Standing out in a Sea of Sameness: Five Ways Asset Managers Can Build a Winning Brand Strategy

Prolonged and emerging pressures are creating new challenges across the industry.

How do you gain market share and attract the best talent in a market that looks like a sea of sameness? Where clients, partners, and talent see you and your competitors as interchangeable? Asset managers have long operated with this mindset when it comes to brand positioning.   Compounding this challenge in recent years is the need to navigate challenges that include fee compression, market volatility, shifting regulatory environments and talent friction.  

Consequently, asset managers have rapidly expanded their areas of focus: taking on a new tension around focused expertise vs. expanding the set of offers to serve investors (e.g., new industries, specialties, alternative investments, ESG investing, real estate, digital assets, etc.). Many have used expanded offers to deepen their relationships with clients and successfully compete but at the price of sometimes murky associations around specialization. Such go-to-market strategies have made it confusing for new investors to confidently invest and, at times, for asset managers to confidently sell a broader set of investments and capabilities.  

Facing New Opposition  

Rising interest rates, inflation, inverted yield curves, disruptive technologies (AI, digital assets), and rising global tension have shrunken available Assets Under Management (AUM), which has only increased investor trepidation as they conserve cash at a time when access to capital is more costly.  

Automation and AI are also shifting the paradigm for acquiring AUM, and there could be a semi-industry rotation. The sales and client engagement processes are also evolving as a consequence of technology. It’s less about being “close” to investors for AUM and more about being “ubiquitous” and/or “famous” for something.  

The theme of 2021 was a world of too much money chasing too few assets. The theme of 2023 is too little AUM for too many asset managers and their expansive sets of offers. 

Consolidation is the next imminent frontier we are seeing. Franklin Templeton’s $1bn+ purchase of rival Putnam Investments and Lansdowne Partners’ plan to acquire UK equity investment manager Crux Asset Management are only the beginning.  

The Asset Management Brand-Demand Challenge  

While consolidation will make newly combined entities more competitive and allow them to capture efficiencies, it will not solve the two underlying challenges present in the asset management space:  

  1. A need to establish or regain slipping relevance: Every asset management brand covered in Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index (BRI) saw a decline in relevance from 2021 to 2022, and all but one declined in relevance versus other brands from 2022 to 2023. Relevance, which directly relates to the bottom line, is noteworthy to all stakeholders. It creates importance to investors but also attracts and retains premier talent in a tighter AUM environment and bigger asset management ecosystem—building both brand and demand for the business.
  2. A need to create coherence: As entities combine and grow, it is critical to ensure that not just the company but also its offers and capabilities are well-articulated, organized and understood—making it easier for investors to buy and asset managers to sell.  

5 Actions for Building a Winning Asset Management Strategy  

1. Acknowledge and understand your unique audience motivations.

Asset managers need to manage a range of stakeholders and monitor the emerging patterns in behaviors. For example:   

  • Investors: Institutional and individuals are typically seeking risk-adjusted returns that outpace the other options available in the capital structure.   
  • Portfolio Companies: Seeking sustainable growth through capital and expertise, but also looking for purpose and values alignment.  
  • Capital Allocators: Seeking value creation, preservation of capital, and risk management for both the firm and its clients.  They also need the best talent to convey expertise, broaden access to capital, and drive outsized performance. 
  • Talent: Looking to build unique career knowledge, gain experience, and get rewarded by working with the smartest people at asset management firms with the strongest cultures.  

2. Establish a clear brand purpose.

Asset management brands tend to place too great of an emphasis on what they do (alternatives, quant, fixed income) vs. answering bigger questions on how they do it (resources, ecosystem, talent) or, even further, why they align their purpose, promise, and principles to a particular vision. Brands that can’t get past what are likely to simply float along in a sea of sameness. Many asset management positionings have migrated to being ‘safe’ through a few primary lenses: looking towards tomorrow, spotlighting integrity and/or trust, and a focus on driving long-term value.  

We believe many of the declines in brand relevance for asset managers can be attributed, in part, to a decline in various key client sentiment heart factors as outlined by Prophet’s BRI. Heart factors encapsulate the emotional connections that the audiences will forge with brands, e.g., ‘connects with me emotionally’, ‘makes me feel inspired’ and ‘engages with me in new and creative ways’. The erosion of these heart factors vs. more rational head factors which have remained stable, e.g., ‘know I can depend on’, ‘delivers on a consistent experience’, and ‘makes my life easier’ reinforces the idea that asset managers have reached a perceived parity across products, services, and the overall brand.  Such underscores the likely importance of conveying a clear ‘how’ paired with a well-defined ‘why’ in the brand purpose with clients.    

A clear how may include things like:  

  1. Your investment philosophy and approach 
  2. Your organization’s talent, values, and principles  
  3. Signature stories of lasting impact on employees, investors, companies, communities, and ecosystems 

A well-thought-out purpose is:  

  1. Authentic – ties back to what you do 
  2. Inspiring – connects with employees and customers emotionally 
  3. Shared – creates connection and builds community 
  4. Actionable – lived every day 

In Vice Chairman at Prophet David Aaker’s recent book The Future of Purpose-Driven Branding, he outlines the use of inspiring, and mission-driven signature social programs that deploy resources to address the most pressing societal challenges.  One shining example of this is State Street Global Advisors who commissioned the bronze sculpture Fearless Girl overlooking the New York Stock Exchange in anticipation of National Women’s Day.  This serves as a symbol of a part of the organization’s purpose to position on the gender equality gap and reinforces its position on taking an aggressive stance on its expectation that all portfolio companies hold at least one woman on its board.  The organization mentions it is prepared to cast proxy votes against board leaders when companies do not meet their diversity expectations.  

3. Power brand from within using a visible human-centered approach.

It’s hard enough to articulate a clear purpose in the crowded asset management space but even harder to ensure that brand purpose connects meaningfully to people and clients. The brands’ purpose needs to align with prospective talent and customers. Shaping a visible culture plays a critical role in attracting and retaining the best people which in turn garners the attention of clients. Bridgewater Associates famously pioneered a workplace culture relying on truthful and transparent communication dubbed “radical truth and radical transparency” as part of Ray Dalio’s principle-based approach. A human-centered approach involves bridging your brand purpose into a visible culture supported by a strong employee value proposition that:  

  • Articulates what makes your company a strong place to work  
  • Improves winning in the broad talent marketplace 
  • Develops an enhanced foundation to support future and evolving talent needs  

Doing these three things requires building from the organization’s purpose but also driving careful consideration around the Employee Value Proposition and employee experience.  In some recent Prophet qualitative research in the asset management space, we found building a winning EVP requires deliberate care to the employee experience levers talent is looking for beyond compensation, such as:  

  • Autonomy – giving employees the freedom to make decisions that matter to them 
  • Mentorship – surrounding talent with leaders that inspire them 
  • Clarity – on how the organization will value their performance and the capital available to them  
  • Resources – being equipped with the right support to guide decisions and accomplish goals 
  • Innovation – seeing their work and the work of the company evolving toward the future 

4. Revisit architecture, nomenclature, and value propositions.

Increasingly adding incremental investment products and services will raise organizational capabilities with impending M&A in the asset management space compounding that effect. But these new products, services, and areas of focus often get added to the existing array of capabilities that slowly stifle brand and portfolio coherence. Asset managers need to revisit the growing complexity of their investment focuses and develop an architecture and naming strategy that still complies with regulatory requirements but removes friction for both buying and selling offers designed to increase their AUM. Coupling this with strong value propositions that don’t just indicate what investments to provide but also how to pursue those investments in a way that serves to improve investor consideration and demand in addition to improving the ability for advisors to promote their services. The necessity for these services becomes evident when we consider a key finding from BRI, which reveals asset management brands fall short of advantageous relevance drivers that connect to aspects of having a strong brand architecture, use of nomenclature, and/or value propositions resonate with people in meaningful ways:  

  • Emotional resonance (connects with me) 
  • Value alignment (has a set of beliefs and values that align with my own) 
  • Essentiality (I can’t imagine living without).   

5. Experiment to win with experience both internally and externally.

In an industry where both brand and culture follow predictable patterns and a substantial amount of investment follows critical business-as-usual actions around quality reporting, transparency, educational resources, technology, etc., it can be easy for marketing, business development/advisor activities, experience investments, and cultural investments to follow these patterns. Applying a portfolio construction theory to marketing, hiring, and culture investments to experiment with actions that set a brand’s purpose and culture apart can yield huge returns. Asset management company, Vanguard, is famous for owning the retirement space not just for investors but also employees whom they affectionately name their “crew”. The Vanguard Retirement Savings plan for this group offers 4% in matched contributions and an unheard-of 10% company contribution without limit.  

