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The Acquire Podcast Ep. 5: BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s flipping the script on the ultra rich

  • BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s Head of Marketing and Communications Kirti Naik joins us on the Acquire podcast.
  • With an unscripted video series featuring their most philanthropic clients, Kirti is putting storytelling first to pivot the 230 year old legacy towards the future.
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The Acquire Podcast Ep. 5: BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s flipping the script on the ultra rich

Welcome to Acquire, Tearsheet’s Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Rebecca Cohen, Head of Tearsheet Studios.

On today’s episode, I’m speaking with Kirti Naik, Head of Marketing and Communications at BNY Mellon Wealth Management. BNY Mellon Wealth Management is one of the oldest FIs in the world, which makes Kirti’s job leading their brand a serious undertaking, requiring a lot of creative thinking, doing, and vision to pivot the direction of 230 years of legacy. She’s here to talk to me today about BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s recent campaign, Do Well Better

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

1784 to 2022: From the founding fathers to the digital era

I arrived at BNY Mellon about 22 months ago with about 20-something years as a marketer in financial services. When I arrived at BNY Mellon Wealth Management – a 230 plus year old wealth management firm – it was really interesting to come into this historical company and brand. There were a lot of legacy marketers in place, a certain way we went to business that was primarily supporting the sales organization. 

We have our own team of wealth managers, our own team of client-facing teams, so it was really critical that marketing played a role in enhancing and supporting the client experience. Arriving during COVID was an interesting time to join the company, because you couldn’t have those client-facing experiences like events, dinners, or any of those things that were really tangible. 

Pivoting a 230 year old ship

So I stepped into a team that needed to reassess the talent, figure out how to create immediate impact to support the business as we have to shift during these pandemic times, but also what we need to do in the long term. As optimists, we knew this couldn’t last forever. 

And so I had to create an organization with all the right functions and talent in place to support this new wave of business: How do we go digital? How do we tell stories without human interaction? How do we create value from a revenue stream standpoint? What do we do when the pandemic is over? So I did a 180 shift, had to pivot the organization, rebuild it, and set us up for growth.

Picking the right people for the job 

It was critical to not make another talking head video series, to open up the ‘kimono’ and be really transparent, honest, and earnest in the stories that we were going to tell. We didn’t want to tell our clients what to say.

We worked with our agency of record Havas on this. It was an arduous creative process, this did not come to fruition overnight. We went through maybe 10 different concepts. And I kept saying, ‘I want to tell their stories in a way that’s unscripted, that is authentic, that is real and almost like a documentary.’ 

And so that’s how we landed on Nadav. After assessing many different creative options, Nadav brought to the table this element of purity, transparency, and authentic storytelling.

Nadav is this very acclaimed male photographer, but we really wanted to make sure we had the balance of storytelling through the lens of a female director and producer, and that’s how we landed on Nadia. She was essential, with her having done interesting documentaries, like the Michelle Obama one where she really went behind the scenes.

Flipping the script on the ultra rich

In the financial services industry – and you probably know this being at Tearsheet – there’s a lot of scripted things out there, very positioned into certain frames, there’s a lot of casting, there’s a lot of fluff out there. And then in tandem, there’s also this element of trust. The trust factor is never going to go away for financial services. We’ve had legacy clients with us for hundreds of years. And then we’ve got clients in the recent 10 to 40 years that have been with us when they were just starting out, before they were super wealthy. 

There’s this perception that the wealthy are capitalists. So it was critical for me to portray the stories of our brand, in a way that’s never going to be told by anyone else. That was a directive: these must not be scripted. These must be interviews that capture all of the right moments, so that we are truthful in our storytelling.

Challenges along the way

Nadav only likes to photograph a single, isolated individual. So a challenge that arose was with Heidi Murkoff, who is the author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and leader of an amazing nonprofit organization, The What to Expect Project; and it’s not just her who’s our client, but her husband Eric, and together they are an amazing dynamic duo.

