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How financial services can unlock customer insights to deliver personalization securely

September 6, 2022
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Zac Maufe

Managing Director, Google Cloud, Financial Services

Customer data platforms offer financial institutions insights from their data while helping maintain industry controls and security

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Digital wallets that can zap a payment across a register, a room, or the world. Mortgages and loans underwritten with algorithms in minutes. Apps with every conceivable branch offering, plus shopping discounts, travel points, and a host of other enticing features—including the best savings rate around. 

Our financial experiences are no longer brick-and-mortar, one-way, behind-the-counter relationships—they are two-way value exchanges existing in our pockets or wherever else is most convenient. Today, we walk into a bank branch maybe once or twice a year, but can interact with our banks on mobile devices as much as 20 to 30 times per month.

Both traditional financial institutions and data-first fintechs have embraced the change, albeit with various levels of success and effectiveness. Each side is increasing the pressure to innovate and evolve, with no clear winners yet.

What is clear is how much customers are eagerly awaiting their offerings. They expect tailored experiences across multiple channels with privacy embedded in everything; in fact, 80% of consumers expect personalization even though they are cautious about personal data.

With  pressure coming from consumers, their peer organizations, and startups, leading financial institutions are putting an even greater emphasis on delivering delightful digital experiences where and when their customers want. One of the most important tools in achieving this is becoming a cloud-based customer data platform that combines the right mix of first and third-party data, deep insights from analytics and AI, and the deft knowledge of both technical and non-technical teams across the organization.

Transition into a privacy-first world

Turning raw data into actionable insights can help drive overall financial success in banking and insurance, as has been seen in most every industry over the past decade or more. From trend forecasting and product recommendations to personalized offers and marketing analytics, financial institutions already rely heavily on data.

While there is no shortage of data in financial services, user privacy considerations will change how much first-party customer data can be collected. As third-party cookies are phased out, digital marketing leaders will need to think strategically about how the industry can reimagine the future, as well as ample time and a proper runway to prepare for the upcoming transition. 

One thing is clear: building a strong marketing analytics and first-party data backbone will arguably be a digital marketing leader’s most valued asset to adapt to change. 

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At its core, first-party data signifies a direct relationship between a person and a business, with data shared knowingly and with permission. At key moments along the customer journey—whether during an account creation, a purchase, or a subscription sign-up—people share information about themselves and trust that the other party will protect it and use it responsibly. 

First-party data will become even more essential for digital marketing success as increasing numbers of companies stop using third-party cookies to track website visitors. Unlike third-party data that is aggregated and relies heavily on cookies, first-party data is unique to the business. It’s data that organizations own and collect with direct consent from customers, through interactions on apps and websites, and in response to marketing initiatives, like email and loyalty programs. When used responsibly, first-party data helps brands build direct relationships with their customers, create value, and boost advertising performance.

When The Financial Brand asked financial institutions to prioritize their biggest challenges for data-driven marketing, 45% of respondents said that they had difficulty collecting and organizing data. Financial organizations know that first-party data is valuable, however many are collecting it without fully understanding what they have or how to use it. This is mainly due to several key challenges, including:

  • Data silos that prevent a holistic view of the customer and proper analysis

  • Existing systems and decisions which don’t always produce actionable insights

  • The lack of real-time updates and predictions which prohibit personalized audience targeting

  • The use of legacy systems that don’t scale, integrate with new platforms, or meet the need for improved marketing performance 

Collecting data is not a competitive advantage in and of itself. Financial institutions need to be able to unlock the value of their data by using a platform that helps them analyze and visualize insights, and act on them in real time—all while maintaining the highest security standards.

The prevalence and prosperity of digitally engaged customers

The top three digital priorities of data-first financial services companies in the next two years include customer interaction (77%), operations (69%), and sales and marketing (68%), according to a 2022 Broadridge survey.

