Breakfast & Brainfood: All change?

Change has been a big topic of conversation at Vested recently. Not just because our industry is ever-evolving, but because here at Vested we know that change – in business terms, and in terms of our audiences’ behaviour – can be a daunting thought.

So we wanted to dig into what drives change, what it means, and how we can tap into the mechanics of change to drive awareness, engagement and action within our audiences. 

This is why we are launching Vested Change; a new proposition to help our clients navigate changing audience beliefs and behaviours, changing business environments, and changing industries through marketing communications. 

And so yesterday morning, we held the latest of our London Breakfast and Brainfood events, titled: ‘All Change?’. On our expert panel were our Change Agents: behavioural psychologist Simon Moore; futurist William Higham; and strategic forecaster, Paul Flatters – who we’ve been working with to really get under the skin of change.

The discussion opened with Paul Flatters noting that one key issue will be dealing with the challenges of an aging population, given the number of elderly people over the  age of 80 living alone is expected to double within the five to ten year time frame – and what this means more broadly in terms of housing, intergenerational wealth and health.

And whilst it seems obvious and an often discussed topic: how many brands are really prepared for the opportunities and challenges it will present for them?

According to futurist William Higham, the uncertain times we are living in are really shaping how the medium-term horizon will play out. What’s more, changing attitudes in long-established consumer societies are indicating that we may be moving away from consumerism, towards community-based societies. Of these changing values, William explained, “I hate using the terms ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘zeitgeist’ – but we are seeing a paradigm shift, and we are looking at a new zeitgeist.” 

Behavioural psychologist Simon Moore’s proposition was that modern life is now a question of capacity. From the perspective of marketing and communications professionals, this means we must be wary of all of the proverbial plates that our audiences are spinning in their lives, and the fact they have no space for more ‘plates’. “The key is to understand their needs, and figure out what will motivate them to throw off one of your competitor’s plates and start spinning yours,” he explained.

The underlying message for marketing and communications professionals? When it comes to our audiences, we’re competing for headspace.

Today’s Breakfast and Brainfood offered a wealth of insight, both from our experts and our industry peers who attended. The topics explored are all things we will be  delving deeper into – not least because so many guests said we’d need to do a few more of these events to carry on the conversation. So thank you to our experts and to those who attended! We look forward to seeing you next time… 


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The Business Case for Increasing Your Social Media Presence

As we kick off a new year, are you debating whether your company should spend more time on social media? Whether you have experimented with social and digital channels in the past or you are just getting started, there are plenty of benefits to having a more robust social presence.

You might be unsure about prioritizing social media over other business matters, but what if I told you that increasing your social presence could help solve some of these problems as well? From growing your website traffic to informing your product development, social media has become a one-stop shop for many business needs.

With the world becoming more connected every day, it has never been easier to find and engage with your target customers. But, don’t just take my word for it. In their “State of Social” report for 2019, Buffer found that 73% of businesses found social media to be “somewhat effective” to “very effective” for their marketing efforts.

However, if you are still on the fence, here are three more reasons why your company should increase its social media presence in 2020:

More People Are Spending More Time on Social Platforms

Though there are still only 24 hours in the day, many Americans are spending more of those hours on social media. According to GlobalWebIndex, Americans spend roughly 2 hours and 6 minutes a day on social, with even higher usage rates among young people. Globally, 16-24 year olds spend over 3 hours a day using social media.

But social media isn’t just fun and games. An increasing number of Americans use social media for their news, finding new products, and discovering career opportunities. According to a Pew Research Center report released October 2, 2019, 54% of Americans are getting their news from social media, with the primary source being Facebook followed by YouTube and Twitter.

When it comes to product discovery, 60% of Instagram users and 77% of Pinterest users reported finding a new product while using the platform. In aggregate, Kleiner Perkins reported that 55% of consumers eventually bought a product after discovering it through social channels.