Acknowledgment: The authors would like to thank Prophet Partner Adam Tremblay for his input in creating this article. 


As the asset management industry continues to encounter pressure and consolidation, the asset managers able to revisit the actions that surround their brand(s) to regain relevance and establish coherence will have outsized chances of being considered. Our Prophet team has supported some of the most respected global brands in asset management to better position for growth. If you are looking to grow your brand, connect with our global team of experts today.


Deepen Innovation Maturity to Win Out Fintech Disruption in Southeast Asia

How financial services companies should innovate in this disruptive landscape in SEA. 

Financial services companies are at a crossroads, facing an unprecedented risk of relinquishing their dominance. The unique financial services landscape in Southeast Asia (SEA) has paved the way for disruptive fintech companies to emerge as agile and visionary players, causing significant disruptions in the sector. To stay ahead of the game, traditional and international banks must enhance their innovation capabilities and embrace a progressive mindset as business models have changed and more disruptive fintech companies establish themselves in the industry.  

The Unique Financial Services Market in Southeast Asia  

One of SEA’s unique characteristics lies in its strong demand for convenient and accessible financial services, driven by a relatively large underbanked population. The Global Fintech Report estimates that over 70% of the Southeast Asian population remains unbanked or underbanked, with Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia having the highest combined rates. Coupled with a large population of young and digitally savvy consumers, SEA’s digital economy has enormous growth potential. It is also worth noting that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are huge driving forces of the SEA economy but most of them face difficulty in securing bank loans as they are unable to meet the eligibility criteria.  

Moreover, the regulatory environment in SEA has made the region a fertile ground for fintech innovation. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are now dominant players in the regional fintech scene, establishing a supportive regulatory environment that has driven the rise of virtual banks and encourages innovation and collaboration between fintech startups and traditional financial institutions. 

The uneven financial services landscape in SEA has given birth to virtual banks and led digital native startups to venture into developing accessible and inclusive financial solutions for underserved populations in the region. With a strong culture of innovation, fintech companies and neo-banks in the region have been able to reach the underserved micro-segments that incumbent banks were unable to fulfill. 

A Dynamic Landscape of Fintech Disruptors 

Among the disruptors, Chinese powerhouses Ant Financial and Tencent have emerged as formidable players, shaking up the local financial services scene by introducing e-payment solutions for tourists and partnering with local players. For instance, Ant Financial has invested in Ascend Money in Thailand, and Mynt in the Philippines, while WeChat Pay partnered with PT Bank CIMB Niaga Tbk to enter the Indonesian market. These disruptive business models in China have influenced SEA markets to accelerate innovation. Agile players like Singapore’s Grab and Indonesia’s Gojek have since expanded into the financial products, digital payment and e-wallet ecosystem. Each country has witnessed the rise of strong fintech players providing e-wallet services – Momo in Vietnam, PayMongo in the Philippines, Boost in Malaysia, GoPay and OVO in Indonesia, and GrabPay in Singapore. Not to be outdone, telecommunication companies are now diving headfirst into the fintech realm, forging strategic partnerships to expand their offerings far beyond their traditional core services. 

Furthermore, we are seeing increasing collaboration between incumbent banks and fintech companies in the region. For example, Siam Commercial Bank’s fintech subsidiary, SCBX, has announced its readiness to apply for a virtual banking license in partnership with South Korea’s largest digital bank, KakaoBank. By offering digital banking services in Thailand, SCBX aims to enhance competition and address the challenges faced by underserved individuals in the country. Similar collaborations have occurred in Singapore and Malaysia, where joint ventures between super apps like Grab and telco brands like SingTel have given rise to virtual digital banks. Notably, AirAsia’s fintech unit BigPay and Malaysian telco giant Axiata have also partnered with lender RHB Group to drive innovation in the financial services sector. 

As such, the ongoing fintech revolution in SEA is transforming the way financial services are provided and consumed, bringing financial inclusion and innovation to the forefront.  

Rising Challenge for Traditional Banks 

With dynamic fintech companies being laser-focused on addressing the needs of underserved segments, fintech’s impact in SEA is undeniable, pressurizing incumbent banks to innovate and transform.  

Several traditional banks have demonstrated a strong capacity to withstand fintech incursions and even turn the tide in their favor. An example is MB Bank, one of the largest financial groups in Vietnam that embarked on a digital transformation journey in partnership with Prophet. Through a customer-centric digital transformation and a new innovative growth hack business model, MB Bank successfully reimagined its business, products and experiences, acquiring some 20 million new customers in just 3 years with its new tech-like banking platform unlike any in the region. Gaining leadership as the No.1 digital bank and recognized as the most valuable brand in Vietnam by Brand Finance, MB Bank is now proudly listed as one of The Forbes Global 2000 list of the world’s largest firms.  

​​​MB Bank’s remarkable disruption of legacy banking and admirable achievements serve as an inspiration for other traditional financial institutions seeking continued success in the digital era. 

Leveraging the Innovation Maturity Model for Traditional Financial Services 

To help financial services companies rethink and review their innovation strategies, Prophet’s financial services experts developed the Innovation Maturity Model to offer a definitive roadmap for organizations to outperform disruptive fintech firms. The model provides a systematic blueprint, with a focus on essential pillars such as strategy, organization, insights, culture, and education, to ensure effective performance. By leveraging these pillars, organizations can make well-informed strategic decisions and cultivate a culture driven by innovation, empowering them to seize growth opportunities. 

Importantly, traditional financial services companies must foster a culture of disciplined and rigorous innovation to gain an edge over the pervasive threat posed by fintech disruptors. The five pillars of the Innovation Maturity Model offer guidance and ammunition. By adopting this model, companies are able to inspect five dimensions of the business that are critical to enabling innovation. 

1. Strategy and Vision 

The key to successful innovations lies in a focused strategy that aligns closely with customer truths and relevance. By developing future-proof solutions rooted in a profound understanding of current and future customer needs, financial services companies can navigate the dynamic industry landscape and remain competitive in the long run. 

Take inspiration from MB Bank, which gained a deep understanding of the pain points faced by Vietnamese consumers when it comes to banking. It had thus defined a clear strategic vision for its transformation to be a customer-centric and digital-first bank of the future, unlocking a series of innovative digital experiences for its young and underbanked audience. 

2. Organization and Mechanics 

It is crucial to embed innovation throughout the organization to efficiently deliver cutting-edge products and services. This involves fostering internal collaboration across different functions and tapping on external perspectives and knowledge, including that of fintech companies. 

A notable example is Standard Chartered’s collaboration on Mox (in partnership with HKT, PCCW and and Trust Bank (collaboration with Singapore’s leading retailer Fairprice), which enabled them to leverage the latter’s advanced huge customer base, technological infrastructures and cloud-native features. The consequential improvements in Standard Chartered’s operational efficiency and customer experience highlight the advantages of collaboration even with unexpected partners in the financial sector. 

3. Insights and Measurements  

To stay attuned to customer expectations, financial services companies must facilitate the integration of predictive and prescriptive capabilities. By harnessing the power of data analysis and insights, financial services companies can anticipate future needs and make informed decisions.  

MB Bank for example greatly stepped up its data analytics with its enterprise transformation, boosting insights with real-time dashboards across critical customer touchpoints as well as investing in Martech to better understand customers and improve customer experiences.  

It is imperative for financial services companies to consistently monitor the relevance and effectiveness of their initiatives and be receptive to necessary changes. By doing so, they can react faster and sharper to ensure that their innovation and customer experience initiatives remain in sync with customer expectations, resolve pain points and stay ahead of the curve. 

4. Culture, Behaviour and Rituals

Fostering an innovative culture is also pivotal to achieving long-term success. Financial organizations must adopt a mindset of perpetual learning and refrain from assuming that past practices alone will be adequate in the future. This is especially so as fintech and Insurtech are two of the fastest growing in SEA where innovation is the bedrock of these disruptors.   

Apart from inculcating an innovation culture with ongoing initiatives, activities like hackathons widely used in tech firms are also effective approaches to fostering innovation as they promote learning, skill development and exposure to novel methodologies and ideas. Hackathons can also serve as powerful recruitment tools. DBS, for instance, strategically leverages programs like Hack2hire to identify and attract highly skilled individuals with expertise in cloud technologies, AI, Big Data, and analytics. By hosting such hackathons, DBS creates opportunities to engage with talented individuals and recruit them into their organization, ensuring a pipeline of top-notch talent in relevant domains. 

