Driving Innovation Through Cultural Clarity

New York-based Quontic Bank bills itself as an adaptive digital bank; it’s also a $1 billion community development financial institution (CDFI), lending to immigrants, low-income populations, gig-economy workers and borrowers who struggle to get a traditional mortgage. That mission means that the bank’s executives — including chief innovation officer Patrick Sells — tend to think about banking a little differently.

Its culture is a true competitive advantage of the bank — and that goes beyond having good, talented people on staff who get along with one another. It requires a mission, he says, and “strategic anchors” that can guide decision-making and empower employees.

Banks were already facing an “existential crisis” around digital and technology, Sells continues. “The pandemic that we found ourselves in has only exacerbated that tension,” he says. “[W]hen there is anxiety, we tend to act irrationally, we can tend to act scattered, we go back and forth. And what’s really critical is a steady hand as to who we are and what we need to do, and how we navigate through this, so we don’t get sucked into all of that. The culture, the clarity that we have, has definitely helped us navigate this storm.” Quontic has hired almost 90 new employees during the pandemic, he adds.

Sells discusses this further in this interview with Emily McCormick, Bank Director’s vice president of research. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

BD: It’s very easy to think about innovation, and focus on the nuts and bolts of the technology, but the culture and the mindset are so critical. How do you think through culture as it applies to innovation?
PS: There’s a tragedy in that innovation is often synonymous with technology, especially in this industry, and it really shouldn’t be. Innovation as much more than that. The thing that perhaps needed the most innovation, and would yield the greatest results, was culture that I think many banks don’t have. I think culture is an area where they’ve struggled. When you compare it to what’s gone on in the world around us — there’s so many things happening, and banks haven’t kept up with that.

These issues all interplay with each other. I think the greatest existential threat to the industry of community banking is culture. We have lost the war on talent. As the first digitally-native generation grew up and came out of college, they didn’t want to go work at a community bank. So today, we’re so behind from a technology standpoint, and we’re frantically, as an industry, trying to say, “We need this, we need that.” And that’s really a Band-Aid.

If we don’t figure out how to change this and lose the next decade of talent, we don’t stand a chance. The technology that’s new and cool today, we know the pace it’s accelerating at will be nothing compared to two, three years from now. … We also know in the data that’s coming out around millennials and the generations that follow, is that the sense of purpose matters immensely. And so for us, where we really focused on innovating, or what to do differently, is all in and around culture: How do we do that, and how do we bring that to life at Quontic? That will drive us into the future and where we want to go.

BD: You’re active on Twitter; one of your recent tweets focused on the fact that culture doesn’t end at the bank, it extends to the customer. Could you expand on that concept and how that informs how Quontic meets customer needs?
PS: There’s three components to Quontic’s culture: the mission, the de-centralized decision [making], and the shared language. Core values became that shared language, but one of our core values is try it on. For example, we want to be quick to try something new, even if we don’t know if it’s the right thing or not.

The other one is saying, “Cheese.” The next time someone asks to take a picture of you and they say, “Cheese,” what happens? Both of you smile, and usually the photographer is also smiling. How do we create that interaction? I think most customers expect, when you call your bank, you’re going to get very black-and-white answers as to what can and can’t be done. And there isn’t so much a focus on making it a pleasant experience.

An example of that, when Covid[-19] first happened at the end of March or early April, as an online bank, we picked up a lot of CD customers. For the consumer, one of the great things about CDs is you commit to putting your money in for a period of time, and you typically get the highest interest rate. If you break the CD, you lose all that interest. We knew a lot of customers would be nervous about what that meant for their financials, so we quickly reached out to say, “If you need to break your CD, you can do that penalty free.”

The majority of people said, “Thank you for offering this. As of now, I don’t want to do that.” But there was another group of people who said, “Yes, I want to do that.” Those same people called us back later and said, “I ended up being OK. I want to re-establish my account with you, and I’m going to tell everyone I know about what you’ve done for me, because it was so above and beyond.”