We had to find a way to have two people in Nadav’s portrait, which was unlike his typical work where he usually has only one individual portrayed. That was one interesting challenge. 

The other was doing this during the pandemic – the entire creative process was developed and fine tuned in a virtual format. That’s not normal, because when you’re creating films, and in all the commercials that I’ve created in my former brands, you meet in person to brainstorm, look at storyboards, and figure out colors and sequences. This was all done remotely. 

And the clients were completely cooperative: they were excited and delighted and got on virtual conversations over and over again. Then we all had to take COVID tests to even be on site for the filming for the two days that we did this eventually, which was also a challenge during those days.

Putting the right people in front of the camera 

We wanted to work hand in hand with our wealth managers and the client-facing teams, because ultimately, telling these stories will also portray the value they bring to clients. So we started this process working hand in hand with the client-facing teams. And we put a couple of filters in place. 

Number one, we wanted to ensure that we had diverse stories to be told. Number two, we wanted to be able to share stories of people who didn’t just join BNY Mellon with $100 million in wealth – but people who are self made, to show the opportunity to build the right wealth strategy and grow. 

And number three, people who wanted to get their story out there, who have a charitable organization, and who love to give back – because Do Well Better isn’t just about yourself, it’s about doing well, better, for others; it’s not just about accumulating wealth for the selfishness of it, but because you have certain aspirations, desire, and needs. Often the stories aren’t told about the wealthy; it’s mostly about how they bought a new yacht, or they put their name on a building. 

We had about 20 people in our lineup right now, and we narrowed it down to these first three at the moment. And this will only be the first of many videos that we’re looking to continue to launch year over year.

Dressing an existing brand with new stories

I would call this a brand awareness and engagement initiative. This is stemming off of a very large thought leadership platform that we launched in the summer of 2020 when I joined, which is called Active Wealth. It is a unique proprietary platform that we put out there for folks to ask the right questions of themselves: Do I have all the right areas covered when it comes to building my wealth strategy, growing it, and then sustaining it?

But something was missing for me. It was rich in content, thought leadership, and was the typical bank campaign – lots of words. I decided we’ve got to put some feelings in here. What we do every day is so emotional. Money is emotional. Legacy is emotional. Philanthropy is emotional. These are really touchy-feely human things, and it was not evocative in what we were doing. 

Active Wealth is the foundation for Do Well Better, because if you use Active Wealth, you can do well, better; so it’s an extension of an existing platform we launched a year and a half ago.

Tell it like Pixar 

As an organization, we’ve never done anything like this. BNY Mellon has been very transactional, data oriented, and content oriented. 

This definitely introduced an emotional side to an otherwise very transactional institutional brand. And in fact, my colleagues across the other divisions that run marketing for the other B2B areas told me, ‘We want to storytell like this – it’s really It’s so interesting how you’ve captured clients like this, we didn’t even think that was something that could be done.’

They’ve asked me, ‘How do you do it?’, and I said, ‘Apply a Pixar Storytelling methodology: you have a problem to solve, then need the solution to get there. The journey and how you get there, organically then portrays BNY Mellon as the solution.’ 

And it’s not about hard sell or hard push. People are more sophisticated today – we all read and consume a lot of media around us. Frankly, I don’t like products or brands pushed at me, but if you share an interesting story with me, that might open my aperture a little bit more to want to consume additional information about that company. 

The call(s) to actions

First and foremost, everything we’re promoting in Do Well Better is to get to know these three interesting folks a lot better through the video content. 

Secondarily, we’re promoting their different charitable efforts and allowing people to engage, donate, and support each of the organizations. 

And number three, it should force them to ask, ‘Well, how did they do it?’ So we are also engaging them with what we call the Active Wealth Accelerator. It’s a very fun, digital interactive tool that we launched six months ago that allows people to quickly fill out a simple quiz on the different areas and aspects of active wealth, and at the end get a score of how strong their wealth strategy is, then hopefully they’ll contact us. 

