How experience keeps the top finance brands in the lead.

For decades, financial services firms have used digital touch points, like web and mobile, to inform and educate customers about banking services, insurance products, and investment opportunities. The same channels enable transactions such as letting customers pay bills or file claims or buy stock onlin

And if you’re already saying, “So what?”, imagine how your customers and clients must feel. Companies that captivate them, that excite them, that win their loyalty and, yes, love, use digital to offer them emotion-filled experiences. And that’s now as necessary in financial services as it is in coffee or cars. Financial services firms have always relied on their people to establish those real, warm, trusting connections with customers in their branches and offices.

But in today’s market, with today’s expectations, that’s not enough. Today, you need to replicate that same connection — and drive revenue— on digital devices. This is no easy task, but to build the necessary foundation, leaders in financial services are transforming digitally. And with the right tools and tactics, they deliver data-driven, meaningful, personal experiences to every customer and screen in a seamless exchange that feels honest and authentic.

Make no mistake: This is people-based marketing, not device-based. And all experiences are not created equal. For retail banks, an exceptional customer experience must be as personalized as possible; for insurance companies, as understandable as possible; for wealth management firms, as valuable as possible. In each case, your brand must create moments that stir the emotions of your customer and clients, and win them over.

Digital disruptors: Taking the lead.

To pinpoint where financial services firms are in their digital transformations, Econsultancy and Adobe surveyed more than 300 banking, insurance, and investment company executives as part of the “Digital Marketing in the Financial Services and Insurance Sector 2017 Study.” When asked how they contribute to digital disruption in the sector, 22 percent of respondents said they lead the way. In particular, retail bankers (32 percent of them) describe themselves as being ahead of the pack — and that makes sense, given their need to tailor experiences to each customer.

Let’s look at how digital disruptors differ from the mainstream and how these differences contribute to the leaders’ ability to create and connect compelling experiences that help them acquire, convert, and retain customers.

Leaders and followers in the financial industry.

We are leading the way, a part of digital disruption


We are fast followers, adjusting once concepts are proven


We are threatened by disruption and feeling pressure


We don’t see much change in our sector




Concerns: Staying awake for the same reasons.

Before we talk about the differences, let’s start with the similarities. Maybe it’s not a surprise that identical issues keep leaders and the mainstream up at night. But as we’ll see, it’s how they respond in the morning that dictates the outcome.

Top industry disruption concerns.

Inability to appeal to new generation

Loss of market share to new players

Less demand due to changing consumer habit



Both groups are concerned primarily about the inability to appeal to new generations of consumers and the loss of market share to new players. Leaders are also concerned about less demand for their types of products or services due to changing consumer habits. Those changes frequently shift in-person experiences to on-screen ones — from depositing a check by snapping a photo to paying car insurance based on miles to receiving personalized investment advice via rich, digital experiences. You need ultimately to be designing experiences that result in faster, cheaper, easier-to-use, and more personal ways to satisfy customers in every aspect of your business.

Competitive threats: Looking beyond the usual suspects.

Not surprisingly, with concerns mounting about new generations, new players, and new habits, leaders are looking outward for competitive threats. The big change from 2016 is the leaders’ shift in who they see as the primary menace.

Before we talk about the differences, let’s start with the similarities. Maybe it’s not a surprise that identical issues keep leaders and the mainstream up at night. But as we’ll see, it’s how they respond in the morning that dictates the outcome.

Top perceived threats for the next 24 months.

Traditional players

New economy giants

Disruptive start-ups



In 2016, 40 percent of leaders saw “fintech” start-ups as their main competition. These small and agile firms can innovate in ways their larger counterparts can only dream of — and learn from. That’s led to partnerships between leaders and fintechs, such as European finance giant BBVA’s acquisition of online banking start-up Simple in 2014. But the typically smaller fintechs don’t have the assets to truly threaten traditional players. Case in point: Personal Capital, a digital wealth management fintech, just announced reaching $4 billion in assets, while Morgan Stanley, the investment management behemoth, has $2.1 trillion. Given constraints due to the heavy regulatory oversight in financial services, most firms are content to let the fintechs test new concepts and then copy or acquire innovations that succeed.

In the 2017 report, however, leaders are more worried about entrants like Google Capital or Apple Pay. These new economy giants have the consumer trust and brand awareness to make a large dent in the financial services market. And they’ve already elevated customer expectations by creating exceptional experiences in other sectors.

The mainstream doesn’t yet recognize the danger these companies pose. That’s why they’re still more worried about traditional players — in other words, each other.

Priorities: Taking the offensive.