We want to be a spot, even though there’s a lot of anxiety going on, where we can bring smiles to people’s faces. I don’t know the data, but I doubt many banks emailed their CD customers to say, “You can break penalty-free if you need to.” We’re trying something on, and what happened from it? It deepened relationships and brought new relationships because it resonates the culture of who we are with the customer that we serve.

BD: We know that small businesses continue to be devastated by this pandemic. How is Quontic thinking through meeting the needs of small businesses, as this crisis continues and past it?
PS: This gives us the opportunity, in any crisis, to reframe, which is something I talk about in terms of innovation. What is innovation? Can you reframe what’s going on? Can we become aware of these underlying assumptions that haven’t changed in a while? If we change nothing but that, everything changes — that’s where you can find your most effective innovation.

For example, there’s a lot of small business owners who are behind the ball in terms of e-commerce. There [are] two ladies that own a [boutique] that I’ve gotten to know, and they wanted to open up a Shopify account to sell products online. I helped them do that. In one lens, helping [our small business customers] establish Shopify and e-commerce doesn’t result in any new revenue for the bank; but it strengthens the relationship and the [role] that banks historically played as a resource for small business owners.

There’s an opportunity to rethink branches. … While there’s great technology out there, like Shopify and Square, they don’t have people who can help you. What if the branch became a place where small business owners could get help [digitalizing themselves?] Now you’re utilizing the space that so many banks already have, and you’re beginning to play that meaningful role again in society. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for banks to think differently, and say, “How do we help our customers also embrace technology that will ultimately help their businesses thrive?” That’s an example of a way banks can reframe what those relationships look like and deepen those relationships that’s outside of the norm as to what we think banks should be doing.

BD: So essentially, it’s about having that talent and expertise within the branch that can help the customer, and empowering employees to do that.
PS: This goes back to the mission [of] financial empowerment. It’s both that the products banks offer [are] one size fits all, and that the culture or the skills are largely the same. What if banks said, “We’re going to hire kids out of college who understand social media and e-commerce natively to help our small business customers.” Now you have talent that can help your bank figure out how to evolve. You solve two problems with one stone, and begin to change the reputation and everything. Not only does that have an impact for today, [but] my suspicion is the ROI on that over a decade is tremendous.

But you have to be willing to do something different. That’s where banks struggle, understandably; we’re taught to mitigate risk and to think about risk in everything. That can stand in the way of trying things that aren’t all that risky … it’s not that risky to add another digital bell and whistle that our core provides. It may be new for the bank, but it’s not really risky or innovative. We actually have to challenge ourselves to be bold and do something differently.

Strengthening Corporate Culture During Covid-19

Before Covid-19, watercooler talk was an integral part of office culture. Groups of workers would gather in the breakroom for coffee and chat about their day, or the latest Netflix binge, or what they planned to do over the weekend. But today, with so many now working remotely and the rest encouraged to socially distance themselves from their coworkers, office culture has temporarily — and perhaps permanently — changed. For many, the big looming question is whether we return to that environment at all, given the potential for cost savings and the possibility of a second and third wave of the coronavirus later in the year.

But employees still need to interact with one another to foster relationships and collaborate. They also need to connect with managers, and create and maintain bonds with mentors.

The technology to enable this existed before the coronavirus struck the U.S., but many companies are only now shifting their practices to take advantage of it. These tools include video conferencing, and scheduling and productivity applications offered by providers like Microsoft Corp., Slack Technologies, Zoom Video Communications and Alphabet, the holding company for Google.

The savviest companies are finding ways to be more effective in the transition. One of these is State Street Corp. Christy Strawbridge, senior vice president and transformation director, shares the Boston-based bank’s experience in a discussion that took place as part of Microsoft’s Envision Virtual Forum for Financial Services.

Most of State Street’s employees are working from home and returning to the office isn’t a top priority, says Strawbridge. “We are not going to be rushing people back into the office; we’re going to help [them] work from home effectively,” she says.

It’s a stressful time, so the company is keeping communication lines open.