Lastly, when it comes to career opportunities, LinkedIn is the social platform of choice for B2B marketers, with 89% of them utilizing it for their marketing efforts. While people spend less time on LinkedIn than some other platforms, according to Kinsta 40% of LinkedIn’s users still utilize the site daily.

Whether you are going B2B or B2C, you need to follow your customers. Fortunately, we know that your customers are increasingly on social media.

Social Media is Cost-Effective for Finding Your Ideal Customer

With the rise of social, it has never been easier to find your ideal customer. Before the precision of social media, you had to run advertisements to large audiences in hopes of overlapping with your core demographic, but not anymore. Now, many social platforms allow you to target individuals based on age, education, and/or geography, among other factors.

This kind of targeting has been used extensively by both B2C and B2B marketing teams. According to SmartInsights, Facebook is the most used social network for B2C marketers, with 94% of B2C businesses surveyed reported as using it, while LinkedIn was the most popular among B2B marketers with a 90% reported usage rate.

More importantly though, among paid social marketing efforts, the most common goal for B2B and B2C companies was the same—increased lead generation. Unfortunately, measuring the ROI on social efforts continues to be challenging industry wide. As Social Media Today wrote, “Even though many can’t quantify the exact impact, most marketers believe social tactics help their business.”

Fortunately, we do have some data to support this statement. A survey by DemandWare found that 62% of B2B marketers using LinkedIn were able to generate leads from their social marketing efforts, which was over 1.5 times higher than the percentage of B2B marketers that generated leads from Facebook, the next highest lead generation platform.

Social media has given businesses the power to find customers in a way that they never could have previously, but the benefits don’t end there…

Social Media is Increasingly Used to Build Trust and Inform Product Development

After finding your ideal customer, you can also use social media to gain their trust and utilize their feedback to improve your product. Social media is particularly effective at this because it allows you to provide an intimate experience for your customers that alternative forms of marketing cannot provide.

2018 report by Edelman found that social media marketing was most useful for brand discovery and for making customers fall in love with your brand. Unfortunately, the report also found that social media can make customers fall out of love with your brand if the messaging isn’t consistent, so make sure your efforts are high quality.

When it comes to collecting feedback to inform product development, social has a leg up on other channels because it allows customers to feel like their voices will be heard. Whether you are collecting feedback in one-on-one conversations or searching through user comments on your product posts, the intimacy of social media provides a useful window into how your company is perceived by its customers.

What’s Stopping You?

With over 90% of U.S. companies utilizing social media marketing, it’s well past time to join the revolution. Increasing your social media presence is a win-win for you and your customers. You get to find them, engage with them, build trust, and inform your product development all at the same time. But if regulation is a concern, we have tips for that, too

Recent Case Studies

The Rise of Contactless: A Penny for your Thoughts?

Did you know that half of all debit card payments in the UK are now contactless?

For Londoners, perhaps, this is no surprise – given that your morning coffee (an oat milk latte to go, please!) from the small van outside the tube station, your cramped morning commute and your supermarket meal deal can now all be paid for through contactless. Indeed, I wonder how many of the transactions were accompanied by a sheepish proclamation of “It’s so easy to spend like this!” as that now-familiar beep marks that the transaction has gone through. And if you’re spending with your contactless-enabled smart phone or watch, you receive a notification almost instantly, with a summary of the transaction to help you see where the money is going.

When it comes to spending, contactless is not the only innovation transforming how we manage our money. For example, Facebook Messenger-based Cleo – which hails itself as an intelligent assistant for your money –  helps individuals track their categorised spending habits, and mobile apps like Plum and Moneybox round up your small change and save it automatically for you.

These can make spending more efficient and more transparent and build up all important savings pots too.

Ease and convenience is behind the considerable boon for contactless technology – evidenced by two thirds of UK adults now plumping to use contactless payments. In fact, with 124 million debit and credit cards in circulation across the UK being contactless-capable, this technology  has fast become standard. So normalised is cashless spending that even Monopoly has done away with its notes in favour of tappable cards.