MB Bank’s HIVE innovation lab is another notable example where new ideas are incubated, with collaborations with start-ups, and internal growth hacks and product innovations are continuously tested and piloted.  

5. Education and Enablement

Financial services companies must also recognize the importance of education and enablement. Traditional providers should strike a balance between internal and external education, offering training and enablement programs to keep employees updated on emerging trends and agile solution-building.  

Both DBS and MB Bank exemplify dedication to continuous employee development through the establishment of DBS Academy and MB Academy respectively. Through a blend of formal training with communities-based learning, both banks aim to equip their workforce with the necessary tools and digital skills to thrive in dynamic business environments. 

Additionally, establishing strategic partnerships and providing educational content to ecosystem partners empowers them with the latest technological developments. 


In this heavily fragmented and competitive financial services market, international banks and local giants confront the need to evaluate their capacity to effectively participate and thrive in local markets. Prophet’s Innovation Maturity Model presents a proven transformative framework that empowers financial services companies to bolster their innovation capabilities to drive sustainable, uncommon growth in the constantly evolving financial landscape. We’d be delighted to speak with you regarding your firm’s innovation outlook and how we can help you achieve them. 


Winning Hearts and Minds in Financial Services: The Imperatives to Amplifying Purpose

Purpose isn’t a mere sales tactic; it’s how you forge deep trust with your organization’s stakeholders. 

In a world where trust in financial institutions is being shaken up and consumers have more options than ever, organizations must tap into their purpose to assure they can be counted on for more than high-quality products and services.  

As Prophet’s Vice Chairman David Aaker states in his latest book, “The new purpose-driven revolution is leading firms beyond a focus on growing sales, profits, and shareholder return to having a business purpose that does more.” This shift should come as no surprise given what we know about purpose’s powerful influence on business outcomes: Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.  

Research shows that purpose-related drivers rise to the top in motivating consumer choice – especially in financial services. Prophet’s 2023 Relentlessly Relevant Brands report found that consumers are shifting to brands that spark an emotional connection—reaching beyond functional needs. And we’re not the only ones tracking this trend: IBM and the National Retail Federation found that, for the first time, more consumers are driven by purpose than by value. 

But simply having a purpose does not move the needle. To effectively build trust and harness the power of purpose, organizations must amplify their purpose. It must be fully integrated into the business, showing up in key moments and being championed authentically by employees—otherwise, it’s just lip service that leaves consumers doubting that the organization truly delivers on its promises.  

In our research, we found there are four key imperatives financial services organizations must work toward to effectively amplify and deliver on their purpose: 

1. Have a clear and inspiring purpose. 

Taking the first step means clearly defining your organization’s purpose. It should be both authentic while also being aspirational, meaningful, and engaging for all relevant stakeholders (e.g., consumers, investors, and employees). Your organization’s purpose should be clear enough that it can be used as a locus for decision-making. Once it’s clearly defined, time and resources must be invested to socialize it internally. Employees should be able to not only understand your organization’s purpose, but easily reference and use it in their daily work.  

What this looks like: 

Edward Jones recently made a significant investment in defining their purpose, working to create an authentic, clear, and compelling North star for their organization. Beyond just crafting an inspiring purpose statement, they Identified clear purpose impact areas to focus their work. 

Edward Jones’ purpose is to “partner for positive impact by improving the lives of their clients and colleagues and bettering their communities and society.” They achieve this by focusing on three key areas: partnering for lasting financial strength, promoting healthier futures, and advancing inclusive growth.  

Questions you might ask about your organization’s purpose: 

  • Is it clearly defined? 
  • Is it relevant to key stakeholders? 
  • Is it clear enough to guide decision making? 
  • Do employees know it and understand how their role contributes to delivering against it? 

2. Own your purpose. 

Don’t outsource purpose through philanthropy. Instead, embed it across the organization and ways of working. Leaders at all levels should be taking actionable steps to integrate your organization’s purpose into everyday operations, making it easy for employees to action against it in their daily lives. Purpose should be inherent to each project and every team, not a siloed effort or initiative.  

What this looks like: 

FinTech Current’s purpose is to “create better financial outcomes for more people.” They don’t just talk about it—they deliver on it through their product. Believing that legacy banks constrain consumers, Current moves consumers forward by helping them make the most of what they have, specifically by removing all fees (minimum fees, overdraft fees, transfer fees, ATM fees, etc.), expediting direct deposits and simplifying saving through Savings Pods and Round-Ups. 

Questions you might ask about your organization’s purpose: 

  • Is it being outsourced (e.g., focused on delivery through philanthropic donations alone)? 
  • How is it being actioned against in day-to-day operations?
  • Are there metrics in place to measure progress as it relates to delivering on purpose?  

3. Build the capabilities to deliver on your purpose. 

Purpose must be engrained into your organization’s operating model, guiding each change and transformation. The operating model should be organized to hold leaders and teams accountable for delivering on purpose through incentives and business structures. Additionally, employees should be equipped with the right tools and skillsets to effectively live out the organization’s purpose.  

What this looks like: 

Mastercard’s purpose is “connecting everyone to priceless possibilities.” To help employees deliver on their purpose, Mastercard created a new compensation model that ties bonus calculations to the organization’s performance on purpose across three key areas: carbon neutrality, financial inclusion, and gender pay parity.   

Questions you might ask about your organization’s purpose: 

  • Are employees adequately incentivized to deliver on it? 
  • What tools and skills are needed to equip employees to deliver on it?  
  • Is it a central consideration in business decisions? 

4. Ensure that your purpose shows up in key moments. 

After establishing purpose as a foundational component to how your organization operates, it’s time for stakeholders to feel its impact. Employees, consumers, and investors should be able to experience your organization’s purpose firsthand—whether through communications, experiences or other touchpoints. When purpose shows up in key moments, internal and external stakeholders are inspired to join in, contribute and learn more.  

What this looks like: 

USAA’s purpose is to “empower members to achieve financial security through highly competitive products, exceptional service and trusted advice,” and “be the #1 choice for the military community and their families.” One way they bring this to life is through their annual Poppy Wall of Honor and other Memorial Day-related installations. Aligning closely with their purpose, USAA uses their Poppy Wall of Honor to help raise awareness of the true meaning of Memorial Day and provide visitors of the National Mall an opportunity to remember the service members who have died in service to our nation since World War I. Throughout the year, USAA’s Memorial Day microsite allows users to remember heroes, visit the virtual Poppy Wall and honor heroes through action.  

Questions you might ask yourself: 

  • How is it being activated with both internal and external stakeholders? 
  • How does it show up in the moments that matter for employees, investors and consumers? 


Simply put, financial services organizations must do more than just have a purpose to build trust with consumers. Recent shakeups across the Industry elevate the need for companies to put their purpose into action, amplifying it across all levels of the organization and creating a shared experience for all stakeholders alike.  

Contact us to learn more about how to develop and put an authenticate purpose Into action for your organization. organization’s purpose to life and put it into action. 


Financial Services Trends We’ll Be Watching in 2023 

There are many reasons why 2023 can – and very much should – be the year of relentless relevance in financial services.

It’s that time of year again, when we stick our necks out to envision what’s coming for financial services in 2023. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know that there will be more disruption and plenty of innovation. The tightening economic landscape means that banks, insurers and wealth and asset managers will need to prioritize investments that deliver results in the near term, even as they look to establish strong foundations for long-term transformation and ongoing innovation.  

1. Resilience Through Relevance Becomes the Priority  

Yes, customers are likely to be more careful with their spending in 2023. But, no, customer experience will not become less important. Financial services firms should “buy the dip” by continuing to fund innovation programs.  

Market experience and research from Harvard Business Review tell us that firms that retain their focus on and continue to invest in innovation (especially in those areas of relatively low opportunity cost) during times of economic uncertainty significantly outperform their peers in sales and profit growth. And many well-known brands and market leaders have fully reinvented themselves during downturns, by focusing relentlessly on resilience and retaining their relevance.  

For large financial services firms, they must overcome the common tendency to solve their own internal business problems rather than solving authentic customer problems, as broad and evolving as those can be. Showing empathy and aligning with customer values can help brands stay relevant and differentiate during tough times. That means defining the corporate purpose in terms that are meaningful to customers, a topic we cover in more detail here. Such clarity is especially important in embedded finance and other areas of disruption, where established brands must define their role.  