“Senior leaders are communicating formally and informally on a regular basis,” Strawbridge says. Employees can dial in to live, virtual forums hosted by senior executives — even CEO Ronald O’Hanley — to get answers on everything from technology needs to mental burnout. “It keeps us all connected,” she says. “It keeps us up to date on what’s going on.”

A number of companies now host virtual employee happy hours and other events using video communications technology. These intentional social interactions are vital to maintaining corporate culture, says Strawbridge. “We’re not running into each other in the elevator, so we need to be more deliberate on those social interactions,” she says, “because they’re not happening ad hoc.”

“It’s really important, now more than ever, that we stay connected,” she adds.

Employees are also encouraged to take time off. Maybe they can’t take the cruise they planned or visit Disney World with their family but taking time to do simple things — a day off for a hike, for example — can help prevent burnout.

Agility has grown increasingly important as the banking industry responds to the shifts and changes the coronavirus crisis has brought to bear on the U.S. economy. Financial institutions are rapidly deploying new technologies and practices to better serve customers and enable employees to work safely. Strawbridge points out that for State Street, their strategic goals remain the same but the path to achieve those aims is being adjusted.

“[Some] priorities have shifted in this environment, so we need to pivot work to other people on the team who might be more freed up,” says Strawbridge. “We have really uncovered the art of the possible here. We are realizing that there were things that we thought maybe we couldn’t do, or would be hugely challenging, or would take us three years to do — and we’ve done them in two months.” She credits more effective communication and collaboration — along with employee initiative — with these achievements. “We have a laser focus on prioritization in this environment that we can’t lose when we go back.” 

The company is empowering and engaging employees to solve problems — something Strawbridge believes will help State Street weather, and emerge stronger, from the crisis.

The foundation for a strong culture was built before the pandemic, but smart companies will foster and strengthen it during this crisis.

A Bank’s Most Valuable — and Riskiest — Asset

“Culture should be viewed as an asset, similar to an organization’s human, physical, intellectual, technological, and other assets. … Oversight of corporate culture should be among the top governance imperatives for every board, regardless of its size or sector.” — National Association of Corporate Directors’ Blue Ribbon Commission

A strong, clear culture that aligns performance to shared goals is the hallmark of a thriving and sustainable organization. Such a culture boosts performance and long-term value creation. It’s a non-replicable competitive advantage.

Culture is a substantial asset. Like all other assets — loans, cash, investments or fixed assets — banks should have a proper valuation of their culture asset and know what their return on that asset is. It is incumbent on them to proactively identify strategic cultural risks and opportunities to optimize asset performance.

The chief executive officer is responsible for shaping and managing the bank’s culture, but the board ensures that they do so effectively. The ultimate responsibility for a thriving and sustainable culture sits squarely with the bank’s board.

A board should never be surprised by culture-related issues — yet these often only reach the boardroom when there are problems. Recent scandals have brought culture to the forefront for companies, and many boards and executive teams want to know exactly how — or, alarmingly, what — their culture is doing.

An Incomplete View of Culture
It can be difficult for bank boards to assess a seemingly “soft” issue like culture. They typically rely on disparate and indirect metrics such as employee engagement surveys and comments, hiring, promotion and turnover data, net promoter scores, and leaderships’ opinions to form some notion of cultural health. Many banks have done some form of “culture work” as well. In Gallup’s experience, these efforts tend to be episodic and narrowly focused on a desired aspirational state, such as being “agile,” “innovative,” “customer-centric” or “inclusive.”

The results are drastically — and worryingly — incomplete. Directors are becoming increasingly aware that their efforts to assess their culture asset lack a meaningful perspective on the risks, performance or asset value of the culture overall.

Culture Asset Management
Gallup’s experience is that most organizations struggle to define their culture — much less understand and harness effective levers for shaping it. Most banks and boards manage culture by default rather than by design.

We regularly observe high levels of angst and frustration from board members and executives who know there should be predictive signals, but don’t know where or what to look for.

Bank boards need an objective and reliable approach to managing culture risk and maximizing the return on their greatest — and riskiest — asset to effectively govern and guide corporate strategy.

