Let's go back in time to 2020. Who would've ever thought that we would've lived through and experienced what we did in one year’s time? 

What a century 2020 was for us all. 

Every year, I assemble a theme to frame my thinking around the financial brands that are part of our Digital Growth Program and going into 2020, our theme was Level Up 2020. Our focus was to be all about leveling up three things:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Production

But 2020 certainly had other plans.

Even so, it was a year of massive discovery that led to huge, transformative growth. We learned so much about what is possible when it comes to transforming our thinking and our actions. 

But what if 2020 had been just like 2019? Would I have created a podcast or connected with people in the financial sector all across the world? COVID caused me to rethink my entire business model and optimize our Digital Growth Program to revolve even more around training and coaching that's supported by bespoke research and insights for financial brands.

The old model was good, of course. But I’m even more thrilled with what we’ve developed amidst the chaos of 2020. Because really, what is growth? What is transformative growth? It's about growing from good to great, no matter what.

So, what can be done to continue this momentum? Here are the top trends to move this transformation past 2020 and into the future. 

1. Focus on Employee Experience.

Moving forward, there will be an increased focus on the employee experience (EX). Employee experience will have a direct impact on humanizing every financial brand's digital experience. 

Employee experience will be just as big as — if not bigger than — all of the talk around customer experience, member experience, and the digital experience. After all, all of these will be directly influenced by your employee experience. In a future of exponential changes that will bring on more confusion and more complexity, now is the time for banks and credit unions to take care of their people so that they, in turn, will take care of account holders, members, and digital experiences in this digital world.

2. Unlock Digital Growth for Small Businesses

While there has been tremendous improvement since the dark days and high infection rates of this past winter, we aren’t fully out of the woods yet, and neither is the financial realm. Small businesses have really been hit the hardest by COVID.

These same small businesses are the backbone for so many local economies, and the owners of these small businesses are looking for someone that they can trust to guide them through this COVID-19 crisis. 

It will likely be another 6 to 12 months before we can explore what life is like after the pandemic, but small businesses need assistance now. There's such a tremendous opportunity for financial brands to step up — not just to offer a loan but to offer guidance and be a leader and support system for the small businesses in their community.  

3. Financial Coaching will Lead to Future Digital Growth

Financial coaching will become a key revenue driver for future digital growth. This includes coaching for both small business owners and consumers alike. 

After the turmoil of this past year, both of these groups feel very stressed about money. This stress is taking a toll on people's health, their relationships with loved ones, and their overall sense of wellbeing. Both personally and professionally, consumers are looking for someone that they can trust to guide them beyond their financial stress toward a bigger, better, brighter future.

Consumers don't need a better checking account; they need coaching, guidance, accountability, and support. Why is this? Most people do not have savings problems; they have spending problems that are rooted in just a few causes:

  • Spending behaviors that go all the way back to childhood
  • The fears, concerns, and conditions of their present reality
  • Their environments

Coaching is poised to become one of the biggest non-interest revenue streams for financial brands over the next five to ten years — especially if that coaching is further supported through data-driven research and insights.

4. Find Fintech Partnerships to Bridge Capability Gaps

Banks and credit unions that are looking to add value for their account holders should seed out financial technology partnerships that will bridge the gap in capability. No longer can traditional banks and credit unions think of fintech as the enemy or the competition, but instead, fintech partners can be their allies. 

It's time to start thinking about fintech innovators as collaborators. The challenge? This is going to require us to let go of scarcity mindsets that limit our future growth potential. To accomplish this, banks and financial institutions can each embrace a mindset of abundance, where there is more than enough opportunity for us all to create and capture value together.

Here’s why this is mutually beneficial: Fintech organizations need audiences, while incumbent financial brands need best-of-breed digital capabilities. Both have what the other wants. It would require vast amounts of capital to build these things alone. Moving forward, the opportunity here is for collaboration. As the saying goes, “A rising tide raises all ships.”

5. Financial Content Marketing Drives Growth

Now is the time for financial brand marketing teams to operate like in-house media production teams focused on content production and promotion. Why? Because content will be the fuel that drives future growth, really future digital growth, as marketing and sales move beyond the traditional world of branches and broadcast.

