FSF Executive Summit 2023: The highlights

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

In September the Financial Services Forum brought together senior marketers from across the industry to discuss all things marketing. Here are some highlights from the sessions.


Session One

Mark Evans, NED & Former Managing Director – Marketing at Direct Line Group

Mark Evans kicked off the summit with a session on the challenges faced by CMOs in the industry.

He referenced Scott Galloway’s statement that CMOs have a relatively short lifespan of 18 months in their roles. Mark noted that 80% of CEOs don’t trust their CMOs, while only 10% lack trust in their CFOs.

He highlighted a number of reasons for this. Only 26% of marketers regularly attend or interact with the board, highlighting a potential gap in communication.

The challenge is that expectations are misaligned, Mark said. CEOs often don’t know what they are recruiting for and CMOs end up inheriting a plan they can never deliver on.

Mark argued that one key to changing this is trust. He cited Rachel Botsman’s definition that “trust is a comfortable relationship with the unknown” – CMOs need to ensure that they make themselves accountable so that CEOs “know what they are doing when they can’t see what they are doing.”

He recommends that on day one they have a “no guessing conversation”, so that neither party is guessing what the other is thinking.

He cited some frameworks to achieve this. One was the accountability ladder, which divides behaviours into accountable behaviours, where someone makes things happen and finds solutions, versus victim behaviours, where things happen to a person.

Mark recommended that marketers look to establish what he calls a “burning platform” – a shorthand for establishing a clear need for change, whether this is positive or negative.

Mark Evans expanded more on his thinking in this Q&A.


Session Two

Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future

Rohit Talwar talked about the rapid evolution of AI, cautioning that the current time of uncertainty will require people to unlearn some things.

He likened the widely used ChatGPT and other large language models to the state of the motorcar in the 1890s, noting that it is essentially a huge predictive text tool, determining probabilistically the next most likely word to follow what it has already said.

LLMs will get much smarter, Rohit argued, but they won’t be thinking or conscious – they will just mimic us and feel intelligent. The big change will come from universal general AI, which is an autonomous system that can apply its intelligence to various different tasks.

The remainder of his talk offered a “day in the life” of a marketing executive performing their role with the help of a number of AI tools – which, crucially, are all available now.

This hypothetical marketer might use Compose.AI to analyse visits by channel and spend to build an influencer marketing campaign, IBM Watson analytics to profile and segment customers, Salesforce Einstein for predictive analytics, Crayon AI to scrape competitor websites, Cogram for automatic note taking, Kait to develop social media posts, and Akkio to write software.

Rohit gave some broad advice, including to create processes for doing innovation. He encouraged businesses to plan ahead and look out how the environment might change, “moving to a different body language where we encourage people to bring ideas.”

He said businesses now need to accept they will never get to perfection anymore – it’s better to get part of the way there and get results quickly than to wait.


Session Three

Leanne Barnham, Global Head of Marketing, Brooks Macdonald

Alistair Welham Marketing Director, NOW: Pensions

Michael Lynch, Deputy Director, Marketing & Communications, UK Export Finance Bank

The panel discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of purpose-led marketing. Alistair emphasised that the concept of purpose extends beyond just branding. He discussed the book ‘Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell’ by Steve Harrison, which argues that advertisers are becoming less effective due to an increasing detachment from their core audience.

He talked about NOW: Pensions’ clear grounding in its purpose, which includes the aim of “fighting for a fair pension system to enable all pension savers to enjoy the retirement they want”. This gives it a natural platform to advocate for a more inclusive pensions industry.

Leanne emphasised the importance of reflecting on an organisation’s identity and values to gain customer buy-in. She explained that Brooks Macdonald keeps its purpose relatively simple, saying it is “dedicated to providing an outstanding level of service to professional advisers, private high net-worth individuals, pension funds, institutions and trusts.” This focus on client service provides a north star for the business and allows the whole organisation to be focused on a clear business objective.