In partnership with bank executives and boards, and leveraging tens of millions of data points, Gallup has developed a solution called Culture Asset Management to help boards measure and strengthen their cultures. We’ve found the 10 most influential factors of a healthy culture that are predictive of positive business outcomes:

  • Ethics and compliance
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Leadership trust
  • Leadership inspiration
  • Disruption
  • Employee engagement
  • Performance management
  • Well-being
  • Sustainability
  • Mission and purpose

These 10 dimensions serve as a framework for determining the real value of culture as an asset and for diagnosing the performance and risk factors in managing that asset.

Bank boards are ultimately responsible for the culture of the organization; they must elevate the way they manage culture to fulfill their duty to steward and guide the long-term sustainability of the organization. Culture is a bank’s most valuable and riskiest asset, and should be treated as such. Yet, boards lack reliable, valid and comprehensive tools to understand the risks and strategic opportunities of their culture, which often leads to surprises.

Bank boards should never be surprised. They need a predictive, clear and holistic view of their bank’s culture to understand what the actual value of the culture asset is — just like every other critical asset.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

Banks Ignore Credit Administration at Their Peril

Not long ago, I asked the CEO of a mid-sized bank how he makes funding decisions when looking to add new technology or software systems. He told me that when it comes to spending money on software, he only listens to two people: the CEOs of other banks, and “Whatever my chief lending officer says.”

The question that immediately popped into my head was, “Why doesn’t the chief credit officer have a say?”

This situation is not unique. For a long time, credit administration has taken somewhat of a back seat when it comes to resource prioritization within banks. But this mindset can be dangerous for banks; if executives don’t give credit administrators the budget they need, it can come back to bite their institutions in several ways. Bankers would be wise to take a second look at how they allocate resources and consider three reasons why credit administration should be a bigger priority.

The resource disparity
It’s not hard to understand why credit administration can sometimes get overlooked. The lending side of the house gets the most investment because it brings in the revenue. When push comes to shove, the money makers are the ones who will receive the most attention from management.

It’s not as if credit administrators have been completely forgotten: Bank CEOs usually understand the importance of managing the loan portfolio. But the group often doesn’t receive funding priority, while it often feels like the lending team has a blank check. Credit administration is just as important as loan production; closing the resource gap can decrease risk and increase efficiency for your bank.

Limiting credit risk
The biggest reason banks should invest more in their credit administration department is risk mitigation. When credit administration systems are ignored, spreadsheets can run rampant. This opens the door to numerous risks and errors, including criticism from auditors and examiners.

Outdated systems can open your bank up to risk because administrators are unable to gather and analyze data in a coherent way. They are left using multiple systems and spreadsheets to create a complete view of a loan — a fragmented process that makes it easy to miss important risk indicators. Credit administrators require powerful tools that increase a loan’s visibility, not limit it. To mitigate risk, banks should invest in systems that make it easier for credit administrators to see the complete picture in one place.

Increasing operational efficiency
Investing in credit administration also improves operational efficiency for your bank’s employees. Clunky, outdated systems impede credit administrators from accessing important information in succinct ways. Fumbling through multiple systems and screens to find key data points increases the time it takes to perform even the most routine tasks. Performing a simple data extraction will often involve IT, wasting multiple employees’ time. What could be a simple and straightforward loan review process has turned to a slow, cumbersome and ultimately expensive process.

Outdated software can also negatively impact your team’s overall job satisfaction. Poorly designed systems can be frustrating to use; upgrading other departments’ systems could create a perception that credit administrators aren’t valued by the organization. This could hurt your company culture and lead to costly turnover down the road. Investing in new software and giving credit administrators tools that make their jobs faster and easier is a way that banks can demonstrate their support, keep employees happy and improve the efficiency of their work — potentially improving overall profitability.

Credit administration and loan production are two sides of the same coin, but resources have been weighted significantly toward the lenders for too long. It’s time for a change. Reassessing how your bank can support its credit administration team can mitigate risk, improve operations and ultimately save your bank money.

Turning Compliance From an Exercise Into a Partnership

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once observed that no one can ever step into the same river twice. If these philosophers tried to define how the financial industry works today, they might say that no bank can ever step into the same technology stream twice.

