Our Guest: Charles Freeman
Company: Academy Bank
Allan Greer: Martha I'm excited about our guest today. And the insights he shares on CX being the new marketing and how technology like video banking are enhancing the customer experience. I think it's gonna be great.
Martha France: That does sound great, Alan. Hey, does that mean that the next time we're on a video call, you can send me that money you owe me?
Allan: Not exactly…..
Allan: Hello and welcome to Bank Marketing Today by VYA. I am Alan Greer and together with Martha France, we are interviewing bank Marketing Leaders about current trends, new marketing technologies, branding and the overall state of the banking industry. We will be joined from time to time by additional co-hosts and experts.
Martha: In this episode, we spoke to Charles Freeman at Academy Bank on how combining CX and Marketing can empower you to keep your brand promise and your customer experience delivery aligned. So let's get to it. We hope this episode of bank marketing today helps simplify your marketing tomorrow.
Martha: Hello, I am Martha France. And I'm joined today by my co host Alan Greer. And we are truly excited to be talking with Charles Freeman, Director of Marketing and Client Experience Officer at Academy Bank. Welcome to the bank marketing today podcast. Charles,
Charles Freeman: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Martha: Oh, we're excited to have you. Charles, can you start out by telling our listeners a little bit about your background?
Charles: I have spent my entire career in banking and financial services at banks ranging from large publicly traded companies like B of A and USAA to family owned institutions, like First National Bank of Arizona, and now I am at Academy bank and Armed Forces Bank. I started my career, believe it or not, as a credit analyst and moved into various product management and product development roles. That is a marketing over time, I'd like to joke with a lot of people I've been in institutions in which you needed something like competitive intelligence, you went and found your competitive intelligence department. And now at this institution, that if you need that, you look in the mirror and say there's my competitive intelligence team. So, it really gives me a great chance to see a lot of different things. Some very vastly different environments. But I currently work with Academy Bank and Armed Forces Bank, and I've had great opportunity to learn and grow in a number of new disciplines. We started here with just building a brand when traditional marketing work. And since then, I've had the opportunity to add Client Experience Officer to my responsibilities, which has been an incredibly interesting place to be to see knowing what our customers are saying, but how we can react to that. So I have been blessed to do a lot of different things in a lot of different environments. And I'm not sure many people can say that.
Martha: Yeah, no, I would agree. Now, when you describe that you mentioned Armed Forces Bank. So, can you just give a little bit of background about the relationship between Academy Bank, Armed Forces Bank and then Dickinson Financial, the family of companies?
Charles: Absolutely. Dickinson Financial is the holding company for Academy Bank and Armed Forces Bank. We have branches in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and Arizona. We have a mixture of traditional brick and mortar locations, but also a significant presence and in store locations, which has kind of been our start. And where we got into. The Armed Forces Bank, as you can imagine, serves the military community. And it's actually the largest on base military bank in the United States, we're in 15 states across the country on basis serving the military community, I like to call them sister banks, a lot of the same products, a lot of the same services, but definitely serving different clienteles.
Martha: Yeah, that makes sense. As you were describing your background and your current role you pointed out, and you really do have a very interesting title and role. You are the Director of Marketing and the Client Experience Officer. And we are starting to see that marrying of marketing and client experience in many marketing organizations, but sometimes there's client experience expectations placed on the marketing department without really having the responsibility to impact it. So that puts those marketers in a tough spot. But the fact that you lead both departments that seems to really put you in a better position to be able to deliver on your brand promise, tell us more about how those two are coming together for you.
