Newsmaker: Arturo Perez, RBS Citizens Financial Group

After the 2008 financial crisis, RBS Citizens Financial Group's EVP and CMO aims to regain the public's trust by making the banking experience simpler and more personal.

Banks and other businesses within the financial services industry have slowly but surely been rebuilding and regaining the trust of consumers following the financial crisis of 2008, according to RBS Citizens Financial Group’s EVP and CMO Arturo Perez, who says the Citizens Bank brand had a few "mute years" as a result.

Perez’s main concern since joining the company in March 2013 has been putting the Citizens Bank brand back out there again.

"The position of the brand coming out of the financial crisis initially focused on Citizens being a traditional bank," says Perez. "When I started, I wanted to move Citizens toward the concept of banking better."

Career timeline

2013-present
RBS Citizens Financial Group, EVP, CMO

2006-2012
Bank of America, SVP, retail banking marketing strategy executive; SVP, mass affluent and small business marketing executive; SVP, home loans marketing executive

2000-2006
Capital One, finance director; marketing and analysis senior business manager

1997-2000
McKinsey & Co., consultant and engagement manager

1991-1993
Procter & Gamble of Venezuela, process manager

Last summer, his team conducted research to find out consumer sentiment. They found that, prior to the crisis, the mindset was "just do it for me," but this has since changed to "help me manage my money, do not manage it for me."

When asked what they wanted in a bank, consumers widely responded with the same wish list: be simple; be clear and up-front with fees and products; and be personal – "treat me as an individual, not as an account number," Perez adds. In response, Citizens developed Bank Better – a companywide program to enhance the bank’s products and services for its customers. As part of this program, the bank launched various perks for customers, including no overdraft fees for transactions of $5 or less.

But before they thought about the market-facing launch of the new program, Perez and his team had to focus on internal communications, figuring out what needed to be done to deliver on the initiative’s goals, and bring staffers up to speed on the new brand position. He describes the campaign as a "culture change" for the company.

"We have been working with our people in Citizens’ branches and call centers, driving the concept, and getting them in the right mindset to be able to deliver Bank Better to our customers," he says. "It has been very important for us to work with all of our colleagues that have day-to-day interaction with customers."

Multifaceted campaign
His team used multiple internal channels to communicate with staffers, including blast emails, executive leadership engagements, town halls, and market visits. 

Externally, the campaign launched in January, and has since been integrated across multiple marketing, PR, and community channels, which have included: train station takeovers in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philadelphia; traditional TV and radio spots; Internet advertisements; press releases, interviews with industry influencers; and community events.

"On the consumer side, even if we have a standard message or position – such as with Bank Better – we connect, adapt, and adjust it to the different communities we serve," Perez explains.

He is no stranger to financial communications. Prior to taking a role in 2013 at Citizens – which is British owned – he served at Bank of America in various SVP roles and at Capital One, most recently as finance director.

Comparing Citizens, Bank of America, and Capital One, Perez explains that the banks are "more or less" similar on a day-to-day basis regarding marketing campaigns and budget development. But he notes that the main marcomms challenges in his roles at each bank have stemmed from the sheer size of the companies.

"At Bank of America, the place is so big that being able to get marketing campaigns that really line up across all products and work across the franchise and being able to get the whole organization to rally behind a particular campaign or message was the main challenge," he says. "However, the flip side in a massive company is that the budget tends to be much less of a problem."

Although Citizens is currently the 13th largest bank in the US, with approximately 18,000 staffers, it looks miniscule side by side with Bank of America, the second-largest bank holding company in the US, encompassing roughly 242,000 employees. For Perez, the marcomms experience at both banks is night and day. But that is what attracted him to Citizens.

"It’s funny to call Citizens small, when it has more than 18,000 employees," he says, "but I was looking for a smaller company where I could have more of an impact and move quicker." He adds that what also drew him to Citizens was the willingness of the bank to drive change, be customer friendly, and keep track of the consumer experience.

The big picture
Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, Citizens operates in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, the bank operates under the Charter One Bank brand after Citizens acquired parent company Charter One Financial in 2004. Citizens opted to keep the Charter One name in Midwestern locations.

