By Daniela Luz Laurel
I am often so embedded in financial markets, corporate decision makers (often concerned with “where is the money”), and economists that I do not get enough exposure from people in other fields, specifically from the brand and sales sides of things.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, I hosted a lovely event, the 16th Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards and Summit wherein the focus was giving recognition to young talent in areas like marketing innovations, brand marketing, service marketing, and even advocacy marketing. I had thought that it would be an event highlighting creativity and the ability for this to translate into sales of a product or service, but it was much more than that; it highlighted the brains of millennials, their needs, their habits, their concerns, especially in such strange COVID times. It made me realize that people stuck in the financial archetype would do well to step out of that bubble and take advice, not simply from people in the marketing field but from young people, many of whom are just getting started.
My first takeaway from the Tuesday session which awarded the likes of Drew Alianan of Northridge Foods, Jan de Leon of the Dr. Carl E. Balita Review Center, Cherrie Atilano of Agrea, Kim Lato of Kimstore Enterprise, Marvin Tiu Lim of Mega Sardines, and Mariel Chavez of Procter & Gamble, was this line from Jan de Leon: “adapt or die.” I was taken aback by that statement, which has much weight in the financial industry as well. He basically said, there is no perfect time wherein a product or service will serve the needs of the customer; the time is now, and the time to be agile is today.
When I think of how to apply this to the financial industry, I think, in which areas must we adapt? Digitization definitely comes to mind, but way beyond this, the focus on the customer, on the changing needs we have because of this new normal. Make it easier for us, make things more transparent, or we will change product, company, or service. In the world of marketing, it’s so easy to make a switch to a competitor. In the world of finance, it is not the case. There are a lot of layers that go beyond brand loyalty that leave the power with the financial institutions rather than with the customer. As such, there does not seem to be this same urgency to adapt. But this will eventually catch up to the ones who put it off for too long.
Another point of this adapt story is the idea that while technology matters, there needs to be a balance between technology and humanity, something we in the finance industry must keep in mind. Another strong realization that comes to mind when I reflect on “adapt or die” is the sustainability issue. Sure, retail investors may have other things on their minds right now that do not put environmental, social, or governance issues on the forefront when they think about where to put their money, at least here in the Philippines. But elsewhere in the world, this is no longer a debate, this is the way of life. And it is only a matter of time before investments in non-environmentally friendly practices, in inhumane labor practices, in gender-discriminatory practices, will dry out, and as such these firms will die; anticipating this by adapting and providing tools and products that cater to the next generations’ concerns will save the institution and sector.
A second takeaway from these marketing stars, is a statement from Kim Lato, who said that the most successful people are those who do not wait for opportunities but make the best out of the current scenarios. This seems like an obvious and straightforward statement but in finance it actually is not. There are many moving parts in investing that make everything first pre-determined and calculated. Just look at the fundraisings and IPOs; many are delayed for years on end, many investments get shelved, simply because the timing was not right. Yet more investors, including people like us who are retail investors, are extremely risk averse, always thinking of the right time when and where to put their hard-earned money: Can I afford a loan? Should I buy instead of rent? Finance is much more calculating, much less intuitive than marketing, the latter which looks at failures on a daily basis and has the solution of continuously rebranding. I wonder whether we need to innovate the sector such that people are able to seize investment opportunities today rather than have to keep waiting for the perfect time, which will never come.
And finally, Mariel Chavez advised everyone to ask themselves specific questions when working on a branding project, of which the one that stuck with me the most is “Does it feel right?” She said that brand building is never formulaic; instead, it is a combination of data and instinct. Just as human needs and tastes change, so must the numbers based on research and studies be taken into a human context. I touched upon this slightly in my last couple of columns where I had reflected on whether credit scoring still makes sense in this pandemic environment, which, in my opinion, it does not. It is not all data, much of it has to be ad-hoc today, much of it must be instinct.
When we think about how the financial sector must evolve in the future to serve society’s needs, perhaps we should think like the young marketers and ask ourselves whenever we release a product or service to a consumer, whenever we score, whenever we price, whenever we offer, to ask ourselves beyond the numbers, beyond the old practices: Does it feel right?
Daniela “Danie” Luz Laurel is a business journalist and anchor-producer of BusinessWorld Live on One News, formerly Bloomberg TV Philippines. Prior to this, she was a permanent professor of Finance at IÉSEG School of Management in Paris and maintains teaching affiliations at IÉSEG and the Ateneo School of Government. She has also worked as an investment banker in The Netherlands. Ms. Laurel holds a Ph.D. in Management Engineering with concentrations in Finance and Accounting from the Politecnico di Milano in Italy and an MBA from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.