, what am I really good at? I'm good at this. I'm good at that. Okay. How do I use the technology now to make what I'm good at – really good. There was a story recently about senior citizen coders. Now that's a bit of a... challenge in our brains. We can't imagine that. But they found a way that worked for them and who they want to be.
Jim Marous: Well it makes them more human.
Abigail Posner: Yes!
Jim Marous: It makes them feel more powerful, more empowered, and the reality is it's also about making sure that as humans because the world goes so fast, we're also moving. You used to be able almost sit tight for a whole generation for your whole life and not really be disrupted too much. That's not gonna happen ever again. Right. And we can't expect it to come back.
Abigail Posner: No. And not only that. It's the human existence. We have always tried to progress, progress, progress. I am not saying it's always been smooth, and I'm not saying we haven't had some bumps along the way. That's part of human existence is learning how to navigate through that. But you're right. I think we all want to feel like we're growing, and we're contributing, and when the world is growing you want to be growing with them. However it means or however it connects with what you want to do and who you want to be. There are many aspects to technology that really have no meaning to me. I just don't care. I mean I don't hate it, but there are aspects to it that really hold a lot of value for me and who I want to be. And so glom onto that you find ways to grow and progress as it grows and progresses.
Jim Marous: Finally last question, but a pretty important one. The importance of voice. Obviously Google's in the dog-gone in the center of it all, but it's also AI. It's also humanized. It's a changing of the way we communicate and the way we interact. Right now, for lack of a better term, if we're still looking at voice as being a way to answer very simple questions and tell us the weather and sports scores. But it could very easily become proactively a digital concierge in the real world where the device, it becomes your agent. Right. Where do you see it going?
Abigail Posner: You know, it's funny. My husband, who was late to smartphones, talks to his phone. I don't talk to my phone. I'm still like typing. But he talks to his phone. So it really is enabling people to do what they want and connect faster. So it is a beautiful thing, and now in the world of advertising we're using it more. I think it's still untapped because I think I mean granted it's something that is going to simplify our lives, again it takes the grunt work out of typing and misspelling, but I think we've just scratched the surface of it because there is something about talking. Other species don't talk. So I would love to decode that. I mean part of my background is – and one of the reasons I became so much of a public speaker was – I leveraged my background in anthropology. Take what you're good at and connect it to tech. When I first came to Google, I didn't know tech. But I knew anthropology, and I knew that there was this dearth of understanding. Real understanding of the role of technology in our lives. And I said "I'm going to connect my anthropology background to that." And so I examined all these different technologies and surfaces and so forth, and so voice is the next frontier that I would love to decode and find out through an anthropological lens: What is it really and what could it do?
Jim Marous: Well it's really interesting. What we've learned in the financial industry and what some of the companies have found, is that people don't really want to interact by face. Facial. You think that they might, but they really don't. They don't even really want to do it necessarily by voice all the time. They want to be able to type and they don't have to be up and alert. But more than anything else, I think everybody wants the advisory side of this to say, "how do I stay out of trouble? How do I avoid things going on? And how do you have that that dialogue that may even start with a device based on my history?" You know we look at cars. A lot of technology you just you look at the advancements, but you go "it's amazing what's happened!" But within 10 years, you went from cars that when you got to accident, and that's the first time you got in an accident, to now cars warning you, slowing you down, get you in your lane, maybe completely driving on behalf you, much safer than you've ever done. We just saw a rocket take off and have three rocket launchers land in different places. One of them on a floating platform. We take that for granted now, but voice is going to be upon us so quickly, and Google's in the center of that. And I think it's interesting because the insight and the information to be able to apply that the way the tech companies do, it is totally exciting.
Abigail Posner: Yes. Yes. I mean you know so much of what we do at Google is to really anticipate what people's needs are and wants are. And your point about being able to speak to somebody and help them navigate is ultimately what we want to do.
Jim Marous: Well it's a movement as you just said from reacting to anticipating, and which is more of the human helping thing to save time and save money. The consumer wants you to know them, look out for them, and reward them, and at the end of the rewarding is knowing me better.
Abigail Posner: Well yeah, I mean to just cap that off, I think the best is when it inspires me. When it knows me more than I know me, and says "I think you're going to like this" or "you didn't realize that's how you should use your money, but I have some ideas on how you should reallocate your finances."
Jim Marous: And to think in that direction takes a transformation of leadership and culture. Because it's not about how much money you can make or how much money you can save, it's how connected you can become with the consumer because they're expecting it.
Abigail Posner: Absolutely, and I have talked to other financial groups and so much of that is back to the core. Back to the core of business building and marketing. Know your customer. Really. And now you have the ability to do that: know your customer. And your point about leadership. I just came from another speech where I talked all about leadership, and it's a different type of leader today. Very different type.
Jim Marous: Which is hard because we talk about the fact that not only the banks led by traditional, old school guys that came up
Abigail Posner: Hierarchy, yeah.
Jim Marous: But the regulators are just the next level of old, stodgy bankers. They're not picking up young technologists to be the regulators. And that's what the challenge is in the banking world. We see that the most progressive and most advanced financial systems, like a BBVA, were led by technology and engineering leaders, not by bankers.
Abigail Posner: And can I just say one more thing too? What I think would be so liberating for leaders: they have to do it all. Like this is one of the new systems of value for this new age. It's like it's again it goes back to collaboration. Leaders today have so much on their plate. You do not have to be a dictator. That's too much work. You have a team that works with you to collaborate and share ideas.