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Tom Smith, head of biddable media at mporium

Tom Smith
Tom Smith

The world of banking and finance has been changed in innumerable ways by the impact of technology. Consumers are no longer willing to accept a substandard user experience: the benchmark has been set by the likes of Uber and Amazon, forcing financial services firms to invest in digital transformation projects.

2016 was dubbed ‘the year of the mobile banking app’ as people’s banking behaviour changed, with consumers reducing use of high street branches, whilst telephone banking has also seen a dramatic decline. Consumers are now engaging more and more with their banking apps, and banks should be utilising this touchpoint to communicate with the consumer. In addition to this, the growth of mobile payment solutions such as Apple Pay and PayPal have accelerated this digital banking revolution – with the UK being a particular leader when it comes to mobile payments.

Reduced friction in switching bank accounts due to the Current Account Switching Service (CASS), means that consumers are less likely to remain loyal to a bank over the long term. This has encouraged new entrants such as Metro Bank and Atom Bank that are building their businesses on the basis of changing consumer behaviour: Atom Bank focusing on its digital offering and Metro Bank focussing on providing unrivaled in-branch customer experience. Meanwhile, the door has been left wide open for start-ups such as AI assistant Cleo – who recently received another £2m in investment – to drive a wedge between high street banks and consumers, providing them with valuable financial advice.  It has never been more important for the established players to communicate with, and to understand their existing and potential customers, focussing on building 1:1 relationships with their consumers, using first party data and external signals to deliver relevant and contextual messaging.

It’s important that banks look further than their online banking offering or offline experience, including how digital can provide the means to communicate with customers at the right time. The use of social media to deal with immediate customer issues is a well trodden path, but much more could be done in understanding the relationship between what consumers watch on TV and their mobile search behaviour.

A few weeks ago for instance, during a recent holiday themed episode of Martin Lewis’s The Money Show, there was a huge spike of people searching for the Halifax Clarity Credit Card. The card was featured in the program, it provides the consumer with a simple rate structure and no fees for use abroad. As consumers have become more and more used to second screening, their first, almost unconscious thought is to search for whatever has sparked their interest or curiosity. There is often a high degree of commercial intent behind those searches.

Therefore when Martin Lewis extolled the benefits of the Clarity Card, it was only natural that it acted as the stimulus for a large number of people to search for the card. Prior to this stimulus, Halifax could have pushed the Clarity Card offer to eligible consumers using its app, who fit a certain profile, rather than relying on the consumer to carry out the search. Other banks could also have utilised this micro-moment as well, and could have pushed similar options to increase customer acquisition.

But it’s not just products or services that are directly mentioned on TV that prompt searches. For instance, all sorts of property and lifestyle shows, prompt search queries for mortgage calculators, personal loans and home insurance.  Whilst, ‘A Place in the Sun’ unsurprisingly gives us the holiday blues, leading to spikes in searches for particular destinations features, or generic terms such as ‘summer holiday’ and ‘cheap flights’ or more importantly for the financial services sector ‘travel insurance’ and once again ‘personal loans’.

Most financial services firms aren’t taking advantage of this change in consumer behaviour and aren’t optimising their search marketing, getting to the top of search rankings for the most value generic terms in the moments that matter.

This is because for brands, it can be extremely expensive to have an ‘always-on’ approach to generic search terms. In the financial services sector, terms such as ‘credit card’ or ‘insurance’ can be very expensive and competitive, so the return on constantly bidding high for these terms, would not justify the investment. As a result, brands and  agencies often put less resource into generic search despite it providing far greater volume of search than brand terms.

This doesn’t need to be the case – by identifying and mapping against these ‘micro-moments’ where consumers are most likely to search for particular products, and using search budget strategically at these moments, brands can make sure that they are using search advertising to its full capability.

If financial services firms are to keep up with their customers they need to be implementing smart tech around search, because you can’t afford to be playing catch-up when your competitors have cracked text search and are focussing on solving for how to best optimise for the growing volume of voice search.