Twenty-first century innovations, evolving standards and new business requirements keep the landscape fluid — and that’s without factoring in the perpetual challenge of regulatory changes. As you evaluate your institution’s digital strategic plan, consider opportunities to address both technology and compliance transformations with the same solution.

The investments your bank makes in compliance technology will set the stage for how you operate today and in the future. Are you working with a compliance partner who offers the same solution that they did two, five or even 10 years ago? Consider the turnover in consumer electronics in that same period.

Your compliance partner’s reaction time is your bank’s reaction time. If your compliance partner is not integrated with cloud-based systems, does not offer solutions tailored for online banking and does not support an integrated data workflow, then it isn’t likely they can position you for the next technology development, either. If your institution is looking to change core providers, platform providers or extend solutions through application programming interfaces, or APIs, the limitations of a dated compliance solution will pose a multiplying effect on the time and costs associated with these projects.

A compliance partner must also safeguard a bank’s data integrity. Digital data is the backbone of digital banking. You need a compliance partner who doesn’t store personally identifiable information or otherwise expose your institution to risks associated with data breaches. Your compliance data management solution needs to offer secured access tiers while supporting a single system of record.

The best partners know that service is a two-sided coin: providing the support you need while minimizing the support required for their solution. Your compliance partner must understand your business challenges and offering a service model that connects bank staff with legal and technology expertise to address implementation questions. Leading compliance partners also understand that service isn’t just about having seasoned professionals ready to answer questions. It’s also about offering a solution that’s designed to deliver an efficient user experience, is easy to set up and provides training resources that reach across teams and business footprints — minimizing the need to make a support call. Intuitive technology interfaces and asynchronous education delivery can serve as silent accelerators for strategic goals related to digitize lending and deposit operations.

Compliance partners should value and respect a bank’s content control and incorporate configurability into their culture. Your products and terms belong to you. It’s the responsibility of a compliance partner to make sure that your transactions support the configurability needed to service customers. Banks can’t afford a compliance technology approach that restricts their ability to innovate products or permanently chains them to standard products, language or workarounds to achieve the output necessary to serve the customer. Executives can be confident that their banks can competitively adapt today and in the future when configurability is an essential component of their compliance solution.

A compliance partner’s ability to meet a bank’s needs depends on an active feedback loop. Partners never approach their relationship with firms as a once-and-done conversation because they understand that their solution will need to adjust as business demands evolve. Look for partners that cultivate opportunities to learn how they can grow their solution to meet your bank’s challenges.

Compliance solutions shouldn’t be thought of as siloed add-ons to a bank’s digital operations. The right compliance partner aligns their solution with a bank’s overall objectives and helps extend its business reach. Make sure that your compliance technology investment positions your bank for long-term return on investment.

One Bank’s Approach to Improving Its Culture

Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” These attributes are central to a company’s success.

Corporations with strong cultures tend to have financial performance that matches, according to studies that have investigated the relationship. The corporate review website Glassdoor found in 2015 that the companies on its “Best Places to Work” list, as well as Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, outperformed the S&P 500 from 2009 to 2014 by as much as 122%. In contrast, Glassdoor’s lowest-rated public companies underperformed the broader market over the same period.

Unlike the financial metrics banks rely on to measure their performance, culture is harder to measure and describe in a meaningful way. How can a bank’s leadership team — particularly its board, which operates outside the organization — properly oversee their institution’s cultural health?

“A lot of boards talk about the board being the center of cultural influence within the bank, and that’s absolutely true,” says Jim McAlpin, a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and leader of its banking practice group. As a result, they should “be mindful of the important role [they] serve [in] modeling the culture and forming the culture and overseeing the culture of the institution.”

Winter Haven, Florida-based CenterState Bank Corp., with $17.1 billion in assets, values culture so highly that the board created a culture-focused committee, leveraging its directors’ expertise.