2. Mega-Growth Comes from Sub-Categories  

When it comes to reaching new segments, many financial services companies are finding success with tailored offers that can create separation from the primary brand and the competition. As Prophet Vice Chairman David Aaker has written in his book, “Instead of promoting the superiority of a brand, create a subcategory with new or markedly superior customer experiences or brand relationships to create barriers to competitors.”  

Sub-categories are promising because they allow incumbent brands to go into new places. And there are many potential opportunities:  

  • Banks offering credit and other services tailored to small business categories
  • Insurers launching digital policies for millennials and Gen Z 
  • Wealth managers focusing on simpler income protection products and decumulation strategies  

There has been considerable market action along these lines in recent years: Some sub-category explorations and extensions have been successful in gaining traction, while others have delivered sub-optimal results, while also producing ample learnings that can be applied to future endeavors.  

We’ll give David Aaker the last word here: “Subcategory-driven growth has exploded in the digital era because of technological advances and the fast, inexpensive market access made possible by e-commerce and digital communication.” That trend will surely continue in 2023 and beyond.  

3. Brands Will Define Their Roles in the Embedded Finance Value Chain  

Critical mass may still be a few years off, but the days of nearly all finance being delivered as-a-service are getting close. Embedded finance is on the same trajectory that made “digital marketing” just “marketing” and “mobile phones” just “phones”. 

According to recent research, the U.S. embedded finance industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.5% from 2022 through 2029, reaching $212 billion by 2029. Plaid expects a 10x jump in embedded finance revenue from 2020 to 2025. We expect the growth of embedded finance to be nearly recession-proof.  

At the center of this growth is the shift from standalone products to solutions delivered at the point of need. After all, customers don’t want a credit card or an insurance policy, but rather an integrated payments experience that streamlines purchasing and provides protections for important purchases. We believe that a primary way to differentiate in the embedded finance space is to start with the customer and design products and experiences around their needs and relevant to their financial journey. 

The next 12 months will see plenty of milestones. Investment advice is everywhere and easily hopping over industry boundaries. Consider how DriveWealth is offering advice for health savings accounts (HSAs).  

The tipping point for mass adoption of embedded finance is clearly getting closer and we very well may reach it in 2023. Financial services organizations that start with deep insights into the needs of customers’ financial journeys and that engage successfully in ecosystems will be best positioned to win the innovation game in the embedded era.  

4. Holistic Wellness Matters as Much to Your Employees as Your Customers   

For many financial services institutions, customers are your employees. A weakening macroeconomic environment will only intensify the need for greater wellness – including physical, mental and financial wellness. There’s a risk that employers may cut programs because of cost pressures in a recessionary environment; that would be a mistake in our view. While wellness may seem a consumer hot topic du jour, financial firms should recognize that wellness equates to confidence and security, which is what consumers are looking for when they buy financial services products.      

We expect to see more financial services firms expand their content, education and advisory offerings (via both in-person and Robo channels) for the simple reason that more people need such services. That’s true at every level of the market; from high-net-worth families that want multi-generational wealth distribution strategies to younger consumers just starting their careers and seeking higher degrees of financial literacy and basic tools for budgeting, savings and investing. To realize the benefits, banks, insurers and others will need to master their activation strategies.  

Financial services firms keying on wellness would do well to understand the complex linkages between mental health and financial wellness. For instance, financial stress is the number-one driver of poor mental health among employees, according to research from MetLife. Because dynamic relationships between different types of wellness play out for both customers and employees, the group insurance and employee benefits space is seeing more innovation, much of it focused on driving well-being. For example, the Morgan Stanley at Work program offers holistic features for both financial security and empowerment.  

5. Human Capital and Strong Cultures Deliver Even More Competitive Advantage    

Post-COVID, more companies have rediscovered the power of their people (okay, maybe not Twitter). It’s more than companies having to compete for scarce talent. Rather, those firms that embrace cultures of learning, creativity and flexibility typically realize better results in terms of customer-centric innovation. And it’s not a matter of choosing to invest in tech or people, but rather getting the right people in place to boost returns on your tech investments.  For all of these reasons, 2023 will not be the time to cut back on learning, development and upskilling/reskilling programs. These initiatives help strengthen cultures and create a more resilient workforce, just what financial services firms will need to thrive in the near term.  

Whether and to what extent inflation or a recession impact the job market remains to be seen. But it’s possible that wage increases may rise faster than price increases. And financial services firms have an opportunity to hire more tech-savvy talent after widespread Silicon Valley layoffs; this is another opportunity to “buy the dip.”  

But even if there is more talent available, banks and others must ensure their cultures are attractive to the right type of talent. Typically, that means emphasizing collaboration and taking a human-centric approach. Our research into the Collaborative Advantage shows that higher levels of teamwork enrich individuals, building new skills that increase engagement and job satisfaction – what financial services firms need to complete in a dynamic market landscape today. 

6. Balancing ESG Expectations With Reality  

While the bright spotlight on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters will not dim significantly in the coming year, attention will shift toward closer brand scrutiny, both in terms of greenwashing and the authenticity of their ESG claims. More companies – including the “big 6” banks that have aligned to the Paris Agreement – will be evaluated in terms of how well they are “walking the walk” relative to their commitments. That scrutiny will come not just from regulators but the full range of stakeholders, including employees, investors, and clients and customers, who will not react well to big gaps between brand perceptions and actual ESG performance.  

Tensions and contradictions will be called out. For instance, many of the firms marketing green products and aiming for inclusion in ESG funds and indexes also continue to underwrite fossil fuel infrastructure. No wonder some banks are considering leaving industry alliances.  

Financial services firms should be thoughtful in understanding their ESG efforts from a broader range of perspectives. Certainly, there will be more focus on the “S” or social dimension “People well-being” is one potential lens for evaluating commitments and monitoring progress. For instance, the employee experience can be viewed in terms of its social impacts, as can loan portfolios’ inclusion of minority-owned businesses.  

Financial services firms should not shy away from articulating their value relative to ESG, but they must be careful about mere virtue signaling. They should also look to get beyond compliance focus, though of course, lawyers are going to restrict what can be said about green offerings. Further, firms will need to become experts in ESG data and reporting, not least because more detailed disclosures are coming soon.   


Anchoring on what matters most to your stakeholders, especially your customers, will provide a tangible edge in a tough market in 2023. From sub-category extensions and embedded finance to employee wellness and ESG, there are many reasons why 2023 can be – and very much should be – the year of relentless relevance in financial services.   

Contact our financial services team today. We’d love to talk about what transformation can look like at your organization in 2023. 


Banking on the Metaverse: The Imperatives of Web 3.0 for Financial Services

How should financial service companies build resilience for the decentralized future?   

The massive financial services industry (including wealth management, retail banking and insurance) is a powerhouse player in today’s globalized economy. Despite (or perhaps due to) its scale, this sector has traditionally been slow to change, encumbered by legacy businesses, ever-changing regulations and complex business models. However, as the boom in fintech players and investments has shown, incumbents in the business are not immune to disruption.  

Metaverse – The Next Wave of Disruption  

Given the foreseeable growth of the Metaverse economy, digital currency and payments will be key to all transactions. However, amid recent controversies surrounding cryptocurrencies, such as the collapse of FTX, there is a heightened opportunity for financial services providers to build a strong sense of trust and security in the Metaverse with a commitment to strong governance. Both established, traditional companies and newer, digital players would be wise to think proactively about what their presence in the Metaverse can and should be. 

Preliminary forays into the Metaverse by financial services firms have been focused mainly on brand building. In 2022, HSBC, Standard Chartered and DBS all acquired virtual plots of land in The Sandbox, a Metaverse game, with the goal of creating Metaverse experiences and touchpoints to engage with a new generation of customers. Similarly, J.P. Morgan opened a lounge in the virtual world Decentraland earlier this year but has been involved in Web 3.0 since 2020, when the bank launched Onyx, a blockchain-based platform for wholesale payment transactions.​ Meanwhile, new players are pushing in. Cryptocurrency exchange platforms such as Coinbase and Binance have annual exchange volumes in the trillions. Cryptocurrencies themselves are being created by a wide range of decentralized organizations and individuals. 

With these waves of disruption shaking up the sector, financial institutions must consider both the why and the how of their Metaverse strategy. Below, we discuss what financial services brands should consider when building their brand presence, future offerings and new business models. 

Defining the Why: Clarify Business Objectives and Your Audience 

As mentioned, many leading financial services brands have already invested in the Metaverse. But it’s not just about being there; it’s about being there with a purpose. First, a brand must have a clear definition of why they are in the Metaverse. Is the goal to build brand awareness or create brand differentiation? Or is it about engaging with customers, improving loyalty and onboarding a new generation? Or do they want to educate a new generation of investors? Having clarity and alignment throughout all levels of the organization is critical to setting a visionary Metaverse strategy. 

