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Meeting consumer preferences in an evolving financial services landscape

  • As the pandemic deepened financial stress for the average consumer, fintechs are looking to position themselves as friendlier alternatives to the traditional system.
  • But given the wide array of options available online, it can be difficult for marketers to find a strategy that makes their company stick.
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Meeting consumer preferences in an evolving financial services landscape

Financial services have changed significantly over the past few years, but so have consumer needs. The pandemic triggered a migration towards online experiences, creating a fertile competing ground for new fintechs and established players looking to capture more customers.

And in a crowded space like Buy Now, Pay Later, differentiation and customer stickiness brings its own challenges. But the key is to help people demystify their relationship with money by providing support and understanding what their real needs are.

Speaking at Tearsheet’s Acquire Conference last week, Erika White, Affirm’s VP of marketing and communications, said that money has always been a delicate matter for people, and everyone has a different relationship with their finances. But for most people, it’s a source of stress and anxiety. Looking at consumer insights, Affirm found that the average consumer worries about money six times a day.

There’s also the pressure for financial stability, especially among those who are single and looking for a partner. Americans who were seeking a romantic partner rated their ability to manage their finances as their top priority – more important than physical appearance, or virtually anything else, Affirm found.

“That’s where we really want to intersect with the consumer – we want to guide and help them manage their finances, and really take managing their money from a place of angst or ambiguity to a place of control and confidence,” White said. 

One of the drivers behind this uncertainty around money is that many traditional financial products can be really complicated. There’s a lot of terminology an average consumer doesn’t understand, plus a lot of hidden tricks, leaving them skeptical and hesitant about a new financial product, especially one that feels like a credit card. 

There’s a barrier there that BNPL companies like Affirm want to overcome as they continue to engage with consumers. One way to do this is to position itself as a friendly entity that has customers’ best interests at heart and designing its products accordingly by not charging any fees for late payments. This way, customers won’t feel like the company is looking for them to fail, but that their interests are actually aligned. 

In other segments of the market, there are different challenges faced by marketers. At Welcome Tech, a company that offers a consumer platform for immigrant communities in the US, serving this demographic brings a whole other set of things to take into consideration – from language and culture barriers to generational differences.

“One of the challenges is making sure we have great bilingual customer service. We’re serving both the parents that perhaps are Spanish-dominant and the children that are more likely to be bilingual or going to school in English. And often we find that the younger members of the family tend to be digital Sherpas,” Brooke Lais, the company’s chief marketing officer, said at the conference. 

Like Affirm and many others in the space, Welcome Tech is also engaging in financial guidance and education on its platform. Advisory services are important for their customers, especially since they’re immigrants coming into a new country and having to interact with a different financial system. 

Branding

Beyond customer acquisition, another important part of a company’s market strategy is focusing on customer re-engagement. White noted the need to bring customized messages to people who have tried Affirm once to continue to pull them back.

This entails informing people of other products, such as savings accounts. The fintech is also on its way to launching a new debit card that will allow customers to pay now with a debit feature, or pay overtime with Affirm. 

“I think the consumer is very open – especially in financial services – to try something other than their bank, because most people don’t like or trust their bank that much,” she said. “Same with the credit card. They’re open to trying something once, but then how do you not become that thing that they just tried once because it was convenient, and that they’re actually actively seeking out instead?”

Younger generations, such as Millennials and Gen Zers, are the most interested in trying out new things, and are also the vast majority of BNPL users, according to studies. More than 40% of BNPL users in 2021 were Millennials, while Gen Z represented around 30% of users. But being flexible also means that they can easily switch between services. 

As interest grows, so does competition. There’s a rising number of BNPL services, and checkout screens are getting increasingly crowded with all kinds of financing options. 

“The work we really feel we have to do is to help consumers make an educated decision about which player in the category is right for them. And that’s why a lot of our marketing today is focusing on comprehension of our benefits. We have no “gotchas” at Affirm. That’s a policy – nothing hidden in the fine print, what you see is what you get,” White told Tearsheet. 

Juggling all of these factors is tricky for marketers looking to position their company and its products effectively with target customers. It goes beyond advertising the products – it’s about creating a brand that consumers recognize and return to. 

Branding and performance marketing are often thought of in silos, but White feels that marketers can and should adopt a more holistic approach.

“Brand is never going to be as straightforward to measure as something like paid acquisition. But you need to find the intersection point as much as possible, not just to build the most effective campaigns, but also to build the most well-rounded team of marketers,” she said.

With a network of merchants, Affirm’s aided brand awareness just crossed 45%, which is the highest it’s ever been, White added, reaching around 11 million consumers.

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