CenterState wants “to create an incredible culture for their employees to enjoy and their customers to enjoy,” says David Salyers, a former Chick-fil-A executive who joined CenterState’s board in 2017. He’s also the author of a book on corporate culture, “Remarkable!: Maximizing Results through Value Creation.”

Salyers knew he could help the bank fulfill this mission. “I want to recreate for others what Truett Cathy created for me,” he says, referring to the founder of Chick-fil-A. “I love to see cultures where people love what they do, they love who they do it with, they love the mission that they’re on, and they love who they’re becoming in the process of accomplishing that mission.”

Few banks have a board-level culture committee. Boston-based Berkshire Hills Bancorp, with $13.2 billion in assets, established a similar corporate responsibility and culture committee in early 2019 to oversee the company’s corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and other cultural initiatives. Citigroup established its ethics, conduct and culture committee in 2014, which focuses on ethical decision-making and the global bank’s conduct risk management program — not the experience of its various stakeholders.

CenterState’s board culture committee, established in 2018, stands out for its focus on the bank’s values and employees. Among the 14 responsibilities outlined in its charter, the committee is tasked with promoting the bank’s vision and values to its employees, customers and other stakeholders; overseeing talent development, including new hire orientation; advising management on employee engagement initiatives; and monitoring CenterState’s diversity initiatives.  

The committee was Salyers’ suggestion, and he offered to chair it. “I said, ‘What we need to do, if you want to create the kind of culture you’re talking about, [is] we ought to elevate it to a board level. It needs to get top priority,’” he says. “We’re trying to cultivate and develop the things that will take that culture to the next level.”

As a result of the committee’s focus over the past year, CenterState has surveyed staff to understand how to make their lives better. It also created a program to develop employees. These initiatives are having a positive impact on the employee experience at the bank, says Salyers.

Creating a culture committee could be a valuable practice for some boards, particularly for regional banks that are weighing transformative deals, says McAlpin. CenterState has closed 11 transactions since 2011. In January, it announced it will merge with $15.9 billion asset South State Corp., based in Columbia, South Carolina. The merger of equals will create a $34 billion organization.  

“At the board level, there’s a focus on making sure there is a common culture [within] the now very large, combined institution,” says McAlpin, referencing CenterState. “And that’s not easy to accomplish, so the board should be congratulated for that … to form a [culture] committee is a very good step.”

CenterState’s culture committee leverages the passion and expertise of its directors. Both Salyers and fellow director Jody Dreyer, a retired Disney executive, possess strong backgrounds in customer service and employee satisfaction at companies well-regarded for their corporate culture. While this expertise can be found on the boards of Starbucks Corp. and luxury retailer Nordstrom, few bank boards possess these traits.

Focusing on culture and the employee experience from the top down is vital to create loyal customers.

“The best companies know that culture trumps everything else, so they are intentional about crafting engaging and compelling environments,” Salyers wrote in his book. “A company’s culture is its greatest competitive advantage, and it will either multiply a company’s efforts, or divide both its performance and its people.”

Benchmarking Best Practices



Data has never been more important for the banking industry. In this video, Eric Weikart, a partner at Cornerstone Advisors, interviews South State Bank Senior Vice President Jamie Kerr about the bank’s disciplined approach to data and benchmarking. She also explains the importance of incorporating benchmarking into South State’s culture.

  • Developing key metrics
  • Using data daily

The 10 Most Successful Financial Advertisers Right Now


advertising-11-23-18.pngFinancial institutions have long struggled to stand out in the marketplace and build their brand.

This is because they offer very similar products and services to consumers. But a clear strategy and well-defined corporate culture—and a story told with an effective advertising campaign—can help prospective clients understand what makes a bank special.

We’ve put together a list of banks that do that well.

To identify successful advertisers in the banking space, Bank Director focused on two key metrics: number of impressions—how many times a company’s ads were viewed on TV—and the average estimated cost per impression for each brand. This second metric is weighted to account for peak vs. non-peak advertising times. Together, the two metrics reward a balance between brand reach and an effective use of ad dollars.

Each metric was ranked, and the final score represents an average of the two ranks. In cases where the average of the two was a tie, the bank with the most impressions earned the higher score.

