Embrace change, take risks, and disrupt yourself
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.
Banking is at the Beginning of the Interface Revolution
Over three-quarters of consumers said that receiving personalized communications was a key factor in prompting their consideration of a brand, and 78 percent said such content made them more likely to repurchase.
But simply putting a name on an email or targeting a sales message based on recent purchases is no longer enough. Financial institutions, and customers, want to engage in a way that exhibits empathy, is timely and contextual, and most of all, creates a value exchange.
We are very fortunate to have John Thomas of Relay Network back on the Banking Transformed podcast. John discusses why companies that excel at creating customer engagement generate faster rates of revenue growth than their peers.
Follow us on YouTube to view the video versions of these interviews: youtube.com/c/BankingTransformedPodcast.
This episode of Banking Transformed Solutions is sponsored by Relay Network
Relay Network is the innovator of SaaS feed technology, with over 10 years of experience helping companies more meaningfully engage with the people they serve. Using Relay Feeds, banks and credit unions are deepening their relationships with their customers. Relay’s goal is to help businesses maximize the value of the relationships they’ve cultivated.
For more information visit https://www.relaynetwork.com/onboarding-fs/
Jim Marous (00:00):
Hello, and welcome to Banking Transformed, the top podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, Owner and CEO of the Digital Banking Report, and co-publisher The Financial Brand.
Jim Marous (00:21):
Over three-quarters of consumers say that receiving personalized communications was a key factor in prompting a consideration of a brand in every industry. And 78% said content made them more likely to repurchase. But simply putting a name on an email or targeting a sales message based on recent purchases is no longer enough.
Jim Marous (00:46):
Financial institutions and customers want to engage in a way that exhibits empathy, that is timely, and contextual, and most of all, creates a value exchange.
Jim Marous (00:58):
We are fortunate to have John Thomas Relay Network back in the Banking Transformed Podcast. John discusses why companies that excel at creating great customer engagement generate rates of revenue faster than any of their peers.
Jim Marous (01:13):
So, welcome back to the show, John. So, it's been a while since we last had you on. Can you share a little bit about what you've done since we last talked?
John Thomas (01:23):
Yeah. It's great to be back here today with you, Jim, it has been a while. So, since we last talked, I retired from banking in big corporate life. My plan was to go fishing, Jim. And then Relay Network approached me.
John Thomas (01:38):
It's a great company, it was a company that was a client of, and it's a space I care deeply about, which is interaction management. So, now, I'm the Chief Strategy Officer for a SaaS company in the engagement space.
Jim Marous (01:54):
As I mentioned in my intro, consumers don't want personalization, they demand it. And at a level far beyond what normally is being provided by financial institutions beyond basic personalization, they expect content to be timely, to be contextual, and to show that their organization knows them, understands them, and rewards them with solutions that will improve their daily financial wherewithal, their wellness.
Jim Marous (02:22):
So, why is building an insight-first organization so important for finance institutions and their customers? And what do you expect from banks and credit unions that may be different from two to five years ago?
John Thomas (02:37):
Yeah, it's a great question, Jim. If I think about sort of the arc of personalization and content delivery in banking over the last let's say 2 to 10 years, personalization expectations in society have gone well beyond sort of this campaign-based product selling personalization that we see so much of in the marketplace.
John Thomas (02:58):
And that's really where banks started in the personalization journey. And I would argue, Jim, it's still pretty early stage for most financial institutions and truly personalizing individual experiences. The reality is that phrase of personalized individual experiences is a sort of code for personalized offers in marketing, still today.
John Thomas (03:20):
So, back to the expectation question; I think there's a lot that banks can do in that CX-UX sort of total experience space. It's a space that's getting a lot of press right now. This TX (total experience) or the CX plus employee experience space, it's not a new idea. It's been around for a long time. It's just got a new name.
John Thomas (03:43):
But I think there's an expectation from society that if I'm talking to somebody at your company, like arm that person with the information to make my experience better too. Like don't just sell me sort of the right thing today. So, I think informing the insights-driven organizations of today really need to inform the front line much more than they traditionally have.
Jim Marous (04:13):
You know, what's interesting is, while many financial institutions talk about using content to build a better experience, most organizations globally still consider themselves rather inept at being able to use data even to drive the most basic levels of engagement. And that's far, as you mentioned, far more than simply driving the sales message. It's really trying to build a conversational relationship.
Jim Marous (04:36):
We discussed the last time you were on the show, that organizations have to try to build a mathematical asymmetry between tech and banking. Why is this, if you don't do it, a threat to traditional banking?
John Thomas (04:51):
This asymmetry concept is one I spent a lot of time on in my banking years. So, if you step back and you look at the best — in your question you talk about using data to drive like basic levels of engagement. So, a lot of us we can see in some of the best data companies in the world are the big tech companies that we do business with every day.
