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Navigating Regulatory Waters: Friend or Food? How To Stay Ahead in Financial Services

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Now, and before our safety is assured, is not the time to be selling. It is the time to be helpful, and to seek to reach more of your ideal audience using paid methods that are up to 90% less expensive than they were weeks ago. It won't last.

1. Market feedback

Intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on specific financial services sectors, not published by media. 

A. Light at the end of the tunnel: train, familiar daylight or illumination?
B. System risks

Almost every leader we’ve spoken to says working from home has been both testing and great.

The testing aspects are well known: adapting to new technology, technical issues with video conferencing, slower internet, dogs, and children. Many are in a rush to get back to the office.

Yet just as many, including many in financial services businesses contemplating a return to the CBD, are exercising increasingly unconstrained thinking about what’s good about “now” - and how to make that a permanent part of “next”. Zero commute time, a more connected family and more flexibility rank high on the list of things you want to keep.

Many of you are asking “if things will ever be the same”. Some are hoping they’re not. Increasingly you’re thinking about a better way.

Short term there’s the practical question of how the transition back to the office will take place, when and what happens when we do “go back”.

You’re telling us that rostering and team rotation will be important as you gradually shift workforces back to your normal place of work, and (potentially) working conditions.

This shift in mindset is due to the gradual lifting in restrictions due to decreasing transmission numbers, but tempered by the threat of a second wave of infections as we go back to transport and work. A smooth resumption in working patterns is not expected, and nor is a steady economic recovery.

While we might be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, we might find that when we emerge the environment is quite different to where we came from, and what we expect now. Many of you are leaning into a positive and different future. Some are finding that harder and see more train than daylight or illumination.

In part that reflects the varied impacts of COVID-19, the timing of those impacts and the resilience of the sector, business or individual peering ahead in the tunnel.

B. System risks

Superannuation and fund management

There’s behind-the -scenes, grave concern that super may be under threat because it may now forever be seen as a permanent source of emergency government funding. This could hurt or destroy its ability to be a stable asset that underpins our retirement income system.

The amount of government spending on COVID-19 measures also may have a lasting impact on business. Some investors are concerned the sheer amount could act as a contractionary force on the economy for years to come.

Unrecoverable businesses

While seemingly rare in financial services so far, some businesses will be unrecoverable. The impact of those businesses failing over time is hard to quantify at this stage.

C. The digital revolution’s next, more profound evolution

Last night social media channels were abuzz with “to app or not to app” about the federal government’s COVIDSafe app.

COVID-19 has disrupted many businesses, but technology leaders continue to shrug off concerns. In the case of Amazon, for every dollar spent online in the US last week, 34 cents found its way into Amazon’s coffers. Startlingly, this was slightly down from when before the pandemic started but nevertheless, it demonstrates the power and resilience of some digital businesses.

This power needs to be harnessed and applied to various other sectors including healthcare, education and administrative services, all which have traditionally remained within the realm of the physical. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, these have seen various functions digitised including doctors’ appointments, exams, classes and lectures.

2. Management responses

This section outlines how CEOs and their leadership teams are responding.

A. Doubling down on ‘paid’ communication

We’ve seen a surge of interest in seizing opportunities in difficult times. Some fund managers saw that volatile markets would see lower equities prices and present buying (and performance) opportunity. Others see a once-in-a-business-lifecycle acquisition and pivot opportunity. Still others see increasing their reach as an essential survival skill, given threats or damage to previous revenue streams.

Whatever the driver, some of you are choosing to double down on advertising, paid content promotion, lead generation or your sales funnel activity. This is easier if you already had ‘full funnel’ marketing working or in place.

Those who didn’t have this, but who’ve approached us recently, are having to build capability fast to land their content marketing, thought leadership or messages in the window of opportunity.

It’s an approach (at least from what we see) taken by a few, not a majority. It tends to be smaller, more nimble businesses, those of you with relatively new leadership, and those who are founder-led or entrepreneurial by nature.

Inventory is as low as 10% of the cost weeks ago (ie paid space, advertising or promoted content). At the same time engagement metrics remain extraordinarily high in financial categories. Combined this is an extraordinary, but temporary, opportunity.

Some clients who’ve moved fast into this opportunity – planning started weeks ago – are now seeing record high results in the form of webinar attendance, engagement metrics and reach.

But this opportunity won’t last long. Even a staggered re-start to business will see online engagement drop off. We don’t see it falling off a cliff, but we do see it as being at historic and temporary highs right now. So too are audience engagement metrics.

