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Speaker Highlights from Financial Brand Forum 2016


The annual Financial Brand Forum was an enormous success — full of great speakers and networking opportunities.

In this post, we highlight a few of the presentations we were able to attend between interviewing people in the MX booth. (Stay tuned for a series of video interviews from the conference that will be posted here on MoneySummit over the coming weeks! Also check out the MoneySummit conference.)


Jeffry Pilcher, CEO and founder of The Financial Brand

Jeffry Pilcher started things off by talking about the need to innovate in financial services marketing. To illustrate his point, he told the story of Norville Barnes, a 1950s mail clerk in the film The Hudsucker Proxy. In the film, Barnes has the crazy idea to create a circular toy for kids, but when he presents his idea to the board of Hudsucker Industries, they view him with immense skepticism and list all the reasons the idea couldn’t possibly work. The board can’t see why Barnes’s idea — the hula hoop — would be successful, and so they reject it.

Pilcher explained that a similar story often happens at banks and credit unions. Someone at an institution will bring up a new idea and will immediately get shot down by employees who think that the only safe bet is to stick with what has worked in the past. Because of this, no new ideas fully come to life and the institution stagnates.

According to Pilcher, the way to remedy this problem is to actively develop the creative muscles we naturally had as kids. “The trick isn’t learning how to become creative,” Pilcher said. “The trick is to learn how to stay creative.” In other words, bankers must actively nurture the imaginative capacity of their youth and break free of old ways of thinking if they want their brand to stand out from the crowd.

Arkadi Kuhlmann, CEO of Zenbanx, former CEO of ING Direct

Arkadi Kuhlmann followed Pilcher by inviting attendees to ask themselves what they would do at their institution if they could start over. It’s a powerful question because it leads to bold answers. “When you are trying to re-invent something,” Kuhlmann said, “nothing is sacred.” By treating nothing as sacred, banks and credit unions can open themselves up totally new ways of thinking.

Kuhlmann said that many banks and credit unions specifically need to rethink their brand. He said that “brand is what the consumer says behind your back when you’re not there.”

Unfortunately for many banks and credit unions, most people either say nothing nice or nothing at all when it comes to their financial institution. According to Kuhlmann, this is because banking too often focuses on the logical side of the brain at the expense of feeling.

To fix this problem, financial institutions need to think about emotional experiences. “People want to talk to each other and be human,” Kuhlmann said. Consumers should therefore be able to connect with a human being at a financial institution as effortlessly as possible, and the financial institution should always communicate in plain, simple language.  

Kuhlmann noted that the brand isn’t just what people see from the outside looking in. It’s also what the employees on the inside think about the company. One way to tighten up inside perception is to have a clear brand value and mission. At ING Direct, Kuhlmann set up a simple brand value (“leading americans back to saving”) as well as a simple mission (“we simplify financial products”), and then he made sure the company enforced the brand from the inside out. People couldn’t work at ING Direct if they weren’t a saver, and everyone at the bank knew exactly what the brand meant. “If branding is not simple, your employees won’t remember,” Kuhlmann said. 

Luvleen Sidhu, Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Bank Mobile

Luvleen Sidhu shared the aspirations behind BankMobile — a mobile-first banking experience that aims to gain one billion users.

Sidhu explained how BankMobile is set to provide an experience that is a 10x improvement over what consumers can currently get with other digital banking products. She outlined how this pursuit for 10x thinking drives everything her team does and how it's the standard by which they know whether or not they should pursue an idea. After all, she said, 10x improvements are 100% worth it but they aren’t 100% harder than incremental improvements.

BankMobile is made with millennials in mind, and they hope to change the way we bank going forward. 

Check out one of their videos.  


Neff Hudson, Vice President of Corporate Development at USAA

Neff Hudson talked about the coming era of financial services unbundling, which will include innovations in contextual commerce.

One of the key aspects of contextual commerce centers around providing actionable, personal financial advice. Hudson explained that 50% of Americans struggle to pay for an unexpected $400 expense. He then talked about how these people are getting no advice and how they’re often getting penalized by financial institutions.

Hudson presented a project that USAA is working on to counter this situation. At its core, the project is about using artificial intelligence to create a personal financial assistant in the vein of Amazon’s Alexa. With this product, which will be powered in part by MX, consumers will be able to get bite-sized financial guidance in the moment they need it.

Shankar Vedantam, author of The Hidden Brain

Shankar Vedantam spoke about unconscious bias — ways of thinking that affect us without our awareness.