John Thomas (05:12):
And those companies have this asymmetry around their multiples on their equities and around their margins. So, they trade on growth multiples and not on earnings multiples. So, that means they can make these really long-term decisions, like they don't really care that much about tomorrow's earnings.
John Thomas (05:29):
But when they do care about earnings, if you're a big tech company running data-driven engagement in an app store or a marketplace, or maybe in a search business, your business is operating on 1,500 to 4,000 basis points. And then in banks, we operate on maybe 2 to 200 basis points. And that's the asymmetry I talk about.
John Thomas (05:50):
For some reason, banks and the consultancies that serve them, Jim, seem more focused on what I call the Silicon Valley speak in the engagement space, like agile and failing fast in the art of the pivot. And they're sort of not paying attention to the macro force that leads to that different motion in tech, and that different decision-making process in tech that's very, very long-term.
John Thomas (06:13):
So, I've been arguing for years, Jim, that to really understand beyond the dev motion difference between banking and tech, there's a little bit of Sun Tzu at work here. Like you got to know their anatomy and you got to know yourself a little better than you do. That's really important in competing, if you're a bank competing with tech, particularly big tech. I don't know that my comments apply as much to FinTech, Jim.
Jim Marous (06:39):
Well, it's interesting too, because if I'm not mistaken, correct me if I'm wrong — Relay Network really builds the content management structure to be able to communicate with customers and prospects better through multiple channels.
Jim Marous (06:52):
What's also interesting as I understand it, more and more institutions, and you referenced it earlier, are realizing that employees have to be part of this equation. It's not just a marketing effort. It's a communication effort that really impacts every channel. So, how do you put this asymmetry that we just discussed to make it better at a financial institution?
John Thomas (07:17):
Well, there's a third form of asymmetry that I've been watching in the marketplace. We talked right before the show, I've been bouncing between technology and banking for some number of years, and over the last decade, I've seen that earnings multiple asymmetry, the margin asymmetry. But there's also interface asymmetry between banks and tech companies that work in the marketplace.
John Thomas (07:41):
We didn't talk about it last time I was on the show, but it's something I've written about inside of large banks quite a bit over the years. Big tech has gone beyond websites and transactional apps, and most are now operating in feeds and scrolls. Whether it's Meta's Facebook or Google's YouTube or TikTok, like whatever your thing or things are.
John Thomas (08:04):
So, people today, Jim, consume content on their phones with their forefinger or their thumb moving up and down. They don't really consume it in web tabs and hamburger menus anymore, in apps. So, this behavioral pattern of the feed and the scroll is by far the dominant behavioral pattern on smartphones today, and banks don't have that interface.
John Thomas (08:32):
Banking is still working on excellence in websites and transactional apps, maybe sprinkling in a little bit in the voice space, but they're by and large doing nothing in the feed and scroll interface. But big tech has realized that's where content consumption happens, and it really has been that way for the last 5 or 10 years.
Jim Marous (08:54):
How does Relay help a financial institution achieve this?
John Thomas (08:57):
Well, I think there's a couple of things at work here. One of the first things we have to do is sort of help banks first understand that interface, asymmetry, and sort of why they should care about it. Because it's not actually top of mind to most banks. Again, they're thinking about their apps, they're thinking about their websites as they should. So, let me just throw some stats at you, Jim. And they're pretty compelling stats.
John Thomas (09:23):
So, the first step we do to help the banks is understand like you're not actually playing in the interface your customers enjoy the most. Globally, 88% of smartphone users use feeds and scrolls. In the U.S., where we've got 335 million, 340 million people in the U.S., 302 million of them use feeds and scrolls. So, in the U.S., It's almost a hundred percent penetration, like of age. So, deep penetration in this space.
John Thomas (09:55):
And then the second thing is you look at the usage stats, like the average American uses seven different feeds a month. Daily usage is measured in hours, not minutes. There's no group over the age of 25 in the U.S. That doesn't use this interface at least 55 minutes a day. No group — that includes mom and grandpa and great Aunt Tilly. There's no group.
John Thomas (10:19):
And then there's a massive influence on buying behavior. There's a whole bunch of stats, Jim, in the feed format that are compelling. But here's the one that really sort of shakes me awake and the banks awake. In 2022, ad spending in feeds became larger than ad spending in all paid search marketing combined. Just think about that sentence, think about that sentence.
John Thomas (10:45):
Now, there's a reason that's happening in feeds, it's because that's where everybody is in today's world. So, what we do at Relay is sort of help banks understand, first, this format and the dynamics of the format. Now, we would never suggest placing ads in a B2C feed.