At the same time, advertising revenues are down almost across the board. While this has forced some media closures it’s also seen an extraordinary reduction in the cost of audience attention or bought space / eyeballs.

The next few months will tell if we see this Rogers’ diffusion of innovations model in action, with innovators and early adopters to be followed by an early and late majority. 

B. Resting, refreshing and re-thinking

Capacity constraints seem to be a universal issue. Work recently increased to a far more frenetic pace and stayed there for weeks for many of us. As leaders, many of you recognise that you and your people are tired. Some are genuinely exhausted; others simply have found their well running dry thanks to sustained escalated levels of being “on” and the emotionally draining nature of that unusual amount of ‘up time’.

Among our clients, and as one simple but blunt metric, we see email “on” hours having extended from, say, norms of 8am – 8pm, to norms of 6am until midnight at higher volumes. That’s abated a little but you’re all still a lot more available, for a lot more hours of the day, than, say February or November 2019. 

Burn out is a risk many of you are now managing. Some of you are giving people time off, adding external resources to relieve workload, and investing in professional development to refresh your people. Your more senior people can do this for themselves, but your younger folk might need help from their manager.

We’d suggest all of them need your permission and role modelling.

At the same time many of you are genuinely rethinking the future. From what we hear you don’t want it to be like the past. You want a better way and thinking through how to make that real as we come out of this to a staggered re-start of business and life.

These are personal questions as well as professional ones, and you’re telling us there’s a possibility of taking much good from where we’ve been.

C. Same-side thinking

United by an uncommon common enemey, countries (mostly), businesses, NGOs and neighbourhoods are collaborating like never before. With a host of businesses seeking ACCC exemptions to collaborate, this might become one of those permanent features of business. Certainly we hear you welcome it. Where might this lead? Who knows. But it might remain true that more of us find ourselves on the same side in future. 

3. CEO guidance regarding coronavirus responses

This section provides our guidance on management and communication responses.

A. Double down on paid marketing

We're not suggesting that you start selling insensitively into a still-scared market or new audience. We are suggesting that whatever content, services or offers you have, or want to trial, are worth promoting using temporarily cheaper paid online and offline advertising space. It won't last.

So move on ad spend if building a sales funnel is important for your future, or trial paid content promotion if you never have.

i) Whatever you call it – member acquisition, lead generation, building an audience – right now there are some rare opportunities to make extraordinary gains in terms of building a sales funnel, generating leads or simply increasing your reach and audience.

ii) It’s ideal to either ‘test and learn’ if you haven’t used paid as well as owned, earned and shared channels before. Or to ramp up given the cost-effectiveness of reach now.

B. Seek same-side thinking

i) Can you collaborate with competitors, turn them into clients or jointly help those your serve now, and later access opportunity?  Have you re-thought your place in the value chain?

ii) Who else is asking this, and should you have a conversation with them?

iii) What’s your version of a better future?

C. Approach your plan in 100 day spans

We recommend these three 100 day planning spans (yes we’re repeating this):

i) Impact and response (31.12.19 - 09.04.20)

ii) Risk management, recovery and revising (10.04.20 - 19.07.20)

iii) Resumption, re-starting and re-imagination (20.07.20 – 28.10.20)

In the first 100 days (31.12.19 - 10.04.2020) after the WHO was notified of 'atypical pneumonia" in China, the world came to grips with the pandemic.

We're suggesting that you now think about a phase II & III: two more 100 day "planning spans". While the spans and phases are artificial they help organise thinking, planning and action by phase of disease impact and real restrictions.

In Phase II (the next 100 days from now until 18 July) we're likely to see a shift into resumption of activity and emergence of a new normal.  In Phase III, and if our disease experience remains positive the following 100 days (July - late October) may well see “re-imagination and reform” as outlined by McKinsey.

McKinsey identified 5Rs – those horizons are useful but they don’t give timelines. What they do give is frameworks to organise our thinking, and impetus to use certain spans of time well, while we have them.

These spans are not necessarily sequential. Different parts of your business can be at different stages at the same time, or you may cycle through the horizons repeatedly.

4. Appendix: How to help us help you

This briefing is collective intelligence gathered, anonymised and shared with you by my firm for the greater good. We’ve taken the view, based on client feedback, that the collective benefit to you all takes precedence over normal competitive pressures at a time like this.

This is an excerpt from one of our client COVID-19 CEO response briefings. For more COVID-19 response resources and guidance, visit our COVID-19 Response page

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact formhere.

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