Charles: Martha, it has made a tremendous difference in how I approach my job and how I look at our clients. And I think there's a number of ways that if you look at this, and how it really integrates well, and how we're able to, I think get better by marrying those two disciplines. So I would just start by saying CX is really at its core about listening. We listen to our clients, we try to understand them. We want to respect their needs, we want to understand and respect their wants. It makes our marketing more agile. It makes us more responsive. It feeds innovation. It helps us understand behavior to helps us craft relevant messaging that fits the demands of our clients life. So I have an opportunity to see both sides of that. It also takes me out of banker speak a lot when you tend to stay in the bank and you tend to work within that environment. Because I think we can all imagine you tend to think and do everything like a banker, will I spend a lot of my time now listening to a different need, by listening to our clients a lot of the time, whether it's a care center, whether it's our voice of the client platform, whether it's our Universal Banking Center, which takes chats, and secure messages, whatever the case may be, it takes me out of that echo chamber that sometimes you get stuck in. And think like a banker, especially when you've been doing this for as long as I have, I now spend up by half my time now in a customer environment, that can't help but change what you do. I think the other thing more than that, it really does, I call this it recognizes that every day is a new day. And that is nothing is static in this dynamic world we live in. And I am constantly every hour almost surely every day listening to clients to tell me something that what's happening in their life of a pandemic, has really put that front center for us. So being the CX guy gives me that daily insight to see the changing needs of the environment we live in. And I get it in real time to be honest with you, I don't have to go out and do a quarterly research study, I don't have to go find some secondary research. So understanding that really is very valuable to me. And it's brain to mouth feedback, it's not filtered, it's exactly what they're thinking good, bad or indifferent. And that makes a huge difference in terms of how we go about our job, how we approach our customers, how we evaluate what they're looking for. Are we meeting our brand promise of being Fast, Easy and Personal? And where we're not and being very agile and quick to change that, if you will. I learned this a lot at USAA and that is during my time there, they developed a high level of trust their membership. So whether you are active duty, or retired officer and COO, family member, civilian, whatever the case may be, they are there to meet the needs of the military. And they're great at it, because they are at their very core responsive. When something happens in the military, they have military leadership in institution, and they know what that means. And they they take it very seriously. And it's a part of a trust that they have one. And that's how they develop that emotional connection with their clients. And it's enviable, and so understanding your clients is a key element of their success. So to bring that back to what I'm saying is that I get that optic. And unlike anybody in this institution, I am talking to our customers every day and listening what they have to say, and that can't help me but be better, I can't help but be better in terms of marketing.
Martha: You know, one of the things I think is interesting, and that I love about what you just said, was having this true insight, this true window into what's going on. I think you hear a lot these days about marketing for the moment. And a lot of that really comes down to a lot of this artificial intelligence, but it feels to me like you are just much more hands on really understanding the customer and being able to adapt and market quickly to them.
Charles: We really are. And I'm really proud of that, Martha, that to be honest with you, I appreciate you noting that. I would back it up and say a lot of times, especially in our world, which is driven by data, it is so often to look at your clients in ways that makes sense to us. They become numbers in terms of retention number, of products per relationship, lifetime value, and all those kinds of metrics. And those are all very important metrics. Don't get me wrong, they are highly reflective of success or failure. But what I'm able to get is the kind of that nuanced conversation that you're talking about. The customers are trying to tell us that we don't always hear. And I can give you lots of examples of that. But we'll also start with one that that really changed how we do business. And that is, it's easy when you're getting client feedback, they tell you well, we were tired of standing in line. And we got some complaints from clients that were telling us in your in store locations, you know, I've got kids with me, the ice cream is melting, I need to get to this line really quickly. And I can appreciate that having had young kids in my house before. So we kept talking about how we need to shorten the lines. But as we started to listen more and more Martha, it became more deep. What they started to tell us was no, it's not really the inconvenience and the waiting in line. Yeah, that bothers me. I've got to get the kids to practice, I got homework to do, we've got church service tonight, or whatever the case may be. But what we're really telling them was, you don't respect my time. So when we started to look at that, at least to me, and I think anyone listening to this, that's a different message than I want a shorter line. So when I can start getting that kind of feedback, I can then go out to our retail bank, start talking to the retail banking officer talk to our bank president and say, guys, it's bigger than this, we've got to get these lines down, we got to talk about this. Because now it's about lack of respect, that's emotion. And that's something that drives people away. Because it's personal to them. It's not just an inconvenience. So by listening, by having those constant optics and access into our clients, I was able, I think, to gain that kind of insight that really changes how you perceive customers, what service really means that makes us a better institution. And we were able to take that to be honest with you address it, put some new protocols in place and make sure that we fixed that issue, because there's one thing we would never want to do is show that we don't respect our clients because we quite simply we do a great deal.
