Inside Charles Schwab's digital revolution.


Inside Charles Schwab's digital revolution.


improvement in engagement


increase in productivity

$1.1 billion

in asset value contributed to the sales pipeline


“The heart of digital transformation is about the mindset within a company: how much the company obsesses about its clients…and how talent is aligned and empowered.”


Neesha Hathi
Chief Digital Officer, Charles Schwab

Investing in data

In early 2018, Neesha Hathi and her Digital Services Team started a revolution at Charles Schwab. In her 14 years at the investment management giant, Hathi had risen to Chief Digital Officer and knew that a major change was needed in order to better serve Schwab’s increasingly digital-savvy customers. Schwab needed to use data to learn more about their customers, to create automated investment solutions and turn the company into a digital-first operation from the inside out.

“Digital transformation means using tech to automate routine processes,” says Hathi. “It also means looking at clients’ experiences with empathy: what could we make better, where could we surprise and delight and where can we remove friction so it’s easier to get better outcomes? So we did a pretty significant reorganisation of our company, with the intent to accelerate our digital transformation.”

In building and growing the new organisation, there was a need to hire new people and train the teams already in place, while democratising access to data. 

Dennis Bradley, who is Schwab’s director of digital marketing analytics, recalls a company-wide Adobe Analytics training programme last summer. “We trained well over 300 people from digital services, marketing and other parts of the firm,” he says. “We held beginner and advanced sessions for four hours in Denver, Austin, San Francisco and Phoenix. The goal was to expose more folks to Adobe, to continue to build and advance our data-driven culture.”

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Founded in 1971, the Charles Schwab Corporation was built around putting the client first. It’s an obvious idea shared by almost all businesses—but few companies have invested more in the premise. Over four decades, Schwab has grown from a small discount brokerage into the biggest publicly traded investment services firm in the U.S. Today, Schwab manages total client assets of more than $4 trillion. It has 12.3 million active brokerage accounts and 1.7 million corporate retirement plan participants. The company has over 19,000 “Schwabbies.” 

More than half of Schwab’s new retail customers were under 40 and many millennial investors had different needs to retirement-age folk. “We’re not the old firm people think we are,” says Hathi.

“While we have always believed in using technology as a way to make investing more accessible, we didn’t have an integrated design process,” explains Hathi. “So we brought together all the technology from our investor services business, from our advisor services business all into a single organisation. And then also within that organisation, we created these accelerators that would help us test and fail fast, especially on paper and then move to building and deployment.”

RIP the fax machine

Schwab has always been an early-adaptor of new technology and the digital revolution prompted them to rethink relationships with clients. “Generally clients don’t expect to have to walk into a branch or make a phone call about things any more,” says Alex Kaplan, who works in the data analytics and insight team, at Schwab. “Everything should be digitised for them. Some of our older processes required the faxing in of things. How can we digitise that experience? People trust technology to do a lot for them, but they also tell us that they want to be able to talk to a person when they need to.”

“When you think about client experience, ease, efficiency and emotion go hand in hand,” explains Hathi. “If we focus our efforts on just simplifying the experience, we could actually let our people do more of the stuff around emotion. One day, I’m sure we’ll have a world where technology will do a good job with the emotion. But what we found is that when it comes to money, it’s as much about the heart as it is about the head.”

A billion dollar improvement

Schwab’s marketing team plays a major role in expanding the overall business. According to Paige Lubawy, senior manager on the data-driven communications team, their marketers were hampered in the past by an obsolete marketing platform that was cumbersome to use. It provided no visibility into leads or campaign effectiveness. Marketers needed to reinvent the way they worked. They implemented Marketo to automate their marketing efforts. 

Michelle McDonald, who has worked for Schwab for 20 years, has an intimate knowledge of Adobe products, thanks to her Art degree and double life as a photographer and painter. “But at work it’s all Marketo, she says. McDonald remembers the start of their Marketo journey, over seven years ago."

“We did a pretty exhaustive search when we first brought on Marketo. It was the only solution that covered everything, that had the ease of use for marketers. There also wasn’t a lot of products in the space that really did that full lead lifecycle. With Marketo you can really track engagement across the board. it definitely stood out.”

Today, Marketo supports approximately 40 Schwab marketers and more than 150 client-facing representatives. Together, Lubawy and McDonald implemented all five instances of Marketo used at Schwab. “I find MarTech really interesting because for me it’s the perfect marriage of right brain and left brain,” says Lubawy. Together they leverage marketing automation to cultivate prospects at scale. With Marketo, Schwab is capturing inbound leads for the first time, yielding a 500% improvement in engagement. “Since the initial installation, we expanded from a team of two people with no Marketo experience to a Marketo-certified team of six who are increasing productivity by more than 900%,” says Lubawy. “Consequently, we’ve realised dramatic gains in the efficiency of campaign design, execution and list management.”


By tracking and scoring the behaviour of prospective advisors during a lengthy sales cycle that can last more than a year, marketers are helping the sales team identify the ‘hottest’ prospects so business development teams can engage them directly. It is Lubawy’s job to help Schwab’s marketers use the platform effectively. “We support the marketers because we found out that many marketers don’t have the skillset or the desire to learn how to use a marketing automation platform,” says McDonald. “And so we developed a support model here at Schwab that provides execution support, best practices, lead management and platform maintenance.”

Delivering a personalised experience is also important. Visitors to the Schwab website are now served a customised experience, depending on past behaviours—almost in real time, says McDonald. “Depending on who you are and when you land on that website, you’re presented with the specific team that you’re actually going to talk to if you call. We’re able to display different messaging across the top of the site. They might see a different hero image or call to action.”