The rise of this next-generation card payment technology and its increasing normality seems to be tipping the scales towards a more cash-independent society – but this is by no means the demise of cash. Barclays recently announced it would cease to offer cash withdrawal services through local post office, but considerable backlash following the announcement saw Barclays u-turn on the decision. Still, there is a tectonic shift happening across the UK’s retail banking landscape: more than a third of the UK’s physical bank branches have closed since 2015.

From a business perspective, the overheads of bank branches and cash withdrawal services are more expensive than online banking and cashless spending. But cashless living does not suit everyone, and financial services providers have a responsibility to cater to all.

Personally, I withdraw cash on a barely-monthly basis, and typically rely on ApplePay. Instead of a purse, I carry a card holder in which loose change is a bulky inconvenience. I know plenty of people who share this sentiment, but I wonder how much cash you’ve got in your purse or wallet right now, and what constitutes your ‘normal’? Are you a connoisseur of contactless? A chip and pin devotee? Or, when it comes to spending your money, is cash still king?

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Is Fintech the Answer to Banking the World’s Unbanked?

Working with the financial services sector, it can be easy in my day-to-day life to not notice that there are parts of society our sprawling industry doesn’t touch. But, of course, there are. And for those who are excluded from mainstream financial services, the implications are challenging.

On my walk home from Finsbury Park station most evenings, I walk under a bridge where I will normally pass about eight of the UK’s 320,000 homeless people. Beyond a little cash, toiletries, a few bottles of water and some food, there is sadly little that passers-by can do to support them. We look to institutions – namely, the government – to address the problem, to pull up its deep-set roots and find solutions. And while the government surely has a part to play in finding a solution, financial services firms are recognizing their role and starting to step up too.

This City A.M. article from last week, spotlights fintechs as the potential silver bullet for the UK’s unbanked population. According to the FCA, there are just shy of 1.3 million adults in the UK who do not have a bank account, of which the 320,000 homeless individuals make up a significant portion. For those who are homeless, setting up a bank account is a challenge, as it generally requires a fixed address and ID.

HSBC recently put forward an initiative that looks to overcome this hurdle, enabling homeless individuals to open a bank account using an address registered to Shelter, a UK homelessness charity. Fintech Monzo is also allowing a friend or Shelter’s address to be used to open a bank account, and is running a campaign called #NoBarriersToBanking to drive awareness.

The importance of these initiatives cannot be overstated. Not having a bank account can make it harder to get a job, or to receive benefits. It can halt the process of finding somewhere to live – because how do you pay to live there? What’s more, not having a bank account can mean bills become up to £485 more expensive each year.

Bank accounts are key to social mobility, globally. And, reassuringly, the world’s unbanked population is dropping – from 2 billion adults in 2014, to 1.7 billion in 2017. One country making strides towards banking its unbanked population is India, whose government-led Aadhaar scheme assigns each citizen with a 12-digit biometric identification code, which can in turn be linked to a bank account. Now, 1.2 billion of India’s 1.3 billion citizens have an Aadhaar code.

But it’s not only governments and financial institutions that are leading the charge in extending banking services and supporting the world’s unbanked populations. In 2007, telecoms, Vodafone, SafariCom and Vodacom launched M-Pesa,a mobile based microfinancing service through which users can send and receive money, in Kenya and Tanzania. Since then, it has expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India and Albania. Kenya alone has over 17mn registered M-Pesa accounts – and the United Nations’ ‘Financing for Developments’ paper credits the expansion of mobile money for lifting two percent of households in the country above the poverty line.