Allan: Charles, that’s incredible information. I really appreciate it and want to kind of go back just to the Armed Forces Bank. And I noticed on your website, I'm going to read this, it states “when you're in the military, your needs are different and your banking should be too”. So I'm just kind of curious, how is it different in servicing that market and what do you do to market directly to those who serve our country?
Charles: If there's anything I learned in the last five years. I was at USAA, and I have two brothers that served in Operation Desert Storm is that military life is different. It's also very stressful. The one thing you don't want to do as a bank is make it worse. They deal with issues in military life that are different. Many of them align, don't get me wrong, but they're different. For example, they're constantly reassigned, they have spouses and kids that are in school, and they are just up and move frequently. Understanding the impacts that has to families is important. Deployments over the last 20 years have become more and more frequent. But when you spend some time listening to what that does, and how that impacts the family, it's significant. I think the first thing we can talk about when we're dealing with the military community, is that we want to understand, we get the basics really well. So for example, the mobile and online platforms have to be perfect, and they have to work worldwide. If you're on a ship somewhere or you're deployed in Europe, or you're someplace in the Middle East, we need to make sure that you can do your banking when you need to do that. And that's absolute table stakes for us, you need to make sure things like you're a VA expert. VA is a big deal, it’s an important benefit. And we need to make sure we have that expertise everywhere to make sure we can meet that needs. But I also think the one thing that we try to do, Alan, to be honest with you is to try and get more involved in the military community to show our concern for them. For example, we became a sponsor this year of a Million Thanks. And that was we set up collection boxes in all our branches, including our sister bank Academy Bank, where people could come in and put letters that we would then send out to military members thanking them for their service and sacrifice they pay. It's as important as the checking account, because we're showing gratitude and appreciation. We participate in our leader and military saves. We know that saving is an issue across the country. But in the military, they have some great tools, we want to make sure that we encourage that practice. And so we participated in that. And we set up special promotions and products to encourage the behaviors of saving that because we know that having savings creates peace of mind, and financial freedom. And we've been recognized by the Department of Defense in the last few years as a significant participant in that program. Something I'm really proud of and also is it felt 35% of our associates on the Armed Forces Bank site have some type of military affiliation. So whether it's a spouse, whether they're retired themselves, whether their child is in the military, I'm sure we can all appreciate having lived it, it's one thing to tell me about it. But I've never been there, try to hire people that have lived it in various assorted roles. There is nothing like the kind of empathy that that brings when you hire those kind of people. So I think a combination of great products that meet and understand their needs, but also understanding the need to be involved in that community. to hire people in that community understand that needs makes us a more complete and more responsive organization that has been part of the reason we've been able to serve that community for over 100 years,
Allan: That is incredible, I'm so happy for you that you get the opportunity to do that, because that is such a huge need. You know, kind of brings up to light one thing about military life that you don't really think about, but that's a big deal. And be able to do that, like you said, you're deployed, who knows where and it is so critical just to run your family and run your day to day activities. That's amazing that you do that. I think that's one big differentiator for your organization overall. But what other main differentiators do you feel set Academy Bank Apart?