John Thomas (11:05):
But what we do Jim, is we've taken that feed and that scroll format in the digital space, and we've built the first B2C platform to use that. So, what we help our banks do is really modernize part of their digital fabric and footprint.
Jim Marous (11:24):
It'd be interesting — you gave some stats and figures. I'm not too sure if I want to review my stats and figures on how much I have bought because of an insertion in Instagram. I mean, I'm a big Instagram user. I have multiple platforms there for business and personal.
Jim Marous (11:41):
But also, I'm realizing that my listening devices, be it my Alexa device or my Siri device or my phone, whatever, it is always on to the degree where I mention something, and it just seems to pop up. But it's for my benefit. Yeah, it's a little scary at times, but the reality is, if you can move me down the purchase funnel from the perspective that I was at least interested in it beforehand, I'm better off.
Jim Marous (12:09):
And this all makes all kinds of neat sense, especially you and I both have a marketing mind either forefront or background. And the reality is this all makes sense. It makes sense, especially for banking to use all the data they have despite losing a lot of the payments data they used to have.
Jim Marous (12:30):
But when you're joining your sales team to visit a financial institution, what gets in the way of saying, "Yes?" Why does an organization not say, "Sign me up today, I need to do this?"
John Thomas (12:45):
Yeah, there's a couple things, and I'll call it the early hours of the chat. One is inertia and momentum inside of large companies. There's a channel infrastructure inside all of our banking clients that's it's big, it's hopefully profitable for them, it's not low-cost. And they've got rationalize the cost either on the margin or these large, fixed cost basis that channel infrastructure all day, every day.
John Thomas (13:19):
So, one of the things that can get in the way is this concept of like, "I've got A, B, C, D, E and F in my channel infrastructure. I'm spending hundreds of millions or billions or tens of billions in some cases, across that infrastructure. I don't feel like I need something else." So, there's a little bit of that.
John Thomas (13:40):
The second thing that can get in the way, and we talked about it a lot last time we were together is the fear of using data, and the bank's fear of being able to operationalize data. Because this has been a long and difficult journey for most of our banking clients and certainly, for most of your listeners.
John Thomas (14:00):
How we get them past that — so that's sort of what they bring into the room. And when I was a banker, it's what I brought into the room a lot of days, too, when I was talking to SaaS companies. How we get them past that, Jim, is a couple of ways.
John Thomas (14:17):
One is to help them understand ... I talked earlier about the stats, but understand, hey, there's these more modern content formats. It's a well-worn path. Your customers are there every day. One, we can bring that format to you in a pretty low-cost fixed cost manner. Like way beyond like what you're used to doing.
John Thomas (14:40):
Two, that's going to free your content delivery up at your company where you don't have to ROI every interaction like you do today. Because whether it's a marketing channel, a campaign, digital, ad placement, your call center, your brand system — you're in a world where you have to ROI every one of those interactions.
John Thomas (15:01):
So, you have all this content. A lot of our clients have a massive amount of content, Jim, that's not landing anywhere because they can't ROI justify in a marketing campaign landing that content because there might not be a conversion at the end of that particular content.
Jim Marous (15:17):
And customers can't find it anyway.
John Thomas (15:18):
Exactly. They're not searching for it.
Jim Marous (15:21):
Even though I need to know it, if I'm getting into like say credit trouble, I'm not looking to my bank to say where in the website can I find out about how I resolve my problem. You want the bank to come to you and be the concierge to give you that solution before you raise your hand and say, "I have a problem."
John Thomas (15:41):
That's so true. We're not looking through those web tabs proactively. We're not plowing through the hamburger menus in the apps, but we're also not snacking on content in our email inboxes. We stopped doing that years and years and years ago. And that's such a big content delivery channel for our bank clients today.
John Thomas (16:01):
So, your question about how do we help them understand the interface, change the economic equation for them so we can liberate a whole bunch of content that they largely already have in a lot of cases, take that ROI hurdle away, but then really importantly, allow them to stand it up in a way that their current data state of being can support.
John Thomas (16:31):
The reality is all of our banking credit union clients, Jim, have some kind of a triggers layer, a segmentation scheme of the feed campaigns, a CRM platform, some MarTech stack or data or AdTech stack.
John Thomas (16:52):
And a lot of your question, how do we help them get started, is just help them understand how to use us as another endpoint for what they've already got while they're sort of on that journey maybe fixing and improving what they've got.
Jim Marous (17:07):
Boy, that is such a key element. We talk about this often that most funny institutions do not leverage their partners as much as they can. They say, "I'd love to use you, but I got to wait until my data's perfect." Well, you've been on the financial service side and on the vendor side, and you realize that ain't never going to happen.