Financial inclusion is not exclusively about reaching the unbanked. It also asks how the financial services industry can better serve the underbanked, too. Research suggests that 10-12 million UK adults struggle to access affordable credit, which can trap them in a cycle of taking unaffordable loans which, in the long term,  considerably deprecates their finances and stability. As the City A.M. piece suggested, Fintechs – with more agility and flexibility than a lot of banking behemoths – could hold a sizable chunk of the answer. But the responsibility to objectively assess and address issues with financial inclusivity is not theirs alone. Financial services, along with governments – and even corporates, in the innovative case of M-Pesa – all have a part to play. When there are so many lives to be changed for the better, it’s imperative that we, as an industry and a society, support these initiatives.

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A day in the #VestedLife with Jenny Dellupo

6:30 a.m.: I wake up a bit earlier than usual today because I’m attending a breakfast briefing with  Financial News. I flick through the headlines, feed my cat O’Connor, get ready and start walking to London Bridge.

8:00 a.m.: I meet another Vestie at the event where we grab some breakfast and chat to the other attendees before the briefing begins. Making new connections is part of our job but these events are also a great way to meet professionals from the industry.

10:00 a.m.: I get to my desk and start making my way through my emails. I go on Qwoted, our tech platform that connects journalists looking for insights and experts ready to comment, to scan for comment opportunities for my clients, and send relevant ones across. I then make my first lemon juice and hot water of the day before getting back to my client work.

12:30 p.m.: After following up with some journalists for an upcoming client launch and pitching another client’s latest research paper to broadcast producers, it’s time for lunch. I warm up my homemade pasta bake and sit on the sofas to eat with some of the team.

4 p.m.: This afternoon I’m writing a comment on fintechs and taking a couple of client calls. At 4 p.m., it’s time for my afternoon snack or, as we call it in French, my “goûter.” I go for a few M&Ms from the Vested snack bar, a cookie and another cup of lemon juice. I jump on a call with the team in New York to go over the priority actions for one of our clients that spans UK and US markets before contacting a journalist in France for an exclusive interview on SFTR.

6 p.m.: It’s time to wrap up and head to my gym in Tower Hill where I do anti-gravity aerial yoga, suspended in the air by a hammock.

8 p.m.: After the gym, I walk home and call my mother in France to catch up on things at home. When I get back to my flat, I find my cat waiting for his second food pouch of the day, so I feed him and cook myself a meal too. Once we’re fed, I settle in front of the TV to watch The Politician with my flatmate.

11:30 p.m.: I do a final check of my phone before turning off the light and rest before another full day at Vested.

Check out other days in the lives of our employees!
A day in the #VestedLife with Kris Lam
A day in the #VestedLife with Millie Graham: Caffeine and katsu fanatic
Binna Kim: Powering Through Money20/20 Like a Boss

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What About These New Financial Ventures From Google and Facebook?

My article last month took up China’s efforts with digital money and banking.  I confess that I enjoyed mocking some of the tech media for suggesting that Beijing’s new digital yuan or central bank digital currency (CBDC) had somehow stolen a march on the United States and the West in general.  Far from “leapfrogging” the West, as some suggested, China’s effort looked more like catch up for the digital arrangements long since developed by private actors around western currencies. As if to confirm this perspective, Google and Facebook recently announced deals in digital money and payments facilities that enrich the dollar’s already existing and extensive digital arrangements.

Google says that it will offer checking.  The arrangements will include partners Citibank and a small credit union at Stanford University, which evidently has historical links to many Google employees.  Citibank will, of course, provide all the technical and operational support. Google will effectively market the digital checking arrangements under its name. Facebook aims to enter the payments services world.  This venture, which by the way is entirely separate from Facebook’s Calibra Wallet and Libra network, also has partners, mostly credit card companies who had walked away from Libra but seem committed to providing the technological and operations platform for Facebook’s payments offering.

These arrangements build on an immense complex of networks, systems, and applications that have over time almost completely digitized the use of money in this country and the developed world generally. 

