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How the financial services industry can win with personalisation



The new growth frontier: Three ways financial services can prepare for the virtual economy

By Lottie Namakando, Head of Paid Media, iCrossing UK

The Financial Services sector has a thin tightrope to walk between marketing investment and pay off. One misstep and consumer trust can hit the brand and bottom line hard. And that fear can paralyse. On the one hand, finances are both crucial and complicated – people need a friendly, authoritative, ideally tailored approach that speaks their language to help simplify them. On the other, there is a lot of mistrust and personalised digital communication can be seen as ‘creepy and obtrusive’. People are particularly sensitive about personalised communication when it comes to their financial information. So how can the financial services industry win with personalisation?

From customised content to tailored ads and offers, personalisation has certainly become more visible within the FSI. Indeed Accenture’s 2019 Global Financial Services Consumer Study found that one in two say they’d be happy to receive personalised financial advice from banks, like spending habit reports and advice on how to manage money. This type of guidance is likely to become even more valuable with the added pressures brought on by COVID-19. It’s clear that financial service brands are catching on.

An Econsultancy survey found that, when asked which three digital areas are top priority for their organisation, 37% of financial service respondents chose ‘targeting and personalisation’. However, another study, by software company Pegasystems, concluded that 94% of banks haven’t quite figured out personalisation yet. So what’s the holdup?

Striking the right balance
Despite the growing consumer demand for personalised interactions, in a survey of more than 2,500 customers, Gartner found that more than half would unsubscribe from a company’s communications and 38% would stop doing business with a company if they found personalisation “creepy”. Not everyone wants to feel as though they’re being monitored – particularly when it comes to their finances – and the price of getting it wrong is steep. Google also has guidelines around negative financial status in personalised advertising, so financial institutions need to tread carefully.

Keeping personalisation consistent
Paid media personalisation doesn’t seem to be the norm for any FSI brands at the moment. But when brands do start to embrace personalisation in ad copy, consistency will be key to hitting KPIs and ensuring the experience is a positive one. When a customer clicks on a personalised paid ad, for example, they’d expect to then hit a personalised landing page. Without that, the initial promise of relevancy is met with something too generic. But personalised content in the modern digital ecosystem needs to be dynamically generated – something that Google can have issues with. For any personalised landing page that isn’t behind a login, it’s important to decide what Google should see, and the answer is rarely straightforward – don’t risk a Google penalty by showing users any content that’s radically different from the non-personalised .

Cutting through the complexity
We need to reframe how we look at personalised content to win with it. Rather than seeing it as scary and new, it is crucial to remember that well executed personalisation should be an audience aid – to guide people through the complexity of the finance industry. Key to achieving this clarity that will be appreciated by audiences will be focusing on the differing needs of existing customers and prospects with ad copy personalisation. Think about the way a potential customer would be treated if they came to the bank for the first time –  wait for them to sign-up and share their information before giving personalised advice.

So there’s an element of politeness which should sit alongside personalisation in the FSI, whereby people need to agree (beyond just accepting cookies) before brands can go ahead and get friendly. When approached sensitively – which is especially important in these uncertain times – personalisation will help FSI brands set themselves apart from competitors; not just other banks, but fintech start-ups too.

Listening process
Personalisation projects need to be carefully considered and planned. Banks need to listen to customers. This would involve conducting consumer research on how they feel about different levels of personalisation. Do the potential benefits outweigh any concerns they have? Is there a cut-off point to their comfort?

It will by asking questions such as

  • How comfortable are you with receiving personalised marketing from your bank?
  • Do you see the value of personalisation in marketing for you as an individual?
  • What do you feel is the right level of personalisation?
  • Is there a point when you feel personalisation has gone too far?

This will give a real understanding of what level of personalisation consumers will both want and value.

However, the most important part of this whole listening process is hearing what consumers are saying, then be sure to use these insights and research to devise an audience and messaging matrix which is relevant for them and for your business. This involves defining the audience, what traits differentiate them from other personas and what level of personalisation is relevant to them.


In order to protect people’s privacy, restrictions on targeting do exist across many different paid media platforms to ensure that sensitive information is not inadvertently shared. It is prudent early on to examine the technical capabilities of the marketing platforms you wish to use, to understand if they support the personalisation strategy you have in mind. Auditing the audience targeting options and restrictions by platform is a good place to start.

Test and learn
Once the platform capabilities and the consumer base’s position on personalisation is understood, then thirdly the approach should be test and learn. Next steps are to map what signals are available to be able to target these differently defined audience groups, using platform curated audiences or 1st party audience data – and don’t go too niche with targeting.

Using this framework, ideally take one or two different audiences to start with, we recommend testing what type of messaging resonates best with them and using relevant engagement KPIs such as clickthrough rate or view rate to evaluate performance.

By comparing a version of an ad which relates specifically to the audience, versus one with a more general messaging, it’s possible to identify themes or phrases which really speaks to the target audience. The results can often be surprising, with what might be considered relevant ad copy just not landing with the consumers in the way expected. The advice here is to go with the data, not with the heart. Remembering the team is not necessarily the target audience, and whilst no result will be 100% it is the majority verdict that should be used to develop messaging.

Finally, this approach needs to be iterative – people, attitudes and needs are constantly changing. When using personalisation, the messaging needs to be constantly challenged, tested and evaluated. Just remember not to change too much at once to understand what elements are having the most impact.

Personalisation should be on the digital agenda of every financial services business. It represents a huge opportunity for growth and when done right can strengthen existing customer relationships and build trust. Although learning to walk a tightrope may be tricky, balance can be achieved only through tackling and not avoiding it.

Author bio
Lottie Namakando is Head of Paid Media at iCrossing UK. iCrossing is a digital marketing agency that is driven by insight, powered by Hearst, the world’s largest independent media, entertainment and content company

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