Bringing it back to the funnel 

We’re seeing a lot of great traction in just four weeks. We’ve got more than 20,000 ultra high net worth visitors coming to the site and engaging with the video content. There are more than 500 views of the full videos – and these are two minute long videos, so we’re only putting small snippets out there and getting them to see the full stories on our portal. And we’ve got actual potential new client leads coming in. So it’s really exciting. It’s about that full funnel – ultimately, we want to use this as an impetus for new potential ultra high net worth clients to come to us. 

Reaching new heights sets new standards 

We had very benign KPIs before I joined. It was primarily driven by website visits, or how many people downloaded content. Today, we actually look at opportunities that we’re bringing into the pipeline, potential revenue generated from direct marketing touches, as well as how we’re expanding existing client portfolios so that they’re taking advantage of all that BNY Mellon has to offer them. So we’ve really gone from a one-on-one KPI approach to a graduate level kind of dashboard where there are a solid 10 different KPIs that we are now driving. 

Marketing is considered (not technically, but almost considered) a business driver. Of course, we don’t close the deal; marketing’s job is to educate, engage, draw the right people to the brand and bring them to the stadium, but ultimately it is the client-facing team and wealth manager who has to do the song and dance to close the deal. 

So our KPIs are about the opportunities that we drive – whether it’s asset pipeline or related to actual revenue generation.

It takes a tribe (ie. internal buy-in)

When I joined, we were primarily an event space marketing organization, with a little bit of service communications being conducted to support the field. We really pivoted to drive a lot more outreach and direct marketing, coupled with advertising and social media. 

But what has been a real winner for us is entering the world of paid advertising and using it in a very intelligent way to get the right message in front of the right audience at the right time. 

In order to get buy-in internally, we had to test, learn, and prove. I did this by engaging our finance, sales, and technology teams; they all had to have hands on deck, because you can’t create experiences like we have without having engagement across the whole organization. Otherwise, it’s just another brand campaign.

The new BNY Mellon

When I joined, our brand values were primarily conservative and old fashion. Not very exciting branding terms. 

In the past year since we launched Active Wealth and Active Wealth Accelerator, we saw this shift to being seen as exciting and modern. I find that shocking, because it takes three to four years to push a brand out there and get those types of metrics to shift. Personally, I’d like to be seen more as modern and exciting, but I’d also like us to be seen as innovative, and see a shift in attribution among a younger generation of investors. 

We’re a legacy brand, so our traditional target audience is primarily baby boomers. But with the shift in this brand platform, we’re drawing a lot more of the Gen Xers. There is a huge generational wealth transfer occurring, so we need to be relevant and start having that kind of brand awareness and engagement among that audience.

Remembering the forgotten generation

I find them to be the forgotten souls. But the truth is that the largest number of entrepreneurs are coming from the Gen X audience. 

Though we are also focused on next gen, which is Millennials and eventually Gen Z, so they’re not at all overlooked. In fact, we’re looking at Gen Xers as our existing clients, and try to get them excited about what we’re doing and get them to share it with their kids, so there’s that kind of beneficiary next gen angle that is probably a lot more efficient for us. Absolutely, I think we need to be looking at ‘the forgotten generation’.

Marketing well is about pushing boundaries 

I love being a marketer. Often I’m asked, ‘Why are you marketing in financial services, when you could go market at any other type of fun company where there might be more tangible products?’ 

What I love about financial services is that money is very personal. Everybody touches it, whether a little bit or a lot.

And then the added component of regulatory oversight compliance: what we can or can’t say. To be a good marketer, you need to know how to find those creative junctures in order to still make a difference, outside of all those challenges and hurdles and oversight. I think that’s what’s kept me here: the evocative nature of money, the regulatory challenges put on us, and the fact financial services tend to be old school in nature and not so open minded to fresh thinking. 

I like to push boundaries and I like to think of myself as someone who takes on the challenge. I’ve been lucky in my career, and worked at very amazing brands with fabulous leaders across those different brands. I’ve had the opportunity to port over my best experiences and learnings to each organization I’ve entered, and I’ve gotten to do that here at BNY Wealth.

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