They add yet another layer onto the layers and layers of digitization that have already occurred in this country, Japan, Europe, and a few other paces and certainly have nothing that needs to fear China’s digital yuan.  Quite the contrary to some media claims, it is China that is playing catchup. But if these and other tech-associated financial arrangements have long since outstripped China’s digital plans, it is fair to ask, what is it that the parties to these two new ventures hope to gain from them.  Of course, no one, either at Facebook or Google or their more conventional but still technologically advanced partners has made such a statement, it nonetheless seems clear that the profit propositions involved have less to do with pushing back frontiers – of technology or finance – and more to do with enhancing the way each partner has long made money.

For Citibank and the credit card companies involved respectively with Google and Facebook, the arrangements allow them to leverage their already existing facilities with a new range of customers that they might not otherwise have acquired.  The mystique of technology and the connection to one of the leading firms carrying that mystique promises to bring in people who otherwise would never have graced a Citibank or MasterCard account application, even those fully digitized. Since Citibank and the credit card partners have already largely incurred the costs of the necessary technological and operational infrastructure – checking in one instance, payments in another – the market expansion promised in these prospective ventures speak to almost pure profit.  In this, Citibank could be described a stealing a digital march on JP Morgan, which uses many more brick and mortar branches in gathering customers.

This leverage, no doubt, was exactly why Goldman Sachs has already partnered with Apple to run the tech giant’s new credit card.  Given such motivation, it does seem strange that Goldman objected so strenuously to Apple’s marketing claims that the card was “designed by Apple, not a bank.”  The claim, of course, is nonsense. The Apple card works just like other cards, and with Goldman behind it is supported in conventional ways. If Goldman’s complaint got to the truth, it nonetheless worked against its interests in partnering with Apple in the first place.  It wanted the tech mystique and so should have happily taken a back seat. In the Google and Facebook deals, no one has suggested downplaying the identities of the partners, and indeed Google promises to place Citibank prominently on the venture’s marketing materials. But given the purposes of Citibank and Facebook’s credit card partners, they, too, should happily take a back seat to the tech face selling their capabilities.

As for Google and Facebook, their profit proposition has long been advertising and salable data.  Especially the latter is the motivation here. The arrangements surrounding these partnerships promise a proverbial goldmine.  Knowing to whom people are making payments, whether in checks, wire transfers, or credit cards, is something for which vendors will pay handsomely.  To be sure, both Google and Facebook separately have assured all – including regulatory bodies – that they will scrupulously protect the privacy of their customers.  No doubt, given the history, some will voice skepticism about whether these firms will do that. But they do not need to violate people’s privacy to glean a treasure trove of salable materials on developing buying trends, for instance, regionally, by zip code, or even by neighborhood.  And this valuable array of information concerns only the most obvious sources of salable data.

Simply because everyone’s interest rests on long-established avenues for profits, that is no reason to dismiss these ventures and others like them as falling short of technology’s promise.  The fact that these firms have a reason to work together offers promise in itself, if not an especially well defined one. Much economic research, in both academia and especially at the Federal Reserve Board, suggests that such collaborations, just by exposing different players to technologies and alternative perspectives often result in applications that neither party envisioned when they first began to work together.  These ventures, whether between Google and Citibank, Apple and Goldman, Facebook and credit card platforms, hint, even if it cannot guarantee, that new and more revolutionary ways of moving money and wealth will emerge, even if those next steps cannot be characterized as revolutionary.

More from our Chief Economist:
A digital Yuan?
Ex-Fed President advises Fed to self-destruct
Robots: Love them or loathe them?


Recent Case Studies

2020: What’s your vision?

A little over a year ago, our UK CEO wrote a piece on the communications trends capturing our attention and imagination. At Vested, we like to be ahead of the curve, whilst maintaining a firm grasp on the best of the past and present too. It seems that last year’s blog was pretty popular and as we’ve just entered 2020 and a new decade, here’s our view on what’s going to have an impact for financial marketers and their audiences as we enter the roaring twenties!

