Adaptability and Agility for Marketing during COVID: Fintechs and Financial ServicesJan 20, 2021
By Tom Newbould – Co-Founder, The Marketing Leaders
Even in normal times, there is a very good case to state that both marketers and businesses should always have at least one eye on where they could adapt or pivot into new features, new products or markets, or perhaps the balance of where they are deploying their efforts. This is a key aspect of any marketing team, product, or business and it is always subject to the demands of the P&L, the business strategy, or exit plan.
If COVID has taught us anything in professional terms, it has been the importance of not taking anything for granted and also being able to ‘pivot’ both ourselves, our products, and even our entire businesses in part or in full, whether temporarily or permanently. Not forgetting that it has been brutally challenging for many businesses, we have also witnessed a period of massive innovation in businesses at every level from small independents to massive multinationals. We have seen huge steps forward in digital adoption, and steep curves in the development or improvement of the digital customer journey. Not only this, but businesses who have a physical footprint without the ability to utilise digital to a greater extent have also displayed amazing adaptability in order to try and survive against an extremely difficult, unprecedented set of demands.
The very best marketers, in particular those with responsibility for strategy and product, will not only be ‘future-facing’, taking into account developments or possible developments in customer expectations, market developments, competitors, and marketing-technology, but also ‘future-proofing’ against these considerations and others. They will take a key role in helping their businesses and products remain at the top of their respective industries or sectors by planning for these possible developments and changes. They always have an eye on contingency and plan around it. However, no-one could have predicted the extent to which COVID would affect the whole world so quickly and so dramatically, let alone its effect on marketing.
Furthermore, it has always been the case that us marketers should ensure we have ingrained agility into our campaign planning and campaign flighting to account for the need to adapt for changing business requirements, changes in the market, over (or under) performance, and even the liquidity of the business which might affect budgets. We need to ingrain this agility not only into our approach and psyche but also into practical elements such as daily/weekly/monthly spend thresh-holds, media agreements and contracts. CEOs and business owners should rightly expect that marketers at all levels can adapt their work quickly and efficiently as required. As we move hopefully move beyond COVID, and as much as we wish we never see anything like it in the future, marketers and businesses will learn from, and have to plan for, something so devastating similar happening in the future.
COVID and the Effects on Financial Services Businesses and Marketers
Financial Services businesses (and those businesses supporting the sector) faced mixed fortunes and many challenges as COVID started to emerge in 2020. There were significant threats to businesses, and significant opportunities for some businesses as the threat posed by the virus became clear. In particular in the midst of growing anxiety about the virus and the potential impact on jobs, there was an immediate increase for B2C businesses in both customer enquiries and information being made available to customers online to help alleviate bottlenecks in the customer contact process caused by rapid increases in demand.
This was often hand-in-hand with the challenges of moving operations from office-based to remote/home-based in many cases. Sometimes further complications were added where a business had an overseas contact centre provision, where the conditions in that country were ahead or behind the UK. Furthermore, some of the opportunities around growth funding, financing, or inward investment diminished or became more expensive which put a further problem on the table for many businesses in the sector, particularly where they resided out of the safety-net of banking guarantees.
For marketing, communications, and UX teams in these business, emphasis in many cases turned to the drafting and provision of COVID-support content and communications and embedding these into the online and CRM estate of their businesses. Another consideration was how many additional tools, services, processes, documents, or information could be provided digitally, or improved, and marketing professionals were very often front and centre of this work. The best businesses quickly realised the value of accurate, timely, and regularly updated information to alleviate the concerns of customers. This moved quickly into forbearance measures where the process of communicating payment holidays and staying in touch to support them was ever-more important. Marketers had to change their line of sight very quickly from growth and acquisition, to the immediate needs of the business for customer information, often facing pauses or reduction in budgets as businesses anticipated the likely effects on turnover and P&L of the pandemic.
In some businesses, marketers and comms professionals were also drawn into helping devise and deliver internal campaigns and resources focused on employee wellbeing alongside their colleagues in HR/People teams. Again, it was a clear need within many businesses and as experts in engagement, copy, persuasion and reaching people in different ways creatively and functionally, many marketing professionals seamlessly adapted to fill this need, if they weren’t involved already.
Uncertainty v Opportunity for Marketers
During this period of uncertainty, many individuals and teams also worried about the threat to their positions or the possibility of being placed on furlough. As businesses worried about how their P&L and/or access to capital might be affected, some CEOs and CFOs naturally and logically looked towards how both headcount and operating costs could be reduced in order to preserve liquidity and survive. Was marketing the logical place to look? On the one hand, for companies where they could not continue to onboard customers, a simple and immediate view was that, ‘We don’t need marketing, because we can’t onboard customers and we need to reduce costs’. This was in many ways understandable. Sadly, furlough and/or redundancy were the prospect or new reality facing many marketers. However, this view was rather sacrificial in nature, because it would reduce the capability of a business to communicate, engage, and amplify its efforts most-effectively as soon as the situation improved. Indeed, many businesses took the opposite view that marketing and communications professionals were absolutely essential during this time and embraced them even closer.
