"As leaders, it’s about communication and transparency - communicating often and frequently about why you’re changing, what your goals are, and what it means.” -Laura Byers

Most financial brands have a treasure trove of data about their customers, but they don’t know how to dig through it and leverage it for positive transformation. Plus, they ignore how much a digital transformation requires buy-in from employees and executives across the organization.

These are the topics of a discussion hosted by James Robert Lay on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast with Laura Byers, the Chief Digital Banking Officer at Coastal Community Bank and a 17-year veteran of the financial industry.

Keeping a Financial Brand's Data Under Control

Over the years, Laura Byers has seen financial brands outsource their data management or do just the opposite and change direction to bring it in-house. She’s seen transformational successes and failures that have informed her perspective on the best practices in the industry.

Bringing marketing in-house can make a dramatic change in how a financial brand handles its customer information. By hiring an SEO expert and digital expert who work in conjunction with the company’s marketing manager, you can learn important truths about your customers.

For example, you can do A/B testing with the help of an outside firm, but it’s difficult to be nimble about responding to the results due to the inevitable delays that come with outsourcing. There are also technological barriers that could prevent you from having actionable information right at your fingertips when you need it.

Speed is often sacrificed when companies are too distant from their information. On the flip side, when you keep your data well-organized and accessible, you can act quickly to address issues and seize opportunities that delight customers and grow the company.

Customization and Personalization Based on Data

Data doesn’t have to be cold and inhuman. It’s a fast path to connecting with people on a deeper level. It can be used to identify what people need, what’s happening in their lives, and how you can help them solve problems.

Laura advises financial brands to use data to find ways to assist people at critical moments in their lives. Personalize each consumer journey in a way that’s meaningful.

For example, if they were rejected for a mortgage loan, why did this happen? Is there inequity in the process? Is there another way you can assist them with finding housing stability in their lives? 

Think “beyond the ones and zeroes,” as James Robert says. These are real people with real problems, concerns, hopes, and dreams.

Another issue Laura brings up is data hygiene, which involves cleaning up your data and ensuring it has quality and consistency. Stay on top of things like officer codes, branch codes, customer linking, and so forth. 

Don’t allow your brand to work with “dirty data,” which is low-quality, incorrect, and out-of-date data that leads to poor decision-making. Dirty data gums up the gears of an otherwise productive process of effectively leveraging valuable customer information.

Company Transparency and Communication

Internally, financial brand leaders are responsible for maintaining effective communication about big changes within the company. It’s easy to just announce changes to your employees, but it’s much more important to explain why changes are happening and how they will be meaningful for employees, customers, the company, and the industry.

Laura believes in the power of having individual one-on-ones with employees to help them understand how and why the company is transforming. Help them see how they can continue to participate in a changing organization and how their job might be different in the coming months and years.

This shouldn’t be a one-way conversation, rather it should be a back-and-forth where the person can ask questions and share their concerns. As Laura says, “In the absence of information, people will create their own information.” 

Don’t risk having them create incorrect or misleading information through speculation. Be communicative from the start.

Culture is also a critical aspect of communication. In a fear-based culture, people don’t feel comfortable bringing up ideas or questions. They stay silent out of fear, which limits innovation and positive progress.

Instead, cultivate a culture that values listening and learning. James Robert calls this an “exponential growth environment” because you’re spending time learning, thinking, growing, reviewing, gaining outside perspectives, and doing other activities that stack the benefits and become a game-changer for the company.

The Impact of Language on Learning

The financial world is full of jargon, so one of the barriers to organizational change can be confusing language. Plus, there’s sometimes too much ego involved, where people don’t believe that others can be smarter about certain things.

What happens when a platform or person is speaking a language others don’t understand? They feel uncomfortable. They tune out. Your coworkers and employees are always at risk of this happening to them when it comes to dealing with data and digital transformation.

As a leader, you can blunt the impact of difficult new concepts by immersing yourself in learning. Research what new terms mean and help your people understand. When you encounter a new concept like “the metaverse,” find out what it means, explore the research, and come back to your team with information that helps them grasp it.

Stay open to educational channels like podcasts and conferences that expand on certain new ideas in the industry. View yourself as a lifelong student who is capable of understanding and adapting to innovative ideas.

Laura also advises people to remember “You don’t have to be the expert about everything.” Instead, you can ask subject matter experts to explain concepts and even visit to help your team understand too. Take the fear out of “I don’t know” and turn it into “I can learn.”

Building Buy-in at Financial Brands

During periods of transformation, it’s difficult to build buy-in among your employees and executives. This is one of the most common struggles for financial brands that are using data in new ways and experiencing the chaos of digital transformations.

How do you help people move forward with courage and confidence?

Laura says the first step is to have a champion of change. This should be someone who has experience with change and is comfortable with the idea of transformation. It could be someone who’s passionate about the customer experience and/or has helped another company through a period of major change.

It’s also key to help others become aware of the possibilities that exist on the other side of the transformation. Assist them with picturing something new on the horizon and seeing their job and employer from a fresh point of view.

Most importantly, connect the company’s goals to the employee’s emotions. Don’t just say, “Things are changing” without also saying, “and here’s how you’re going to feel happier and more excited about your job.” When people can see the connection between the company’s success and their personal success, digital transformation is easier for everyone.