The Making of a Bank Marketer

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia

What would your marketing dream team look like?

Maybe something like this: Engaged, committed staffers—with at least some well-versed on the latest social and digital media trends—and all able to link marketing efforts to bank profitability and desired corporate culture.

We see your eyes roll, but please stay with us.

This team isn’t as disconnected from reality as you might think, if you consider that employees want a mirror image of that dream—a bank that encourages:

  • Education to keep skills current
  • A long-term career path
  • A chance to initiate projects

How do you bring those dreams into reality? Here, some experts and bankers share their ideas:

  1. Give workers a promising future.

Management training programs at banks or other firms “were somewhat commonplace when I graduated college 36 years ago,” said Dan Ryan of Ryan Search & Consulting. “But the economy has been through a number of ups and downs since then, and these programs have been dropped. But I can tell you young adults are hungry for the ability to advance as quickly as possible.”

A spate of studies—including one from Michigan State University and MonsterTRAK—document the point that interesting work and advancement are catnip to younger workers.

But it’s not just the young who crave professional development and challenge. “It’s a human condition,” contends Kim Ruyle of Inventive Talent Coaching.

Listen to 31-year-old Yury Nabokov, digital experience and marketing manager for Machias Savings Bank: “What attracted me here was that they said, ‘We hire for character and then we train.’ Every employee is given the opportunity to learn and explore.”

Coming to Machias with two bachelor’s degrees, in communications and marketing communications, plus an MBA in healthcare management, Nabokov is a natural student. “I was fascinated by healthcare reform,” he explained, “but when I worked in the industry I found it wasn’t for me.”

He’d never considered banking until he met Traci Sanborn, SVP of Retail Banking at Machias. “When she told me that digital marketing was important for the bank, and that I could get more targeted training in banking, I started there part-time and then went full-time.”

Since then, Nabokov has earned the Certified Financial Marketing Professional (CFMP) designation, awarded after passing what Nabokov describes as a “pretty rigorous” exam.

  1. Keep marketing focused on business goals.

When Lori Dufficy took on her current position as SVP and director of sales, service and marketing with Chelsea Groton Bank, “I had banking knowledge and sales experience, but not a lot of experience in marketing.”

Many can identify with that quandary. Nearly everyone comes to bank marketing with a knowledge deficit in either marketing practices or banking operations.

But both perspectives must come together.

“In the last few years, it has become even more important to align all your [marketing]resources with strategic goals,” said Dufficy.

She credits ABA Bank Marketing School, a week-long immersion in financial marketing subjects, for bolstering her marketing know-how.

One current marketing truth that Dufficy picked up, she said, is that “all banks are on social media, whether they want to be or not. “

When she returned from the school, Dufficy made a presentation to the Chelsea Groton board that they must “listen” to customer feedback on social media. She got the green light to implement her plan for a “conservative social media program that takes up just half of one staffer’s time—but listens to and leverages what people are saying.”

Although she filled in some knowledge gaps in marketing topics, Dufficy says she was surprised by the business emphasis of the marketing school curriculum.

Indeed, lessons in how different components drive a bank’s income statement, how marketing practices must consider regulatory compliance, and devising a return on investment for a campaign are the kind of left-brain lessons that laymen don’t necessarily associate with creative marketing professionals.

  1. Share tips through networks.

When marketing school ends, the need for advice doesn’t stop.

Leanne Kassab, EVP for customer experience and marketing at CNB Bank, was one of the early students of the school, graduating early last decade.

“There were about 90 people in my class. We continued to see each other at bank conferences over the years,” Kassab said.

School alumni also contact each other directly with questions. For example, when CNB began acquiring other banks a few years ago, “I reached out to a colleague from a bank our size but in a different area of the country,” Kassab said. “He shared examples of internal communications for employees [in a merger]and some customer communications. It was really valuable.”

Kellie Swales, a marketing specialist with CNB, graduated from Bank Marketing School just last year. She, as well as CNB Bank marketing officer Amy Potter, another marketing school graduate, share their contacts with Kassab.

Of course, sharing is easier when the other marketer isn’t with a competing institution.

But even among competitors, “you are able to network with them because people show a respect for each other,” said Lexie Bakken, marketing research analyst with Alerus Financial in Grand Forks, ND.

“You aren’t going to tell each other everything,” Bakken explained, “but you talk about what you are experiencing more generally.”

  1. Garner respect for the bank marketing specialty.

Though Bakken earned a degree in marketing and management from the University of North Dakota in 2008, “I had only one class in banking,” she said.

Bank marketing is very much a sub-specialty, Dufficy added. “The regulatory side is always changing and customers’ finances are more complex now.”

That makes it nearly impossible to graduate from a university marketing program and be fully equipped to step into a bank marketing role.

In fact, Dufficy—like all the other bank marketers we talked to—has earned her CFMP designation.

Along with meeting specific experience and ethics requirements, candidates must pass an exam to earn a CFMP. While bank marketing school is not required, many candidates do attend, since it’s a difficult test and the school coursework helps to master the subjects.

It was a couple of years after completing the school that Heather Wick, marketing and communications specialist with Alpine Bank, sat for the CFMP exam. “I started preparing for it in February, and took it in June,” she reported.

The rigor of exam, Nabokov said, is one reason achieving the designation is so valuable.

  1. Enjoy and stay awhile.

A key concern of many of employers, according to consultant Kim Ruyle, is “churn,” referring to the frequency which many workers quit to join another firm.

Typically, firms think the only way to retain workers is with salary boosts.

But many employees, Ruyle said, “don’t define growth with a dollar sign as much as with opportunities.”

Is there a risk that money spent on education and professional development could be wasted if the worker is poached by another institution? Yes, it’s generally acknowledged that might happen.

But, as Swales noted, it’s a much more risky strategy to try to achieve bank goals with a staff that’s not approaching marketing with enthusiasm and expertise.

Besides, “When you go back [to work after banking school], you are rejuvenated and refreshed,” Bakken said.

Ruyle’s conclusion: That’s what makes for happy workers who are apt to stay .

Marilyn Kennedy Melia is a banking and personal finance writer based in Chicago. Email: [email protected].