The key here? When marketing operates like in-house media teams, they can’t do it alone. They're going to need to closely align themselves with internal sales teams, lending teams, and service teams to unlock authentic, data-driven guidance and direction to generate content that addresses consumer's biggest questions and concerns.

6. The Potential of Video-Driven Communication

It’s time for banks, credit unions, and financial institutions to implement video-driven communication. This kind of communication is going to humanize digital channels and experiences for both sales and marketing teams. 

This will also help sales and marketing teams must work closer together to unify to become a centralized growth team. Video-driven communication will require an entirely new set of training and operations on both marketing and sales teams' parts but will be an important tool in connecting with clients and customers and providing personalized experiences. 

7. The Rise of Podcasts

Podcasts are another invaluable tool that will be essential moving forward — one that will allow financial institutions to literally get inside people's heads and transfer knowledge and insights at scale. Plus, these podcasts create even more value for institution-created video content. 

Video content is a great way to humanize the digital experience, and it’s so transferable to podcasts. These videos can be generated; then, content teams can strip out the audio content and use it to produce podcasts, reaching two kinds of audiences with minimal effort.

8. Create an SEO-Driven Content Production Strategy

Banks and credit unions have an incredible opportunity to optimize their content production strategies. What does this accomplish? It maximizes their organic search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Content from both videos and podcasts can be stripped and transcribed to power a renewed focus around organic SEO with blogs and on-site content. 

As the efficacy of digital ads will continue to decline over the next two to five years, thanks to the rise in ad blockers and ad fraud and the demise of third-party cookies, this kind of SEO-optimized content will help bring in new visitors organically.

9. Content Will Build a Digital Community

Content like videos, podcasts, and SEO-optimized articles are going to continue to be increasingly important. This kind of content generation will be the glue that builds digital communities, which will complement any type of financial coaching program development. 

This content and these digital communities will help banks and credit unions provide another layer of accountability while bringing a group of like-minded people together, all moving forward on a journey to get beyond financial stress.

10. Personal Content Promotion Benefits the Brand, Too

It’s not just content production that will be essential, but content promotion as well. Moving forward, content will not only be promoted through corporate brand channels but other venues too, including personal branding. The financial industry will see the rise of personal brands promoting both corporate and personal content.

This combination of personal branding and corporate branded content marketing has the potential to create far more value in this post-COVID world for one simple reason: People trust people

The idea of personal branding becoming more important than corporate branding may be very uncomfortable for some financial organizations, but across industries and sectors, this is becoming more and more the norm. An increasing number of financial innovators are already using this strategy to build their personal brand while working at a financial brand, and in doing so, they are also creating value for the financial brand too. Everyone wins!

11. Digital Reputation Management

Another trend that credit unions and banks should pay attention to is maximizing their future growth through digital reputation management. This requires a focus around three concepts:

  • Ratings
  • Reviews
  • Referrals

Through some recent studies and pilot programs that we've run through the Digital Growth Program, digital referrals are proving to be one of the fastest-growing and most effective acquisition channels in a post-COVID world.

Why is this? Once again, people trust people. Consumers will always trust a referral from their friend or family member far more than they will ever trust a financial brand — no matter how good their marketing is. This is why financial brands must go beyond measuring metrics and give much more attention to digital referrals in their marketing, sales, and service operational models.

12. Mind Your Mindset

Mindset will be the most important strategic asset for financial brands to see through all of the confusion, complexity, and exponential changes that are coming with the age of AI. 

COVID-19 has just been a preview of the rapid technological advancements the financial industry will continue to see, and adaptability and emotional intelligence will be key. AI can handle the automation and the everyday, mundane repeatable tasks banks and credit unions will need.  What will set brands apart? Take a lesson from Four Seasons, where their founder and CEO once noted, "The opportunity is to automate the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional."  

Final Thoughts: Choose Only What Works for You

It would be an exercise in frustration to try and focus on every single trend or attempt to implement every new marketing and sales strategy. 

My suggestion? Pick three that make sense for your brand. This kind of focus on the future and personalization will empower you to continue to make progress along your own digital growth journey towards a future that’s bigger, better, and brighter than ever before.