Know your customer(s)

For us, the importance of some things never changes. Audiences are one of those unmoving things and our focus is always on reaching the right audiences and motivating them. Being audience-centric isn’t a trend that’s going to change – it’s a foundation of what we do. But, that said, we can’t ignore the fact that what excites audiences and gets their attention does change. Know Your Customer (KYC) is now embedded within the financial services industry but as a basic principle, it has much to offer to comms and marketing professionals too. We can’t build strategies and identify the opportunities until we have a clear idea of who we’re trying to reach, what they think, what influences them and how they make decisions.

Whether you have 20 or 2020 customers you’re trying to reach, getting under their skin is crucial to delivering success and we know that knowing your customer even better is something all marketers want to achieve this year.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Let’s keep it simple, connections are emotional. And as financial marketers, we’re usually trying to convey rational messages! It’s emotions that connect us; love, hate, excitement, ego, the list goes on. Brands need to elicit an emotional reaction to build connections, but they need to be authentic to make them real. It’s not easy! However, businesses can be authentic by taking the inside to the outside. As consumers (and shareholders) demand to see the true face of the brands they buy from, what’s increasingly more important is what’s on the inside. Culture, vision and a great team will be central to the brands that drive success in 2020.

Confidence in a ‘crisis’

The threat of a crisis can be more damaging to the consumer psyche and spend than a crisis itself. How much of a crisis will Brexit be when it happens? Or has the countdown to Brexit done more damage? When will we next enter a bear market again? When will the corporate debt bubble burst? To what extent will the China/US trade war lead to a slowing of large global economies? The threat of the unknown, endless negative possibilities and constant change makes people and businesses feel uncertain. And making decisions when we’re uncertain is hard, so how can brands instill confidence? Does everybody have four or five stars on TrustPilot now? It comes back to more basic human emotions – personal interactions, networks, and recommendations. “I’ve heard of you”, “so and so recommended you”, “I’ve seen you here” … how often have we all said and felt these things as a part of buying processes. It matters; the power is personal. Building personal connections and driving emotive reactions will enable brands to connect with their audiences this year.

Where do you think 2020 will take us? What’s your 2020 vision? Share them with us on Twitter (@vested) and Linkedin

Recent Case Studies

The influence of brand on Christmas spending behaviour

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… And it’s also the time when our purses are pinched and our credit cards stretched. Christmas has always been expensive, but as we reach the end of this decade, we can reflect on the ever-growing influence that brands have on our spending behaviour at this time of year.

Black Friday

In a tradition which has boomed over the last ten years, US retailers have been slashing prices on the Friday after Thanksgiving since the 1950s. Amazon first offered these sales to UK customers in 2010 and on both sides of the Atlantic, almost every retailer now offers extended Black Friday sales. These are followed by pre-Christmas sales, a day of respite (Christmas Day) and then Boxing Day and January sales, meaning that for a solid two month period there are online and in-store bargains to be bagged. By using nudge techniques, native advertising, ‘exclusive’ codes and pop-up notifications which indicate that items are available for a limited time only, brands push consumers into making purchases without shopping around, comparing deals and considering whether they actually need the item.

Big budget TV adverts

From the end of October, commercial breaks on TV are filled with big-budget adverts from all kinds of brands – and they seem to get bigger and better every year.

According to a Retail Research report, UK retailers spent £6.8bn on this year’s theatrical treats, with the aim of connecting with customers, telling emotive stories around what Christmas is all about – and ultimately, helping them to hit their aggressive sales targets by encouraging spending.

Over time, they have become a British institution; we share, discuss and dissect each hotly anticipated advert every year, declaring that ‘it isn’t Christmas until I’ve heard the Coca Cola music’. They paint a perfect picture and create a sense that ‘unless you have all of these things on Christmas Day, it won’t feel like Christmas’.