We saw many examples of furloughed or redundant marketers within and outside financial services showcase their entrepreneurial and innovation talents with a host of new businesses being created, often raising the bar beyond what some would have considered possible. And others contributed their time freely to good causes or the COVID effort which was incredible to see. Yet more started collaborating in ways that they didn’t previously, whether that be a newly-created Whatsapp professional peer group or joining a Zoom call to talk marketing with new contacts. This was one of the positive experiences for marketing in an otherwise, to say the least, challenging year.
For other businesses, notably some of those providing transactional or digital services to financial services organisations, this difficult period heralded a period of high demand and urgency as businesses themselves sought to pivot, adapt and accelerate their ability to service customers digitally, or better digitally. Improved credit assessment through Open Banking, faster and better payment integrations, intelligent automation, and improved use of chatbots have been readily witnessed since March 2020. This could be one of the lasting effects of the crisis that is beneficial in the long-term for customers. Once again, marketers, digital marketers, UX designers, and communications professionals were at the heart of these changes and communicating them showing the breadth of their ability to contribute to the changing needs of a business and its relationships with customers.
How did the Fintechs I know best fare?
If I look at the how the incredible businesses I have worked for most recently in this sector have fared, there are some very different and interesting results. Some businesses saw huge booms for their particular niche product area of Fintech or Financial Services businesses. Indeed, my current business Goldex, after quickly switching to fully remote working, saw unprecedented demand for its award-winning gold trading mobile app on the back of 2020's record gold prices and gold being a reliable investment during this time of crisis. The business has also leveraged its resources to create a free gold trading education initiative: the 'Gold Academy'.
Within the lending category, MYJAR pivoted its award-winning expertise in the area of customer service and management to create a new Customer Contact Centre provider business, TieTa, and included COVID-19 resourcing solutions for other businesses that had lost or needed to add this capability. Having already onboarded numerous customers, it is looking targeting further growth in 2021.
Oakbrook, a three times top-100 Sunday Times Tech Track 100 company, followed up a seamless transition to remote working with another seamless integration of Open Banking into its proprietary, next-generation decision engine. This meant it could rapidly accept an ever-expanding range of data sets and continue its operations for customers.
These are both impressive, yet typical, examples of how Fintechs and Financial Services businesses had to and did display agility and adaptability during COVID.
What will 2021 hold?
As we enter 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued a stark warning that over 4,000 financial services firms could flatline and go out of business citing “low financial resilience” and a “heightened risk of failure” which is disturbing news. However, in total over 23,000 firms were surveyed between June and August, prior to the recently-extended furlough programs and the introduction of vaccinations so that figure accounts for under 20% of the total. Marketers will certainly remain under pressure to either accelerate the recovery and financial health of their businesses or to service a broader range of needs under the banner of ‘marketing and comms’. Impact and financial efficiency with clear return on the marketing investment will be key. Staying close to both the customer and the numbers will be more important than ever.
Yet it is also a time of opportunity for marketers professionals and marketing leaders in particular as businesses are reminded that it is us that are the key to both reaching new customers and retaining existing ones. We are the key to opening new markets and, through the ability to generate customer and category insight and develop impactful and resonant campaigns, key to launching new products. Marketing is as closely linked to the P&L, profits, money-raises, and valuations as any other function. The Fintech sector is particularly buoyant in many ways – in 2021, there are 41 VC-backed fintech unicorns worth a combined $154.1B and thousands of companies seeking to join them. Notably these unicorns embraced marketing, product development, and innovation in perfect combination. They saw them as key ingredients for accelerated growth.
Already in 2021 we have seen a host of job opportunities and marketing colleagues securing exciting new roles some of which have been posted on the The Marketing Leaders' Linkedin feed. This is certain to continue as companies take confidence in the likelihood of a higher degree of normality post-vaccine roll-out. For those marketers happy in their existing roles then this should mean a return to higher budget availability and a growth and retention focus together with possible promotion prospects.
So approach 2021 in much the same way from a professional perspective that you have always done: remain agile and adaptive, focus on the importance of showing a return for your efforts and keep adapting and learning ready to seize any opportunity that emerges. The Marketing Leaders I know, will aim to be a conduit to help you do this whether you are very happy in your current role, developing your career, or trying to secure a new position.