Rattled by unemployment numbers and wracked by the economic fallout of Covid-19, people everywhere are forced to re-evaluate how they will make and save money. Keenly aware of where their paycheck is going and eager to improve financial wellness, record numbers of consumers are looking to mobile finance apps for advice and answers.
Interest in and comfort with mobile finance was strong ahead of the crisis, with the sector showing an impressive growth trajectory that started last year. According to the Mobile Finance Apps Report—published by mobile app marketing and retargeting platform Liftoff in partnership with app market intelligence provider App Annie—mobile money management saw massive uptake in 2019. (Fellow Forbes contributor John Koetsier analyzed the April report in detail here.) Globally, consumers accessed finance apps over a trillion times in 2019. The flurry of activity had a positive impact where it counts. Conversion costs dropped by over 76% and registration rates rose by more than 71% compared to the previous year.
“Consumers are turning to finance apps at record levels amidst volatility in the market and uncertainty over the economy from the coronavirus pandemic,” Amir Ghodrati, App Annie Director of Market Insights, told me in an interview. Drawing from U.S. data, Ghodrati notes that time spent in-app on Android devices has grown by over half (55%) from the week of December 29, 2019, to the peak week in March and April (April 12-18, 2020). “We have seen similar levels of growth worldwide amidst the pandemic,” he adds.
The trend is likely to accelerate, making digital-only the new norm for financial services. Analysts at Juniper Research are bullish. They reckon over 1.75 billion smartphone users used their devices for banking purposes in 2019, compared to 800 million the previous year. But a meteoric rise in mobile and app use to manage personal finances will no doubt fuel fierce competition for increasingly mobile-savvy customers.
What are the key capabilities sure to distinguish leading app providers from the also-rans? It’s a tough one to call. But fintech companies that pivot to being a lifeline for their customers are best positioned to take their place in the winner’s circle. “This is not a time for chest-beating, celebrating your brand or making strong competitive claims,” Juliet D’Ambrosio, Senior Director of Strategy at Adrenaline, a firm specialized in financial institution marketing strategies, said in an interview with The Financial Brand. “This is a time for empathy.”
The growing hunger for help
Unfortunately, a significant number of financial institutions are missing the plot. Rather than reaching out with messages of potential relief for consumers, many banks and credit unions are responding with messaging that is tone-deaf to consumer needs. An ongoing consumer poll by J.D. Power, a U.S.-based data analytics and consumer intelligence company, reveals only one-third of Americans are convinced companies genuinely care about their situation. That’s a “huge emotional disconnect,” Bob Neuhaus, Vice-President of Financial Services Intelligence at J.D. Powers, said in an interview.
Financial brands that go silent are making an even bigger mistake. As the impact of the pandemic lingers, so will the bad taste when consumers reflect on the absence of helpful advice to guide them through these anxiety-inducing times. But this ship hasn’t sailed—yet. There’s still time for financial brand marketers to improve their outreach efforts and build customer trust.
To help companies as they architect strategies to deliver on what I call the essential three Cs (campaigns, content and communications), I draw from interviews with three expert mobile marketers, Liftoff Mobile Heroes recognized for their app marketing accomplishments. They share actionable advice marketers can follow to drive customer connection in a time when it matters most. [Disclosure: I regularly interview Mobile Heroes as the host of Mobile Presence, a top-ranked weekly podcast for which I am not paid.]
Credit Sesame: Focus on the topics that are top of mind
Information is power. But it can be even more empowering if access to it equips consumers to take charge of their financial futures in challenging times. This is the thinking that has guided Credit Sesame, a consumer financial health management platform, since its launch in 2010. Back then, many consumers were struggling to get back on their feet after the 2008 financial crisis pulled the rug out from under them. Credit Sesame decided to provide its customers–the majority of whom live paycheck to paycheck–access to free credit scores and information to help them improve their financial wellness. Today, Credit Sesame builds on that foundation with SesameThrive, a platform that provides budgeting tips, virtual tools and calculators, personalized credit recommendations and the latest information around government assistance programs, and Sesame Cash, a free digital bank account that combines insights from both consumers’ cash and credit with the goal to improve both.
For the time being, the company has shifted attention from acquisition to engagement and retention, betting on inspiring human stories and a personalized experience to drive customer connection and positive results. It’s a strategy that is paying dividends in more ways than one, and Credit Sesame’s customer satisfaction scores in April were the company’s highest ever. Derrick Nguyen, Senior Marketing Manager at Credit Sesame, told me in an interview, “We are focusing on personal stories and prescriptive content to support our members through this challenging time,” Nguyen explains. “We lean on the customer successes and feedback as guidance for tools and services we provide.”