To define the why, brands first need to understand the profile of who is in the Metaverse today, including demographics, attitudes and behaviors. “Metazens” are drawn to the Metaverse for a variety of reasons – from entertainment to self-expression to community to creativity. How can brands enable their customers to achieve these goals in the Metaverse? 

Then, as with any go-to-market strategy, financial services brands should be clear on their target audience within the Metaverse and how they want them to behave and engage with the brand. In Web 2.0, brands cannot be everything for everyone. The same is true in the Web 3.0 world. In turn, a Metaverse strategy should also align with the overall brand strategy and value proposition to ensure that the customer experience across all touchpoints– from offline to mobile to web to Metaverse– is consistent and cohesive. 

Understanding the How: Innovating Business Models to Capture Emerging Opportunities 

Once a brand’s objective on the Metaverse is defined, it must be translated into a feasible business model that can ultimately drive revenue. Unlike the fashion companies that have dominated the early stages of the Metaverse by selling digital apparel for avatars, financial services companies are posed with a more challenging but also potentially more exciting “how” when it comes to monetization in the Metaverse. The blurred physical and virtual realities will create new opportunities when it comes to payments, loans, investments and even new types of financial products not yet in the market today. As the Metaverse is still in its early stages, we’ve only just begun to explore what is possible. 

When considering ways financial services brands can drive revenue, we see two near-term prospects.  

1. The Evolution of Services With Rich Data. 

In Web 2.0, customer data is centralized and comes from the limited customer touchpoints throughout the journey – from website visits to phone calls, from advertisements to purchases. In the Metaverse, customer touchpoints will evolve to become more experiential, multisensorial and multidimensional. Salespeople can interact with customers “face-to-face,” no longer confined by phone lines or chat boxes. Products can be showcased in real-time rather than on a webpage. All these interactions will generate an incredible amount of data points. Financial services organizations, thus, have the opportunity to define and evolve their experience principles on the Metaverse to offer more customized and higher-quality services. However, it is important to note that these data points are also decentralized and anonymous. Collecting data and attributing data to concrete customers will also become more difficult.  

2. The Reimagination of Traditional Revenue Models.

As they do in the current Web 2.0 world, financial institutions have the expertise and resources to provide security, risk mitigation and fraud prevention for Metaverse transactions. They can also offer financing or protection for digital assets just as they do physical ones. Financial services brands can provide loans or insurance for NFTs, virtual real estate and other assets that users in the Metaverse will own. The merging of the online and offline worlds will allow brands to play in both spheres and find the opportunities for crossover.  

(Image source)  

Founded in 2018, ZELF calls itself the first bank of the Metaverse. It started as a messaging-first “neobank,” issuing cards to customers in a matter of minutes, simply by chatting with them via Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber or Telegram. Since then, it’s become the first financial services provider to allow customers to manage their gaming assets, cryptocurrency, digital art and regular (fiat) currency in one place. ZELF simplifies and democratizes access to financial services, facilitating financial transactions in the virtual world of crypto and gaming, enabling NFT trades, and allowing players to trade (or use as collateral) their digital assets earned from gaming for fiat currency.  

Prophet defines the customer-centric framework of business model innovation as one that creates more value for customers while also increasing the amount of value available to be captured by the business.  

Building a Roadmap For the Future 

While the commercial and technological infrastructure of the Metaverse is still be developed, financial services providers need to start innovating their offerings for the future virtual community. In developing a roadmap for the future, financial institutions also need to identify the current knowledge and capability gaps and invest in the appropriate resources to fill them. The multidimensional Metaverse will also require a multidisciplinary effort across organizations.  

As the Metaverse and Web 3.0 continues to evolve, new capabilities, technologies, use cases and business opportunities will continue to emerge. To seize these opportunities, innovation needs to happen across all platforms; thus, financial services brand should be ready with short- and long-term Metaverse activation roadmaps. 


Defining the “why” and understanding the “how” is core to the way Prophet builds brands today. When designing a Metaverse strategy, it is just as essential for the process to be rooted in sharp consumer insights, a compelling value proposition, and a differentiated experience.  

Prophet combines its deep expertise in financial services with a wide breadth of capabilities across customer research, brand building, experience design, business model innovation and digital transformation. Get in touch to see how we can help your financial services brand formulate a strategic roadmap to respond, adapt and transform in this next wave of the Metaverse. 


Winning the Innovation Game in Banking

How incumbent banks can build resiliency by transforming their innovation engines to drive growth. 

Banks that go on offense and remain committed to innovation will have the competitive edge as the economy returns to growth cycles.

Based on ongoing market research and interviews with industry experts and executives, “Winning the Innovation Game in Banking,” provides insights for senior banking leaders seeking to re-energize their organization’s innovation engines. Specifically, this report:

  • Provides pragmatic actions for avoiding costly mistakes and translating innovation investments into market impact and improvements on the top line
  • Defines leading practices and proven frameworks that accelerate efforts to operationalize and scale innovation programs
  • Identifies the most promising market territories for innovation aligned to the growth agendas of incumbent banks

Download the report today. 

Winning the Innovation Game in Banking

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Transform Your Financial Services Retail Experiences with These 9 Levers

9 key levers across 3 development stages, each enabling financial institutions to transform their retail experience towards the future.

In many Asian markets, financial services companies used to grow alongside the macro economy and compete heavily on products. But things are changing. Product innovation within established incumbents is becoming more difficult under a slowing economy and tighter regulations. Fintech companies are disrupting legacy brands – with offers across saving, credit, insurance and more. The new generation of consumers is increasingly looking for more than short-term returns. These macro shifts indicate that in the future of financial services, reimagining the customer experience and offering benefits beyond transactions will be critical in driving sustainable, ownable growth.  

Study1 shows that nearly 70% of Asian financial services companies understand the importance of “customer-centricity,” and are investing heavily to improve digitally enabled customer experiences (CX). Yet surprisingly, only 20% of customers consider FS companies providers of truly “customer-centric” experiences2. This gap is not a favorable truth but indicates a great opportunity for a company to take action and lead the future. We have identified nine key levers across three development stages that will enable financial institutions to transform their retail experiences for the future.

Fix the Basics: Become a Financial Services Company that Meets Customer Needs 

1. From “Experience” to “Branded Experience” 

Speed and convenience have become critical for customers in the modern digital world. But focusing efforts solely on “ease” also tends to create very similar sets of experiences and/or functions. So how can a company cut through the clutter?   

The answer is simple: brand. A solid brand strategy clearly defines what promise a company makes to its customers and how it uniquely delivers on the promise. Next, this will be translated into a brand identity system that closely aligns with the strategy and guides the development of truly ownable experiences.  

For many financial services companies, brand has not been considered and managed as a strategic asset. Therefore, before aspiring to create any signature experiences, companies need to build a solid foundation first by carefully looking into their brand strategy and identity to define their own experience principles. 

2. From “Product Distribution” to “Omni-Channel Experience” 

Internet companies and FinTech pioneers have disrupted and transformed the retail side of financial services (e.g. Ant Finance and Ascend Money). Many companies now rely heavily on these platforms to broaden their reach to retail customers. But platforms can be restricting, and the company could face constraints in building distinct experiences and owning customer relationships.  

As a solution, some leading companies have started to invest in their own digital ecosystem. For example, Fidelity created SmartRetire, a one-stop retirement solution platform. By building their own digital experience, companies can not only design and own the customer experience, but also collect data to enable targeted, more relevant engagements, that in turn can improve the customer journey in the long term.   

If creating owned ecosystem is not feasible in the short term, companies should at least build a holistic plan across touchpoints and identify opportunities to maximize owned experience and relationships. 

3. From “Experience as External Resources” to ‘Experience as Internal Center of Excellence” 

Many financial service providers leverage third-party vendors to deliver service and experience at lower costs. However, service quality could be at risk under this outsourcing model and differentiation could be harder to sustain if the vendor relationship is not exclusive.  

Companies should prioritize experiences that are most desirable to customers, viable to businesses and feasible to execute, building an internal “center” that breaks the silos, connect the dots and assures quality. A strong center of excellence enables great experience from within, bringing higher efficiency and sustainable competitive advantage in the long term.  