Michael talked about the importance of having a coherent message that aligns with an organisation’s vision, mission, and values both internally and externally. He also highlighted the need for marketers to understand what value means to customers, providing examples of organisations like the British Business Bank, NS&I, and UK Export Finance, each with its unique purpose and challenges.


Session Four

Emily Askham, CMO, Natixis Investment Managers

Emily Askham provided a behind-the-scenes look at the firm’s brand repositioning project, launched in September 2022.

When Emily started at the company in January 2022, Natixis IM was very sales-driven with campaigns that focused on promoting affiliate brands rather than the overall Natixis brand. This meant costly campaigns that appeared once a year and then disappeared.

She set about building the foundations of a marketing strategy that aligned to the business objectives, with a clear vision around communication, talent and goal setting. This meant embedding technology within marketing, building a “dream team” of new talent and developing a metrics-driven culture focused on improving client experience.

All of this was geared towards developing the core Natixis IM brand and growing brand preference. Emily managed to get buy-in for a big ongoing brand project, with the involvement of the HR department in articulating the purpose.

To go to market quickly, the firm developed the concept of the “Expert Collective”, which positioned Natixis IM as a brand that can provide the expertise that the client needs, without them having to work out which affiliate to go to.

The superpower is the use of NPS, which will be able to deliver many insights.

But the campaign has also seen Natixis changing its approach to metrics – in the previous sales-led environment, sales would simply select their favourite publishers when running campaigns. Using programmatic, Emily says the firm has reduced its cost per click by ten times.

Natixis has also moved away from blunt metrics as such as click-throughs – ultimately if somebody reads an article by Natixis on LinkedIn, it doesn’t necessarily matter if they click through or not.


Session Five

Andrew Tindall, Director of Creative & Media Partnerships at System 1

Andrew used his session to emphasise the significance of creativity in marketing.

He introduced the System 1 rating system for advertising effectiveness, which includes star ratings (positivity towards brand), spike (short-term effectiveness), and fluency (strength of brand recognition).

By asking people to rate their emotions while watching adverts, System 1 plots these traits against sales activity for companies to determine its effectiveness. The session highlighted that nearly 50% of advertising receives a low one-star rating and is considered ineffective.

Andrew explained this in the context of the left and right brain model of neurology – the left brain is detail-oriented while the right brain looks at the big picture and aims to identify narratives and patterns.

The theory propounded by System 1’s thought leader, Orlando Wood, is that the diminishing effectiveness of advertising is caused by an over-emphasis on left brain-focused advertising. This assumes interest in the product before the advert starts rather than telling engaging, emotional or humorous stories.

Andrew emphasised the importance of right-brain creative elements and the need to evoke emotions in advertising. Techniques included humour and character.

Advertisers that don’t take heed of this will be paying a “dull tax,” with effectiveness reduced and unnecessary expenditure increased.


Session Six

Ziba Goddard, Chief Consulting Officer, Cowry Consulting

Raphy March, Chief Design & Innovation Officer, Cowry Consulting

Ziba and Raphy from Cowry Consulting led a session on how behavioural science can inform management tactics. The session started by highlighting the “trust gap”, with stats showing that 84% of business leaders believe their employees highly trust their company, in reality, the figure for employees who do is 69%.

They further explained some characteristics of trust, including that it builds over time, is both rational and emotional, and is a two-way relationship. The positive characteristics of trustworthiness are credibility, reliability, intimacy, while being self-orientated is associated with lower trust scores. The talk noted that trust grows over time and involves both rational and emotional aspects, comparing the “Homer Simpson brain” (inductive) to the “Spock brain” (deductive).

They then discussed specific behaviours that can build these characteristics. For credibility, showcasing expertise through concrete and tangible examples is important. Lying or exaggerating can quickly undermine credibility, while honesty and passion are valued. Reliability can be enhanced by sharing relevant plans promptly, providing regular status updates, being punctual, and setting and meeting goals.

