The advancement of technology is shaping new trends for communications professionals in financial services. Listen to the new episode of Cogcast hosted by Account Director Larissa Padden where Melissa Kanter, Head of Communications and Brand Experience at ING Americas, and Jon Schubin, Director in Cognito’s London office, discuss how AI technology is going to impact the sector as well as the role of communicators in an uncertain future. Covering budgets, content and sustainability, this is a discussion you won’t want to miss!
Transcript for podcast
Larissa Padden 0:05
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Cogcast, Cognito’s podcast where we talk to journalists and media pros on the latest happenings in journalism and PR. I'm your host, Larissa Padden.
And I'm joined today by Melissa Kanter, Head of Communications and Brand Experience at ING Americas. And our very own Jon Schubin, a Director here at Cognito. Melissa and Jon are kind enough to speak with me today about the future of finance and technology, which is also the name of a recently released report from Cognito, We’ll explore topics like budget cuts, client relationships, the importance of content, and our role to play as we work towards a more sustainable future.
So first, as I mentioned, I'm joined today by my colleague Jon Schubin from Cognito's London office who was instrumental in putting together our latest report “The Future of Finance and Technology”. Jon, thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the report?
Jon Schubin 1:11
Absolutely. The genesis of this report was actually we brought together all of Cognito, six months ago in Istanbul and the theme of our gathering was the future, what is the future going to look like? How are things going to change in marketing and communications, specifically, in finance and technology, where we sit here. After that more internal discussion, we wanted to see what this meant for the clients and companies that we worked with. And the way we did it was a survey and we basically asked more than 100 people inside of our network representing both senior communications and marketing officials, and also C suite executives, their opinions on how things are going to change in communications and marketing and also in the industry itself. And the idea was just to take what we learned, and then bring it out and show the community.
Larissa Padden 2:09
And Melissa, also, thank you for joining us today. Before we jump into our discussion, can you also tell us a little bit about yourself, your role at ING, and how that role fits in the larger mandate of your organization?
Melissa Kanter 2:21
Yes, hi, I'm so happy to be here to talk about this, the report was really timely. So just to give some context I work at ING. ING is a large international bank headquartered in the Netherlands, we have a strong retail and wholesale banking business around the world with more than 50,000 employees. Although in the Americas, we are a wholesale only business. So we work with large corporations across a variety of sectors to help with their financing needs. I love my role, because marketing communications are rolled up together. And as Head of our Communications and Brand Experience, I oversee internal, external and marketing, we also oversee a lot of our community impact work. So within this role in the way we're set up, we're really close to the business and working with our front office teams and our clients to really differentiate ourselves in the market and ultimately grow the business. So it's a really fun place to be.
Larissa Padden 3:15
So as Jon said, we're here to discuss the future of finance and technology and explore what we think the future holds for a variety of topics. And I wanted to get your perspective on how the industry is evolving. But first, I'm going to throw you both right in and ask was there anything that you found in the report that surprised you? And I'll start with Melissa.
Melissa Kanter 3:33
It was a great read the report. First of all, not too long, it's really digestible, which I really appreciate. But it hit on some really good points. And for us, I think the study confirmed a lot of what we're experiencing from shifting resources, what does Generative AI mean, and how this is going to impact what we do and obviously sustainability because that's very much a part of our business here. So a lot of that is replicating what we do with regard to AI. For me, that's probably one of the most interesting conversations right now for looking at our own industry and what we're up against. We're definitely at this turning point where we can't just talk about AI and Chat-GPT. But I think we have to really start using it, we have to be embracing it. And even though we're just at the beginning, what really are the bigger implications of it are something that we're going to have to explore, like the integrity of content and where it comes from. The amount of content that we're going to see is going to be an exponential growth. So how do we know what information is resonating or how much it's not? So I think there's so much still to uncover that in many ways, the study just kind of scratches the surface. The one thing that wasn't in the survey, and I don't know if a lot of people listening have both external and internal comms under their mandate, is how these worlds combine. You hear a lot the term external, so what's happening internal is external. So I think that's also something worth exploring with some of these key things at a later date, but I think this did confirm a lot of what we're seeing,
Larissa Padden 5:01
Jon, does anything jump out to you?