First, he addressed the feeling of psychological entrapment, which occurs when someone feels they can’t get out of the situation because they have skin in the game. This occurs, for instance, when people start gambling at casinos and then feel they can’t quit even when it makes sense to quit.

Second, he talked about how human beings tend to care more about relative wealth than absolute wealth. To illustrate this point, he showed two scenarios. In the first, a company decreased everyone’s salary equally across the board. In the second, a company told some employees that their salary would decrease while making clear that other employees wouldn’t see their salaries decrease at all. It turns out that the employees who saw their salaries decrease in the second scenario became far less productive than the employees in the first scenario, indicating that people are hurt when they sense that the situation they're in isn't fair.

Third, he explained why we prefer some things above others. For instance, we tend to like things that we spend our time on, such as a bookcase we built ourselves. In a similar vein, we tend to like things that have a higher price tag. For example, one study showed that when researchers put $10 wine into a $90 bottle people said it tasted better and (more surprisingly) the pleasure centers of the brain lit up more than when they drank wine that was priced at $10, indicating that items that are viewed as more expensive actually give off more pleasure.

Finally, and most importantly for financial services, Vedantam showed that we tend to make better decisions for our future selves than our current selves. We might be willing to save 10% of our income when we can commit to start 6 months from now, but when the future arrives we find that we’re less willing. It’s like the story of Ulysses and the sirens, where Ulysses had his crew tie him up beforehand so he could hear the sirens’ song only to go crazy with longing the moment he heard the song. The trick is to help people plan their financial lives ahead of time and then stick with their plan.

Altogether, knowing the tricks of unconscious bias can help us be smarter about how we manage our money.

Tom Fishburne, CEO at Marketoonist

Tom Fishburne uses humor to reveal truths about marketing that many people are too afraid to say during board meetings. “Sometimes as marketers, we’re so engaged with our own brand that we breathe our own exhaust,” he said.


In his presentation Fishburne asserted that the Don Draper marketing model (where marketers create blanket messages and send them out to the masses) no longer works. Instead, marketers need to be thinking about micro moments. As Google says, “People are more loyal to their need in the moment than to any particular brand.”

As an example, Fishburne showed a campaign from Red Roof Hotels, a small chain that was having a hard time competing against the large players in their space. Red Roof decided that they would take a non-traditional route and offer Google Ads for hotels near airports that had frequent cancellations. Their ads would solve the consumer’s problem in that exact moment. “Flight canceled?” it might say, “Red Roof has you covered w/ rooms only 3 miles away!” Campaigns like this one led to a terrific rise in ROI, and they represent what’s possible when marketers think in terms of moments instead of in terms of blanketed campaigns.

Jill Castilla, CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond

Years ago, Citizens Bank of Edmond was in a bad situation. Their stock value had dropped, their culture had become poisonous, and they experienced a near collapse.

When Jill Castilla became CEO she knew she had a lot of work to do. As part of her efforts she started promoting her bank on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

She also took some enormous risks, including selling all the bank’s branches and building out a digital presence. In addition, she led guerilla marketing efforts, including “cash mobs,” which are events where the bank gives money to their employees to shop at local businesses. These efforts have led to earned media attention. For instance, the city’s newspaper covered the story and put a picture of a business owner who made a poster that said “I [heart] Citizens Bank” on the front page above the fold. The event cost the bank $300 and they got fabulous earned media coverage and earned loyalty. These are the kinds of ideas that have turned Citizens Bank around and made it a thriving bank today.

You can read Jill Castilla's interview with us here.

Michelle Broderick, CMO at Simple

Michelle Broderick talked about the importance of brands. “A brand is a promise, but most brands are liars,” she said. “They’re not lying 100% of the time, but they’re lying 2% of the time.” It’s this 2% that ruins brand loyalty.

Broderick added that “your brand is your true, authentic, naked self.” She said that above all banks and credit unions need to ask, “How does your brand actually make people feel?”

She then demonstrated ways that Simple has made people feel good. Simple adds a human touch in their social media efforts (as opposed to deploying bots or enforcing strict guidelines that make responses lifeless). They also turn boring announcements into something exciting. See the example below for what they did about the requirement to share Regulation E guidelines:


Because of these human touches, Simple customers respond with gratitude and authenticity, as shown in this video from Leah Noreman.  

This is the kind of response any brand hopes to evoke.


That's a wrap! If you enjoyed the Financial Brand Forum, check out the MoneySummit conference on August 2-4 featuring speakers such as Brett King and Genevieve Bell.