Intimacy can be fostered by testing different phrasing options for delivering sensitive messages, taking personal risks, and acknowledging a job well done. Lastly, reducing self-orientation involves involving employees in decision-making, active listening, and showing a genuine desire to help.


Breakout session

This session pooled insights from the attendees on what they might build into short and long-term AI strategies. Some of the thoughts are below:

  • Speak to vendors, IT departments
  • Assess the relevance of new technologies
  • Get internal buy-in
  • Talk to younger employees about how they’re using new tech
  • Talk to agencies
  • Digitise existing processes
  • Talk to existing vendors
  • Put in place training and guard-rails
  • Explore customer service applications
  • Explore use of AI in compliance
  • Will automation replace new talent?
  • How can a culture be created to support AI innovation?


Session Seven

Conrad Ford, Chief Product & Strategy Officer, Allica Bank

The second day kicked off with a fireside chat with Conrad Ford, Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Allica Bank. Conrad gave an account of his career, starting in the corporate banking world, progressing through founding his own fintech called Funding Options to joining Allica Bank in his current role.

Allica Bank is ultra-focused on medium-sized businesses. While both micro businesses and large corporates are well served by existing big banks, medium sized businesses with bespoke requirements but without the scale to justify the interest from big banks can struggle.

The main theme from Conrad’s talk was the overriding importance of attracting and installing the right talent in an organisation. He cited Allica’s high employee satisfaction rates and noted that in internal assessments of staff personality types there was a broad alignment across the organisation.

Conrad, who gets involved in every hiring decision within his area of the business, says he has some filters in place – people whose only solution is to outsource, and people who say that their plan for the first 90 days is to come up with a plan.

Conrad also gave his view of the future of banking, saying that due to the decline of branches the big banks no longer had a clear channel for acquiring new customers. He said that while the big players would be able to carry on, smaller and more focused challengers would be able to claim pools of customers from them.


Session Eight

Mark Smith, Head of Media Relations Pensions & Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA)

Charlotte Lamb, Marketing Consultant and BNY Mellon

Mark shared some insights from the ‘Pay Your Pension Some Attention’ campaign. This saw the PLSA partnering with the rapper Big Zuu for a video that encouraged

Collaborating with the rapper saw the PLSA working right up to the deadline, with the rapper given full creative control over what was released. Mark encouraged businesses to take more risks with influencers and not let compliance get in the way.

Charlotte talked about the campaign around a report called The Pathway to Inclusive Investment, which aimed to encourage women to invest at the same rate as men.

In order to amplify the report, BNY Mellon used an influencer sourcing platform called Tribe, which allowed them to identify a range of influencers with varying sizes of following.

The campaign fell into three distinct phases – the first on Instagram, driving people to read the report. The second phase built on this on both Instagram on TikTok, encouraging people to sign up to an event, while the final phase aimed to encourage discussion after the event.

She noted several benefits of using influencers, including cost-effectiveness and credibility.


Session Nine

Eamonn Conway, Managing Director, Fiducial Communications

Eamonn Conway, Managing Director at Fiducial explained some of the cutting-edge techniques in storytelling and how new technology is allowing financial services firms to connect with their audiences.

Eamonn delved into examples of how technology is disrupting content in the investment management industry. Translation software can now be used to automatically convert a video of a fund manager speaking into many different languages.

With the technology tools that are available, Eamonn encouraged companies to think more like broadcasters. For example, using an iPhone, fund managers can make films from their trips abroad and have these quickly edited into engaging and digestible content.

AI is also allowing personalised videos to a degree never possible before – by overlaying personal data from customers, companies can for example send a customer an update on how their investments have performed that year.

AI image generation can also be used to replace overused stock images and differentiate content.

Eamonn encouraged companies to take controlled risks and experiment and to build an AI strategy around practical uses that enhance content.

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