What can banks learn from fintechs about strategic messaging?
Successful fintech companies of all sizes tend to spend a lot of time and effort crafting a strong institutional identity.
This is easy to see at the Finovate conference, where fintech innovators have a very limited amount of time to get the audience interested in their technology. It’s not easy to show what a new solution can do in just seven minutes, but it’s even harder to make an audience of strangers care about what that solution can do. And if the audience doesn’t care, they won’t reach out to connect.
To get the level of interest a fintech needs to be successful, it’s vital to spend a lot of time focusing on messaging. Fintechs need to have powerful, tight, 30-second summaries of their core value proposition in order to attract customers, funding, or media attention. These are all crucial steps in the lifecycle of any tech company, and I’ve spent a lot of time working in this area with fintechs of varying sizes. The more I see of the fintech/FI space, though, the more clear it is to me that banks should be thinking of their strategic messaging in a similar way if they want to engage successfully with fintech.
Banks that don’t have (or aren’t able to articulate) a clear vision will struggle to engage productively with new technologies, no matter how enthusiastically they pursue them. How do successful fintechs do this well? And what can banks learn from them?
If you’ve ever demoed at a Finovate event, you know that I offer personalised demo coaching calls before the event to help make sure that everybody who gets up on stage feels prepared and ready. There’s a wide variety of things that these calls tend to cover, but one of the most important things that I tend to talk about centers around creating and articulating a strong set of “core messages” for the demo. The idea here is to imagine that the audience writing down three quick bullet points at the end of your seven minutes on stage. In your perfect world, what would those bullet points say? Or to think of it another way, if the audience remembers only three things about your company, what should those three things be? Talking about how the technology works isn’t enough – successful demos go deeper level and get into why it matters that it works. If you can’t communicate to the audience why they should care about what you’re trying to do, they’re not going to stick around to see if you can do it or not.
This thought-exercise leads to a stronger demo at a show like Finovate, but its value goes beyond that. Taking the time to develop clear, high-level messaging can have powerful benefits when it comes to marketing/sales messaging, the customer segment you choose to target, the partnerships you need to build, and how you communicate priorities internally. The number of key business objectives that flow from successfully articulating and maintaining a strong sense of direction is massive, which is why this is something that successful fintech firms all seem to have in common.
On the other side of the industry, banks haven’t been forced to undergo this kind of deep introspection in the same way that their tech providers are, but that’s about to change. Right now, technology is dramatically changing the way people interact with their money and the financial institutions that they use to store it. Banks of all shapes and sizes are going to need to adapt to these changes, and they’re going to need to engage with technology in a strategic, intentional way if they want to survive. But where to begin?
One popular option is to explore the market by looking at all of the various kinds of fintech that are out there and assessing what looks like it delivers value. Once the “best” fintech is identified, the goal becomes figuring out how to implement it into an existing strategy in a way that minimizes risk. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it’s hard to find a unique identity when your strategy is dependent on an external marketplace, rather than your own ambitions.
Here’s where that same thought exercise that pre-Finovate presenters undergo can become really useful if you’re a banker. Rather than trying to analyse and understand the entire marketplace, I recommend taking a step back from the tech itself and thinking at a really high level about what you’re trying to accomplish. Start with the really big pieces, like the opportunity you’re trying to open up, the threat you’re trying to defend against, or how you want your customers (or prospective customers) to think about you. Or, to rehash language from a few paragraphs ago, why does it matter if your fintech strategy is successful or not? These are questions you’re hopefully already thinking about, and you probably already have answers to them, but you’re also probably not being forced to refine them and articulate them regularly.
Take the exercise to the next level, and try coming up with your own set of fintech core messages – what are the three most important aspects of your fintech strategy? Can you summarise them into bullet points? Can you explain them easily to others inside and outside of your organisation? If you can, do they remember them the next day? Next week? Next month?
Obviously, most bankers won’t find themselves in a position where they need to give a Finovate-style demo to a room full of potential investors and customers. That said, being able to answer yes to these questions will make it easier for tech innovators to deliver products you want, easier for your marketing and sales teams to make the most of the tech you bring in, and easier for your customers to understand what you’re doing for them.
And of course, later on, when you are asked to give a speech about how you were able to pull everybody together to deliver a successful digital transformation, you’ll be ready.
This article is also featured in the April 2019 issue of the Banking Technology magazine.
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