#Pride: How banks are reaching LGBT customers

As cities across the world mark LGBT Pride Month this June, banks are using these events as opportunities to reach new customers and employees.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, banks have been sporting the rainbow flag at Pride Month. All major North American banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citi are pulling out all the stops in their LGBT-inclusive marketing and participation in Pride Month. But LGBT marketing efforts go beyond just pride floats and bank-branded paraphernalia; they are elements of banks’ strategies to attract and retain customers and talent.

“We recognized that a lot of our customers are not traditional white families with about two kids,” said Ann Dyste, US Bank’s LGBT strategy manager, a position that was created eight months ago. “They are modern families of all varieties — we want to make sure all the services we provide are reflective of the community.” The bank has sponsored 33 festivals across 25 states, and was ranked a “best place to work” for the 10th year in a row by the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday.

US Bank found in its research that customers want to do business with companies that have an authentic interest in the community and its organizations. “We needed to take a step back and make sure we have the right kind of experience and there’s a person focusing on that end-to-end experience — it’s data driven.”

In addition to visibility on bank products (the bank launched a debit card in rainbow colors last month) Pride Month is an opportunity to draw attention to outreach materials geared at LGBT customers, including an LGBT customer-focused website that the bank launched two months ago. The website includes financial planning articles tailored to LGBT audiences, with recent headlines including “Modern Legacy Planning — Getting Started,” and “Is a joint bank account right for you and your partner?”

“A lot of it has been since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 leveled the playing field,” Dyste said. “People are going through a series of firsts, and the lived history of going through that is much shorter than the general market and we’re trying to help them navigate.”

Affiliating a bank’s brand with inclusivity is important for customer retention and employee morale.

“It’s such a key celebration — we want to be there as a brand celebrating with them,” said Claudine Dupont, vice president of global brand and corporate sponsorship at TD Bank Group. “We are there year-round, but we also want to demonstrate our commitment for key celebrations for the community in general.”

TD is sponsoring 63 Pride events across North America, 30 of which are in the U.S. To banks like TD, Pride Month participation is an effort promote itself as a company open to both LGBT employees (TD has a 3,000-member LGBT pride network) and customers.

“You’ll see our efforts demonstrated through some of our marketing pieces,” said Dupont. “We were one of the first banks to advertise using same-sex couples in our mainstream advertising — it’s part of who we are.” The company has featured LGBT individuals in advertising and marketing products since 2008. 

Money conversations aren’t easy, so keep it low-key. #FinanciallyFit

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LGBT customers are a segment banks can ill-afford to ignore, said one analyst.

“Not so much support out of philanthropic reasons, but it’s one that has real business case reasons because of some of the distinctive characteristics of the market,” said Mike Wilke, founder of AdRespect, a nonprofit that promotes inclusivity of LGBT representations in advertising. “It’s a competitive and developed business sector,” he said.

Beyond overt community support and customer outreach, attracting and retaining talent is also an important motivation. The Royal Bank of Canada, a major supporter of pride festivities across Canada and in the U.S. through RBC Capital Markets, said maintaining a welcoming workplace place brand is an important objective of pride efforts.

“In terms of strategy, we focus on talent, clients and community,” said Norma Tombari, senior director of global diversity and inclusion at RBC. “For the LGBT segment, we’re looking at how we make the environment more LGBT-friendly and inclusive, and how can we communicate externally to attract top LGBT talent.”

Among the target demographics, RBC said younger people may more be more drawn to a company that aligns with their values.

“A lot of millennials are interested in working for an organization that has expressed values as it relates to inclusion in a way that’s not just general talk or general speak — they want to know what the organization is doing.”


Retailpocalypse: Bank branches are closing in droves

There may be no physical institution as historically revered as a bank. Community centers and trusted destinations, the banks of our imaginations are cool and quiet spaces housed inside classical limestone buildings. Ceilings are high, floors are marble; words echo. Behind bronze-framed windows, tellers take money from trusting customers for safekeeping or direct them to comfortable chairs where they wait for a personal banker.