Faced with growing negative perception from customers who feel misunderstood or disconnected, financial institutions risk increased customer churn. While 78% of bank customers surveyed by J.D. Power would continue using their bank if they received personalized support, only 44% of banks are actually delivering it, according to J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study.

Building a strong marketing analytics and first-party data backbone will arguably be a digital finance marketing leader’s most valued asset to adapt to change.

There’s a lot at stake for the future of traditional financial institutions. Customers who receive personalized bank offers across multiple channels are more than three-times as likely to accept, compared to those receiving offers via a single channel, according to McKinsey research.

For banks, insurers, and other institutions to compete in this changing landscape, they need to modernize how they collect, analyze, and activate their customers’ data to personalize customer experiences while improving their ability to scale to growth.

Building a security-centric customer data platform

Supporting end-to-end journeys, a customer data platform (CDP) can help financial firms use their customer data as a strategic asset.

Gartner defines a CDP* as “a marketing technology that unifies a company’s customer data from marketing and other channels to enable customer modeling and to optimize the timing and targeting of messages and offers.”

CDPs can help financial institutions address their data challenges in three main ways:

  • Collecting decentralized data to create unified, 360-degree customer profiles and data views

  • Analyzing the data through smart segmentation and AI/ML generated insights 

  • Activating real-time, cross-channel personalized experiences

A privacy- and customer-centric CDP solution typically covers data centralization, analysis, decision making, and activation on a secure data platform. The platform can enable hyper-personalization, more effective marketing analytics, accelerated innovation, and customized direct-to-customer experiences. 

Essentially, this focus on the customer empowers the business with the data they need to do their jobs more effectively. That data becomes a ready vehicle to democratize AI, allowing non-technical business analysts and marketers to more easily take advantage of machine-learning models that provide more detailed and targeted consumer insights.

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Given the global reach and needs of many financial firms and their customers, a CDP quickly comes to rely on the maximum of agility, scale, and resilience possible. That’s where CDP solutions built and hosted on cloud-based infrastructure and tools come in, particularly when augmented with serverless products and services to boost their scalability and resiliency. 

Cloud-based components also provide robust built-in privacy protections and fine-grained security controls to support the security and regulatory compliance needs of financial institutions. Security principles should focus on a secure-by-design infrastructure, where data is encrypted by default, at rest and in transit, ensuring that it can only be accessed by authorized roles and services. Crucially, financial services firms will want to work with a cloud provider that guarantees the firms maintain control of their data, and not the cloud company.

Once data is in a secure, cloud-based data warehouse, then the cutting edge work really begins. With the data sourced, stored, and sorted, financial institutions can tap into AI and machine learning applications to gain fresh insights and build automated actions. 

A key feature of AI platforms like Google Cloud’s Vertex AI is that it offers one unified experience for both data scientists and non-technical business analysts and marketers—giving the entire organization the ability to create, deploy, and manage models faster and at scale. Another important feature for financial services is built-in “explainability,” or the ability to demonstrate the “why” behind models and predictions. Explainability helps support the financial institution’s risk and security teams controls and their regulatory compliance.

Insights from customer data can help financial institutions predict churn, determine lifetime value, and drive the next best actions that can help maximize benefits for both the customer and the company.

Start delighting your customers

The rise of challenger banks and digital leaders is transforming customer expectations as financial services become increasingly agile and personalized. Retail banking and insurance firms need to find more opportunities to impress and delight their customers. 

Thanks to technology, each interaction is a chance for financial institutions to learn more about their customers and grow into trusted partners. CDPs can empower financial services brands to achieve deeper customer understanding, and unlock and activate insights that deliver higher levels of engagement.

Financial institutions have a unique opportunity to turn their customer data into a strategic brand-building asset—and ultimately create more personalized, compelling experiences for a new generation of loyal customers.

To learn more about how data-driven strategies can transform your organization—and so much more—read our white paper on how cloud is transforming the financial services value chain with a data-driven, data-first strategy.


*Gartner IT Glossary, Customer Data Platform as on 31st August 2022

Gartner is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

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