Charles: Academy Bank, as I mentioned earlier, is a different bank with a different audience. And while many of the issues are the same, they're not identical. So if I put on my Academy Bank hat, we have tried to position ourselves at Academy Bank with this focus on simply being easier to do business with. As I kind of mentioned, I don't believe there's a such thing as a sustainable product advantage in banking. As soon as you come up with something great, someone will copy and we will all copy it in six months, and it's gone. But what we have really tried to get into is kind of those lifestyle issues that I referenced earlier about respecting our customers time, and making sure we recognize how we can meet some needs there. So we've tried to be as simple and as accessible as we can. So we talk about online banking and mobile banking like everybody else. And we actually just launched a brand new tool last September, which is a fantastic improvement and really has made our clients better in terms of offering all the tools and services they need to bank 24 hours, seven days a week, 365. We also focused on distribution a little bit differently. Alan to address your question. First of all, as I mentioned, we have traditional branches that are open Monday through Friday. Great, we love those, they are very successful for us. But our in store locations also add a really a compelling value proposition for our clients. They're open six days a week, and they're open until six or seven o'clock at night. Banking happens on the weekends, believe it or not, as I like to joke around, if you're out buying a car, which a lot of people do, and you need a cashier's check or something like that and you go to many of our competitors, you're out of luck. You can stop by one of our in store locations, and we have a lot of them in all of our states, there's somebody there that will be able to help you and so it's an important part of an overall distribution to make sure that we're good at that. In addition to that we've introduced Academy Express, which is video bank. And we've really been pioneering that I think at some of our markets, especially here in Kansas City area where I live we have rolled out those either attached to branches or not. And those are open seven days a week including Sundays. So you can obviously go by and just use an ATM to make a deposit use it as a cash dispenser, whatever the case may be. But we also have one of our bankers who can do anything a teller can do if we're walking into a branch on a Sunday afternoon at three o’clock. It’s really been in there a valuable tool for our clients. Because we understand life is busy once again, maybe Sunday after church is the time when you need to go by and do something or Sunday afternoon where you're going to lunch with your family, you can actually stop by, not even have to get out of your car, you have young kids, you don’t have to get them out of the car seat, you can just talk to a banker, we've got some fantastic people that do this very well. In addition to that, you can make cash deposits at any Walmart because we have a relationship with them. So if you're on vacation and need to get some money into your account, maybe realize oops, I'm a little bit short, I'm going to be overdrawn. Just go to a Walmart, I don't care if it's in Portland, Maine, or in Seattle, Washington. If it's a cash deposit that was insert your debit card, you make that deposit, and it instantly goes into your account. We're kind of trying to turn bankers hours on their head if you will. Because we know there's a lot going on. And we're here to help.
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Martha: That's so cool. Given the size of your bank, like you said that you're able to pioneer innovation like that you've spoken earlier about the need to be agile, especially as you're getting all this wonderful, nuanced information. So you've got to be ready to move and innovate at a moment's notice. But of course, you still have to get buy-in for your ideas, right? So what's your approach for getting buy-in? And how can you get that buy-in quickly to be able to really take advantage of what you're seeing in the marketplace.
Charles: I think at my core Martha, I am a relationship oriented guy and soft skills and people skills, no matter how many online tools and zoom calls we have, and no matter how many emails we have, those soft skills and people skills still matter. And relationships are still at our core. And that is how you get things done. And people like to work with people they like. I invest a lot of time and I know that people on my team do, understanding that value. So one of the benefits of working at a community bank is that we have access to leadership. So I've reported to the CEO at times, but I do have a chance to meet and talk with him quite frequently, so that he knows what's going on. And especially if I have enterprise priorities, which I do quite frequently, to interact with him to better understand what he's trying to do. To give you an example I try to check base with the boss a lot, because I want to make sure that everyone knows what's going on. So there aren't any surprises, because my responsibility is not only to tell him what we're doing, but the whys. We need to have those conversations to make sure he's in agreement with me going forward. And I'm always shocked by how many people just don't take the time to engage with their leadership. But if we're talking about brand work, for example, one of the fun projects I've had the chance to do here twice, and I'm in the process of doing it, again, is working on defining a new brand for our military bank. But we take that in a very methodical way. And that is the first thing I do is I'll sit down as an example with the CEO for an hour and I'll say, tell me what you want to accomplish here. What's in scope, what's out of scope? I'm always amazed at what I learned that I thought I was supposed to do wasn't really in scope, according to the CEO. It’s probably good to invest that time upfront face to face and really talk to him. But in addition to that, Martha, I am a big believer that we'll just set up gates and communication. So as we get past the discovery phase in a brand process, I will then go sit down with the CEO or other members of our executive management say, Hey, guys, this is what I've learned so far. Here's where we are in the process. Here's what I'm starting to pick up on. What is your reaction to that? It turns into a fantastic conversation, it also allows me to understand, is there any pushback going on, or there's there's something they don't understand that I didn't explain very well, that we need to pursue a little bit further. And we can do that when we get to the end of a brand process, for example, or how we're going to launch a new product, or how we're going to promote that new product. At the end, those conversations tend to be very simple, because they seem the whole walking of the process. And they now see, well step one added to step two, I now see where they are at step three. And so in the end, everybody's on board. But most importantly, everyone has skin in the game now because everyone's had a chance to be engaged to be active to have input. And so using that kind of a methodology, talking at a high level, Martha, is something that we've used a lot around here, I do the same thing. We're setting up marketing plans, I have relationships with departments. Whether they want to or not, they're going to spend time with me every year. But the bottom line is building those bridges between silos is critical to successful planning and execution. And I think one of the roles that marketing has is we interact with a lot of different groups in the bank, maybe more so than anyone else except maybe HR. So we have a chance to sit down with them. We can talk about our goals, what are we trying to accomplish and how we can work together to do that.
