For many banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions, 2020 just felt like we were trying to survive — just trying to get through the year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was hard for organizations in virtually any industry to make progress towards the plans and goals we laid out for ourselves at the beginning of the year. 

Progressing along our digital growth journey even in the most challenging of times can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. Many financial institutions were just treading water, trying to stay afloat. 

When it comes to digital growth, it’s so easy to get stuck in the status quo and get lured into a false sense of security only to have an external force like COVID come in and wake us all up.

However, when I think about all the opportunities available for financial brands now, I’m left with three key areas of focus — the Three Rs for Digital Growth in 2021. 

This is not about reading, writing, or arithmetic, and it's not about reducing, reusing, and recycling, although all three of those would for sure help make this world an even better place for us all. Instead, the three Rs for financial brands that are looking to maximize their digital growth potential in 2021 are: 

  • Refresh
  • Renew
  • Refocus

Refreshing in 2021

Many of us entered 2021 tired. Coming out of 2020, which felt like a blur where time blended together with no discernible distinctions, many of us need to refresh in 2021. 

In its list of the 2020 words of the year, Oxford Languages, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, included the word Blursday. Days, weeks, and months all blurred together, and the COVID-19 pandemic created its own time clock. 

While the Blursday memes and social media posts were a welcome moment of humor in my life, Blursday is a very dangerous place for many people to be for an extended time, especially if they are struggling financially, emotionally, or mentally, as so many are right now in this post-COVID world. 

Blursday — even without the threat of a highly contagious virus — along with the compounded financial, emotional, and mental stress we all felt last year can cause us to feel anxious, depressed, and hopeless about the future. 

Amid this endless blur, people are looking for two things from financial brands:

  • Help
  • Hope

Our customers hope that things will get better for them, and this hope must come long before they are ready to receive help.

Internally, Blursday is a killer for future growth potential for financial brands for teams and account holders. Why? Because when we are stuck in a repeated cycle of Blursdays, It’s hard to see beyond the threats of the present moment.

Our teams need a refresh to maximize their personal growth potential in 2021. Now is the time for financial leaders to end the deadly grip of Blursdays by creating space and time to just simply refresh. 

I encourage financial institutions to think about their wellness. Or, in this case, getting WELL. There’s a transformative exercise I like to do to start and end my day, and I think it’s useful for individuals and teams to try separately and together.  

Grab a sheet of paper, and write the letters W-E-L-L vertically down the side of the paper. 

Next, ask yourself what’s going “well”:

  • Winning: The biggest wings you experienced the day before
  • Exciting: The most exciting things you are working on
  • Learning: The major lessons you learned the previous day
  • Looking: The largest roadblocks you need to eliminate as you look ahead

I ask myself these four simple questions each morning and evening. And I ask myself what’s actually going well. This creates a structure to keep me feeling refreshed and keep the Blursday blues at bay. 

This one simple exercise measures progress, not perfection, along our digital growth journeys. It builds structure into the day and helps me feel a bit more secure by focusing on what is good in life.

The brain can really only focus on one thing at a time — one thought or one emotion. It can either focus on the positive or it can focus on the negative. This last year bombarded us all with so much negativity, chaos, and uncertainty. It’s not a very safe place for us humans to stay for a long time. Through all of this, we must take hold of what we can. We must protect and guard our minds by making it a habit to keep coming back and focusing on what's going well every single day.

Finding a Sense of Renewal

Renewal can be defined as beginning again. 

In 1786, Robert Burns wrote an apologetic poem titled To a Mouse, where he tells of how he while plowing a field, turned up a mouse's nest in that field. And what better way to sum up 2020 than through one of the most famous lines of the poem that reads almost as a proverb:

"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." 

The plans the financial sector had at the beginning of 2020 certainly went awry.

But adapted and shifted to the new realities of a digital-first world. We had to; we saw five years of transformational progress in just three to six months from the start of the pandemic. 

After that upheaval, now is the time to renew — to start again, particularly with our digital growth journeys. This time, we have much more clarity and focus, all based on the lessons we gained in 2020.

If there's one lesson from 2020 that can be applied to 2021, it is the need for financial brands to continue to humanize the digital experience. In this post-COVID world, there's still a strong need for human connection through digital channels and experiences. 

Why is this? Human connection — even if that connection is just made through email, or chat, or video — is the most influential source in a consumer's decision-making process when they're shopping for a loan or a new deposit account. Now is the time to begin again, with a newfound appreciation for human connection. 

Refocus: Looking Ahead

A lack of focus is brought on by a lack of clarity. And a lack of clarity is caused by confusion, by complexity, by being overwhelmed — all of which we have COVID to thank. But now is the time to leave all that in the past in the past and move beyond the present to refocus and begin to create a new future.

Two of the most common questions that I get from financial brand marketing sales and leadership teams are: 

  • Where should we start our digital growth journey? 
  • What should we do next if we've already started on our own digital growth journey? 

Before COVID-19, I would rattle off a series of possible steps based on almost two decades of advising and coaching financial brand marketing sales and leadership teams around the world. But my response now is all about refocusing. I use a very simple set of questions to help financial brands gain clarity into the future that they can create by asking them one question framing all three. And that one question is, how do you want to grow?

Grow is another acronym: G-R-O:

  • Growth: What are your unique growth goals?
  • Roadblocks: What challenges must be eliminated over the next year to progress?
  • Opportunities: What new opportunities are available, and what strengths can you further capitalize on over the next 12 months?

The answers that come from these questions will give financial institutions the clarity they need to focus and hone their digital energy. They provide the roadmap to pursuing specific growth goals, as well as a plan to overcome the hurdles along the way, all while playing to the strength of the organization. 

When I think about the future, I'm more excited than ever before because I truly do believe that the future is bright, that the best is yet to come — when we take the time to focus our digital energy and pursue a brighter digital future.