For Fintech Marketing, Alexa And Siri Show Promise — With Caveats

Financial institutions like Chase, Citibank, and investing service Betterment are exploring voice activation's sensitive balance between personalization and privacy.

With consumers’ use of voice-activated intelligent agents like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant doubling in the first quarter, it makes sense that all brands, banks included, are taking steps to see how to add this newest tool to their digital marketing arsenal.

In a discussion on finance convened as part of the Advertising Club of NY’s Verticals series, executives from the consumer banking arms of JP Morgan Chase and Citbank, as well as automated investment service Betterment, tackled the implications of mobility, smart search, social media, and shifting KPIs amid constant changes in consumer behavior and expectations.

The panel was moderated by veteran business journalist Andrew Serwer, who as editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance is currently anticipating his own company’s expansion following Verizon’s acquisition of the internet portal.

Smarter Search Takes Primacy

The primary question put to the panelists was this: How are financial marketers creating more mobile, two-way, and ‘on-demand’ experiences to connect with their customers?”

“We know when consumers have questions about credit cards, they’re going to search — and we want to have content ready for those moments that are relevant and entertaining,” said Jennifer Lindauer, SVP, Director of Brand & Advertising at Citi.

Citi has achieved its marketing goals by mixing humor with meaning, Lindauer said. “Humor is not something we would have done years ago,” she said, noting that the main focus of bank marketing was simply on customer acquisition, with engagement and affinity being a distant second and third.

For example, to capture attention and goodwill for its Citi Double Cash reward-based credit card, the bank has turned to concerts and the use of Virtual Reality. Citi has also partnered with Buzzfeed on creating content for certain holidays.

Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer moderates a Ad Club of NY panel on mobile marketing and financial services with (L-R) Chase’s Karna Crawford, Betterment’s Elyssa Gray, and Citi’s Jennifer Lindauer

The social media content brand and Citi developed “say what you mean” holiday cards that Buzzfeed readers could send out to family members that were more tongue-in-cheek than warm-and-fuzzy.

“We did the same for Valentine’s Day, collaborating with Buzzfeed on the funny things people say to someone they love,” Lindauer said. “And it resonated in ways that traditional ads couldn’t.”

These kinds of content plays reflect a wider change in the priorities of financial services, agreed Karna Crawford, SVP, Head of Market Strategy & Digital, Consumer Bank, JP Morgan Chase.

“The combined role of social media and mobile has caused a shift in top KPIs of brands like ours,” Crawford said. “The focus is going from traditional media metrics to both brand affinity and revenue-generating outcomes,” Crawford said

The idea of connecting consumers with specific kinds of information when it comes to mobile was also on the mind of Elyssa Gray, VP Brand at Betterment.

“In the past, mobile marketing has tended to be hard for finance because it’s hard to know where services such as ours can engage,” Gray said. “But we know that customers, on average, open up their phones an absurd amount of times a day.  So our mobile experience was not as robust as desktop. We initially viewed mobile as a complement. But consumers are confident depositing money with an app.”

The importance of apps has influenced how Betterment’s thinking on search and mobile browsing.

“If someone is searching for 401ks, for example, we realize that it doesn’t necessarily make sense for them to land on homepage, but rather on a page that will give them a specific answer instead,” Gray said.

Mobile continues to offer a range of opportunities and challenges to financial marketers. But the possibilities of extending the concepts of “smart search,” as well as entertainment and personal relevance, are also being presented through a number of new channels. For example, augmented reality and VR have been receiving more attention this past year.

But on the horizon is the growing adoption of voice-activation, the panelists acknowledged with an equal degree of caution and hope.

Voicing A Sensitive Balance

During the Q&A portion, we asked the panel: “How has the emergence of voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri impacted their approach to digital?”

“We’ve had initial conversations about how we would use a device like the Amazon Echo,” Gray said. “For example, you could see a use case for ‘Alexa, check my bank balance in my 401(k).’ No one has cracked that concept yet by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s coming.”

“There’s an interesting and sensitive balance that you have to strike with things like Alexa or Siri,” Crawford said. “The balance is between utility and privacy. But it’s not the utility that we would hope it to be just yet as a result of that. We’ll figure it out. At the end of the day, it’s a new way to connect the customer experience and provide value on their terms when and how they want it.”

The idea of an even more complete connection between consumers and the information they want also touched on aspects of predictive analytics that are part of broader media planning by the likes of Facebook, Citi’s Lindauer noted.

“Voice recognition opens up additional ways to be more entertaining, just as there is with a lot of new technologies. I was reading yesterday how Mark Zuckerberg, at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, was talking about how Facebook may eventually be able to ‘read your mind.’ So voice-recognition is just one of many options we’ll all have to consider. When there’s an appropriate use, we’ll test and try it out.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.