To respond to new threats, the leaders are on the attack. As the study shows, they’re primarily focused on growing their client and customer base. Next up is providing consistent, high-quality experiences to their customers. If the leaders succeed, the mainstream will be even further behind.

Organizations’ top priorities.



Deepen existing customer relationships (cross-sell, up-sell)


Grow client base.

Increase customer retention


Provide consistent, high-quality customer experiences

Grow client base


Reduce costs to service customers

Provide consistent, high-quality customer experiences


Increase profit margin per customer

Increase profit margin per customer


Deepen existing customer relationships (cross-sell, up-sell)

Reduce costs to service customers


Increase customer retention

That’s perhaps why the mainstream is focused on strengthening their existing relationships. Customer development and retention are always a priority, but the mainstream is so worried about attrition to their competitors, they’re sidestepping the challenge of growing their customer and account base. Instead their priorities keep them looking for opportunities to cross-sell and upsell and increase customer retention. That makes sense — if they’re still developing the skills to personalize across channels, they cannot deliver new experiences at scale and in the right moment.

Multicannel personalization: Making the leap.

To support the high-quality experiences they prioritize, leaders already personalize across channels. So does the mainstream, but not with the same punch. They may focus on only one or two channels, such as website and email, or personalization based mainly on digital data. Leaders have gone full-bore, using digital data combined with CRM data to provide dynamic customer experiences.

And happily for smaller firms, “experience is a great equalizer,” as Brandon Harris, director of user experience for PenFed Credit Union, explained at Adobe Summit 2017. PenFed is testing use of a large monitor in branch lobbies. The monitor recognizes visitors based on the PenFed mobile app on their iPhones and can access their recent history to serve personalized content. The monitors support video chats with off-site experts who can answer questions and provide guidance. And when needed, the offsite personnel can harness the power of on-site help. These integrated online and offline interactions extend PenFed’s existing brand relationships.

Companies offering significant or multi-channel personalization, based on digital and/or CRM data.



Leaders’ digital capabilities are accelerating, with 97 percent now providing significant or multi-channel personalization. That’s a 23-percent leap since 2016, supporting a major advance in how they use personalization for seamless customer experiences. The mainstream lags, although the portion that provides no personalization at all has thankfully dropped to 1 percent.

Both groups recognize the value of multichannel capabilities in developing digital maturity. Both leaders and mainstream agree that multi-channel analytics that combine online and offline data would have the biggest impact. Analytics help track each channel’s performance and how it affects the customer journey.

Next in priority for leaders is a single view of the customer or unified customer profile. Such integrated data provides insight into customers and accounts, and ultimately enables rich marketing and sales interactions that address critical business issues. This capability is followed by efficient content management and deployment, which would help deliver relevant experiences to customers at the right lifecycle stage.

Top choices for biggest impact on the advancement of companies’ digital maturity.

Multi-channel analytics

Efficient content management and deployment

Single view of the customer



Sales and budget: Widening the gap.

Given their intense focus on customer experience and ability to personalize, leaders’ sales from or influenced by digital currently outstrip the mainstream by about 15 percent. That trend is expected to continue.

In three years, the leaders predict that more than half of sales will come from digital channels, while the mainstream holds steady at about a third — rising a rather lethargic 2 percent. That means leaders must be poised to create experiences that will drive loyalty, love, and digital sales.

Digital sales and marketing budgets.



Current percentage of sales (new accounts) from channels

3-year percentage goal for sales (new accounts) from digital channels

Percentage of 2017 total marketing budget to be spent on digital

Companies planning to increase 2017 digital marketing budget

Leaders’ budgets reflect their sales forecast. Not only do they plan to spend more of their total marketing budget on digital in 2017, but leaders also plan a sizable increase. The increased funding will enable them to invest more in the tools and tactics they need to build their experience vision. And that’s a critical point: to enhance the experiences their firms provide, leaders know their vision must be supported by people, technology, and resources. Consistently, the data shows that those leaders are putting in place the structure and strategies needed to do just that. They’re disruptors with a plan, taking advantage of the opportunities to adapt and stay ahead of the pack — and creating a path for others to follow.

1 Christopher Young, “Evolution of Financial Services in the Experience Business Wave,” Adobe Summit, presentation of Brandon Harris, March 23, 2017. 

2 Econsultancy and Adobe, “Digital Marketing in the Financial Services and Insurance Sector 2017 Study,” 2016.

3 Michael Foster, “Morgan Stanley Rises on Earnings Beat (MS),” Investopedia, October 19, 2016.

4 PR Newswire, “Personal Capital Hits $4 Billion Mark,” March 27, 2017.