Martha: You mentioned making sure everybody has skin in the game. I think that's what's so critical, when like he said, as a marketing department, you have to be sure that to get your initiatives through and to be successful, everybody needs to buy-in. How do you go about making sure everybody feels like they've got the skin in the game?
Charles: I think that's part of the ongoing relationship building process. So I'll give you an example that may kind of address that. I was given an enterprise priority this year to address a key issue of how do we reduce the number of phone calls coming in. It isn't because we don't want to talk to people, it's because self service is better, our clients would prefer to bank online, prefer to chat, and prefer many of the other channels that don't involve picking up the phone. And there's limited hours and all that kind of good stuff. And we get that, well, when I'm given that goal, I was very forthcoming. I went met with the chief operating officer and the CEO and said, listen, I can't accomplish this goal on my own. I mean, what happens if our vendors and the systems go down, I get called, I can't fix that. What happens if something goes on, everyone has a role in being successful here. And so I asked him if he would make that goal universal to a number of other business units. And he got it and said, absolutely, let's do that. So now what happens is, we meet about every two three weeks with consumer lending with deposit operations, with the care center, retail banking, we talk about how are we progressing and reducing costs? What are the reasons people are calling? What are the areas in which they're telling us they're least satisfied, we can then put together tactical plans and assign out responsibilities based on that. So some of them I'll take on, some of them, my partners in their positive side will take someone alongside, but you can kind of see now we've got a single source of truth document, which is what I like to call it that we're all working from to accomplish a common goal. we've assigned responsibilities, and everybody now is involved. In this case, we're having a lot of success. And everybody can take credit for that. And that's a fantastic thing, because I can't do it on my own. Anyway, I'm happy to share it. Bottom line is when those successes happen, now everybody's engaged, and they're going to want to do that again. I think that whole issue of bridging those silos, finding that success actually helps the bank.
Martha: Yeah, Charles, it seems like that would really reduce the finger pointing that would go on, everybody owns the problem. You're all working towards a solution. That's awesome.
Charles: Absolutely. So we have our quarterly meetings with all of our executive management business unit leads, we walk in and say we've reduced calls this year by X percent, everybody sits up a little straighter, a little bit taller. And everybody knows that they played a small role in that.
Allan: I want to kind of go back for a minute to data that you addressed earlier. And you know, you have to be amassing a ton of cx data without getting into proprietary secrets. What kind of data do you have? And how do you imply those insights into your marketing efforts?