Jim Marous (17:25):
And the reality is an excuse that most solution providers now, most partners, third-party providers can solve for. In other words, if your data's not perfect, we can use data in the way you have it to still bring you solutions that'll bring you a positive ROI. So, that's no longer a good excuse.
Jim Marous (17:44):
Another challenge I see too, John, is that so many organizations find out what I'm going to call the boogeyman of solutions. In other words, they bring to you the "Yeah, but what if this happens? What if I break this privacy regulation? What ends up happening?" And I get them all the time from my financial institution partners.
Jim Marous (18:01):
I get communication from them that is so filled — it's filled with more disclaimers than claimers. It is rough around the edges where they're not really saying anything because they're afraid of saying too much. And the reality is, we view marketing and communications in such an old-fashioned style.
Jim Marous (18:19):
And unfortunately, you've been up against it. Most leadership, top leadership at financial institutions don't communicate or engage the way most consumers do. So, what happens is we all put our own mask on and say, "Yeah, but I don't ever look at those things."
Jim Marous (18:37):
Well, it goes back to the old way we used to do marketing anyway, of saying you got to look at the way the consumer does it and the way the leadership or the financial institution does it. How do you get over that risk hurdle, that risk hurdle of saying, "Geez, but if I communicate this specifically about this solution, the world's going to blow up?" When it's not.
John Thomas (18:58):
Yeah, a great question. And it's one we get in every sales cycle like 100% of the time. So, at Relay, Jim, our three verticals are banking and credit unions, healthcare and health insurance, and specialty biopharma. So, we operate in the three most regulated businesses in North America.
John Thomas (19:23):
So, not just our banks give us that question, but we're very big in the Blue Cross Blue Shield space, and as I mentioned, pharmaceuticals. And so, we have to operate under HIPAA requirements. So, this risk and this privacy element to our clients is absolute table stakes for them to buy any kind of external communication platform whatsoever, and that's where deals can go to die.
John Thomas (19:52):
We're one of the only companies that's HITRUST certified. That's a healthcare certification in the privacy, sort of HIPAA space. We have direct connections with the telco and mobile infrastructure in the U.S. So, the TCPA certifications and express consent risk management is absolute core of what we do.
John Thomas (20:21):
Like we don't have a business without that because we deliver everything through the mobile phone, not in an app, Jim. That's the difference between our solution and feed solutions in the consumer space. Nobody's going to download a B2C feed app. Like that's not going to happen.
John Thomas (20:40):
So, what we do is we ring the consumer's doorbell, so to speak, through s m s text, but then that text brings you right into your personalized feed. So, there's a lot of regulatory compliance, legal things that have to happen through that motion.
John Thomas (20:58):
So, your question of like, how do you get through that risk conversation — we're very transparent with our clients and we spend a lot of time with our clients compliance groups and legal groups inside of their companies.
John Thomas (21:14):
And I certainly went through this when I bought the solution, when I was at a big bank as well. We share with them our processes, the certifications we've got, the protections. And the other thing we do, Jim, is we don't collect a lot of data from our clients. Like we let the client keep the data.
John Thomas (21:32):
First of all, it's hard for them to move it. And secondly, they get squirmy when they move big parts of data. So, we've got a solution that requires very little data movement to operate. And that brings that risk profile that you referenced way down.
Jim Marous (21:45):
Well, it's interesting too, because really, what could be the end result is not a legal issue, but in some cases, an embarrassment issue. It's embarrassing when, when my doctor communicates with me about something that wasn't exactly right, but to know he is trying and know he is within the ball field, you get patience. It's not a legal issue.
Jim Marous (22:07):
And the challenge is for organizations to realize, if you're looking for a perfect world with the perfect solution, the perfect time and everything else, number one, it won't exist. And number two, you won't do anything. You get caught in that whole circle of confusion.
Jim Marous (22:22):
As you're looking at, we're in an economic time of uncertainty certainly. As you're looking at how organizations should invest (and I'm not going to even call it marketing) in communication and engagement, how do they, or how should they prioritize working with a company like Relay Networks to be able to say, "Here's how we should do things and here's to the level we should do things."
Jim Marous (22:50):
We talked about before the discussion we've had on the podcast here, the issue around, "Geez, you don't have to buy it all at once." How would you as a banker prioritize investment in these kind of communications?
John Thomas (23:02):
Yeah, there's a couple lenses I always put on it. When I was inside banking, Jim, as an executive in the industry. One was, and you alluded to it a minute ago — priority one is to be where your customers are and be in the format that your customers prefer.
John Thomas (23:20):
So, you have to embrace that concept that my channel interaction fabric may be really good and really resilient and really performant and that's great, but it's probably incomplete in today's day and age in terms of where the people I serve like to consume content. So, first, you got to prioritize like this sort of format destination space.
