The Post-IPO CMO: 5 Questions with Citizens Financial Group’s Arturo Perez

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In 1828, Citizens Financial Group got its start as a small community bank called the High Street Bank in Providence, Rhode Island. Today it operates more than 1,200 branches across 11 U.S. states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.

In September, Citizens Financial Group spun off from its owner, the Royal Bank of Scotland, in a $3.5 billion public offering—the biggest U.S. bank IPO since the financial crisis. Now three-quarters owned by RBS, which intends to completely divest its stake by 2016, the firm is focused on unifying its brand to create a consistent presence and identity for both B2B and individual customers.

As EVP and chief marketing officer Arturo Perez told brandchannel editor-in-chief Shirley Brady, “We have benefited from our long association with RBS and will continue to maintain a strong business relationship with the company throughout this period and beyond. But for most of our customers, Citizens Bank or Charter One is the brand that resonates most with them. Therefore, the focus will be on introducing Citizens Bank to our Charter One markets.”

Find out more about the brand’s key goals and achievements now that CFG is well on its way as publicly traded company—and what customers can look forward to in the months ahead.

brandchannel: Citizens Financial Group just reported its first earnings since spinning off from the RBS. How’s the rebranding going so far in terms of improved service levels, customer response to the new initiatives you’re rolling out?

Arturo Perez: We are making steady progress toward our goal of becoming a top performing regional bank that delivers a great banking experience for our customers and additional value for all of our stakeholders. The proof, they say, is in the pudding—and our customers are responding well to recent enhancements.

Our new Bank Better value proposition has brought new products such as One Deposit Checking, which sets a new industry standard for clarity, simplicity and ease of use, and has driven overall checking sales this year 24 percent higher than 2013 through the first half of the year.

Also, our retail customer satisfaction rating in New England also rose from 723 points last year to 770 in 2014, slightly above the regional average, according to the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study. And earlier this month we were recognized as one of the nation’s best banks for the second year in a row, on Money Magazine’s 2014 list of “The Best Banks in America.”

bc: What are some of the key messaging points and tactics you’re employing, includuing the tone of voice and persona of the new Citizens?

Perez: Our research told us that consumers describe their ideal bank as being Simple (and easy to use), Clear (and upfront about fees) and Personal (understands and knows them). That is why we developed Bank Better.

We’ve infused these three concepts into our products and services, as well as our marketing and communications strategy. You’ll see that everything from our ads to our merchandising to our collateral reflects a simple yet impactful design with the customer at the heart of absolutely everything. In fact, we’ve taken that literally by incorporating real customers into our marketing.

We’ve also taken some non-traditional approaches to conveying our ‘simple, clear, personal’ message such as commuter station “takeovers” in Boston and Philadelphia and a radio station on Pandora that featured custom branded playlists.

bc: How are you redefining the customer experience, and what does the Bank Better tagline mean in practical, tangible terms for customers?  

Perez: Bank Better is more encompassing than a tagline. It is our value proposition designed to enhance the bank’s products and services for all of our customers. Simply put, it is built on the principle that we succeed only when our customers succeed.

We want to always be improving our ability to meet the needs of our customers. Bank Better is helping us define this opportunity and deliver on it for our Citizens Bank and Charter One customers.

bc: How is Citizens investing in digital and technology, and how is that improving the customer experience and opening up new markets?

Perez: To help customers Bank Better, we need to understand them from multiple perspectives, including their attitudes and behaviors. So we’re investing in analytics, using customer data to inform brand planning—not just our media.

At Citizens, as we continually make improvements to our customer experience, we look to align it to our Bank Better value proposition. And the data is critical to help us get there. Last year we focused on fees.

We learned customers want to know what the fee is and how to avoid it, and they don’t want to have to jump through hoops. That helped drive product development for our One Deposit checking account. For next year, we’re in the process of gathering new insights so we can bring to market new ways to help customers to Bank Better and pay off our value proposition.

bc: How are you expanding in online and mobile banking, and how do you hope to stand out from your peers in this arena?

Perez: The quality of a bank’s mobile app is quickly becoming one of the most important considerations for consumers when they are choosing a bank. Knowing how important this is to our customers, we have been investing in mobile as part of our Bank Better strategy.

Some of these investments include Mobile Deposit, which offers our customers the ability to deposit checks quickly using our Mobile Banking apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. In this case, we were not first to market, but when we did introduce it, we had the benefit of introducing an enhanced video technology feature that made the customer experience better. We also introduced Fast Balance this year, which is an exciting new feature that allows busy, on-the-go customers to view account balances without needing to log in to their Mobile Banking app.

We know that these and other technologies are working. We have experienced 29 percent growth in mobile household penetration year-over-year in September 2013 vs. September 2014.

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