Charles: We are capturing a lot of data. And we keep it, we monitor it, we trend it. We look at a number of things. And that's not proprietary. We're looking at NPS. So we might we keep that data consistently to make sure that we're trending in the right direction, I capture client satisfaction information, I think it's different but related. And I really want to see that difference between that kind of visceral loyalty versus - yeah, they're fine. The other thing that's really important to me, Alan, I think would be important to anybody in this business is we also look at it from a channels specific standpoint, because we do need to know if you're satisfied, why? And if you're not, why and where? Most clients don't just use a branch, they don't use use the phone. And so we need to know how each channel is performing. So I measure that based on branch satisfaction, I look at online satisfaction, look at mobile satisfaction at care center satisfaction, we blend those all together in the end. But we need to be able to give a give the tools to the individual units to let them know what they could do to help us be more successful. We do have a fairly robust depository, if you will, of information about how different channels have performed. We also capture a lot of demographic feedback, because one of the things I've learned in the process here is that looking at this to global, you'll get you killed, because it's just not specific enough. It's not only that mass information, but also looking at it from a demographic, because I think it does matter. The other big thing, and potentially the most important that we have is closed loop feedback. And we do keep all of that and code all of it so that we can monitor trends. So we do ask clients, as you can imagine, if you've had a problem in the last 30 days, yes, what was it? And did we satisfy it from a problem resolution standpoint. I have a fairly robust dashboard. What are the issues that are causing the most friction in the relationship. So we definitely pulled that together, those are the kind of nuggets that we have a client first team that I also chair that really focuses in on. That’s a never ending dynamic source of content, the clients are telling us consistently what we do well, and what we don't. And we have a team of about a dozen people here that's focused on addressing those issues completely, we start pulling that kind of information, you got a lot of data, but you got a lot of insights and a lot of nuance there. We develop key driver analysis around here. I want to know what really matters to them. I mean, there's a lot of things they may not like, but in the end, it doesn't really matter whether they're happy or not. So I need to know what really matters to you. We track that. We don't do that, obviously, every time we do surveys, but we do do it at least annually to find out. If I move this needle, it's really going to move satisfaction up or if I get really bad at this, it's really going to make people mad. And so I really need to know what matters to them. Between all of those they give us some pretty good insights as to what we need to be working on. What’s going well, and where opportunities for improvement exist.
Allan: From your internal team, do they also involve the local branches and things like that? Because a lot of times, people are coming in there and they see them face to face. Is there any interaction, I guess at the local level?
Charles: Oh, absolutely. The worst thing you could do is have a bunch of the corporate people just talking amongst themselves. We're always shocked at how little we know. And I mean that sincerely. And we have regional executives that manage branches in Colorado and Arizona that participate. We have branch managers from both banks on that committee. So absolutely, we have operations there, we have IT there. Because all of them have a role, very few of us can just impact this by ourselves. So to answer your question, absolutely. It is a purposely designed team to make sure we have 360 view of all the operational impacts.
Allan: Charles, I noticed on your LinkedIn profile, you enjoy building things. And one of the things you mentioned is building a skilled marketing teams and departments. As marketing has become so much more complex, how do you nurture and maximize the talent that you have on your team and the individuals?
Charles: First of all, you know, I've had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people. But I would say the issues at a family owned bank, smaller bank are different than when I was at B of A, for example, the first thing we talk about building teams is I keep in mind that we are not a training ground. That's what the big banks do. So when we put together a marketing department, I want seasoned people with experience. We're small and so whenever I hire somebody, I always say there is no hiding place here. But if you're in a big marketing department, at one of the larger institutions, and I've been there, and they're great, they have incredibly smart people all over, but you can hide in those departments where you have hundreds of people working in marketing. You can't here. You can either do your job, or you can't. And if you can't, we're gonna find out real fast. You know, you need to be able to wear a lot of hats, do a lot of variety of work. And that's one of the reasons I came here is the I get to do a lot of things, not just niche stuff. And I find that very exciting. But if you want to be an expert in a certain thing, this is not the right place for you. And so we'd like people that are seasoned, that want to get out of that bureaucracy of a large bank, but they want to do banking, and they want to do marketing, because they really like it. And that's what you get to do here and you get a voice, you're going to get to talk to the CEO. I've also gotten out of the focus on hiring bankers. The last few hires I've had here have all been telecommunications people. And they are fantastic. You know, if I can figure out banking, anybody can. If you just bring the skills, if you understand, you know, life stage marketing, retention at a service, we can teach you banking, but that different perspective many times, it's very helpful, I've enjoyed that. So I think that's another thing that I've tried not to be too limited about is that is looked beyond the pool of who we've got. The other thing that I've really tried to do by hiring season people is I leave them alone. I think a sense of humility is really important. I don't have to be the smartest guy in the room, just give them the objective, and then touch base with me. And let's see how things are going. But just leave them alone, trust them and let them work. That kind of hiring has been good. I think the other thing I've tried to do is make sure that we hire the right people by understanding what they really know how to do. And what I mean by that is I have found that a lot of people know how to pull levers at other vendors to get things done. This is one of the challenges we have at a bank like ours is you gotta be able to actually do the work, not actually farm it out. Can you write an email? Can you work on a website and create better content? Bottom line is can you really get dirt under the fingernails work. So when I can find those kinds of people, I'm looking for people that are trying to get into an exciting, dynamic environment, where they're gonna get a chance to do what they really like to d, have exposure to leadership, I can find people that want to be in an environment like that.
