FTTea with Cokie: Customized Banking

Hi y’all, Cokie here! 

Today, I’m fortunate enough to be joined by Sufi Sidhu, Co-Founder and CPO at Otomo. We met a few months ago on what was supposed to be a 30 minute call, but quickly turned into 2+ hours because we’re so passionate about the same things.

While we have discussed luxury loungewear ad nauseum, we’re going to focus on customized banking today (please inquire within for pajama recommendations). 

Hi everyone, this is Sufi at Otomo. “Customized banking” or “contextual banking” is a fancy way of saying the customer is served with individual consideration. If you missed Cokie’s piece in September on this topic, I highly recommend you pause and take a read here. As consumers of products like Netflix, Spotify, or Amazon, this is a commonplace concept that we may not give much thought; these platforms are able to keep up with our unique and changing preferences through a tailored digital experience. My Spotify account somehow manages to transpose my whiplash inducing preferences—be it a foray into jazz, or the need to relive a hip hop mixtape I made in high school—into a cohesive playlist, week after week. That’s because Spotify recognizes three important things: 

  1. I’m a unique snowflake ❄️🙋🏻‍♀️

  2. I’m different even from myself from day to day or month to month

  3. Serving me as an individual means I make myself at home on your platform (read: customer entrenchment, a strong competitive moat, and being able to serve a broader set of customers instead of just a niche) 

In exchange for this empathy-rich and adaptive product experience, hundreds of millions of customers happily give these platforms their attention, money, and loyalty (and data?!). And that’s just in regard to discretionary entertainment. Imagine applying this personalization to a make or break ‘NEED’ rather than a nice to have ‘WANT.’ When this business model is applied to a sector like personal finance, we’re talking about a much more weighted loyalty and engagement. (And a flippant subscription cancellation turns into a full on financial decision. #sticky)

To grow a sticky and happy banking customer [insert picture of Whinnie the Pooh], there are two points to consider: 

The first is that, like Spotify does with music or Netflix does with movies, customized banking needs to penetrate into the product it’s delivering. Personalization in banking is driven by a product that can understand and respond to a person’s unique goals, earning patterns, logistical preferences, and comfort levels. It then needs to leverage a layer of intelligence (i.e. data) to present the customer with the opportunities, products, and services that can aid them along their unique financial journey. Did you get an unexpected (wink wink) cash gift from grandma for the holidays? Your customized banker may suggest putting that cash into an IRA before the next tax cycle, AND they may offer you a quick, easy way to open that account using—you guessed it!—your customized banker! When you offer a toolset like this, it means genuinely empowering your customers to live better, more financially intelligent and integrated lives. It means you can serve a broader set of customers, at any stage of their financial journey, and across their lives. Most importantly for the bank, it means the kind of customer loyalty that we see in market dominators like Amazon or Netflix. 

The second point is that any existing financial institution can employ a customized banking experience. Niche isn’t necessary! Just like every type of music lover can find something on Spotify, every type of money spender/saver can realize value from a personalized banking relationship. There is an opportunity in this space to serve beyond demographics, because even within a demographic, there is enormous variability. Take millennials... millennial women, millennial women in tech, millennial women in tech who are pet parents – then we can diverge into personality types, income patterns, comfort levels, financial knowledge.... not to mention prerogatives. Like I said, a snowflake. ❄️ When institutions aim to serve the single individual, they enable the successful servicing of literally an infinite number of individuals. 

Cokie here again. The trend towards a more customized banking experience requires leveraging an enormous amount of data. Data our banks often already have. Data our infrastructure already has. And yet, with all that, banks still aren’t able to turn that data into value for their customers. All that data and they still recommend that I go to Olive Garden, despite the fact that I haven’t been in 10 square miles of an Olive Garden since 2008. Even more perplexing is that my bank (where I hold both a direct deposit account and a credit card) should know that I never spend on my debit card. And yet, it suggests these offers all on debit and not credit. Why?

Though I am always thrilled to provide the cynical perspective, it’s my preference to end on a more positive note. Take a second to imagine your customized banking experience and what it would look like. Would it pay your rent for you? Would you be able to command it using actual preferences (i.e., if I have more than $5k in my account, send 10% to savings and 10% to my brokerage account)? Would you want it to preempt your desires? (Cokie usually buys 10-15 candles every 3 months, CocoBank will acknowledge her spending problem and help soften the blow.)

Spotify knows me, knows my passion for Ariana Grande and the desire with which I yearn for Normani’s debut album. Netflix knows me, knows my endless appetite for good anime. Amazon knows I’m always looking for unique storage solutions I’ll never actually buy. Given all that, asking my bank, which has more information on me than any other institution, to preempt my recurring needs really isn’t asking for much.

Instead of getting irritated, I prefer to imagine what CocoBank could do for me instead. And I’ll tell you one thing for free, CocoBank will not offer me 10% off my next meal at Olive Garden.