Jon Schubin 5:03
Well, I was just surprised, kind of maybe I shouldn't have been, to see when we asked people where they're looking to put more money and more spend that content came out on top. And I think in some ways, it does relate to this AI conversation, because it's sort of what are we going to use AI for. And also, there's a feeling that I've experienced this in conversations with people in the industry is that in an ideal world, they would be producing a lot more content than they do. And they have to make tough decisions about where to focus, what audience segments, what you know, what arguments to make, what ways to put things together, and there is a sense of wanting to invest more. But even with additional investment, we're not going to be able to do everything that we want to do.
Larissa Padden 5:48
Well, you both touched on many of the topics, and we're going to talk about sustainability, AI and content, but I wanted to take a step back and talk about something that kind of looms large over all those things, which is budget. So not surprisingly, budget was the topic that comms professionals found the most challenging this year, and budgets dictate how you function operationally. So can you, Melissa, tell us how you've had to pivot in the past year or so and how you make decisions in times when you've had to pull resources?
Melissa Kanter 6:16
Budgets, a funny one, right? It so dictates what we do, it can stress you out to no degree. And you also have to be really strategic when you think about budget, especially when you're in-house. So I have quite a few views on budget. It's a big part of what kind of keeps me up at night, I think. But I would say that marketing and comms spend first and foremost when thinking about budget needs to be tied to business growth. And that has to be the perception internally, so that when the conversations come up about cutting comms or marketing budgets, they're also know that they're going to make those cuts that could affect ultimately how the business performs. And one of the things that I think has become much more important and something that, you know, that I need to improve on, and I think many in our industry do, is how do you measure impact in a way that resonates with your internal stakeholders. So when the question of budget comes up, it's a much different discussion of just, oh, we're going to cut your money. And it becomes a discussion of, if we cut your budget, here's what we can deliver. And so I think that that's really, really important, you have to show how you've delivered value with the money you've spent in the past. But more importantly, if you're already showing impact, when funds are taken away, you can demonstrate what you will or will not be able to achieve when those choices are made. And I also think sometimes internally spend, people are a little too conservative. So they kind of hoard the money. And I'm of the mindset and some might not agree is spend whatever money you have, like you have to utilize it. And you don't want to leave it on the table. But if you are going to use it, it should be smart and impactful, and you should be able to prove it. You should also save a little bit of spin to try some new things. Because as the world evolves, especially with Chat-GPT and things like that, we need to experiment with that a bit. At ING, which you asked initially, when we think about budget, it's mostly about shifting spend priorities. And I think that it was touched on earlier by Jon that, you know, it is changing where our money goes. And so at ING in the Americas, because we're Wholesale Banking, we have a really targeted group of clients, which in some ways makes our job easier, because we really know who we need to reach. And we've been able to learn that audience really, really well. So we now adjust our spend to those things that have much more of a direct impact. So the content we create is extremely important, versus some of the big activations that a lot of big brands can do. That just doesn't work for us in the Americas
Larissa Padden 8:44
Yeah, one thing I know from working with you, Melissa, over the years is that you're willing to spend budget to experiment. And I definitely think that we're in a time where things are gonna get very experimental, partly from AI, as you mentioned before, but also because the idea of content is changing. And I know when budgets do get cut client relationships are hugely important and part of ongoing client relationship management is proving the reliability of a brand over long periods of time. And comms and marketing play a huge role in that building a strong narrative and consistent message over time, which can be done through content. And that has meant newsletters, reports, video series, etc. But can you give us and tell us what content looks like for you at ING, and where you're spending the majority of your effort? And then Jon, I want to get your thoughts after on how content is changing.
Melissa Kanter 9:32
Listen, the reality is, is that we sometimes have to get our budgets cut, even if we show impact and we do all that - it's never fun, and we bet and we can't stop what we're doing. So I think for us, it's very often about finding ways to be more efficient. You know, it's interesting before you talked about, you know, experimenting and changing. You know, when I started in PR and I grew up on the agency side, I worked at a number of agencies, it was all about earned media coverage, and I can't believe how my strategy has changed where earned is still important, it's, you know, bread and butter, but how much money we pay towards paid content and sometimes pay for play this, it's really, really interesting how the spend has changed and how some of these things that used to be things that we would not touch, we now we go for it. You know, as I mentioned, you know, big activations can be really, really fun. And I know I love when I was working on some of that stuff. At ING in Europe, you know, they do those big activations. So if you fly into the Netherlands, and you walk through the airport, you see ING and our "Do Your Thing" campaign everywhere. And it really creates a sense of pride. And we sometimes hope that that halo effect will help us in the market, because our activations are on a smaller scale, because that's not the reality for us, as I mentioned. So like anyone else, we're focused on the right messages, the right stories at the right time. And we have found targeted channels were great for us, like the ones that you mentioned, we use a lot of video, we have really embraced things like LinkedIn, and things of that nature, I think what's important two things, you can't just rely on one channel. So we have to spend across different channels. So integration and an integrated approach is extremely important. You have to create content that you can use in a variety of ways, whether it's a video, long form, a pitch for an article, whatever that may be, and we have to hit those target channels at the same time. And the mechanisms are not important if the content is bad. So I think really investing in the content and what you're creating that it's different and compelling and has buy in, and it's actionable. To me, that's all extremely important. I think if you ask our clients about us, they will say, if ING says they're going to do something, they're gonna do it. So when we create content, we want to ask clients to engage with our brands, we want to make sure that they're getting an additive experience with us. And I think that that definitely helps us along the way.