The combination of relevant content and human stories is incredibly compelling. His advice: Put the customer first, help them visualize their goals, and tailor content to fit their needs. “Our best performing content has been articles that focus on real people and real results,” Nguyen says. “We show that it’s about more than just a credit score—we help consumers on their path to financial wellness, show them what’s attainable, and what actions can create better opportunities for themselves and their families. This not only helps inspire new members to sign up, but also creates strong loyalty among our growing customer base.”
Current: Build the creative and the audience will come
At Current, the focus is on “creating better financial outcomes for people and their unique lives.” The company was founded with the belief that banking should be accessible and affordable for everyone. And it has built its own banking core technology to deliver on the company’s key value proposition: getting people paid faster. It’s a capability that allows Current to be there for customers, particularly those stressed over their overall financial situation. Today, Current (which closed its Series B funding and announced a new partnership with Visa) offers a host of products to help provide relief. These include personal checking accounts without hidden overdraft or minimum balance fees and instant refunds of the holds gas stations put on credit cards when consumers fill up at the pump.
These are products that serve a variety of modern lifestyles and campaigns, and communications must deliver unique and valuable messages to individual customers, according to Adam Hadi, VP of Marketing at Current. “The requirement for personalization (in marketing) has never been stronger,” he says. Current focuses resources on developing unique creatives and leaves the work of delivering the right ad to the right person to machine learning algorithms and the capability of ad network partners such as Facebook.
Want to target a younger female audience? Current develops the creatives and lets the image find the audience. “We’re running more ad creatives that I’ve ever personally run in my career at any given time simultaneously,” Hadi explains. “Rather than relying on audience segmentation, it’s a case of build the creative and the audience and the audience will come,” Hadi explains.
For Drew Fung, Director of Performance Marketing at Current and a Mobile Hero, “giving up more control to algorithms and automation” higher in the funnel empowers marketers to get more human about their messaging. Showing empathy at scale is a tall order, and one Current is tackling by tapping micro-influencers and user-generated content. “They share genuine stories, showing—not telling—how we are helping our customers, a subset of Americans who are really struggling at this time.” His advice: “Show people, not product.” As a rule, Current avoids screenshots and elements that make their offer feel like a banking app, preferring to empathize how value propositions, such as getting paid faster, allow people to improve their quality of life and—ultimately—their financial wellness. The approach appears to resonate with audiences, and Current, which says it has grown to host 800,000 accounts, is gearing up to announce another milestone.
Intuit: Focus on delivering advice, not alerts
Unprecedented times call on companies to unleash amazing innovation. Intuit, a global financial platform serving consumers, small businesses and the self-employed, has stepped up efforts and initiatives, including Intuit Aid Assist, to help its customers understand and access government aid and relief programs. Intuit’s partnerships and new offerings (Intuit Aid Assist is one of three) focus on helping consumers and small businesses get quick access to relief.
Now marketing must follow suit. “Sending a push notification that tells customers they are over budget on a purchase, for example, will understandably get a negative response,” Vishal Korlipara, a Mobile Hero and Senior Manager, Mobile Marketing Strategy at Intuit, told me in an interview. His work revolves around ensuring notifications are “personal and personally motivating” and all messaging reflects what is happening now in people’s lives.
“What used to be an alert is now an answer,” he explains. Take a case where a customer has exceeded their monthly budget. Before the pandemic, he says, the notification would have been a statement of fact (you have exceeded your budget). Now it’s a show of solidarity. “It’s more like let’s work together to reallocate your budget in the next few months during these difficult times.” Empathy isn’t just good for the brand; it’s good for business. “It has helped with engagement of our current user base and even shown a small uplift in acquisition through word-of-mouth and organic.”
Like many finance companies, spending on paid media at Intuit is taking a back seat while efforts focus sharply on aligning product and product marketing. “It’s about offering solutions and showing how these solutions help customers improve their situation,” he explains. The outcome: new users may be down against forecasts, but “DAUs (Daily Active Users) and MAUs (Monthly Active Users) are up against forecasts” as engagement rates climb. “That’s a testament to our engagement program and our core product features.” His advice: Use the pandemic’s big reset opportunity to focus on fixing low priority issues. “Focus inwards and double-down on product and product marketing.” But don’t expect amazing features to sell themselves. “Start brainstorming now around the content and guerilla tactics that will allow you to maximize reach and growth in these times.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
“2020 will be challenging for fintechs to navigate, but there are better times ahead,” Radboud Vlaar, Managing Director at Finch Capital, said in an interview with Fintechnews. The company’s latest analytical report titled “Fintech: The Future PostCV-19” forecasts that the “crisis mode” will last until Q3 2020 “followed by a 12- to 18-month recovery.”
The recovery period will also see “digital-only become the new industry norm in financial services.” It stands to reason, then, that the players that have invested in customer-centric innovation during this period of uncertainty will be best positioned to come out fighting. As we’ve shown, it’s a win-win situation, delivering valuable services to consumers and driving strong and enduring business outcomes.