“Let’s just do it, it’s Christmas”

It’s well documented that we’re increasingly driven by experience – and this ramps up at Christmas. From work parties, dinners with friends, pantomimes, carol services, and trips to European Christmas markets, we typically do more in December. And brands play an important role in influencing our decision making around this. The presence of brands on social media – both on their own channels and through influencers – highlight the experiences that other people are having and encourage consumers to book tickets, buy experiences and share them themselves, so they don’t miss out.

The influence of brands on our Christmas spending intensifies every year, with increasing pressure to have fun, splash the cash and treat ourselves. But with some brands now starting to take a stand against consumerism, are we transitioning into a new era? For example, Swedish men’s clothing brand ASKET shut down its website on Black Friday this year, with an error messaging reading “If we continue consuming at the level we are now, we will need a dozen planets to make ends meet… Today – Black Friday – kicks off another celebration of hyper-consumption for a short-lived material satisfaction.”
Let’s see where the next ten years take us, but in the meantime, I’m off to buy some Baileys – I saw it on a TV advert last night!

Recent blog posts:
Content isn’t just for Christmas
A Digital Yuan?
Why economists need English majors

Recent Case Studies

Content isn’t just for Christmas

We hosted another event in our Breakfast & Brainfood series this morning, looking at how we can create content with impact in financial services. Chairing the discussion amongst Clare Allen, EMEA Content Director at the Financial Times, Catherine Maskell, Managing Director of the Content Marketing Association, and Simon Hodge, Audience Communication Director at Morningstar, enabled me to bring up the kinds of questions and topics that as a team we debate endlessly. Discussion today explored themes around what makes good content, measurement, keeping audiences front of mind at all times, and creativity in financial services.

Consensus in the room confirmed that having an audience-first approach is fundamental to good content; regardless of what a brand wants to say, all content must deliver genuine value and be interesting to the end audience. Covering something some might perceive as ‘boring’ is ok too, if it appeals and helps your audience.

Businesses spend huge amounts of time and resources creating and distributing content, so understanding its success is key.

Our panelists talked about objective setting and the importance of remembering to innovate; it’s easy to keep the same measurements once a robust method is in place, but this can stifle innovation and deter us from doing things differently. Having a different perspective of what success is, pivots the metrics that are needed.

Applying creativity to financial services content was acknowledged as a challenge across the industry, but one that passionate communicators are always working hard to move the dial on. The key driver for creativity is bravery – as the panelists said, you can be more creative and forceful if you’re ok with the fact that it may have a short term impact on the bottom line. When integrity sits at the heart of the content and its creativity, it works and stays true to brand.

Questions from the floor challenged our panelists for their advice for the next decade; they warned against underestimating the strength of integrity and reiterated the importance of focusing on the long term rather than being reactive and jumping on thematic bandwagons while being mindful that things will change. As Bill Gates famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next five or ten.”

Closing remarks from the panelists reminded us of the importance of story-doing as well as story-telling. We should always be sense-checking whether the themes and topics we’re exploring resonate with the values which sit at the heart of the business. If they don’t come from an authentic place, content simply won’t stick, and while it may drive awareness, it won’t go the full length of the marketing funnel down through to consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. When we’re working with our clients to develop content strategies, we always ask ourselves what their purpose is and how far we can stretch it before we turn people off.  After all, content isn’t just for Christmas, it can be a powerful marketing tool if it’s executed properly, authentically and with longevity.

Recent Case Studies

A Digital Yuan?

A few weeks ago, media outlets – especially tech-oriented organs – became agitated about an announcement from China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC).  Its spokespeople told the world that the PBOC intends to launch the world’s first central-bank-directed digital currency, CBDC. Many western commentators in response followed the lead of tech CEO Jeremy Allaire, who described the planned currency move as a breakthrough and speculated that the CBDC would “internationalize” the yuan and perhaps allow it to gain global dominance over the dollar.  This is all hype. China has done something considerably less momentous with the CBDC than popular descriptions imply. The digital yuan embodies little new and appears to aim less at unseating the dollar as the world’s premier international currency than in securing domestic control.