Larissa Padden 12:00
Yeah, it's funny when I was looking past 10-15 years ago, I was doing social media writing, and that was Facebook. And LinkedIn was a job posting site. And you know, it's become so crucial and content. So technology has always evolved, what content is and what content can do. And Jon, you at Cognito deal a lot with content creation. So I wanted to ask you, what does the future look like for you and content, when we think about the use of AI and the evolution of technology?
Jon Schubin 12:27
I think one thing that is a challenge, and an opportunity, is moving away from - I think we're actually kind of okay when it comes to multi-channel activations and understanding that we're going to do a campaign and have that go across a number of different channels. I think where we need to be challenged, like start right here with, there's still a sense of, “we're going to write a white paper.” We're going to write a white paper and that's going to be the center of this and then we're going to do all this stuff on top of it. And I mean, the irony is sort of what we did here with the ‘Future of’ in that, you know, we wrote a big long piece of thing, I was like this is where we do all the thinking all the thinking, the tedious stuff happens here. And then we have all of these activations and articles, and we're doing this podcast that come out of that. And I guess, I think we need to challenge ourselves in terms of what might be the center of that, and also to have different parts of the campaign kind of play off each other and generate new and interesting things. So it's not just that you're regurgitating the same material, like we, for example, did a different survey with it with a global client. And in addition, first of all, it made it much more modular, the kind of piece of the analysis that we put together, and then also allowed people to take that survey, and then benchmark themselves to what we did, and then use that to create a whole second set of data. So I mean, it was more of a living campaign that was able to change as opposed to, okay, how do we take the same piece of information, and then put it in the right box for LinkedIn, for video for Twitter, etc, I think we're gonna see more of that.
Larissa Padden 14:02
So pivoting a little bit, I want to talk about another topic, Melissa, that you touched on at the beginning, which is sustainability. And that's always been a main focus for ING. And in recent years, we've seen a lot of regulation pave the way to really tackle climate change and the energy transition that we know needs to happen. So what role does that play from a comms perspective?
Melissa Kanter 14:22
Oh my God, it's everything, right? So sustainability is a key pillar for ING. And it is truly at the heart of our strategy at a global level for all the businesses that we operate in, and we have a right to do it. We pioneered a lot in this space, especially in the area of sustainable financing. You know, financing is a key enabler of the climate transition, you need money to make those kinds of things happen, because it’s quite expensive. And so ING and other banks do have a role to play. So we, we take that role really, really seriously. You know, being a European bank that kind of has paved the way here, Europe has always been farther ahead in the area. But it's really been interesting to have this front row seat to how this has evolved in the US. It's amazing. I joined ING about three years ago, and in that three years, how much the space has evolved. And I think at the very beginning, it was like, Well, what is sustainable finance? And what does this mean, and now the space has quickly become incredibly crowded, and we're hearing about sustainability fatigue, we hear about, you know, all the marketing content looks the same. It sounds the same. We've heard from reporters that they have a hard time finding where the real stories are. And so that's been a challenge. And we've also seen the conversation become combative, because it's become quite political with greenwashing and my favorite term, green hushing. But at the same time, as you mentioned, in the report, the rise of the new regulations and standards, you know, that this space is evolving, and we can't shy away from the conversation. The Wholesale Banking team at ING introduced a marketing campaign last year, it was called "Progress, not Perfection". And what I like about that is that we're honest about the road ahead. And we acknowledge that different sectors or companies, there are different parts of this transition. And what it means is that ING would be there to help them no matter where they are in that transition. I think that's really powerful. So we have a very honest stance and a truthful stance. But also in light of greenwashing, and things of that nature, we've also had to be more forthcoming, ING had been very risk averse, and a little bit more humble. And I think we've had to really come forward in our stance, and about how we're helping companies and be realistic about the challenges ahead. And so it's been a really compelling marketing challenge. But I think it's been a great opportunity. And I think we've done a really nice job of maintaining this position in the area of sustainability from a marketing and brand perspective.
