Focus on financial services — 3 key strategies for personalization at scale

Focus on financial services — three keys to personalization at scale

The pandemic has opened the door for new digital players as consumers experiment with new financial brands and methods of purchasing products. In our recent survey of leaders and marketers in the financial services and insurance industries, 89% of senior executives agreed that customers have been rewired to be digital-first, and 80% said they have observed changes to — or entirely new — customer journeys. An overwhelming majority (86%) expect the pace of change to persist for the foreseeable future.

One thing innovative, new financial services brands have in common is a laser focus on the digital customer experience. In particular, they’re offering highly personalized, ultra-convenient experiences that are increasingly popular among consumers. As a result, larger banks and insurance companies are now under pressure to deliver similarly personalized experiences on a vast scale.

But the challenge is more than simply adopting personalization technology. It’s also designing meaningful experiences that deliver value to customers and address their most pressing needs. And to do that, the industry needs much deeper insights into their customers and their evolving needs.

To better understand how financial services providers can succeed in today’s fast-changing digital-first environment, Adobe partnered with Econsultancy to produce the 2022 Digital Trends — Financial Services in Focus report. We focused on what industry leaders who are now “significantly outperforming their sector” or “exceeding their customers’ expectations” are doing differently from everybody else.

Personalization is hard — but personalization at scale is harder

When we surveyed marketers and technologists from financial services companies that had significantly outperformed their peers, 53% said their organizations prioritized meaningful digital interactions that improved customers’ financial health. Companies that slightly outperformed their sector and those that kept pace or lagged behind were significantly less likely to do this, at 38% and 37% respectively.

Offering meaningful experiences typically requires having highly effective personalization capabilities. Our research suggests this may be difficult for many financial services organizations. Only 12% of practitioners surveyed agreed that their company’s digital experience is ahead of customer expectations, with a substantial majority saying they are merely “keeping up” with customer expectations (58%).

The good news is that improving personalized experiences may be less challenging than you think. Our findings suggest three key ways financial services companies can position themselves to achieve personalization at scale:

  1. Take command of your customer data.
  2. Unify and activate your data with the right technology.
  3. Improve cross-functional collaboration.

Strategy #1: Take command of your customer data

To deliver meaningful experiences to your customers, you must first understand them better. And understanding them requires collecting and stitching together all relevant data across sources and journey stages tied to segments or individual profiles. It’s a daunting task to do this for one customer, let alone millions, so it’s no surprise that the industry’s top area for investment is to improve insights and analytics capabilities. When we asked senior executives to choose their top technology priorities for 2022, 65% chose data and insights.

Yet the industry faces significant obstacles to gathering the data it needs. As Google Chrome phases out support for third-party cookies, marketers will have less access to data at the earliest stages of the customer journey. A more critical challenge is that the vast quantities of data financial institutions have collected directly from their customers— collectively known as first-party data — is distributed and disconnected across multiple systems.

In fact, some financial institutions may not have a clear picture of where all their customer data is at any given time. And if they do have a comprehensive map of their customer data, they might not be using it to unlock customer insights and deliver great customer experiences. For example, our research shows that financial services executives are more confident gathering first-party data (63% agree that they are “effective”) or preparing for a post-third-party cookie environment (51%).

As the industry puts more emphasis on engagement and retention to increase the value of each customer relationship, first-party data becomes far more important. Financial services firms that adopt first-party data strategies today should have a significant advantage over competitors that are slower out of the gate.

Strategy #2: Unify and activate your customer data in real time

Identifying a first-party data strategy is only the starting point. Personalization at scale requires a combination of critical elements that includes the ability to produce content across the enterprise to keep pace with the demands of personalization and the ability to deliver seamless journeys that are relevant and consistent across touchpoints. The role that technology plays is to ensure that three pillars must be integrated to build, deliver, and optimize real-time, cross-channel journeys.

Making this happen requires a tech stack that supports consistent data collection from all your channels, unified customer profiles and journey maps that are continually updated, and high-volume content creation and management. In addition, you’ll need to integrate your customer and journey profiles with the technology powering each customer touchpoint so experiences are personalized, consistent, and meaningful across channels.

Financial services firms are increasingly adopting these solutions. In addition to data and insights (65%) and enterprise data architecture (57%), executives also named customer journey (50%) and content management technology (47%) as top technology priorities. Plus, a growing number of executives and practitioners alike see a role for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in their customer experience tech stack. One quarter (25%) of survey respondents said deploying AI is one of the top three things their organizations are doing to better meet customer needs.

However, some senior financial services executives may have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their existing technological abilities. When we asked them if their organizations already have the right tools to support personalization, 31% said yes. But only 15% of practitioners agreed. This is why it’s so important for leadership teams to validate their assumptions and meet their business objectives.

The bottom line for financial services firms is that data alone isn’t enough. You must also have a tech stack that can connect it to customer profiles and journeys and use that to power personalized, channel-specific experiences at scale to meet the customer in their moments of need during their journey.

Strategy #3: Make it easier to collaborate

One of the most substantial challenges associated with personalizing the customer experience is that each part of a customer’s journey may be managed by a different functional area. For example, marketing owns the website content, product or technology owns the mobile app, customer service owns digital chat, and so on. For a cohesive and streamlined customer experience, each of these elements must be personalized and stitched together.

All of this requires collaboration across departments, which typically involves managing change effectively and fostering an open and transparent organizational culture as well as choosing and integrating the right technologies. Not surprisingly, our research shows that marketing practitioners at financial services companies who describe their digital experience as “ahead of customer expectations” rate their organizations highly across the dimensions of collaboration, agility, innovation, and diversity.

We also found that most financial services companies still have room to work even better together. When we asked senior executives if disparate marketing and experience teams could collaborate successfully, 44% said yes. More said they were working on it (48%) or didn’t have it on their radar (8%). Similarly, 35% of executives said they had consistently reduced organizational silos, while 56% said they are working on it, and 9% hadn’t yet begun.

Focus on financial services — three keys to personalization at scale

The bottom line is that improvements in collaboration can rapidly translate into improvements in your customer experience, including greater personalization.

Pulling it all together

Most financial services providers have all the customer data they need to start building personalized experiences at scale. But on the whole, these organizations also need to ensure they have the technology to connect their data into meaningful customer profiles, the ability to integrate those profiles with systems that power customer touchpoints, and better collaboration between all the teams that own a piece of the customer experience.

To take a deeper dive into how others in the finance industry are meeting these challenges, read more from 2022 Digital Trends — Financial Services in Focus.