HONG KONG - With new uncertainty in the air due to yesterday's shocking US election result, participants in the opening session at today's Financial Services Marketing forum took up the ongoing issue of how financial institutions can best build trust and transparency.
"I think 2016 will go down as a big wake-up call," said Michelle Sprod, APAC head of brand and communications for BNP Paribas. "With the US election and Brexit before that, the people have spoken and we do have a responsibility to address our industry and the issues that we probably got a bit too lax about over the last 10 or 20 years."
But how? Empathy, true understanding of client needs, genuinely useful content and excellence in on-the-ground delivery of products and services all received attention, while top-level branding also came in for a bit of questioning.
Michele Flanagan, director of marketing with AIA Group, argued that differentiation comes down to execution. "Many of the products are quite similar, so it's very hard to differentiate based on that," she said. "So we're looking to other ways we can stand out."
She mentioned AIA's Vitality, a "science-backed" programme that offers premium discounts for certain healthy activities.
She also stressed that for an insurance firm, training of agents and their ability to deliver satisfactory service makes all the difference. "A lot of times it's the back-end activities that differentiate you," she said.
If that's true, how important is an overarching brand, moderator Anthony Desir, managing director of SAMI Funds, pointedly asked.
Sprod observed that financial services remains very much a person-driven business. "As a career marketer, I'm passionate about brand, but it comes to making sure every interaction supports the brand positioning," she said. "If your strapline and overall positioning doesn't gel with the actual execution on the ground, that's where your brand falls apart."
Turning to the creation and delivery of content, Daniel Flatt, editorial director for Finance Asia, Asian Investor and Corporate Treasurer at Haymarket (also the publisher of Campaign Asia-Pacific), said that among the large amount of "thought leadership" content that crosses his desk, the content that stands out proves empathy for client needs within the first paragraphs.
Sprod also emphasised the importance of creating and delivering content that serves client needs that you have taken the time to understand. Content needs to say, "We're not just here to sell you something, we're here to solve problems, and here's some useful insights into something that can help you in your job," she said, which can open up a conversation about a solution.
Flatt added that it's not necessary to try to obscure the fact that your company sells relevant products and services; in fact, hidden agendas can set up such content for failure. "Content is a way to articulate that you understand a need," he said, adding that if your content can do that, there's no reason to try to hide your message or your brand.