Excite with Experiences: Become a Financial Services Company that is Loved by Customers 

4. From ”Fill the Pits” to ”Elevate the Peaks” 

There could be a huge perception gap on “excellent customer experience.” Research3 shows that 80% of financial services companies believe they deliver excellent customer experiences, while only 8% of customers agree. One of the reasons behind this is that most companies focus only on fixing the pits upon functional pain points, but not on creating any peaks that delight and excite customers in memorable moments. 

Customer lifetime could be quite long in financial services. To become a company that customers choose, trust and love, companies must build a holistic view of the customer lifetime journey, by identifying and prioritizing moments that matter and creating signature experiences that customers truly desire.  

5. From ”Transactional Moment” to “Real Life Relationship”  

Many financial services companies are facing infrequent interactions and transactional relationships with customers. Research4 shows that 60% of Asian customers have had zero engagement with their financial service provider in the past 18 months.  

To go beyond the transactional moments, companies should look to expand their role and presence in other areas of customers’ everyday lives through partnerships and co-branded experiences. For example, Neo Bank MOX in Hong Kong partners with merchants favored by its customers and provides exclusive cash back. Another example is insurance company Beam, which partnered with a smart toothbrush brand and launched an oral health solution, offering premium incentives based on customers’ usage and behavioral data. 

Companies should take a broader view of the customer journey, identify opportunities to meet people where they are in life and enable their lifestyle beyond financial needs. With expanded partnership and engagement, companies could also build an enriched understanding of customers on top of transactional data and enable future products and service innovations. 

6. From “Data Enabled Personalization” to “Human Enabled Personalization” 

Research5 shows that 80% of financial service customers desire more personalized experiences. In Asia, customers are 1.5 times more willing than customers in Europe to share personal data in exchange for personalized experiences. Yet it takes time to build data and analytics capabilities that enable meaningful personalization at digital touchpoints. Customers in Asia also still desire a certain level of in-person engagement – even in younger customers, research6 shows more than half believe financial services are not human enough.  

So, while building data capabilities, companies should invest in empowering their front employees (e.g. RMs, agents) to deliver better, more relevant experiences with smarter tools and insights (e.g., need analysis, claim tracking). These tools should be designed not only to enable higher quality engagement but also to capture customer insights/data into the centralized database – to maintain customer understanding and relationships at risk of potential people turnover.  

Lead the Future: Go Beyond the Frame of Reference as a Traditional Player 

7. From “Proactiveness” to “Intelligence”  

Customers are increasingly sophisticated and their expectations will rapidly evolve. Being “proactive” will become a table-stake part of the experience and companies could aim to lead by creating “intelligent” experiences that are three steps ahead with AI technology. In 2021, HSBC HK saw 10 times higher engagement between relationship managers and customers when it leveraged AI to offer 22 thousand different sets of wealth management solution advice to individual retail customers7

Deep learning and hyper-personalization are among the top strategic priorities for CX leaders in 20228. Leading financial service companies should not only identify close-in use cases, such as product innovations or credit risk assessment but also stretch-out use cases that help the company go further into customers’ lives. 

8. From ”Valued Customers” to “Empowered Customers” 

Being “customer-centric” has been the center of gravity when creating experiences, but it still treats customers as “buyers,” in the position of receiving. As we move into the future, this relationship will be disrupted, and we will see customers as active stakeholders in deciding what type of experiences are created for them.  

Creating better experiences requires data, but customers are increasingly conscious of their privacy and the power of data ownership. Research9 shows that although Asian customers are more willing to share data in exchange for better service, 90% of them are concerned about data privacy and 84% of them desire more control over how their information is used.  

Leading companies should see this more as an opportunity than a challenge. Financial service brands should look at customers as empowered individuals, transform data collection into a “value exchange”, enhance data transparency with a sense of “co-ownership” and develop solutions and experiences through customer “co-creation.” 

9. From ”Boundaries” to ”Boundless” 

In the future world of Web 3.0, traditional boundaries will be blurred – online versus offline, virtual versus physical, consumers versus owners, etc. This boundless space will change how financial service companies organize and deliver value to customers throughout the lifecycle.  

The entire model of “financial services” might change in the context of this – the role of a company could transform from a “service provider” or a “transaction middleman”, to an ecosystem or a community that enables peer-to-peer connections and better decisions among employees, partners, and customers.   

The fast disruptions of fintech will never stop. Financial service companies should be open and embrace the changes to experiment with new ways of delivering value in the future, starting from small use cases.  

Data source:  

  1. Harvard business review, Taking the Financial Services Customer Experience to the Next Level
  2. Salesforce, Trends in the financial service industry
  3. Bain, How to achieve true customer-led growth and close the delivery gap
  4. Genesys, The era of 4.0 experience in Asia financial service industry
  5. Mckinsey, Future of Asia financial services
  6. Capgemini, The customer engagement imperative for financial services
  7. South China news portal, HSBC leverages smart analytics to develop new tools that enhance the personalized customer experience
  8. Genesys, the state of customer experience in financial services
  9. Warc, APAC consumers increasingly concerned about data privacy


With advancement in customers, technology and society, experience will become a critical driver of sustainable and transformational growth in the future. Financial services companies should take actions early and carefully assess which stage they are currently at, what levers they could invest in building towards the next stage and start with smaller test and learn today to lead the future.  


How Financial Services Brands Can Position Themselves for the Next Growth Cycle 

When charting your next growth move, here are three ways smart financial services brands are already preparing for what comes next.  

So far, this economic cycle is so loaded with 1970s throwbacks like soaring gasoline prices, inflation, and interest rates that we half expect to see a resurgence of the Burt Reynolds mustache and tie-dye ponchos. Whether we are at the beginning of the next Great Recession or just a minor downturn, history tells us that when brands scale back investments in growth, they typically end up with regrets. This is because when the next growth cycle begins, they tend to trail the field as competitors capture significant opportunities.  

For financial services companies, the current times seem particularly dire. CMOs in this industry are increasingly less optimistic, with 44% of those in banking, insurance and finance saying they are less upbeat about the U.S. economy compared to 39% of all CMOs. No one is happy about saying goodbye to the sizzling stock market, red-hot housing sales or consumer spending swagger. 

Scary? Maybe. Time to invest in growth? History resoundingly says yes.  

Research shows that companies who double down on defensive plays tend to limp out of recessions. But those that fare best invest in new markets, products and services. A “Harvard Business Review” analysis of companies in the Great Recession of 2008 to 2010 found that 17% of the 4,700 public companies studied fared quite poorly, either becoming bankrupt, private or acquired.  

Though the majority muddled through, 9% emerged from the downturn as elite success stories, outperforming competitors by at least 10% in sales and profits growth. Why? In simple terms, they stayed focused and invested in areas of relatively lower opportunity costs.

“You cannot overtake 15 cars in sunny weather… but you can when it’s raining.”

– Ayrton Senna, Formula One Champion 

This is a lesson in how firms build resiliency in uncertain times. They evolve and make intelligent choices, ultimately emerging stronger than competitors.  

So what should you do now? We believe those financial services brands that lean into these three areas are more likely to tap into uncommon growth once the economic engines reverse course. 

Below is a summary of each of the three areas. In future articles, we will dive deeper into each to provide actionable recommendations to set your organization up for uncommon growth.  

Align Everything You Do to Your Customer’s Values

“Three classes of factors affect what an organization can and cannot do: its resources, its processes and its values.”

― Clayton M. Christensen, “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail”

The importance of a company’s purpose has changed dramatically in the last several years. It is no longer enough to establish purpose-driven brand messaging. Companies need to align everything they do to their customer’s values. The growing demands for progress on racial justice, climate concern and social issues no longer come just from consumers. Investors, employees and other stakeholders expect purpose-led thinking too. 

But how do you make your purpose part of your organization’s DNA? Part of the operating model that is core to how stakeholders hear, see and feel the business? Prophet’s Human-Centered Transformation Model™ serves as a framework for effectively aligning the way your purpose and values are integrated throughout your organization.  

Customers and stakeholders want to see corporate purpose defined in a more meaningful sense. They expect products, services and experiences that align with what matters most. It has become a core component of a brand’s reputation and relevance.  

Example Winning Strategy:  Define your purpose-driven operating model

Financial services brands that are leaning into driving purpose throughout the organization are positioning for the future. Some firms are beginning to build purpose-driven operating models, incorporating purpose into project charters and establishing “Purpose Teams” into the project management structure.  

ESG commitments continue to be a focus of a brand’s purpose, promise and principles. Aspiration, an online financial services company and Certified B Corp, is a favorite example. Its “Leave your bank, save the planet” positioning allows customers to decide how much they will pay for services. It has even built a mobile tool to help customers assess their overall impact on climate change based on where they shop and how they invest. 