Credit unions and lenders that compete directly with banks are included, along with retail and commercial banks.

Bellevue, Washington-based iSpot.tv, an analytics firm that uses smart televisions to track ad activity, provided the data. The measurement was based on national ad activity from Jan. 1 through Sept. 10, 2018.

The ranking doesn’t account for the creativity of each bank’s advertising, but a compelling, creative ad with clear messaging can be effective in achieving the bank’s strategic goals.

Fifth Third Bancorp was savvy with its ad dollars, at $0.12 per 1,000 impressions, and placed second in the ranking. Its ad campaigns during the time period generated 442 million impressions.

The most buzz for the regional bank came from is its “Fee Sharks” ad, part of the “Banking a Fifth Third Better” branding campaign.

“The overall goal of [the Fifth Third Better] campaign is to build the Fifth Third Bank brand,” says Matt Jauchius, the bank’s chief marketing officer. “We believe that a stronger brand leads to growth and profitability for the bank overall.”

The campaign has been effective, resulting in a 21-percent increase in brand consideration over a roughly one-year period. Brand consideration is a metric Fifth Third and other companies use to measure the likelihood customers would consider the brand the next time they’re looking for a particular product or service. In banking, that tends to be whether a customer would consider the institution for their primary banking relationship—usually a checking account.

“Effective advertising needs to be rooted in a truth about the brand itself,” says Robert Lambrechts, the chief creative officer at Pereira & O’Dell. The San Francisco-based advertising agency worked with Fifth Third on the brand campaign.

“Find the thing that is true about your brand,” he advises. “[Be] honest with yourselves about who you are [and] what you want to do.”

The Fifth Third team found ties between its core value to go above and beyond and the bank’s unique name: Fifth Third employees give more than 100 percent—166.7 percent, to be precise—to help their customers.

Ads like the fee shark are quirky, memorable ways to highlight products, services and features—like fee-free ATMs. All the ads in the branding campaign feature a plucky young woman clad in a blue suit, with a Fifth Third pin and distinctive glasses, who serves as a brand ambassador and a proxy for the bank’s employees. She communicates the brand promise: that the bank works hard to meet the customer’s needs.

Fifth Third uses internal and third-party data to better understand what prospective customers want, how to motivate them, and when and where to place the ad effort—whether that’s on TV or radio, in print, on a billboard or on social media.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. topped the ranking, generating more than 5 billion impressions and spending a little more than an estimated $7 per 1,000 impressions—the fifth most cost-effective of the financial institutions examined in the ranking. The bank has run a number of TV spots in 2018. The ad with the most impressions—“Michaela’s Way,” featuring ballerina Michaela DePrince—promotes Chase QuickPay, which includes the real-time payments solution Zelle.

Donna Veira, chief marketing officer for Chase’s consumer banking and wealth management divisions, told AdAge: “We looked at all of the day-to-day, practical ways in which our customers are using QuickPay and brought those to life.”

Other spots show how easily tennis star Serena Williams uses the bank’s cash-free ATMs, or promote the bank’s business solutions and investment advice.

Most Successful Financial Advertisers

      # of Impressions Estimated cost per 1,000 impressions
  1 JPMorgan Chase & Co. 5,371,208,561 $7.36
  2 Fifth Third Bancorp 441,698,444 $0.12
  3 Citigroup 3,862,125,267 $13.44
  4 PNC Financial Services Group 1,400,939,671 $12.64
  5 Capital One Financial Corp. 545,702,921 $12.56
  6 Regions Financial Corp. 210,530,040 $12.29
  7 PenFed Federal Credit Union 144,093,408 $1.77
  8 Purepoint Financial
(division of MUFG Union Bank, N.A.)
46,254,915 $1.11
  9 SoFi 1,477,462,492 $15.60
  10 Ally Bank 1,495,976,740 $16.20

Data source: iSpot.tv

Building Partnerships That Work



More banks are exploring relationships with technology companies, but there are distinct differences between a vendor and a true partner. Steve Brennan, the senior vice president of lending technology at Validis, explains what banks should seek in a partner and in turn, shares how banks can be good partners.