"The only difference between Charter One and Citizens Bank is the customer-facing visual branding," says Perez. "It’s the same product, system, and customer service. Both brands are fully owned by Citizens Financial Group."

Because Citizens Financial Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group – headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland – and the company’s controlling shareholder is the British government, everything the company does has to fit the regulatory framework of both the US and the UK. But Perez says this has little impact on his team.

From an ownership perspective, he notes that RBS is very hands off. He has a counterpart in the UK who runs marcomms for RBS Group and the UK banks, who he talks to on the phone once a quarter for 30 minutes, sharing best practices.

"When I visited RBS in the UK, I talked to them about our Bank Better campaign. They picked it up and did their own research with UK customers," he explains. "Because I shared with them some things that came out of our own research and development in the US, they were able to shave about eight months off their development time as they leveraged the work we did here."

In the UK, RBS revealed plans earlier this year to give its investment bankers significant bonuses, despite losing $13.7 billion in 2013 and closing a number of branches in the UK. In April, the bank was banned from making the payouts, but staffers will still receive bonuses equal to an entire year’s salary, with 77 people receiving more than $1 million.

"This has had no impact on Citizens’ business or reputation, as it is an independent US entity," says Perez, who declined to comment further on the matter.

Bruce Van Saun heads RBS Americas and is chairman and CEO of Citizens Financial Group. Although he reports to Ross McEwan, group CEO of RBS in the UK, Van Saun has his own US executive committee.

"While the UK does influence our human resource, compliance, and risk policies, we make our own decisions on everything else," Perez explains.

Reporting to Brad Conner, vice chairman of consumer banking, Perez directly oversees 140 staffers – all US-based – within his remit, which spans two teams at the company: the marketing unit, which is responsible for media, advertising, direct marketing, direct mail, online, digital, and Web; and the customer experience team, which includes the office of the chairman.

"The team that oversees customer experience handles escalated customer service issues," says Perez. "If a customer has a complex problem that needs to be resolved, we provide a white glove treatment to address it. That team also does analytics to find out if there is a systematic problem or anything else that needs to be addressed before it becomes a major issue. In essence, they are like our weathervane."

The customer experience team is also comprised of advocates who participate in product development and marketing campaigns, putting themselves in the customers’ shoes so that the organization can help customers bank better, and ensure Citizens is being as clear with its services as it can be.

Citizens primarily works with Ogilvy Public Relations, which it brought on a year ago to aid with PR efforts. Ogilvy is also the company’s lead marketing agency. A dedicated team of four works on the PR side, while four more work on the marketing side, with Ogilvy providing additional specialists and creative directors when required. 

"If we had separate agencies, we would have to deal with the integration process, but because Ogilvy is helping us with PR and marketing, we don’t," Perez adds. "It also helps the agency to bridge back and forth, allowing it to know what is happening on both the PR and marketing fronts.

This way, one department knows what the other unit is doing at all times."

On the marketing side, Ogilvy aids Citizens with everything from developing a marketing strategy, creative development, and messaging to execution. While on the PR front, Ogilvy is tied in with Citizens’ community and public affairs work, and media engagement efforts.

Perez’s golden rule

When it comes to marketing and communications, Perez’s golden rule is that a successful campaign must always include measurement and tracking.

To him, a marcomms strategy should always be about creating and maintaining a brand, while simultaneously driving specific business performance and business results.

"The days of marketing being driven by soft measurements are over," explains Perez. "Now, it is all about maintaining the creativity marketing has always been known for, but with hard business metrics and analytics behind it."

Future plans
Perez and his team are figuring out how to market the Bank Better program to small businesses and potential commercial clients.

"We are in the process of understanding how we can help small-business owners bank better and manage their companies better," says Perez. "We are continuing to push that thinking all the way up to commercial clients and are discussing strategies with the commercial bank’s relationship managers."

Along with a focus on small business and business-banking portfolios, Perez’s team will continue to drive Bank Better across the organization in the next year, applying it to other products and areas, including its credit card and home-lending portfolios.

"There’s a huge opportunity right now for banks that do things the right way to build strong, long-lasting relationships with their customers," says Perez’s boss [Brad] Conner. "Arturo’s team plays a significant role in demonstrating that we are delivering on our brand promise of making banking simple, clear, and personal."

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