Felix Wenger laughs when he describes Swiss retail bank Raiffeisen as a “special animal,” but, as its head of channel and distribution, he has a unique set of challenges, not least working for 270 different CEOs.
Raiffeisen is one of Switzerland’s three biggest retail banks. It has almost 1,000 branches, more than twice as many as the next two players combined. But it’s also a federation of 270 independent co-operative banks, each belonging to its own local customers and each with its own management.
Wenger was brought in two years ago to help Raiffeisen to become a more sales-oriented bank and to catch up in digital. He jokes that its structure—“very federalist and democratic”—is “the worst thing if you’re a manager,” but it’s clear he sees the benefit for the customers and the opportunities it creates for the bank to be locally relevant.
Wenger is speaking at Adobe Summit EMEA, which takes place in London on 10 and 11 May 2017, during a session called “How to Build a Customer-Focused Experience Business in FSI” (click here to register—please note that Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company). Wenger recently explained to CMO.com what he’ll be covering during his session.
Wenger: In today’s industry, two factors are driving centralisation. One is regulation. Regulators don’t like federalist banks; they want to see a strong headquarters they can make sure enforces the regulations throughout the organisation.
Then going digital also drives an organisation towards centralisation, because of investment and content curation. Both of these tendencies go against our traditional way of running our business, and our DNA. So we decided to create a digital, yet local bank on the web.
CMO.com: How does that work? How does what you do relate to the individual banks?
Wenger: The best way to think about Raiffeisen would be a car dealership. If you want to sell BMWs, your franchise has to follow the brand rules. You use the centrally provided marketing material, but you localise it.
Raiffeisen is the same. We have strong central rules for asset liability management, for credit, for price, for product, for risk, for brand. How that is marketed is the decision of the local entrepreneurs.
In my role, I have two hats. For the hard stuff, I do the regulation. For the softer part, I’m a shared service, which provides marketing material and gets paid for it by the banks. In the same way, we provide them with the web infrastructure. In the past, they had their own content management systems, their own web presences. For regulatory reasons, having different products with different descriptions in different places would be unacceptable, so we needed a centrally managed presence. However, we have tons of local content, which is the big opportunity for us.
My challenge was to put together an infrastructure with 274 live copies of our corporate website. Typically, if you go to a company web page, you start on the dot.com or dot.ch, and then you click down either by business or by region, sub-region, or community. We’ve changed that paradigm. The first time you come to the site, you tell us where you live. From then on, you always start your journey on the web with your local bank. That creates high relevance. We do that in sync across 270-plus web presences and for 270 localised apps.
In Switzerland, you have a second challenge as we have four languages. With our approach, you always start with your local CEO, your local team, your language, and your local content.
If we talk about the future of marketing, we talk about relevance of content. That’s very easy for us. We don’t have to think what someone in Geneva might like to read because our guy in Geneva puts it together. Partly, he takes our stuff and localises it, partly, he takes our stuff and displays it. Mostly he uses his own stuff.
CMO.com: What results are you seeing?
Wenger: The banks are starting to go omnichannel. Two years back, they had quite static web presences with little or no impact on sales or conversion. We’re now getting a lot of insight through our analytics, and we’re getting a lot of additional leads. A strong alliance of sales, IT, marketing, and analytics is driving this throughout the year.
We are far from having a 360-degree view of our customers, but we’ve got a slightly bigger slice of the view thanks to these channels.
CMO.com: What are the key lessons for the Summit audience?
Wenger: It’s always an infrastructure game, so I’ll be talking about how to take your senior management on the journey of marketing automation. These days, nobody is ready to invest in infrastructure; everybody wants the shiny new thing. So you need to make sure you have an infrastructure plan for maybe two years, but that you can add value to the organisation very quickly and repeatedly.
The other takeaway is that if you go for digital transformation, you need to adapt business and channels evenhandedly. In the beginning, we extended our digital footprint too quickly, but didn’t care for the real business in it. We had almost two worlds, the real world of business and the digital world, which wasn’t obviously creating business impact. You need to have business and channels in parallel. You take a step in infrastructure, then a step in business conversion.
It’s a story I tell because I am business and IT in one role. If you only manage one leg and somebody else manages the other, you need to do more coordination. For me, it was nice that I could manage both legs in parallel. It’s one part of why we were so quick and why we could add value in this way.