Ultimately, partners should work toward being successful together. This video outlines how a bank can ensure a good outcome results from these relationships.

  • What Banks Should Seek in a Partner
  • How To Be a Good Partner
  • Fostering Technology Adoption

What To Keep in Mind For Cultural Reviews In The #MeToo Era


metoo-7-17-18.pngIn the wake of the #MeToo movement and broader conversations about sexual harassment and wage discrimination, many financial institutions are wondering whether any of these issues are affecting their organizations and, if so, how to address them.

Addressing specific incidents of sexual harassment or gender inequality is critical. But it is equally important to determine whether such incidents are symptomatic of deeper cultural or systemic issues. To assess this question, financial institutions are increasingly turning to internal cultural reviews. These reviews, in which investigators assess workplace cultural trends, can be a potent tool for identifying, understanding, and correcting issues affecting women in the workplace.

Many financial institutions are rightfully proud of their internal culture. Others may be less focused on culture. In either case, there could be significant value to conducting an internal cultural review, which can either identify the root cause of known problems, reveal previously unknown problems, or verify there truly are no serious issues. With that information, institutions can not only more effectively understand and, if necessary, improve their internal culture, but also mitigate legal and reputational risk, especially at a time when bank regulators are beginning to pay more attention to these issues.

Still, in conducting a cultural review, a financial institution must be prudent and balance the benefits of obtaining meaningful information with the risk of creating additional exposure. A well-developed investigation plan can address those concerns.

Maintaining confidentiality
An important factor in deciding to conduct a cultural review is the extent to which the institution can keep the results confidential. If not handled properly, the benefits of an investigation can be significantly outweighed by the potential risk of private plaintiffs obtaining the results or underlying documents in litigation. To mitigate that risk, many institutions choose to engage outside counsel to perform a privileged investigation. While privilege over an internal cultural review cannot be guaranteed, particularly if there is not a current threat of pending litigation, attorneys often can structure the review so as to maximize privilege protections.

Determining the client
In deciding to undertake a cultural review, the institution also should consider whether to conduct an “independent” review or one undertaken by company counsel. Because there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, a financial institution should discuss with its counsel which approach is better, given the specific characteristics of that institution.

Defining the scope of the review
Unlike investigations into discrete instances of misconduct, the scope of cultural reviews can be potentially overwhelming. To obtain meaningful results, the cultural review’s scope must be well defined. Financial institutions should work closely with those performing the review to focus on the institution’s most important cohort. For example, depending on the institution, the review can assess a specific population, jurisdiction or line of business. If no one cohort appears an obvious choice, then institutions can also review specific data to help define the review’s scope. The investigation then should be designed to answer specific questions.

Identifying and reviewing relevant information
Once the scope has been determined, investigators will begin collecting and assessing relevant documents, such as, workplace discrimination and harassment policies, HR records, employee surveys, training programs, and prior efforts to improve culture. Other information also may be relevant, such as promotion rates for women and men in a particular area.

In addition to documents, investigators should speak directly with employees. In selecting those to be interviewed, investigators often will speak with executive management and both affected and unaffected employees. Employee interviews provide complementary insight, which allows investigators to understand the bigger picture. Interviews can be helpful in obtaining data about the institution’s culture, which can be difficult to ascertain from documents alone.

Consider engaging an outside consultant
Law firms experienced in conducting cultural reviews often retain consultants to assist in the review. There is a substantial argument that, under appropriate circumstances, the consultant’s work is protected by the work product doctrine and, thus, less vulnerable to disclosure to private plaintiffs. Consultants may provide quantitative and qualitative data based on employee surveys and focus groups, conduct pay equity analyses or implement a platform to facilitate the submission of employee complaints.

The takeaway
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cultural reviews, and each financial institution interested in conducting a review should carefully consider the best strategies to meet its individual needs. However, at a time when the #MeToo movement has significantly raised the legal and reputational stakes, financial institutions should not ignore the benefits that an internal cultural review can provide.