John Thomas (23:42):
The second thing and we talked about this last time, like never prioritize building it, buy it. Like do not build this stuff, buy it. But buy it in a motion that allows you as the bank to sort of manage down that risk profile, but also, manage down the financial investment and sort of the amount of belief you need to have in these new channels in early days and early months of these new formats.
John Thomas (24:15):
And we think we've got a really nice solution in solving that economic challenge for the bank, because your prioritization question, like you get into these ROI calculations and every single initiative inside of a bank. And that racking and stacking and prioritization exercise, it has two dynamics at most banks.
John Thomas (24:36):
One, maybe a third — one, ROI; two, there's usually a strategic overlay, like you've got a belief in moving in a direction ROI almost always trumps that, or three, in some cases, we have to do it for regulatory or compliance concerns.
John Thomas (24:53):
You want to make your decisions up in one and two, and spend as little time in three. So, I think the prioritization question is, hey, there are interfaces that tech is using with my consumers. There are interfaces that my consumers are using all day every day. I don't have it. How do I look at an ROI and a low-cost of entry solution to sort of get into that space?
John Thomas (25:20):
And then the question that always sits behind that at banks, Jim, is okay, let's buy the economic thesis of this additive channel in my channel fabric. How am I going to use it? Like what are the use cases or what are the problems I can solve with this new solution? And that's really where the big successes come with our clients and where the bigger ROI calculations come.
Jim Marous (25:50):
You know, you just brought two interesting points. Number one, scalability. So, we feel that scale and speed are two important items here.
Jim Marous (25:59):
So, if I'm going to work with Relay Network, can I buy a, what I'm going to call a parcel solution? In other words, not buy everything you offer, but offer it maybe on specific channels or with specific product lines. Can I buy something paired down that will be able to be implemented fast and at scale?
John Thomas (26:19):
Yes. And let me explain on how some of our clients do that and sort of when they buy, I'll call it the partial answer, Jim, to your question. Like how do they achieve success inside of that envelope?
John Thomas (26:32):
So, I mentioned earlier, we're the first company that took that feed format in the B2C communications. We ring the consumer's doorbell through SMS text to the mobile phone. It brings them into a personalized branded feed. So, your bank, it's Jim's feed at Jim's bank is the actual experience inside of this thing.
John Thomas (26:55):
So, now, if you think about just feeds and scrolls, there's almost an infinite number of uses to your question of like partial versus buying the whole enchilada. Where a lot of our clients in banking start, and we actually see the same behavior in healthcare too, Jim — is they start with onboarding.
John Thomas (27:16):
Our clients have found that a personalized feed-based onboarding journey as opposed to, I'll call it an episodic email onboarding journey (which we've all experienced) works very well for them. And they see very substantial lifts across the number of dimensions, Jim, in that solution; deposit account funding, and new accounts, debit and credit card activation rates on new accounts, spending usage early days, weeks, months on bulk; direct deposit enrollment, mobile app download, mobile check deposit.
John Thomas (27:52):
So, when our clients come to us and they're like, "Hey, I really have this onboarding problem, I'm not really landing it through email, it feels really disjointed, help," that's, I'll call it a partial solution that we've had a lot of success with.
John Thomas (28:08):
Some of our clients have found that the feed platform's a great way to land some of this deep content they have in their hero products. We see this in the card space in particular, Jim. So, if you think about maybe the cards in your wallet, the cards in my wallet, there's a lot of these hero sort of travel rewards products in the marketplace.
John Thomas (28:30):
We might buy it for a hundred thousand miles or this thing or this airline currency or whatever. But there's so much in those hero products that sort of goes unlanded. So, we're seeing some clients say, "Hey, I've got in some cases, a billion-dollar investment right in my hero card product, and nobody knows what's behind it."
John Thomas (28:55):
So, they'll use a feed as a great way to talk about sort of all the other stuff, the travel benefits, the details of reward program, the safety features, enrollment and ancillary or partner benefits, lounge access, car rental clubs, things like that. So, that's another partial implementation that we'll see.
John Thomas (29:19):
And then a third one we're starting to see more and more of, Jim, is most of our clients have some advice or assistance or financial education content in their library. And they're really having a difficult time landing it either because they can't ROI justify, like push marketing campaigns around that content because there's not a conversion behind it.
John Thomas (29:45):
And they're finding that a partial solution that allows them to free up that content in a low-cost fixed cost feed really solves that problem. There's a couple banks out there — won't name names, but that have immense financial education libraries sitting in web portals.
John Thomas (30:08):
So, those are a few examples to your question of like partial solution if I just want to sort of wade into the space but not do everything all at once. Onboarding, hero product feeds, financial education. We see a lot in loan application pull through too, Jim. We have a number of bank clients that started there.