Lubawy says the results have been tremendous. “We went from a very traditional marketing organisation to a digital marketing team running an incredibly successful nine-touch nurture campaign,” she says. “The immediate result was $1.1 billion in asset value contributed to the sales pipeline and help in closing deals representing more than $100 million of net new assets for Schwab. I’m convinced our success is a direct result of driving buy-in of Marketo across our organisation.”

Charles Schwab uses these Adobe products:

Adobe Analytics

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Marketo Engage

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Creative Cloud

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The beauty of analytics

Across Sam Hossa is the director of product management at Charles Schwab and is obsessed with all things data. “I like thinking deeply about how to build products using insights and things like that from data,” he says. Hossa is also interested in learning more about Schwab’s customers. “We have lots of different reasons why somebody may start a relationship with Schwab, be it retirement, starting to save for their kid’s college education or just to accumulate wealth. But in all of those cases, I would say that trust is paramount. We take that very seriously.”

Hossa spends most of his time looking at Adobe Analytics dashboards, using the solution to map the journey of new Schwab clients. “My interaction with Adobe has increased,” says Hossa. “I’ve been getting more comfortable levelling up how to use analytics to make data-informed decisions.” And for Schwab, they’re in it for the long haul. “It starts when somebody’s ready to start a relationship, to opening and funding their account, all the way to their first 30 days, to the first 12 months.” Schwab hopes that they create customers for life.

Schwab’s challenge is that the customer journey is made up of lots of different touch points and lots of different transactions. Customers must choose what type of account to open, how to fund it, then how best to invest to reach their financial goals. “One very specific challenge for us on the data side is tracking prospects and clients across different devices,” says Marcus Winfree, managing director of digital analytics at Schwab.

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“Over the years, we’ve built an amazing account open experience. We’ve built an amazing funding experience. We’ve built trade tools and trade experiences, but we’ve suffered from not being able to tie it all in together into a seamless and simple journey,” says Hossa. “Because of that, we saw lots of inefficiencies and areas of abandonment and drop-off. We saw that people who onboard digitally are less likely to invest as deeply as other channels.”

Today, Schwab uses Adobe Analytics to create an experience map spanning the crucial first year of the client relationship. They look for pain points and areas of abandonment in the funnel and come up with hypotheses on how to solve these underlying problems. “For example, we believe in adding a welcome page and some really client-centric language to welcome a prospect who’s just starting the relationship. That increases the conversion of that particular part of the funnel. We use Adobe to basically validate that,” says Hossa. 

For Hathi, the secret is blending automation with a human touch: “We often think how we can digitise, how we can bring technology forward and reduce the human experience. But we’re in an industry where the human experience actually matters a lot. And I think the power is in how we combine the human experience with the technology to provide the most impact.”

Strong gains

A Data Analytics and Insight team, (DAI) steps in to fix those issues. First, using Adobe data, they create visualisations that are quickly shared across the whole organisation. In one instance, they discovered that a poorly performing CTA lived below the fold. Some quick analysis revealed that they needed to move it up the page. “We saw strong gains after that test and so we rolled out the new treatment,” says Winfree. 

“Data and analytics is a big way for us to unlock those answers,” says Hossa. “We can look deeply at our existing clients, what product mixes they use and their activities and behaviours to inform how to build a winning experience to help others.” 

Using Adobe Analytics insights, Schwab can customise the web experience for more nuanced segments than new and existing customers. They can create different experiences for clients who are looking for certain solutions, like saving for retirement, just based on their behaviour. Schwab can also analyse which landing pages deliver customers to so-called ‘shopping pages.’ “We’re stitching together the entire customer journey,” says Kaplan.

“What we’ve seen through the years is a continuous investment in Adobe Analytics from the firm and increased improvement in the UI,” says Bradley. “Adobe Workspace is an example of that. It’s easier and quicker to pull together and reporting can be shared across the team.” Winfree agrees. “Years ago, stakeholders had to come to us to request analysis or datasets to analyse,” he recalls. “More recently we’re pivoting more towards self-service, so we’re requiring marketers to learn these skills.” It’s why Schwab’s Adobe workshops last summer were so crowded.

"What we've seen through the years is a continuous investment in Adobe Analytics from the firm and increased improvement in the UI."


Dennis Bradley
Director, Digital Analytics, Charles Schwab

Design matters

Eliel Johnson has worked in UX design for 24 years—he’s a veteran of the original dot-com boom. Now he’s the VP and head of user experience design and research for Schwab. “My career here at Schwab has been about building a robust, modern user experience practice,” he says. “Part of that journey, has been establishing the business value of design and helping to grow the team to scale to support digital transformation we’re doing today.” On that journey, Johnson and his team have naturally relied upon solutions in Adobe Creative Cloud. “I feel like Adobe has the legacy of having built fantastic software and many of us designers grew up with the Adobe products," he says.

“For us, design here at Schwab is a verb, not just a noun. It’s not just a job title. We design together and that means that you have engineering, product and user experience working collaboratively from the start of a project, to build empathy for the user and create experiences that they really love. So it’s this continuous cycle of discover, define, ideate, prototype, that continues through the whole process,” says Johnson.

This harks back to Schwab’s mission statement, about putting the client first. At Schwab headquarters, you’ll hear people talking about seeing the experience ‘through client’s eyes.’ “Happy clients will bring more business,” says Johnson. “It’s a virtuous cycle and it allows us to continue to invest in building better experiences. It’s really a laser focus on understanding what people actually want and then designing experiences that meet and even exceed their expectations. That’s a great business strategy.”

And for Hathi, Schwab’s latest journey has taught her more about humans than technology. “A digital transformation is actually all about people,” she says.

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