Posted by Jon Schubin on Thu, Feb 23 2017

All Posts by Jon Schubin

Downloading Big Banks' Financial Podcasts

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In the age of the open office, I’m an employee with headphones regularly in my ears.

Be it first thing the morning, while nibbling away at lunch or that last power through in the evening, I tune out my deskmates with sound. Most of the time these are songs courtesy of Apple Music, but I also turn to narrative programming, to podcasts, when I need a little extra focus.

I’ve listened to podcasts for over a decade. The whole industry has changed enormously since then, when it was a combination of terrestrial radio stations and amateur productions. Now there are hundreds of well-made, interesting shows, and a handful of professional podcasting networks dominating the market.

Podcasts have stretched so far, they have even permeated some of America’s oldest, most conservative financial institutions. Recently I was listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross when in between an interview with a New Yorker reporter and a segment on a jazz reissue, there was an ad for “Exchanges from Goldman Sachs.”

I decided to interrupt my listening of documentaries and conversations and check out three of these podcasts just to see how they are doing.

Overall it wasn’t pretty. In general the production was borderline amateurish, with rustling papers squeaking chairs and throating clearing moments all left in the mix. The microphones gave it a low quality and unprofessional feel, in fact, with three people talking on a single device, it frequently sounded worse than someone using iPhone headphones with an internal microphone. Disclosures can run up to four minutes – and in some cases more than half the episode.

I listened to a couple episodes of each of these, all produced in the last three months. Let’s dive a little deeper into what did and didn’t work on each of the three shows.

Fidelity Investment Insights

Fidelity calls itself the podcast “network,” one of a few touches that make the presentation here seem slightly dated. The podcast is released in erratic chunks – there’s an August and November monthly update but nothing for the months in between or after, while six podcasts were uploaded on August 23 alone.

There’s also a huge variety in the size of each individual episodes, which makes streaming or downloading over a data connection a bad idea.

Content includes a mix of financial planning topics such as HAS and college savings, along with general marketing advice. It’s unclear who the audience is here, but this appears to repurposing content already available elsewhere with little regard for the medium.

J.P. Morgan Insights

They may share a name, but J.P. Morgan has a much better grasp of what it wants to cover in its insights. The main feed includes both a series of discussion on topics in finance and a weekly commentary by Dr. David Kelly, the company’s chief strategist. Although he’s just reading a note – from what sounds like a distant basement – his dulcet brogue and colorful language makes for an entertaining nine or 10 minutes.

The other segments use a recent report or piece of client material as a springboard for a discussion with a couple of market experts. The topics are fine, including a discussion of productivity that would not be out of place in The Economist, but the format leaves something to be desired. It can seem like the conversation is going around in a circle, going through a dialogue with freshman acting-seminar level awkwardness. These insights don’t seem to come with conversation.

Exchanges at Goldman Sachs

Kudos to the name here. As the first episode of Gimlet’s “Start-Up” podcast shows, figuring out what to call a program can be quite the challenge. Exchanges manages to be simple, short and have multiple relevant meanings.

Exchanges is the most professional of these operations. Not only do they have a budget for an ad buy on other programs, it also has the advantage of being hosted by former White House Press Secretary and current head of corporate communications, Jake Siewert. Jake’s obviously a pro. He’s the only person I heard who actually seemed to interact with guests rather than just reading a list of pre-approved questions. It is still not an actual conversation, but it is a start.

Next steps: Call in the experts

All of these programs need to be better.

Even the best show I reviewed is not something I would currently add into rotation. I encourage each of these brands, along with upstarts, to consider asking themselves a simple question – why should anyone listen to this? The answer should never be because it’s already being produced, or that a big brand needs a podcast.

Banks are competing not only with each other, but also major media organizations that are producing interesting content. Background with The Economist, Planet Money from NPR and Financial Times, these programs take news stories and topics and present audio exclusive versions tailored to the medium.

If companies are confused about how to make something interesting, I suggest working with the premium or advertorial divisions of podcast companies to give them ideas on what to do. People will have high expectations, to be entertained by a brand and hopefully get access and perspectives current publications cannot offer. With a little more effort, tips from podcast pros, and better production quality, a better corporate podcast world is possible.

Financial Communications,
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