Nice try. Banks these days are hardly elegant or imposing. Most have shrunk in size thanks to rising costs of real estate, and many have disappeared entirely, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Chase reduced its branch presence by 190 locations, a 3.4 percent decline, from 2012 to 2016. Wells Fargo closed 98 branches, a 1.6 percent decline in the same period. Its peers are even more aggressive. Bank of America closed 243 branches (16 percent) in that period and Citi closed 302 (28.5 percent).

Branches are consolidating locations with lower servicing volume, opening in higher growth areas and renovating existing branches and ATMs. More importantly, they’re evolving into more compact, digitally oriented spaces that incorporate new technology and help branch employees focus on improving the customer experience.

Some end up looking more like Apple Genius Bars than banks.

Citibank’s new digital branches, for example, each feature a workbench with computers where customers can look at their finances with a personal banker at their side. Staffers, equipped with iPads, are available on the floor. While the teller behind the window used to be the standard, it is now seen as an inconvenience. This so-called “banking side-by-side,” however, is thought to be a luxury, and banks like Citi want to make it the norm.

“We have personal bankers here, a manager, head tellers – we have everything a traditional branch has but we’re serving [customers] in a more convenient way, and in a better way, really,” says Solymar Difo, head teller at a Citi digital branch in Miami. “Behind the teller line, there wasn’t much we could do. … You might tell them they have to wait for a personal banker, but then the personal banker is caught up opening accounts or doing other things that this client here in front of you doesn’t have time to wait for.”

Traditionally, the role of a branch teller has been a demanding one for such an entry level, frontline job. Many tellers are often straight out of college. They have to learn about the many different financial products they sell, when to identify a sales opportunity that would require a personal banker and how to quickly sell the idea to a customer to get them to that banker.

In digital branches, however, “there’s not a barrier between you and the client,” Difo says. “Instead of directing them to see a personal banker or make a call [or] go online … I have the opportunity to do all three [myself]. I can educate them, help them online, I can even make the phone call with them.”

While those in the banking industry feel there will always be brick-and-mortar branches, in large part because the business of banking is grounded in trust, and in knowing the person with whom you’re working, the move to digital technologies is expected to grow exponentially.

“Today, four out of every five monetary transactions are completed through our self-service channels, but we still see meaningful opportunities for improvement,” Thasunda Duckett, JPMorgan Chase’s consumer banking CEO, said at the company’s Investor Day in February. “Last year, we had over 400 million transactions being completed through our tellers, 70 percent of which could have been done through our self-service channel. So in the year ahead, you’re going to continue to see us focus on migrating more of these transactions to digital.”

‘If you don’t fix your diversity problem, I’ve got no time for you’: VC Amy Nauiokas

This is Ask a VC, where we quiz venture capitalists on the latest trends in the finance space.

Like many investors, Amy Nauiokas invests in people, not ideas.

“Companies are more than just an LLC and a pile of cash,” said Nauiokas, founder and president of Anthemis, a financial technology investor. “They’re made up of founders and from there they grow. And when you look at a company’s culture you don’t have to look much past the founders to figure out where they need to go.”

Anthemis invests in early stage technology companies focused across the industry — retail banking and consumer finance, business and corporate banking, payments, wealth management, capital markets, insurance and funds. It’s currently invested in Betterment, Trov, Payoff, SeedInvest and Currency Cloud; her exits include Fidor Bank, which BPCE acquired last year, and Simple, which BBVA acquired in 2014.

Nauiokas, the former CEO and managing director of Barclays Stockbrokers, also founded Archer Gray, a media production, finance and investment company, in 2010. Anthemis launched that year too, though it had begun investing in 2008, as its digital financial services investment and advisory firm. Tearsheet caught up with her to talk about the importance of investing in people instead of products and the need for VCs to work harder for achieve gender equality.

There’s a lot of noise in “fintech.” How does that affect you as an investor?
If someone claims to be the next Uber or Airbnb for financial services, we tend to take that at face value but really challenge that assumption. It’s the one industry where it’s very difficult to simply create a business, dump it on top of technology and call it done. There’s a lot more complexity, market structure and risk.