Martha: You talked about how that dynamic how the culture there differs from the really big banks. So what are some of the marketing challenges that you think are unique to more these smaller size banks and what advice do you have for solving them?
Charles: I think the first one is a simple one, I'll say lack of resources, marketing is not getting cheaper. A lot of the larger banks, you know, it's digital marketing bidding up search terms, it gets more and more expensive. So resources have become an issue. And it's not getting any better. Every dollar we have has to work a little bit harder. We think a little bit more about them, we think in a little more integrated way. The other thing is we have to be really good at prioritizing projects and resources. And everyone needs to agree. We talked a little bit about the budgeting process, and that's always a free for all and it always should be and that's okay. But we can't do everything. One of the benefits of having relationships with people here that I talked about earlier, as you can walk into them and say, guys, I can't do all of this. So let's talk a little bit about what's the prioritization and if everything's important, nothing is important. So we got to figure out how we're going to prioritize projects. And we've done that we will find a way to Yes. So it's taking that prioritization, but not telling them, “No, it's just maybe not been, and maybe not the way they thought, but let's find a way we can accomplish your goal”. So find a way to yes is another thing I like to do. And I think that most people really like that because they know you're working with them and trying to make that work. If there is a model that you develop in house and says we're going to base our priorities based on these criteria. Everyone's seen them and they understand them and they know if they don't hit them, they don't hit them. We can have an honest dialogue there and and sometimes have bad news conversations and that's okay. You know, I think the other thing I just mentioned earlier and that is one of the ways that we are going to be successful is to be very purposeful in terms of hiring. Because every person does matter here, everybody has to have their oar in the water, or we're gonna fail. And so whether it's developing a brand process, a marketing campaign, we need people here that can think. I call it riding the elevator, they can do strategic thinking, and then go straight into execution, and go back and forth, you need to be able to do all of that. I think it's fun. But there are some that do not. So we try to grill people when we're hiring to make sure that you're comfortable that you're going to be all over the place here. When we're hiring somebody. I've even had a case where I've said, I want you to write an email the next 30 minutes that focuses on online banking. I don't care what they get the numbers, right, but can you write a compelling email? Can you tell the story in a pithy way, I want to see if you can do it, because a lot of people say they can, but they can't. And so we need that kind of expertise on our floor. Because I do it, I gotta be able to sit down and put something together because somebody needs it. Now, I think the other big gap we have, Martha, that pains me, but I think we're getting a lot of it through my cx work is lack of research. The world is changing so fast, our consumers are changing so fast. Everything is changing, the technology we live in is changing. When I've been at large institutions, the ability to develop not just competitive intelligence, but research on client needs, different segmentation and things like that is there. And that's really hard to do here. Just because there's so much and it's so expensive to get. So first of all, that makes cx very important for us. Because cx information is highly valuable, because it tells you about who your customers are, what they think, how they live in many ways, because you can look at how they spend their money, how they use their debit cards. So it's a great tool for us. But getting that kind of research that allows us to be more insightful, is also one of the gaps that I think we always struggle with, because the big banks just have an inherently big advantage over us.
Martha: It sounds like you've got the mindset to be able to break through those challenges, which is so important.
Charles: You get creative when you're at a midsize bank, and I'm sure that the peers that you're talking about, they're listening to this are shaking their head, yes, because, you know, sometimes it's with duct tape and chewing gum, you put things together, but you do find a way to pull them together.