John Thomas (30:28):
What they all have in common though, is over time, success begets success inside a bank. So, really good at math. And it starts working here and they're quick to syndicate a lot of usages in year one and into year two and year three with us.
Jim Marous (30:45):
It's interesting because it really gets down to measurement. We have to get away as an industry, as marketing, as communications, as IT, whatever it may be, from looking at everything on a sales and a product sales perspective.
Jim Marous (30:59):
Because the onboarding thing, a lot of that is around, are my customers actually going to use the product they opened? Are they actually going to build a relationship that's big enough that will stand the test of time when there's other people continually coming at them trying to get their business?
Jim Marous (31:15):
I've told many people; you can't measure onboarding from a product sales perspective. It's an engagement and it's a loyalty perspective, which is a long play.
Jim Marous (3:27):
Secondly, you talked about the utilization of these hero products. American Express does it so well where they continually reinforce why you have that fricking card that has a fee on it.
Jim Marous (31:37):
Thirdly, it's a compliance issue to a degree because if you can show that you're really promoting financial wellness, the sales will come. Because what happens is ... and many institutions don't realize this; your portfolio of wellness solutions, wellness content will drive sales because you're going to just innately show them that you're actually showing empathy and are on their side as opposed to just trying to sell the next product.
Jim Marous (32:04):
And most organizations today are doing a terrible job of measuring relationship retention as opposed to product retention. So, I do a thing when I speak, I ask everybody, how many of you have changed your primary financial institutions in the last five years? Personally, nobody.
Jim Marous (32:21):
I ask how many have opened a brand-new financial project in the last two years, but not at a primary financial institution — virtually everybody. Those are lost relationships or losing relationships. This is where these communications come in.
Jim Marous (32:35):
So, we are talking about the successes out there, John, and how these solutions, how these communications, how content can be used to provide better experiences, greater engagement, and certainly, revenue.
Jim Marous (32:49):
When we look at this, overall, what stands in the way of progress from not a standpoint of buying it, which we talked earlier about, but actually, using it. We see so many of these solutions that get bought, but then don't get deployed the way that they're intended to be deployed. What hurdles do you see in that success?
John Thomas (33:13):
It feels like data's always number one. You know, in banking, with so many different engagement, MarTech, AdTech, communication type of buys or banks, they get that first use case right, and they really struggle from a data and insights perspective to sort of syndicate that in the use cases 2, 3, 4, and 5. So, that's pretty common across the industry and I've certainly experienced that in my time in and out of the industry.
John Thomas (33:49):
I think what's helpful to that question of like what stands in the way of progress, I think when banks think about some of these modern interfaces that are either out there in the market in a big way like feeds and then some that are emerging, I think it's useful to think about their journey in two ways.
John Thomas (34:12):
One is there's a body of work around modernizing my interface with the data I have today and the data I can operationalize. And then two, I'm already on a journey to improve my data and insights prowess over time. And I'll use that prowess in these new interfaces down the road, but I don't have to solve for all of that on day one, to the question of what stands in the way.
John Thomas (34:41):
So often, I've seen bank executives try to be perfect right out of the gate, and you got to be perfect and you're perfect on regulatory and compliance, reputational issues. Like that's a price of admission in the industry, but you really don't on the data side.
John Thomas (35:01):
So, I think for banks to get out of their way — like how do I get out of the way to having success; start easy. Start with your existing triggers layer or your CRM platform, or if you got some kind of recommendation engine or an insights engine or a campaign engine, like start there. Start there and embrace this concept that I'm going to modernize my interfaces a little bit.
John Thomas (35:27):
And it's an "and" in the interface, Jim, it's not an "or." And then find providers (and this is one of the big things Relay does in the feed space) that can help you with intelligence specific to that channel. So, we have a lot of data on how people use B2C feeds. We're the only company that's got that database.
John Thomas (35:50):
So, little things like understanding what time of day, what day of week, the sequencing of messaging. We can help our clients there. So, start simple, get out of your own way, like don't seek perfection. And simple in the space I operate in, Jim, can be as easy as treating feed interfaces as a new campaign endpoint in whatever you're doing today. Like that's so simple for our clients to do.
Jim Marous (36:20):
So, what Relay does as I understand it, it not just deploys this against the digital feed, but also can deploy it in a data democratization way across the entire organization so that employees can use this as well. So, that really, the employees just become another channel to reinforce a message that may have been said.
Jim Marous (36:40):
How important is that going to be in banking going forward? I mean, how important is it going to be that everybody in the organization can engage me in something that they know is pertinent to where I am today as a customer?
John Thomas (36:52):
I think it's so critical. Like arming the frontline in a way that the front line can digest is just such a critical success factor. At the last bank I was at, Jim ... I mentioned earlier like success begets success in banking quite often. When something works, there's always a drive to do more of it and use it in more ways.
