One-to-One with Geezeo: James Robert Lay, Chief Executive Officer, Digital Growth Institute

January 3, 2018
Amy Hibbard

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in financial services and Fintech about where the industry is headed, sometimes fascinating insights are revealed. One-to-One with Geezeo is an ongoing series that gives our friends, clients, and partners an opportunity to share their experiences and their knowledge to gain an idea of where this exciting industry is heading. In this installment, Amy Hibbard talked with James Robert Lay, Chief Executive Officer of Digital Growth Institute about how digital marketing innovations help the financial services industry do what they do best, help people.

Geezeo: Tell us, what led you to your company's evolution?

Digital changed the way people shop for and buy financial services. This means financial marketing must change too. However, we understand change like this can feel frustrating and overwhelming when bank and credit union leaders are not exactly sure how to break free from legacy thinking and systems like branches and broadcast channels.

Furthermore, we found banks and credit unions are often held back by legacy systems and thinking along with three fears:

1. Fear of the unknown

2. Fear of change

3. Fear of failure

Sometimes these fears are spoken aloud. Other times they've been whispered in confidence to us. And while banks and credit unions have built new websites, posted on social media, placed online ads, and sent some emails, they're frustrated because they're not seeing the results they hoped for. This is because more than 85% of banks and credit unions lack a defined digital growth strategy that provides the clarity and confidence to target, capture, nurture, and convert qualified leads for loans and new accounts.

We understand the digital growth journey can feel confusing without a plan that provides a clear path forward.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

That's why we're on a mission to simplify digital marketing because we want to help banks and credit unions grow from good to great. And we do this by building digital marketing systems that guide people towards a brighter financial future. This journey often begins with education and training to help bank and credit union leaders gain an awareness and understanding of the digital growth opportunities ahead while eliminating their fears of the unknown.

Geezeo: What does "digital first" mean to you, in terms of the financial services industry?

Digital first, by default, means people first. It sounds like a bit of a bit of a paradox because digital growth is achieved by helping guide people beyond their questions and concerns and onward towards their hopes and dreams. Digital is just how we do this. So at its core, digital places people in the center of everything a bank or credit union does.

Too many times I find bank and credit union leaders think digital is all about technology, bots, and AI. These are nothing more than the tools we use to help people. Digital is still very much about people. Their feelings. Their emotions.

Money is stressful. And this stress takes a toll on people's health and relationships. But it doesn't have to be this way because I believe banks and credit unions are called to help people. And by helping show people a path to a better financial future, banks and credit unions will grow. The best way to look at digital is to ask how can we use digital tools and channels to help first and sell second? How can we use digital to guide consumers along their journey towards a better and brighter future?"

Geezeo: What have you found in your credit union digital marketing assessment?

We've found so much in our Digital Growth Blueprints for banks and credit unions. Here are five repeated patterns that rise to the top as the majority of banks and credit unions lack:

Formal digital growth plan: More than 85% of banks and credit unions are doing a lot of digital tactics but have no way to tie all this activity together in a simplified way that has a positive impact on their bottom line. As a result, they grow frustrated.

Awareness of digital first competitors: We can talk all we want about digital disruption from neo-banks and neo-lenders. But it's not real until a bank or credit union exec opens an account or applies for a loan on their mobile device with one of these neo-banks or neo-lenders and then compares that experience to their own financial institution.

Defined consumer journeys: Digital growth is about guiding people to a better future. Consumer journeys provide a map and direction on how to do this. The biggest opportunity we see for banks and credit unions is in the consideration stage of the buying journey.

Capability and capacity: Banks and credit unions will need to train, outsource, hire, and sometimes fire to bridge their digital marketing capabilities and capacity gaps.

Websites that sell: We've run hundreds of live user tests on bank and credit union websites with consumers and for the vast majority, these websites are nothing more than glorified online brochures that are updated on average every 4-5 years. The only way to fix this problem and build websites that sell is to get buy-in and budget. Just think, bank and credit unions don't have a problem spending $2-5 million to build a new branch and another $250,000 - $500,000 to operate that branch. But ask them to spend $100,000+ on their website and they look at you like you're crazy. This is nothing more than an awareness problem. Banks and credit unions must start thinking of themselves as digital retailers. What would the world look like if Amazon, Zappos, or any other major digital retailer skimped on their websites and updated them only every 4-5 years?

Geezeo: What is your favorite credit union website, and why?

My favorite bank or credit union website is one that helps first and sells second. It strips away the pointless text and commoditized bullet list of features while sharing personalized content that guides people along their buying journey. This website builds trust through third-party validation with ratings and reviews. There are pictures and videos of real people that tell stories of how the bank or credit union has helped guide them to a better future. The website doesn't have only direct calls-to-action like "Apply Now" or "Open an Account" but offers alternative paths forward like "Download an Ebook" or "Request a Call Back." My favorite bank or credit union website is not a website, but a Digital Growth Engine that generates more leads for loans and new accounts than all of a bank's or credit union's branches combined.

Geezeo: There is a rumor that you may be building a house. Describe your dream home.

My dream house is a house that is paid in full.

James Robert Lay is the CEO of Digital Growth Institute. He is on a mission to simplify digital marketing to help financial institutions grow from good to great by building marketing systems that guide people toward a brighter financial future. Of his many honors to date, James Robert has been named one of Financial Brand's "Top Global Financial Services Influencers to Follow," a CUNA "Credit Union Rock Star," and a CU Times "Under 40 Trailblazer."

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