How much of the decision to invest has to do with people and skills that perhaps can’t be taught?
We do look for that level of ambition, but in our weeding process and getting rid of the noise — whether it’s fintech noise or investor noise — it almost always comes down to people. Early stage is a tricky, tricky business. So many early stage companies fail. And so many people need their biggest capital infusion before they have any revenue. You have to be able to appreciate that the product might not be the name of the game here.

But the product is important. How do you couple that with the people factor?
First we focus on the people, and then if they have a solvable problem, a problem they want to solve that’s big enough to create a business — and then we figure out the problem. And we’re finally starting to see that people are thinking outside of the box. That’s extremely refreshing to me.

What’s driving that change?
I hope part of the reason is that investors like us are pushing people to challenge themselves, to appreciate that if you’re one man — and I’ll say man because it’s almost always a man, right? — with an idea, the chances of you succeeding without a different opinion, a different set of skills, is pretty low.

There’s a conversation about a lack of funding for women-owned startups due to the lack of women in venture capital. Where do you stand on that?
You’re going to go long and hard to find that many senior VCs that are female. I dont think there is an issue with female founders getting funding per se. I don’t think VCs are pound for pound biased against female founders. We aren’t seeing enough female founders, we aren’t encouraging, finding, demanding enough to be able to make an honest opinion about who is going to be giving that funding.

Do you ask your companies about their plans for diversity?
All of them. If you started yesterday, you’ve got big employees, you’re one of them, you’re a founder, if you don’t fix your problem I’ve got no time for you. Goldman Sachs has done probably better than anyone at trying to encourage bring more women to the table but it is a multi-hundred-year-old organization from a time women weren’t in the workforce. We’re living in a different world and there’s no excuse for it, for selling a product to a population that holds more than 50 percent of purchasing power and not having a female voice on your board or in your C-suite.

Recruiter Nako Mbelle: ‘Fintech skillsets in demand right now are pretty exotic’

Nako Mbelle fintech recruiting podcast

There’s a talent war brewing in financial technology. On this week’s Tearsheet podcast, Nako Mbelle, who runs the global recruitment company Fintech Recruiters, joins us to discuss how difficult the market has gotten.

“The demand for talent right now is very much outstripping the supply,” said Mbelle. “If you’re interested in pivoting in any way in your career, I highly recommend going to a blockchain meetup or an Ethereum meetup in any city you’re in. Microsoft is heavily involved in the Ethereum community. That would be a great place for people to explore and learn Solidity. Nobody has work experience in it — you just have to get on to Github and contribute to fixing bugs and involved in projects.”


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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.

The challenge of fintech recruiting
“Fintech hires aren’t the easiest to make. Both startups and midsize fintech companies find it hard to hire people with technology and finance experience. Blockchain and cryptocurrency companies really want people who understand finance. They don’t want to train people, because they want their developers to deeply understand the tribe that they’re marketing to. Payment companies might be a little more flexible. It really depends on how bleeding edge the company is.”

What skills are firms looking for?
“The skillsets in demand right now are pretty exotic. Blockchain companies are recruiting heavily. Bitcoin is built on C++, so we’re looking to fill a lot of roles in C++. Python is big. Scala is another one. Solidity, which Etheruem uses, is also in demand. JavaScript all of a sudden is in high demand because the industry wants its stuff to look pretty and be easy to use. We’re also seeing a lot of AngularJS and Node.js requests.”

What questions should hiring managers ask of recruiters?
“You should ask if a recruiter understands the industry. It’s hard to do this work if you don’t. There’s a lot of politics in certain parts of the industry. There are multiple camps in the Bitcoin community. If you’re speaking to a developer who is a Bitcoin purist who thinks that blockchain is synonymous with Bitcoin, you’re probably going to piss him off. It’s important to understand the political aspects and the philosophy behind the cryptocurrency community. They’re in it for very personal reasons and it’s much more than just about the money.”

Trends in salary packages and loyalty
“Many developers want to get paid in the cryptocurrency they’re working on, as well as having a regular salary and option packages. I’m always surprised how risky some of these packages are. I’m seeing more consultancies arise, covering a variety of industries that want smart contracts. This opens the field to people from other fields.