First on the list of things that are not new is the structure of this digital unit.  Unlike bitcoin and other cyber currencies, China’s CBDC will be tied to the yuan. Spokespeople for the new unit claim, correctly, that it will make this digital currency more stable than others.  It will also make it exactly like other national currencies. The man in charge of the project, Central Bank Deputy Director Mu Changchun, also described a two-tiered system for the distribution of the digital unit.  The central bank, he explained, would issue the currency but it would channel the unit to the public through licensed commercial banks and what he described as “operating institutions.”

Rather than something new, this is precisely how every country in the world channels money and liquidity into their financial systems. 

The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Banks of England and Japan, and all others issue reserves and license commercial banks to decimate money to the public as a strict multiple of those reserves. All monies are tied to central bank reserves, just as Deputy Director Mu proudly claimed for the CBDC.

If the PBOC’s system for distributing the digital unit is conventional in the extreme, neither is its digital nature especially revolutionary.  Most currencies in the world have long been mostly digital for decades. Reserves at all major central banks are digital as are people’s accounts at commercial banks and other financial institutions.  Account holders have the option of using paper checks and paper money, but debit cards have long made transactions entirely digital, everywhere in the world, increasingly through electronic wallets at which the PBOC aims with its CBDC.

Nor do the claims – or perhaps it is fears – of the imminent “internationalization” of the yuan seem realistic, on the basis of the CBDC or otherwise.  Jeremy Allaire and the columnists who echo him point out that a digital unit could transact business anywhere in the world and so presumably steal a march on other, less digital currencies.  Of course, the capabilities of the technology are irrefutable and have been for years, as most major currencies have been digital for years. Any digitized unit could be used for transactions anywhere in the world, at least as long as there is an Internet connection.  Even though the dollar, the euro, sterling, the yen, are not wholly digital they could have accomplished such an “internationalization” decades ago within the long-established system, if, that is, it were a matter of technology only. But technology is far from the whole story.  Law, convention, and convenience matter too.

Several countries, including the United States, have laws about what currency can be used to settle transactions domestically.  Legislation allows people to barter and settle transactions in bitcoin and the like, but not in a foreign currency. Most wholesalers and retailers in this country and nations with similar laws would resist any push to settle in any currency but their own.  Even where such laws do not interfere, producers and merchants across the globe will hesitate to adopt the yuan (or any other foreign currency) however digitally convenient it is. They, after all, have recurring liabilities in their local currency – rent, payroll, inventory costs, that sort of thing.  Even if they were bullied into yuan-based transactions, they would, if they were prudent, quickly convert the yuan into local currency, effectively doing the conversion for their customer after the sale rather that the customary practice of asking the buyer to convert currency before the sale.

Since China’s leadership in Beijing knows all this, it clearly has purposes other than global dominance for the CBDC.  History says that its objective is domestic control. The Communist Party objects to Chinese people and businesses doing any transaction over which it lacks control or, at the very least, oversight.  It has banned bitcoin and similar cyber currencies because they would thwart that desire for complete oversight and control. Paper currency, however, remains a problem for the authorities in this regard.  It enables people and businesses to make anonymous transactions and also allows them to move money out of the country without the knowledge of the PBOC or the Communist Party. No doubt China’s leadership believes (hopes?) that the CBDC will tempt the Chinese to give up on paper currency and go digital.  Once that is done, the authorities will indeed have complete control and oversight. It is this rather mundane but significant police matter, more than hopes of global dominance that lies behind the CBDC.

Meanwhile, businesses in the West continue to digitize their practices, a subject that next month’s paper will highlight with a discussion for new ventures by Google and Facebook (no, not Libra).

More on the Vested blog:
Why economists need English majors
When it comes to ESG, it’s all about ownership and engagement
The rise of contactless: a penny for your thoughts?

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