While ESG was once about compliance and risk mitigation, we believe it is now a requirement for unlocking uncommon growth. And the companies having the greatest success with their ESG strategies are the ones who have created authentic changes in the culture of their full stakeholder ecosystem.  

Financial services firms can maximize their impact by choosing ESG-driven growth strategies that are specific, ownable, applicable and measurable. 

Invest in Humans Over Technology  

Today, companies have more technology at their disposal than they could ever use in a coherent customer journey. It takes a combination of sensibilities and methods to create value. Humans–not digital tools– are better at building these interactions.  

Humans–the roster of employees and all stakeholders–matter more than equipment. That being said, in no way should we diminish the importance of the continued digital transformation across the industry. At its recent Investor Day, for example, JP Morgan revealed it would spend a staggering $14.1 billion on technology this year. However, the firms that will win in the future are those that can also build an organizational focus on the humans using the technology.  

Example Winning Strategy: Build a compelling employee value proposition – develop an EVP that:

1. Articulates what makes your company an awesome place to work and to grow a career

2. Improves how your company wins in today’s talent marketplace

3. Develops an enhanced foundation to support future talent needs and can evolve in line with future business and brand strategy

Leading companies are using technology to focus on pattern recognition, then inviting humans to understand it and put the relevant insights in context. Technology is great. Human capital is greater. 

These companies are also actively working to decentralize, freeing human capital by shaking up organizational structures. Decentralized companies emerge from recessions with higher levels of innovation and more resilience, adapting better to changing conditions. 

Prophet’s research has shown that this human-centered approach leads to greater levels of innovation, especially in the financial services industry. The key to it all? Finding ways to heighten avenues of cross-organizational collaboration

Define Your Brand’s Role in Embedded Finance Era 

Customers need financial services, but they do not need the current legacy construct of delivering those services. Whether you use Affirm to buy a mattress, the Starbucks app to buy a latte or a Lyft for your transportation needs, embedded finance is all around us and presents an opportunity for financial services brands to extend into other industries, such as healthcare and retail. According to recent research, the U.S. embedded finance industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.5% from 2022 through 2029, reaching $212 billion by 2029.  

Long viewed as a transactional element of the customer journey, we are now seeing an expansion of use cases. Take DriveWealth as an example. It is working with healthcare companies to offer comprehensive investment advice as part of healthcare savings accounts. And with the emergence of companies such as Column, billed as the “only nationally chartered bank built to enable developers and builders to create new financial products,” we are poised to see an exponential increase in use cases that cut across all industries.  

What does each of these companies have in common? They have defined the next market battleground using a combination of platform and design thinking, focusing on the value of activating ecosystems. So, it is easy to understand why incumbent banks, insurers and investment managers feel threatened. However, they should not.  

As the industry moves from linear finance to embedded finance, understanding your organization’s role in the new value chain created by this disruption is the first step.  

Will you play the platform-creator role? How should you think about the allocation jobs-to-be-done? How will you control the experience customers have with your brand? 

The faster financial services leaders realize the value of delivering an omnipresent financial services experience in people’s daily lives, the faster that value can be achieved for both the customer and the enterprise. The concept of Time to Value (TTV) will play a critical role in the embedded finance era. 

By positioning an organization’s brand and core capabilities around its aspirational role in the evolving value chain, companies can embrace the embedded finance era.  

If you are a senior financial services leader and have not yet embraced the implications of the pivot from linear finance to the embedded finance era, you are putting your organization at risk of lagging behind in the next growth curve.  


Just as “buying the dip” can produce above average returns in your stock portfolio, financial services brands can prepare themselves for turbulent markets by committing to an offensive strategy through this current economic downturn. Finding new and uncommon ways to build embedded finance era strategies, aligning more closely with customers’ values and investing in human-centered transformation – even as investments in technology continue – will help accelerate growth as we move into the next economic cycle. 


How Financial Services Brands Can Become Relentlessly Relevant

Prophet has released its latest Prophet Brand Relevance Index ® and it’s clear that banks, insurers and other financial services firms need to do more to energize their brands. This has been true for large and traditional financial services brands for several years running, though newer digital-native brands and fintechs have gained traction quickly, both in the market and the Brand Relevance Index.

At a high level, it’s clear that consumers are increasingly willing to give new and emerging brands a chance and will reward those that offer compelling value or a winning experience. In some cases, the edge comes from building a better mousetrap (e.g., easier payment transactions); in others, it’s more about articulating clear values and attracting people who share them.

For this year’s study, Prophet’s BRI team updated the methodology with more detailed questions about how consumers engage with brands emotionally (the heart) or intellectually (the head). Not surprisingly, financial services brands rate more highly in the latter category, particularly in areas like dependability, consistency and filling important needs. The best brands, however, are capable of connecting through both the head and heart, which is how they become brands consumers can’t live without.

Looking at our rankings, we can identify what differentiates the top brands across all sectors and how financial services firms might bolster their brands and become relentlessly relevant.

Top Ranked Financial Services Brands Showcased Two Things

1) A Clear Purpose That Creates Relevance and Passion

USAA, the top-ranked financial services brand in our index at #10, might show the way forward for financial services firms. It has a clearly articulated purpose and mission and a strong customer-centric orientation. Put simply, USAA knows its job and whom it serves. That clarity results in stronger emotional connections with customers, as evidenced by USAA’s top heart score among financial services brands. Online bank Ally (#87) also communicates a notably customer-centric value prop in its marketing efforts, which helps explain its relatively high heart rankings for the category.

Once an organization has made clear what it is and who it’s for, it can reorient the customer experience with a laser focus on customer needs, as well as align the organization around the vision. Our latest research into customer-centricity shows what success looks like for banks and other financial institutions and some recommendations for how they can achieve it.

2) A Sharp Focus and Frictionless Experiences

Among our top 10 brands, Peloton (#2), Spotify (#3) and PlayStation (#7) all have well-defined value propositions and deliver people exactly what they want again and again. Within financial services, highly focused and easy-to-use apps – such as Afterpay (#11), Zelle (#39), CashApp (#52) and PayPal (#56) – that do one thing (or just a few things) very well far outrank financial supermarkets. The same is true for TurboTax (#46), digital insurer Lemonade (#100) and trading app Robinhood (#107).

These brands are relevant because customers know the value they receive for engaging. Highly effective – even elegant – experiences that remove friction from core transactions are also part of the success equation. For these brands to continue growing, they must retain the focus even as they add more services.

Afterpay and Robinhood are very much “of the moment” brands, so it will be interesting to see how their relevance rises or falls in future surveys. For traditional firms to compete more effectively against these “less is more” experiences, they need to ensure their transformation investments are aligned to innovation and growth.

All Head, More Heart

Consumers understand the usefulness of and need for financial services firms. They provide vital services that are indispensable to the daily lives (not to mention the long-term plans) of countless people and businesses worldwide. But they are, for the most part, not very inspiring and rarely make emotional connections with consumers.

“There’s a real opportunity for banks, insurers and investment firms to meet people where they are emotionally.”

After two years of widespread financial uncertainty and with more consumers looking to boost their financial confidence, there’s a real opportunity for banks, insurers and investment firms to meet people where they are emotionally. Insurers that have offered premium holidays and discounted rates for people driving less are on the right track. So too are banks looking to lead on sustainable finance and “greening” the economy, provided their commitments are backed up with meaningful action. Financial services brands that can show some emotion and empathy and demonstrate their human values will have the best chance to increase their relevance.

For newer financial services players, the growth challenge starts with retaining customers and expanding their offerings once they’ve reached a critical mass. How far will inspiring brands take them if they can’t master the practical, “head” side of customer relationships?

More established brands should look for ways to emulate the energy of their newer competitors, injecting some emotion into their customer relationships. At the same time, they should seek to refine their operations to achieve the optimal balance of head and heart.


It’s safe to say that uncommon growth – the type of growth that is purposeful, transformational and sustainable over time – in financial services won’t be possible without increasing brand relevance. Consider how banking, insurance and investment brands increasingly compete with companies from outside the sector, including many that are absolute masters at brand relevance. The top-ranked brand in our study this year was Apple – a technology company that has become a leading player in mobile payments and has an expanding pool of customers for the Apple Card. Their presence makes brand relevance a strategic imperative for incumbent financial services companies.

These are just a sampling of our findings. To see where your brand ranked, you can find the full 2022 Prophet Brand Relevance Index ® here.