There’s a lot of job hopping going on. I get guys who passively contact me, looking for greener pastures in the space. What I’m realizing is that culture is everything. It’s really important to create an environment that makes employees happy to come to work, that they’re contributing to something much larger than themselves. I’ve heard good things about Consensys, about their culture. People in this space want to be challenged and have their minds and capabilities stretched.”


Citi FinTech CEO Yolande Piazza: We’re not too big to change

Bankers like to say their organizations are actually technology companies with a banking license. At the end of the day, they’ve still got that large bank feel, but Citi’s fintech unit is dedicated to making its workplace feel like a startup.

Yolande Piazza has been at Citi for almost 30 years. Earlier this month, she was named chief executive officer of Citi FinTech, after acting as interim chief for seven months and serving as its chief operating officer before that.

Since Citi FinTech launched in 2015 it has been focusing on creating mobile-first banking experiences for its customers. In December it launched its first product, a mobile-first banking tailored to its Citigold customers that also includes wealth management services. A month before that it also opened many of its application programming interfaces to third-party developers through its API Developer Hub.

Tearsheet caught up with Piazza on her plans for the unit.

You’ve been at Citi almost 30 years and now you’re leading Citi FinTech. How has “fintech” evolved?
There’s a common misconception that large banking organizations aren’t able to operate like a startup, that they don’t have that mentality, that they’re too big to change. The word fintech without a doubt applies to startups in the space but a lot of that is how you pull in these startup-type organizations with the big banks to create a set of financial services that are orientated to the customer.

What’s an area of fintech you’re most passionate about?
Aggregation and insights. Looking at the future of banking, I believe we have a social obligation to the health, wealth and education for our customers; it’s about understanding their journey, what they want to do with their money and at what point in their lives they are. It’s also about helping someone understand where they fit within their demographic and helping them to meet their financial goals. If we can take out the legalese out of the messaging of banking and really help people understand the impact of the decisions they make — that will make a difference to people.

Many people dwell on technology when talking about digital overhaul. Can you talk about the importance of people?
We had the opportunity to pull a lot of very talented people from within Citi that had those experiences and blend them with a lot of external talent that didn’t necessarily come from the banking industry, from companies like PayPal, Amazon or IBM. We have people here who have started and run their own businesses. Bringing together that kind of talent to challenge different people’s experiences with money has made such a huge difference.

What has that blend of different talent and experience done for your work culture?
We’ve spent a lot of time creating a nontraditional banking culture. We operate in a very agile manner with the product, development, design teams working together in a completely integrated manner. They do their work through stand-up meetings on a daily basis, we don’t have offices – I do not have an office, I sit on the floor. We celebrate failure – if someone makes a mistake they actually win prizes for sharing that, all they have to do is demonstrate they learned something from it – to really create an environment of creativity and ambition for the product and how we serve our customers.

The Developer Hub also sort of brings those different talents together.
[The Developer Hub] actually covers 85 percent of the core services a customer performs. We wanted to expose many of our APIs to a much larger community, to be exposed to the services they’re working on and give them the opportunity to come to Citi to uncover and unveil where those hidden gems are, those additional opportunities. Instead of just focusing on ideas that target all things Citi and talking to our customers, we now have a whole new partner base of developers and tech organizations looking to integrate with us and can now use our APIs.

Do you ever run into problems being a bank and acting like a startup?
It doesn’t make sense with every project, especially when you’re dealing with backend legacy systems, so we identify where that process makes sense and get that deployed across Citi. It was also about changing that mindset. FinTech was set up to be able to prove we can operate at speed while protecting the customer and challenge our existing processes and protocols that makes it difficult to operate at speed.


What a top creative agency exec has to say about hiring top talent at financial firms

The market for talent has become super competitive. Top firms not only have to fight against their direct competitors for elite people but also against firms like Facebook and Google, which seem to have their tentacles into most creative and technology businesses today.

