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Four Keys to Personalization Success in Financial Services: Back to Fundamentals

By Micah Margolis | September 07, 2022 | 1 Comment

Financial ServicesFinancial Services Client Experience and Journey TransformationFinancial Services Digital Business Strategy and InnovationFinancial Services Go-To-Market Strategy and ExecutionFinancial Services Technology Modernization and Transformation

As financial services institutions further develop personalization strategies, they can find themselves deep in a rabbit hole of their own making, owing to inordinate complexity.  In the face of such complexity, it is important that you revisit four of the easy-to-forget fundamentals of personalization success:

The Ideal Persona

You read that correctly… THE ideal persona… as in one.  You need to stop to ask yourself a question you may have last encountered in fifth grade: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Most financial services leaders facing issues around personalization and segmentation default to establishing very broad target segments as they are cautious about missing potential opportunities by narrowing their focus. Banks and credit unions often focus on age, assets, or income, which don’t say much about a customer’s needs or goals. Leaders should, instead, focus on making their segmentation decisions actionable by creating an “ideal enterprise persona” that captures the key characteristics of their ideal target customer.

A simple exercise that I like to do to get the wheels turning here involves two groups, neither of which is aware of what the other group is doing.  Group one is tasked with describing the persona of the dream customer for your organization.  Group two is tasked with describing the customer persona you are currently best positioned to serve.  Examining the discrepancies between the two personas generated can help provide actionable starting points for rethinking your early efforts.

Customers Want to Make Decisions Too

Personalization does not mean that you need to narrow the scope of offerings to a point where you make all decisions for the customer.  In fact, consumers want control over their purchasing journey – so much so that consumers who experience greater customer agency during the purchase process are 42% more likely to subsequently complete that purchase.

But what does that really look like? The phrases “self-service” and “self-support” sound like handing the customer the keys to the car and expecting them to reach their destination. In reality, that doesn’t work. They need to be empowered with clear directions on how to get to their destination. Only when customers feel like they’re in control of the wheel and know how to reach their destination will they “drive the car.” And that sense of control is what we’re referring to when we say, “customer agency.”

Reinforcing customer agency requires a nuanced balance across a spectrum of self-led and assisted channels to make customers feel in control. The objective is to make consumers feel like they’re at the helm because they’re making an informed decision, whether it’s through their direct actions (self-led) or choosing to delegate actions (assisted). Finances are stressful. Empowering customers to feel in control and take the right steps to meet their goals benefits both customers and financial institutions.

A great example of giving customers control over how they interact with your organization can be seen in Case Study: Transformation Through Humanized Digital Channels With Santander Personal (Santander Bank), in which Santander enabled customers to choose the banker and channel of preference.

Insert Yourself Earlier in the Journey

Many financial institutions (perhaps most) that I work with run into trouble with “journey mapping” because they tend to map customer touchpoints with the organization.  This ends up producing a workflow rather than a journey map, as it fails to incorporate key challenges that customers face along their true journey.

One way that leaders tend to justify this is to think about the journey in terms of where the organization can directly service the customer’s needs at any given step of that journey.  It turns out that there is a low-lift way to make customers feel that you can help speed their journey along without building out any new services or products: a checklist.

Let’s imagine that a customer contacts you about a mortgage and, instead of discussing rates, your representative says, “I would be happy to walk you through what we offer but, first, can I walk you through a checklist of the common challenges people face as they consider buying a home?”  This simple act has freed the customer from being bound to a product-centric process by positioning you as a partner in a journey rather than the source of a mortgage – without requiring you to build out anything new.  It is important to note that you need not solve for the challenges on the list!  You are now a partner starting earlier in their journey simply by virtue of the fact that you brought the challenge to their attention and identified it for them proactively.  This is also a great example of what was discussed in this blog on helping customers make sense of complexity.

Don’t Boil the Data Ocean

Conversations about becoming “data-driven” can often feel intimidating because there is a natural tendency to assume that this means that ALL data must be clean, structured, accessible, etc.  This view that one must boil the entire data ocean at once is flawed… especially when it comes to personalization.

Instead, consider reverse engineering things.  What are the four or five pieces of data that you need to group customers into useful segments with sufficient confidence that the resulting personalization efforts will be effective?

We addressed this in 2019 when we looked to understand the customer wallet in terms of how they managed their financial lives—what challenges they faced, which providers they received help from, and their openness to additional support from those providers. Taken together, this information provided a roadmap for how banks and credit unions could seize new opportunities to help customers—and in turn, earn greater engagement and loyalty.  For instance, you may see that a customer has reduced spending, tapped into savings more than usual, is struggling with saving in the moment, has fun shopping, and tends to manage their own finances without your organization’s help.  Taken together, these data suggest that the customer falls into the “distressed” segment and needs solutions that help manage basic cash flows, reduce debt, and increase financial knowledge.


These four fundamentals of personalization success are the foundation upon which your more complex and technology-driven efforts will stand.  As leaders in FS, it is crucial that you and your teams revisit these core competencies to ensure that all your other great personalization work is as successful as it deserves to be!








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  • Goodwill says:

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