This Tuesday, Zignal CCO Jennifer Granston sat down with executives and other leaders from prominent Financial Services institutions for a panel discussion as part of the Digital Marketing for Financial Services (DMFS) Virtual Summit. The topic? Global Game Changers: Lessons from COVID-19. During the nearly hour-long discussion, the panelists explored a litany of top-of-mind topics for today’s marketing and communications professionals in Financial Services, including digital transformation, disinformation, and consumer preferences. And as you might expect, all of these issues were discussed in the long shadow of the pandemic.

But it’s not just the pandemic. Other issues like the recent election and this summer’s protests for racial justice have converged, creating an overwhelming situation to which brands must respond. Further complicating matters is the misinformation and disinformation that has become so prevalent in online conversation today. The Global Game Changers panel discussion largely focused on how Financial Services firms can respond to these challenges, while still protecting their brand and serving their customers. 

Check out our new Financial Services report for more in-depth insights on this topic. For now, let’s dive into some of the highlights of the panel discussion.

Digital Transformation in Financial Services

It didn’t take long for the conversation to arrive at a particularly pressing question: Why has the Financial Services industry been slower to embrace digital transformation than other sectors?

Kelly Lee, Senior Vice President and Head of Digital and Marketing Technology for North America at U.S. Bank, identified some familiar culprits, like the stringent regulatory landscape governing Financial Services and the industry’s reliance on legacy systems and siloed data. She also noted, however, that the pandemic has accelerated companies’ work to digitize their products and experiences. With so much financial activity shifting online, financial firms have started to make their physical locations focused less on executing transactions, and more on serving as advice or consultation centers. 

Jennifer, pushing back on the premise of the question itself, pointing out that when it comes to digital transformation, Finance firms are actually some of Zignal’s most innovative customers. These firms understand how data is an essential tool for things like:

  • Getting customer feedback
  • Identifying emerging issues
  • Understanding how different people engage with different topics

For Communications and Risk professionals, updating your measurement metrics is an essential part of digital transformation. Learn more in our Metrics That Matter report.

What to Do About Disinformation?

The subject of disinformation entered the spotlight in a big way after a question from the audience: “How can America stem the tide of conspiracy theories like those around the 2020 election?”

It’s a topic that many associate more with the public sector and government operations than the private sector. But disinformation looms large in Financial Services as well. As Jennifer pointed out: What happens if malicious actors spread disinformation about a Finance firm ahead of an earnings day? How can firms keep close enough tabs on conversations surrounding their brand so that they can respond as quickly as they need to?

 

“We’re now seeing spikes in online discussion of disinformation topics – but when we drill down, we realize that those spikes aren’t coming from people perpetuating disinformation, but from credible experts weighing in and debunking it.”

 

Jennifer also addressed the shift away from the “strategic silence” approach to dealing with disinformation head on. While many firms have, in the past, taken the view that actively responding to disinformation often only lends it legitimacy, more and more firms today are seeing disinformation campaigns jump from online forums into the physical world in damaging ways – and are reaching the firm conclusion that an active response is necessary. 

So how can firms ensure they’re able to respond effectively? Jennifer offered a three-point recommendation:

  • Situational awareness: Make sure you’re following the conversational landscape closely enough to really know what’s being said about your brand and key topics you care about.
  • Established thresholds: Create a system to alert you when an issue becomes significant enough to warrant a response, using benchmarks from past events.
  • Trained personnel: Make sure you have the necessary internal resources to form a strong response plan and internal alignment ahead of time of how the company will respond to certain situations.

This change in direction is even reflected in the Zignal platform: We’re now seeing spikes in online discussion of disinformation topics – but when we drill down, we realize that those spikes aren’t coming from people perpetuating disinformation, but from credible experts weighing in and debunking it. 

Check out our recorded Town Hall event for more on the issue of strategic silence in the face of disinformation. 

Catering to Your Consumers

One of the biggest topics during the panel discussion was how to deliver the best experience possible to consumers at a moment defined by so much confusion and stress. Prompted by an audience question, the panelists considered what could have been different if more Financial Services companies had a 360-degree view of customers as the pandemic was starting. 

 

“Many customers have realized that they actually prefer phone-based and digital methods of managing their finances. This has given firms new insight into their customers’ preferences, and allowed them to pivot as necessary to meet those preferences and offer individualized services.”

 

The panelists’ responses made one thing clear: The use of data to gain more visibility into the customer experience was – and has always been – essential throughout the pandemic. With data, teams can better identify which of their customers are more prepared for digital transformation, and which need more hand-holding – and, as a result, can better anticipate their needs. 

Kate Magaram – Vice President of Growth, SpeciFi Product Manager for Citizens Bank Wealth Management – noted that there have been ample learning opportunities as the pandemic has unfolded. Many customers have realized that they actually prefer mobile and digital methods of managing their finances. This has given firms new insight into their customers’ preferences, and allowed them to pivot as necessary to meet those preferences and offer individualized services. 

Jennifer noted that when Zignal looked at Financial Industry mentions from February to October, we saw that conversations primarily revolved around loans and mortgages. If your finance firm had been able to see, early this year, that those topics were beginning to trend, how could you have tailored your messaging to really speak to those issues? Even more impactful would have been to see the differences in how issues were trending in different areas of the country, to further tailor messages.

Into the Moderator’s Chair

Something exciting happened once the panel discussion ended: Following the success of The Global Game Changers panel, Jennifer was asked by the event’s organizer to return the next day to join another panel discussion “Innovative Digital Product Developments” – this time as moderator. 

Jennifer Granston of Zignal Labs, Jennifer Borchardt of U.S. Bank, and Jon Ewing of the Fitch Group during the Innovative Digital Product Developments panel discussion at DMFS2020.

The discussion covered a range of fascinating questions, but one that really stood out was: “Are you currently using data to measure the customer experience in a different way than you were a year ago?” The panelists’ answers explored the ways that the pandemic, and the resulting shift to remote operations, has presented companies with an unprecedented wealth of data, creating both challenges and opportunities – especially as engagement with customers is now more reliant than ever on phone calls and digital communications. Managing and analyzing all of that data is a big lift, to be sure. But it also unlocks a new wave of “voice of the customer” insights that companies can use to adjust their messaging and services.

Our main takeaway from DMFS is clear: Data has a huge role to play in Financial Services, whether firms use it to better meet their customers’ needs or to combat disinformation. The drastic changes that the pandemic has forced us all to reckon with have been hard – but they’ve also created opportunities to use data in new and exciting ways.  


Zignal empowers Financial Services professionals to sharpen their communications and protect their brand with narrative intelligence. Learn more here.