Allan: Charles, I have a question. And this is rather broad, and it may transcend marketing a little bit. But I'm just wondering about the industry overall. I'm just curious, where do you see things going?
Charles: So, when I think about where the industry is going, a couple things come to mind. I think the first one is lots of consolidation. We’re seeing that in lots of industries, and ours is no different. I think I saw recently that since the year 2000 the number of banks in the country has dropped by 40%. There was about 13,000, or something, I believe towards the beginning of the turn of the century and we're around seven now. So the number of banks has gone away. And you can imagine why. For all the interest in too big to fail, the compliance and the regulatory requirements are now so significant that a small institution just can’t keep up. So I think you see the regulatory framework really driving that, and I don't see that changing. I don't think we're going to the Canadian model where you have basically six or seven banks, but I think 7000 is a lot. And I think we're going to continue to see that number drop. It used to be talk in the industry a lot that you need to be about 100 million to be a viable institution. I think that number is a billion now, I think you're gonna see a continuing reduction in the role of branches. They're important, and we are growing our branches, by the way, but in general, the number of branches is dropping three, four or 5% a year, just because the transition to digital and online and other tools has just changed the dynamic of banking, and that's a good thing. But it's definitely going to reduce the overall footprint. You know, banking as a service is becoming more prevalent. Organizations like Amazon have decided at least it looks like to me they're not going to get into banking, but use banks to meet their needs. So if you want to do financing on amazon.com, Goldman Sachs offers the financing if you need to buy something there. Which is an interesting approach to allow them to get the access to being able to finance transactions and but without having to get into getting a banking license and deal with all the regulatory requirements. And then of course, fintechs are coming into the market. That's another big issue. I am starting to see more specialization in banks as we see consolidation. So just yesterday, I saw one focused on women business owners. I’ve seen one focused on environmental issues. I've seen some focused on immigrant families, so social causes. I've seen some focus on attorneys. I think you may see more of that. I think that's another thing. I've just got my eye on this personally to see how that evolves. And that may actually be a way for some of the smaller institutions to find a a niche going forward to continue to survive. I think the other thing that I just can't get out of my head, Alan, and you know, someone has asked me before what is the one thing that frightens you the most or keeps you up at night about banking, and I always go back to, I saw a research studying it had about 90% of all millennials and Gen Z., so you know, 20 to 40 year olds have said they will consider a non traditional bank for their banking services. So if you kind of wrap your head around that, for many of us, when you opened a bank account, you went to the traditional banks on the corner and we all went to them and that was just part of the deal. What I see now is consumers look at loans. They just want loans at reasonable rates and they don't care about the source. And we also see if these young customers or future customers now don't really care. They will go to a Googleplex account at Citi. That is a sobering reminder for us that we really have to up our game. And I think that tells me at least a little bit about where the industry may be going as more and more non banks get into the business.
Martha: Charles, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. You really provided some great insights and this has been so enjoyable. I know that Alan and I have really been delighted to talk to you, and we wish you continued success that Academy Bank.
Charles: Thank you so much. I enjoyed visiting with you.
Martha: You know, Alan as marketer, I can relate to what Charles said about midsize banks having to be creative when they do not have the budgets that the larger banks have. I also respect the fact that you have to listen to the customer but dig deeper into what they are actually trying to tell you. The true insight may be under the surface of what you've heard.
Allan: I agree. I also think his approach to getting buy-in then having gates along the way to ensure everyone stays on the same page is really spot on. So to our listeners, be sure to check out more episodes in the show notes at Vyasystems.com. That's Vya ssystems, And VYA is V-Y-A systems with an s dot com. Or you can listen wherever you listen to podcast.
Martha: Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, hey, not so fast there. Alan, how about that money you owe me?
Allan: You know, I was trying to come up quick. And I love the whole video banking thing. And if I could just get my computer to spit out the money.
Martha: It figures….
Allan: Thanks to our listeners for joining us. We really appreciate it. Be sure to subscribe and give us a review. And if you have ideas or topics questions you'd like us to cover in the future. Just email us at marketing at vyasystems.com Thank you so much.
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