By James Delves, Head of PR and Engagement, The Chartered Institute of Marketing
The UK financial services sector is fragmented and ranges from: large multi-national corporate banks to insurance companies; and slick city hedge funds to local high-street building societies. However, there are a number of common challenges faced across the sector. Staying relevant, increased competition, changing legislation and serving the needs of a more informed and often untrusting customer base are key issues most financial organisations now face.
The role of technology
A recent report by Deloitte Global, surveying the views of 200 financial services executives, found that almost two out of three felt technology would have the greatest impact upon the sector over the next two years. However, 68% of those within capital markets firms expected big technology changes, compared to just 46% of insurers, underlining the change across the sector. 
The reason for technology playing such an important role in the coming years? In short, choice and access to information. The emergence of online comparison sites has given customers a wider choice than ever before when buying financial products. This creates an issue for financial institutions, who for hundreds of years have been the masters of reading the markets and providing key information at the right times to a loyal and trusting customer base. The internet has changed that, encouraging consumers to question what they read and look for answers themselves. The result is that financial brands are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with customers long-term, understand their needs and provide a positive brand experience, the key ingredient to encouraging loyalty and retention.
Putting the customer first
Having the right technology and insight is half the battle. Financial institutions also have to regain consumer trust and deliver products and services that meet the needs of their customer. A recent research from Accenture found that 80% of financial institutions felt that trust and a personalised approach was ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’. But when asked the same question only 30% of customers believed that their banks knew them and understood their financial needs, while a mere 28% felt their bank would put their own interests ahead of their customers’ needs. This serves as a reminder of the distance the sector has to overcome before truly meeting the needs of consumers.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, summed up the impact of not keeping up with customer expectations when he said the airline had historically failed to view customer service as a priority. “People used to come to us for the low prices and put up with the service. I don’t want them to have to put up with the service anymore,” he told the Daily Telegraph. As a result, Ryanair’s 2016 Annual Report found that, during year two of Ryanair’s ‘Always Getting Better’ customer experience initiative, consumer numbers grew by 18% to over 100 million passengers.
The value of marketing
Ask any marketer and they will tell you to put the customer first. Understanding what consumers want, need and how they behave is critical to a healthy relationship. With detailed insights driven by technology and a customer-first marketing approach, financial brands can more effectively communicate and craft personalised and tailored experiences.
Our own research shows that while marketing is critical in delivering long-term business advantage, it is also an undervalued function. The study of senior marketing and communications professionals found that despite marketing being responsible for driving revenue growth of 19%, 60% of marketing directors do not believe their contribution is taken seriously in their company.
This lack of understanding of the results marketing generates is also likely to impact its future. At a time of uncertain economic conditions, 71% of those surveyed said they were concerned that a lack of clarity on marketing’s impact could lead to vital budgets being cut.
A better way
Although there is much to be done – all is not lost. The recent Edelman trust barometer concluded that the global financial services sector is the fastest growing sector in terms of consumer trust – with financial institutions starting to address the points discussed in this article, investing in new technologies and adopting marketing techniques to differentiate themselves and to deliver a more personalised service.
White Marble Marketing and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) have announced the first partnership of its kind within Financial Services. The CIM have endorsed the Fund Marketing Network’s exceptional development programmes for marketers within financial services.
The programme focuses jointly on networking and development, allowing all members to grow their professional networks and create a stronger commercial voice for marketing within the financial services sector.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing exists to develop the marketing profession, maintain professional standards, and be the trusted voice for the public as consumers. It works to improve the skills of marketing practitioners across the finance sector, enabling them to deliver exceptional results for their organisations. CIM does all this by providing membership, qualifications and training to marketing professionals and businesses around the world, and by delivering thought leadership reports and initiatives based on thorough and authoritative research and insights. Also available is the CIM Finance Group, a forum for marketing professionals to share best practice and discuss how to address the issues featured in this article.
 Deloitte Global/WSJ, Financial firms predict tech changes looming, 2017
 Accenture, Insight perspectives banking personalization, 2017
 Daily Telegraph, Ryanair fined €550k for poor customer service, 2015
 CIM, Value of Marketing, 2017
 CIM, Value of Marketing, 2017