John Thomas (37:15):
We stood up at my last bank feed technology in late 2019 and we knew what happened right after that. Early 2020, the world sort of blows up and your question of like, how can we arm employees across an organization to sort of manage some of this stuff?
John Thomas (37:35):
We actually dropped the feed capability into our branch system. So, when COVID forced us to shut down the branches and go to drive-through for a while, we had the ability for our employees to have a conversation through a drive-through window with a customer, and then send something to their feed as they were driving away from the drive-through.
John Thomas (38:00):
So, maybe Jim, you brought a paper check to the drive-through because you couldn't walk in the branch anymore and I said, "Hey Jim, do you know through your app, you can take a picture of this check and deposit it, like if you don't want to get in the car, come here or what whatever." And then as you're driving away, the employee could send you a video, a how-to video on how to use mobile deposit capture.
John Thomas (38:25):
That's just one example, Jim, of how companies and banks can sort of arm that employee base more and more around some of these experiences. And another interesting thing to your question has begun to happen in the last six months with some of our clients across industries. We've had some really big clients say, "You know what, this is working great with our customers. Can I use this to talk to my own employee base?"
John Thomas (38:55):
We have customers that have over a hundred thousand employees. We have some customers that may have 50,000 customers. We have other customers at the top end that have massive employee bases and they're looking at how well this platform works, saying, "I think I want to start talking to my employees using this technology: training, communication blast, the ability to sort of surgically see who sees what."
John Thomas (39:22):
So, that employee communication space maybe something in our future, Jim, and we're thinking that through right now. But at the end of the day, all these use cases we've talked about, it's just talking to people at the end of the day. It's just interacting with people. And sometimes those people might be customers and sometimes, those people might be your employees and your teams.
Jim Marous (39:48):
You know, it's interesting to hear, John, talking about both the consumer or customer base as well as the employee base. What targeted communication, what targeted engagement does is to build trust. And that sounds really soft, and you maybe can't put an ROI against that.
Jim Marous (40:04):
But if I'm leaving an auto teller and somebody tells me, "By the way, what you just did can be done in an easier way that will save you time and money" and you do that enough, the person's going to say, "Okay, I'll try it."
Jim Marous (40:18):
Or if an employee does something and you can tell by the way they manage their process that they're struggling and you give them away. And maybe it's simply around benefits, retirement benefits, things that the organization offers — it's hard to touch 400 employees, let alone 40,000 or a hundred thousand employees with the same messages.
Jim Marous (40:37):
But that builds trust that you, again, are working on their behalf, which is so much more important today than has ever been, and achievable because of the digital assets that we have as well as the technology.
Jim Marous (40:48):
You know, John, you have legacy banking with decades of experience, what practical advice would you give our audience on how to realistically get started, and the next step for interaction and interface as it relates to Relay Network?
John Thomas (41:04):
Yeah, I think there's a couple of things from a practical advice perspective. One, don't think rip and replace. What we're doing with our clients across banking, credit unions, healthcare is we're an additive channel.
John Thomas (41:18):
So, I think the best way to get started and think about this, Jim, is look at a B2C feed platform in the short run as a way to fight that interface asymmetry, big tech's been using it with your customers 10 years, and modernize your digital footprints, and that interface sit alongside your app and your web portals.
John Thomas (41:43):
So, think in terms of digital fabric expansion as the first piece of advice I'd give folks. The second is what I touched on earlier. I think from a practical perspective, use whatever triggers CRM, segmentation, campaign, MarTech platform you're using today and just treat this new interface as a new endpoint. Our clients have found that's very, very easy to do from a practical perspective.
John Thomas (42:13):
I would also offer banks the advice that there are other emerging interfaces, Jim, that we haven't talked about today. If you go back over the last half decade, virtual assistance and voice interfaces, there's been a lot happening in banking and other industries there.
John Thomas (42:35):
I think banks have maybe misunderstood that space. The war there is still hardware ubiquity. That's why the natural language processing software hasn't really ... like you mentioned some of your devices earlier. I use those same ones.
John Thomas (42:49):
The NLP is really not improving much because it's still kind of a hardware war in that space. But that will change, and I think that's part of a broader trend that we'll see in life. And it'll move in the banking in some format on what I call ambient interfaces, Jim.
John Thomas (43:08):
So, I think you're going to see more and more ambient content delivery in the future that's not just screen-based, but whether it's smart cars, smart cities, smart homes, the way experiences and content reaches us is going to be different in a 5G ambient interface world than just like this thing, the mobile device.
John Thomas (43:32):
And I think banks practically need to step back and learn a little bit from their journey in the virtual voice, in the virtual assistant space, Jim, where there was some that got way out over their skis in early days, made really, really big investments. They know what really happened with those investments inside.