Larissa Padden 16:57
Yeah, I think that there are a lot of challenges maybe that we didn't expect when talking about sustainability. You know, it's a topic that is so important and touches all aspects of every business now. So you think when a client wants to get their message out around sustainability, great, everyone's gonna care or pay attention, and the conversation is just so crowded now. And I don't know, Jon, you're over in the UK? Is that something that you've experienced as well?
Jon Schubin 17:20
I mean, in terms of the ESG debate, and how it's evolving?
Larissa Padden 17:23
Yeah, and how the media covers that?
Jon Schubin 17:25
Yeah, I mean, it is, I definitely tried to keep myself one foot in American media and one foot in the UK media as well. And, you know, in some ways, the conversation is a little bit more nuanced here. You don't see this as much as this kind of like blanket, pushback about ESG. When you dive a little bit deeper, and the fact that, you know, beyond the kind of, you know, the fast talking Brits here. And what they say is, there's still many of the same challenges in terms of how much are we going to be able to invest? How are we going to be able to find the money and financing for the green transition in the time when there are economic headwinds. And you know, these have political connotations as well, both major parties here in the UK have had to scale back their ambitions for the green transition. And that has meaningful consequences. I do think that in the UK, there is continued interest in talking about these debates and trying to push not totally in kind of binary narratives. But it's still challenging. I think there's an incredible opportunity for companies like ING, who have that heritage and have really developed along with the space. I mean, for example, I first learned about the circular economy from ING, and the report that they put out annually as well. So there's a chance to kind of show that and take that legacy, and then apply it to the new challenges that are coming to the forefront of the conversation now.
Larissa Padden 18:47
Great. Well, we've talked about a lot of big topics today. And thank you both for joining me. But I wanted to ask you both to close out what you think is going to be the most impactful thing for comms and marketing over the next few years. It's a big broad question. So Jon, I'm gonna start with you.
Jon Schubin 19:03
I think that I'm gonna be a cliche here. And I say, I think it's going to be Generative AI, and the ability to take proprietary data sets, be that things that companies produce, or things that agencies produce, and being able to kind of use that and deploy that at scale. It's going to be a massive challenge, and also really test out in a way we haven't been before about where is our value? Where are we able to truly differentiate ourselves? And I think that it's going to give the companies that we work for additional tools and weights to measure our value across the communications marketing mix. I think it's going to be both an exciting transition, but also one that will represent real change and also mean that some activities that both companies do and agencies do will go away or be replaced by something new.
Larissa Padden 20:04
Melissa Kanter 20:05
I hate to piggyback. But I think the impact of AI and technology always impacts what we do. Like you said earlier, we had a conversation about how content has changed with when Facebook became a thing, but AI is going to be a big one, I think the big conversation is, are our jobs going to be going away, and I do not think our jobs will, will be replaced by this. I think there's a level of emotion and human intuition that drives really compelling, authentic communications. But I think somebody once said that, if you don't embrace these new technologies, though, then you do risk losing your job. So I think the people that will succeed will embrace these technologies, use them to find what they mean for our industry. So I think it's gonna be really interesting to see how that happens. So I'm not afraid of losing my job because of this. But I do have a lot of work to do to embrace, really, at the very beginning stages. If I was going to look at another topic, just real quick. You know, we've seen a lot in the marketing space, social marketing, a lot of controversy on social issues and things of that nature. I think we're not going to see these political and kind of volatile conversations get quieter, I think they're going to continue to get louder as there's more and more formats to, for people to share opinions of within what they want. I think as companies, in recent years, companies have done a great job in building trust and in delivering authentic communication. So I think that that challenge to maintain that trust is going to be big for communication folks. We can't just be purpose driven. We have to be actionable and purpose driven. I think it's going to be really important to walk the walk. I think ING does a great job at that already. So yeah, a lot of exciting things ahead that.
Larissa Padden 21:39
Yeah, well, thank you both for very quickly going over such an important topic, which is the future. So thank you for your time, and hopefully we can do this again as things continue to evolve and change.
Melissa Kanter 21:50
This was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for including me. I really appreciate it.
Larissa Padden 21:53