CFMP: Bridge the Bank/Marketing Gap

By Gauri Sharma

Does marketing get its due at your bank?

Most bankers, not surprisingly, come from accounting and finance backgrounds. And most marketers enter the field without a whole lot of bank training or experience. While that’s logical and reasonable, it can leave a bank marketer feeling like “the alien in the group.” That’s how Joann Marsili described it—she’s vice president of sales and marketing with Fidelity Deposit and Discount (FDD) Bank, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “Not many people understand exactly what we do and how we do it,” she added.

That’s where the Certified Financial Marketing Professional (CFMP) certification comes into play. Bank marketers earn the credential by passing an exam that covers product development and delivery channels, risk management, and revenue generation planning, among other subjects.

The ABA, through the Institute of Certified Bankers, administers the exam several times each year. It’s open to bank individuals with:

  • Two or more years of experience in financial services marketing (or a baccalaureate degree with a business, economic or marketing-related major), plus completion of the ABA Bank Marketing School


  • Five years of professional marketing experience, including at least three in financial services marketing

Marsili, who attended the school and passed the exam in 2006, noted that she came to FDD with a marketing background—as opposed to a financial services background. Having the certification helps demonstrate to others that she understands the bank’s business model and is the right person to market it. “It provides a layer of legitimacy,” she said. “Having the credential means that you are a subject matter expert in all things financial marketing.”

In fact, Marsili encouraged Patty DeScipio, marketing communications officer at FDD, to also take the exam. Like Marsili, DeScipio came from a marketing background rather than banking.

While many marketing skills transfer from one industry to another, the heavily regulated environment in which banks operate—along with a business model that differs from many other industries—make financial services marketing particularly challenging. The CFMP helps those who take it become better bank marketers, DeScipio said.

Before taking the exam, both Marsili and DeScipio attended the ABA Bank Marketing School. Although the school isn’t a primer for the CFMP, it tries to cover all the pieces the test does, Marsili said. In its most recent format, the school runs for one week each year. It offers presentations and breakout sessions during the day—and in the evenings, many students get together to study for the exam.

Along with the camaraderie—DeScipio calls the school “the biggest pep rally for bank marketing”—the opportunity to meet other bank marketers, learn from experts in the field, and share ideas was invaluable, both report. “The presenters and teaching staff at the ABA Bank Marketing School are at the top of their field,” DeScipio added.

Marsili said that, although she graduated from the school in 2006, she remains friends with many of her classmates. The network of graduates has become a safe place to try out ideas and talk through challenges, she added. “The nice thing about bank marketers is that they’re willing to share their knowledge. That comradery and that networking never fade away.”

Moreover, marketing is moving so quickly that marketing professionals need some way to maintain their edge, Marsili said. The CFMP, the ABA Bank Marketing School, its network of alumni, and ongoing continuing education seminars and classes provide that.

The test isn’t easy.

“I wouldn’t want anybody to feel that it’s an ace in the hole,” Marsili said. It covers aspects of both marketing and the compliance and legal concerns that can govern bank marketing messages. Bank marketers need an understanding of both areas to pass.

Many marketers struggle to promote their banks’ products and services while complying with the myriad regulations they must follow. The course and exam provide guidance, balancing marketing and compliance, DeScipio said. For instance, it covered the requirements around archiving social media messages, and discussed tools available to do that.

The experience also helped DeScipio better identify what appeals to bank consumers. For example, she asked, “What are specific things that people look for in checking and savings and equity products?”

Some marketers work in banks that lack the budget to send employees to the Bank Marketing School. Those marketers still receive value from taking the exam after studying on their own, DeScipio and Marsili agreed.

That said, the shared experience of the Bank Marketing School can’t be discounted. “You are really immersed in bank marketing and you bring all these skills back,” Marsili said. Indeed, graduates return with so many ideas it’s hard to implement them all, she added.

The return on investment is clear, both were quick to emphasize. Marketers who’ve earned their CFMP can tell their bank’s leadership, “I know what’s going on here. I understand the business model. I understand how we make money,” Marsili said. “I can effectively market this bank.”

Gauri Sharma is vice president of ABA Institute of Certified Bankers. Email: [email protected].