John Thomas (43:54):
So, the other piece of practical advice I'd say; understand these emerging interfaces in smart homes, smart cars, smart cities, smart offices, smart chat, voice, virtual assistance differently than you've looked at them in the past. And I think that's going to reduce unnecessary or wasteful investments in the emerging space. But it'll also help the banks reframe their conversations with the big tech companies driving those technologies.
John Thomas (44:25):
The reality is, in some of these emerging interfaces (so now, I'm all feeds Jim) I think practically banks didn't understand where the language tech really was. Banking transactions require compound commands almost universally. An NLP really can't deal with compound sentences still in 2023.
John Thomas (44:49):
So, understanding some of those big things from a practical perspective, I think is going to keep you from overspending in some spaces you shouldn’t be in while you're underspending in some of these other interfaces that you should have been in probably 5 or 7 years ago.
Jim Marous (45:10):
Finally, as Chief Strategy Officer, Relay Network, what is on your personal and business to-do list in 2023 with regards to delivering a better engaging experience at financial institutions?
John Thomas (45:24):
Yeah, that's a great question, Jim. It's like my list of things that make me jump out of bed in the morning, not make me just sort of roll out of bed.
John Thomas (45:29):
What makes me jump out of bed in 2023; the first thing is one of the topics we touched on. I really think it's important to spread the word on interface evolution. I do think the banking industry has been a little bit slow, sort of post-mobile phone adoption to really understand where digital interfaces have gone over the last 10 years.
John Thomas (45:52):
So, there's a bit of an evangelical to do because I think banks play a really important role that trusted institutional role in society, we need banks to stay in that role. I don't think we should seed that to big tech. So, that's my first to-do.
John Thomas (46:10):
The second is I really want to get more educational assistance content out in the world to the people who need it, Jim. Every stat you look at in America, the percentage of people who can't save, who are living paycheck to paycheck, who can't handle any kind of disruption in their life, these people really need assistance.
John Thomas (46:30):
It is a very large percentage of the American population, and I want to see that content get to the people in a way that they want to access it. That's my second to-do, is around assistance and education.
John Thomas (46:43):
And then lastly, I want to help banks in their journey and personalizing experiences beyond offers. Society is so desperate, Jim, for that-
Jim Marous (46:56):
I'm laughing because it's been the underlying theme throughout this whole thing, that it's not just about selling shit. I'm sorry, but yeah.
John Thomas (47:04):
It's so true. And I want to see more actual personalized experiences out there between banking and the community they serve that go way beyond those offers. And the reason I want to see that is I know banks want to help people live better and easier lives, they're just stuck in this ROI trap in their existing channels.
John Thomas (47:28):
So, I want my children served by a banking community that really does personalize their experiences, not just the stuff they sell today.
Jim Marous (47:40):
Yeah, it's interesting because the sales will come. The problem is if you drive it from sales, you're actually losing trust instead of gaining trust, especially in a world where the consumer now knows how much you know about them.
Jim Marous (47:55):
So, if you're simply saying, if this, then that, customers are going to, "You aren't listening. I got to find somebody who does." And sometimes, that may just be the marketing message a firm puts out there first, and maybe they're gonna be no better at it.
Jim Marous (48:10):
But we've got to get better at it. You talk about it with regard to financial education. You talk about it with regard to looking at people that may have some challenges with regard to savings or credit, and to be able to find those queues and help them. But they actually ask that second-level question.
Jim Marous (48:29):
I talked about once before the fact that when the PPP benefits came out to consumers, a lot of people decided to forego their mortgage payment. Now, in half the cases, I'm just making up the percentage — but in half the cases, because a person couldn't make the mortgage payment. And another case, they're saying, "I'd rather defer the payment and build up my savings."
Jim Marous (48:50):
Those are two vastly different people that have the same activity. We've got to ask that second-level question to get that to the core of that.
John Thomas (49:00):
So, John, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Always enjoying getting together with you. And it's a fun experience.
John Thomas (49:08):
It's been great to be here again with you today, Jim, thanks very much.
Jim Marous (49:14):
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed, rated as a top five banking podcast and winner of three international awards for podcast excellence. If you enjoy what we're doing, please take some time to give our show some love in form of a positive review.
Jim Marous (49:28):
Finally, be sure to catch the recent articles I'm writing for The Financial Brand, and the research we're doing for the Digital Banking Report.
Jim Marous (49:37):
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts; a special thank you to our senior producer, Leah Haslage, audio engineer Sean Rule-Hoffman, and video producer Will Pritts. I'm your host, Jim Marous.
Jim Marous (49:49):
Remember, building engagement is not only a crucial capability, it's one that punches far above its weight no matter what type or size of organization you work for.
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