“Everyone is in the content business and wants to be makers,” Katherine Moncrief, evp, director of talent at creative agency Deutsch said at the Tradestreaming Money Conference in November. “The recruiting business is tough.”

Financial firms remaking themselves into technology-led businesses need to attract top performers. Moncrief suggests starting by appointing someone entirely focused on attracting and retaining the best people. HR people tend to focus more on rules and regulations, while recruiters, typically commission-based, have their eyes set on the opportunity of scoring a monetary prize.

“I’m a talent specialist. All I do is worry about bringing the right people in and making them successful in our company,” she said.

Here are some tips that companies in the financial industry can learn from creative firms when competing for top talent.

Best straight about the opportunity

Know the job you’re recruiting for and don’t sugarcoat pitching it. Know the job description. Be completely honest and most of all, listen to what the candidate wants, so you don’t get someone into a role they didn’t want. “Many times interviewers at Deutsch end up talking about themselves and our company rather than listening,” Moncrief admitted. “That’s a big no-no.”

Look in unlikely places for talent

Think out of the box when you’re recruiting for a specific role. Deutsch won Microsoft’s business about five years ago. Because the technology giant had a retail problem, Moncrief didn’t start looking for a tech person to lead the new project. “We found the person who came up with Burger King’s hit Whopper Freakout campaign,” she said. “He thought the tech business sounded boring, but I told him that I thought he would enjoy it. He left, thought about it some more, and took the job. Years later, he’s still working with tech clients.”

Shepherd new hires

Deutsch likes to say that it isn’t the bank or the country. It also isn’t a company where new hires are thrust into sink-or-swim roles. Fresh employees are assigned to a mentor, providing ongoing oversight. This feedback loop is especially important if the employee isn’t performing. Deutsch will provide feedback in written form and give the employee 30 days to improve.

Find the best home for a hire

According to Moncrief, the lack of professional development is the number one reason people leave a job. Making someone feel that she’s growing in her field is a great way to retain them. Move her around if she’s able to contribute elsewhere. It may cause some short-term disruption but you’ll probably get more out of her in a role she wants to be doing.

Make your house a home

25 percent of Deutsch staff has left the firm at some point, only to return at a later time. These boomerang employees come back to the firm because they feel like they’ve done some of the best work in their careers there. That’s by design — Moncrief and her team have created an environment people want to come back to. It also helps with retention. The average time creative types spend at Deutsch is six years, compared to about one year elsewhere.

Pay for professional development

Investing in top talent should pay dividends. Deutsch gives each employee access to online learning community, Lynda.com. That way, an employee can decide to learn new skills, like coding or graphic design, on his own schedule. Top performers are rewarded with trips to SXSW, Cannes, or other festivals, presenting their learnings and experiences to the rest of the company upon their return.

There’s also an admittedly silly-sounding suggestion box. Employees can provide constructive feedback anonymously. Deutsch’s chief creative officer responds to every suggestion. “Most of the time, it’s about little things, like snacks,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s about bigger things like crying over the election.” Giving people a say makes them more loyal to the team.

Bonding time

Getting employees spending time together helps to foster the feeling of being part of a team on a wider mission. But it also has another effect: it creates good natured competitiveness that encourages team members to constantly up their game.

Deutsch’s office layout is set up for collaboration. Office walls and doors are all glass, which adds to the feeling of openness and transparency. There’s also a section where employees can grab a snack with their colleagues that’s off-limits to meetings during certain parts of the day.

Raise the next generation

Lastly, internship programs that actually work are really important in creating a pipeline of young talent. Deutsch has a technology program where interested students can submit a two minute piece about why they would like an internship at the agency. Winners get a real budget and a blue-sky project to build something.

“Last year, with a $10,000 budget, students created a way to buy mobile minutes when you’re traveling abroad,” Moncrief said. “They designed it and coded it — it worked. They felt invested in our company and we invested in them. Some of them eventually joined us and the word of mouth marketing that resulted was very valuable.”

Whether you have a ping pong table or corporate kickball games isn’t really the point. Modern financial firms would do well to learn from other industries about developing a stimulating work culture that employees don’t want to leave.