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


Webinar Recap: Getting to Customer-Centricity in Financial Services

61 min

Prophet recently hosted a webinar on customer-centricity in financial services – what it means today, what firms across the industry are doing to achieve it and how they measure success. We were joined by several senior leaders who graciously shared their insights and experiences:

  • Beth Wood, Chief Marketing Officer, Principal Financial Group
  • Andrea Schultz, Head of Workplace Retirement Marketing, Equitable
  • Kai Sakstrup, Chief Strategy Officer, US Bank

The questions and inputs from attendees made for a lively session, and we wanted to share some follow-on thoughts based on the big ideas that emerged during the discussion.

The State of Customer-Centricity in Financial Services

For years, customer-centricity has been a hot topic for banks, insurers, investment firms, credit agencies and other industry players. Tech-driven disruption, increased competition and rising consumer expectations have kept it near the top of the strategic agenda for marketing, sales and service executives, but indeed all types of business leaders and throughout the C-suite.

As we highlight in a recent report, the business case for customer-centricity – which is based on revenue growth, increased share of wallet, stronger loyalty and higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS) – remains as clear and compelling as ever. But many organizations still face longstanding challenges to achieve true customer-centricity. The most common barriers include:

  • Complex organizational structures
  • Post-M&A integration difficulties
  • Heterogeneous customers with diverse needs
  • Rigid legacy systems and fragmented data
  • Regulatory constraints

Collectively, these challenges lead many customers to feel as if they’re dealing with different companies when they engage with more than one business unit or product from the same organization. As Kai put it, “customers should not see our org chart.” But legacy operational models with siloed product lines and busines units make it challenging to offer seamlessly integrated customer experiences. Andrea commented that she was “jealous of FInTechs” because they don’t have to contend with all the outdated tech and can execute around a clear customer-centric vision.

Customer-Centricity in the Big Picture

Beth spoke on the need to “empathize with customers and to identify what each touchpoint really means to them.” This could emphasize tactical actions, such as data cleansing and harmonization to ensure all business units have access to complete and timely customer data.

There are unique elements of the customer experience – which Beth called the “visible edge of the brand” – that should be owned by business units. But it’s critical for marketing leaders to “build bridges and open doors and windows” between all parts of the organization so that experience is unified and as seamless as possible for individual consumers. After all, marketing leaders are often the most passionate advocates for satisfying customers.

Collaboration between business units is how customer experience and human-centered design can be truly embedded within and throughout the business, rather than being bolted on. Beth added that “customers are the avenue to scale transformative change.” Advanced technology can help operationalize such change, as well as promoting consistency in the customer experience, though it takes more than just the latest to be truly customer-centric. Indeed, chasing the newest tech can even distract some organizations from delivering what customers want. To become customer-centric, organizations need to align strategically on holistic transformation.

How to Drive Customer-Centric Transformation: Actions and Advice from Senior Financial Services Leaders

Seek Ongoing Feedback to Enhance Customer Knowledge
Success starts with deep knowledge and understanding of consumer needs and wants. While most companies would say they know their customers, the reality is that it’s much harder than it looks. And simply having lots of data doesn’t equate to customer knowledge.

Detailed journey mapping and segmentation exercises can help convert huge volumes of raw data into actionable insight. These efforts must also be supported by active and ongoing feedback mechanisms to track the effectiveness of every touchpoint.

Principal conducted a global study to learn what was going on in the hearts and minds of all of its consumers, across age and socioeconomic bands. “Do your homework on who you are, what you want to be, and then talk to your customers about what’s important to them,” added Beth.

Prioritize Diversity

The need for insight has only increased with the spotlight on diversity, as one participant question highlighted. Some consumers perceive that the financial services sector has historically focused on wealthy white males, a perception that true customer-centricity can powerfully counteract.

According to Kai, deep research on all customer segments helps prevent marketers from “assuming that we are the person that we’re serving, which can lead to bad outcomes.”

Champion the Promise Amongst the C-Suite
There was consensus among the panelists that buy-in and leadership from the top of the organization (including from product and business unit executives) are critical to realizing the promise of customer-centricity. Shifting the mentality of the organization involves getting more people thinking about the business from the perspective of the customer and talking about customer needs.

Marketers are often responsible to ensure that customers are represented in such discussions. Kai spoke of taking inspiration from senior-level advocacy and engaging “the people within the organization that actually do the work day to day.” Making customer-centric change sustainable requires incenting and rewarding the right behaviors. It also requires ensuring that the business case for change is clearly explained; you don’t want to imply that people have been doing things wrong.

Find the Right Talent

Talent is another key variable in the equation for success. All of our panelists are looking for more data science and analytics talent, as well as targeted expertise in engagement strategy, social media and other areas.

There is increasing interest in bringing in talent from other industries, with the goal of challenging conventional wisdom and energizing marketing teams. Fresh thinking is more valuable than knowing about financial services regulation, for instance. After all, new hires from consumer packaged goods and retail can always learn the industry. Our panelists agreed that such talent is critical to generating strong returns on their large-scale investments in technology and data.

Track and Celebrate Incremental Progress

NPS and customer sentiment are among the top metrics for tracking customer-centricity. But it’s also important to track the small nuances of consumer behavior that can serve as leading indicators. Andrea believes the key is to know how customers feel about individual interactions and their willingness to go through them again. “Those are universal metrics that drive change, because everyone can understand them,” she said. Plus they provide more detail about what’s behind NPS.

Though firms should adopt an agile approach to upgrading elements of the customer experience, customer-centricity is more like a marathon than a sprint. “You want to say ‘within two quarters, we’re going to transform this business,’ but I think that’s the wrong approach,” said Kai. “You have to realize there’ll be milestones along the way and identify how to incrementally keep moving forward.”

Andrea agreed. “When it comes to customer-centricity, you have to play the long game, because the wins you’re going to see won’t show up on the balance sheet in a year.” That’s why leading marketers orient their customer-centric change efforts – including strategies, budgets, resources and their teams – around the target customer behaviors and business outcomes that matter most.

Final Thoughts

Our recent webinar, along with our ongoing client experience, shows the intense interest senior marketing leaders have in instilling customer-centricity in their organizations. Their passion will serve them well in advocating for richer and more personalized experiences and creating momentum for the long-term journey.

Watch the full replay here or get in touch with our financial services team at Prophet.


Webinar Replay: Executing on Customer-Centricity in Financial Services

The secret to becoming genuinely customer centric? Start with holistic, human-centered cultural change.

61 min

Prophet’s financial services team leaders moderate a discussion with executives from Principal Financial Group, Equitable and US Bank on the ways financial services organizations can overcome barriers to growth by transforming their cultures to be more customer-centric.

Watch to learn: 

  • The skills, capabilities and processes needed to advance customer-centric transformation
  • The challenges leaders are facing as they change their cultures to operationalize customer-centricity
  • The top priorities of senior leaders advancing transformation agendas of their own


  • Beth Wood, Chief Marketing Officer, Principal Financial Group
  • Andrea Shultz, Head of Workplace Retirement Marketing, Equitable
  • Kai Sakstrup, Chief Strategy Offer, US Bank


Executing on Customer-Centricity

Financial services execs tell us how they are transforming corporate culture, thinking bigger and acting bolder.

How Financial Services Organizations Can Unlock Uncommon Growth

Non-traditional players – like fintechs, “super apps” and neobanks – have built their businesses around serving the whole customer. They use digital technology to open new sources of demand, and they find growth opportunities by constantly evaluating customer behaviors and designing solutions to fill the gaps.

Dealing with decades-old technology and product-centric org charts, traditional financial services organizations face higher barriers to achieving customer-centricity. To win and retain their customers, they’ll need to think and act like a disrupter by being hyper-focused on the 360-degree customer view.

Executing on Customer-Centricity is the latest research from Prophet’s Financial Services practice. It includes interviews with nearly 50 senior executives with customer-facing responsibilities across banking, insurance and financial services.  Our findings will help financial services organizations think bigger and act bolder, enabling them to achieve customer-centricity across the entire enterprise by transforming their cultures.

Read this report to gain deeper insights on:

  • The practice of customer-centricity – and how it pays off in share of wallet, higher loyalty, more referrals and stronger operational gains
  • The top five industry-specific challenges faced when it comes to achieving customer-centricity
  • The five actions legacy companies can take now to better orient themselves around their customers
  • A refreshed approach to transformation with culture as the keystone and Prophet’s Human-Centered Transformation Model™ as the guide

Download the report below.

Winning the Innovation Game in Banking

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