Story-telling and content marketing for financial services companies – here is how it’s done!

Story-telling and content marketing for financial services companies – here is how it’s done!
9 January 2019

British bank clients are a loyal bunch and making them leave their existing provider is one of the toughest sells there is. If you are a Fintech company or other start-up in the financial services sector, how can you reach a critical mass of customers? Have you ever considered simple, old-fashioned story-telling?

Meet PensionBee, a company that has won over 100,000 customers in the UK over the course of just two years – simply by publishing a lot of content that wasn’t aimed at selling anything but instead provided useful information and entertaining narratives.

PensionBee certainly was rewarded handsomely for breaking out of the mold of the boring financial services industry – an industry which is particularly terrible still at recognising and utilising the value of story-telling as part of content marketing. Within less than three years, the company went from being a start-up that had to build everything from scratch, to being backed by State Street, one of the world’s largest asset managers with over $2,500bn in client assets.

Here is what Jonathan Lister Parsons, co-founder and CTO of PensionBee, told me and a group of other people about his company’s experience during a dinner in London recently.

Picking a huge market that has big problems

PensionBee picked a target sector that is quite possibly the most boring, most confusing and most complicated of the entire finance industry: Pensions.

The pension industry is a 1 Trillion Pound business in the UK, and probably the one with the poorest customer experience overall. PensionBee lets you combine and manage all your existing pension plans on a single online platform, thus giving you clarity about your existing pension arrangements and helping you plan ahead based on solid, actionable advice.

Why don’t we all have a pension service provider that helps us look forward to a happy retirement?

Pensions are not a subject that most anyone wants to deal with or is even remotely on top of. Which is incredible, given that this is a matter that can decide over how you live through a quarter or even a third of your life. Much depends on your pension, and planning goes a long way. Why don’t we all have a pension service provider that helps us look forward to a happy retirement?

Evidently, there was a gap in the market for someone to do it better.

How story-telling and content marketing worked for PensionBee

In line with most peoples’ reluctance to discuss money matters or switch banks, PensionBee had to overcome the challenge of winning peoples’ trust and reaching a critical mass of clients.

It’s not an easy sell to say: “Put your lifetime savings under the management of a new web start-up.”

PensionBee’s approach to the challenge was to write content and to use a bit of lateral thinking to determine what to write about and where to place it.

In their research, the PensionBee team found that there is a right moment in time to approach people about their pension planning. Usually, this revolves around a trigger event such as having a baby or buying a house.

To get on potential clients’ radar screen, the team then created a lot of content that was:

  • Mostly NOT about finance.
  • Geared towards providing useful information in its own right.
  • Centred around the trigger points in life when someone might be thinking about their pension.

Resulting articles included examples such as:

  • “10 places where to organise your wedding”
  • “7 ways to host a Christmas lunch on a budget”
  • “4 tips for coping with empty nest syndrome”

This all took place at a time when Facebook advertising was still relatively new, which offered under-priced opportunities for spreading your message. Imagine asking a banking director back in 2014 to utilise Facebook advertising to find new clients and to base the advertising on content that didn’t immediately revolve around the bank’s product offerings. Most would have seen this as below their dignity.

It’s not an easy sell to say: “Put your lifetime savings under the management of a new web start-up.”

Using this approach, and closely monitoring the metrics of different content formats and channels to rigorously optimise conversion rates, PensionBee managed to win over 100,000 clients in the first two years. At the end of year 2, the company had pension plans worth GBP 250m under management and another GBP 250m worth of pension plans was in the process of being moved.

It was after achieving such milestones that State Street came in and bought a stake.

Not bad for a few blog posts and some Facebook ads…

Part of this formula never changes, other aspects do

The good news is, presenting your company or your products and services through interesting content and stories will never go out of fashion. The human mind is geared towards enjoying and remembering exciting plots and stories. You can always use this approach to build up trust, generate leads, and get your name out there.

The bad news is that the channels and methods for disseminating it to the right audience vary over time. E.g., during the first year, 100% of PensionBee’s content marketing was done on Facebook. That percentage is now much lower. Facebook’s pricing has changed dramatically, i.e., the opportunity to get under-priced advertising on this particular platform has (mostly) come to an end. Luckily for PensionBee, because of the PR exposure the company has had in the meantime, it now gets 40% of its new business from people who type the company name into Google.

Opportunities to utilise content marketing and story-telling to turbo-boost your company’s growth always exist but aren’t always easy to find or easy to exploit.

Anyone wanting to build a company on the back of content marketing and story-telling without spending much money on spreading the message will have to be creative when it comes to creating genuinely useful and original content:

  • How can your content stand out in amidst the vast ocean of material that is the Internet?
  • What are the Zeitgeist topics that you need to be in tune with to set yourself apart from competitors who (inevitably) try to do something similar?
  • Where can you find under-priced opportunities in the online advertising industry?

Being able to increase your reach without spending much money is vital. After all, great content is of less use if you don’t find ways to spread it far and wide while staying within your budget.

The rewards for getting this right can be terrific. E.g., PensionBee winning investment from State Street is a significant accolade which in turn opens up avenues for achieving the next phase of transformative growth.

Look for opportunities where others don’t dare to tread (yet)

Opportunities to utilise content marketing and story-telling to turbo-boost your company’s growth always exist but aren’t always easy to find or easy to exploit.

They will also often require you to go against conventional wisdom. E.g., the same advertisement departments of large firms who back in 2014 would have turned up their nose at the idea of placing ads on Facebook are now spending gazillions on that very same channel; at a time when these channels have become much less effective given their increased pricing.

Ask yourself, what do advertisers turn up their nose at today and which of these channels might actually be suitable for your purpose?

Somewhere in the vast depth of the Internet, there will be the right opportunities waiting for you!

A quick note about the source material for this particular article: If you live in London or visit frequently, you might want to check out the service provided by TableCrowd. TableCrowd hosts dinners where a speaker is invited to elaborate about their experiences relating to fundraising, building a company, selling a company, etc. I am not affiliated with them, pay for my own dinner participation, and don’t get any commission for recommending them. But they do get my deep-from-the-heart recommendation for providing an insightful and quite affordable service to the London start-up scene. I get to meet people that otherwise, I would not have come across (including fellow diners), without having to pay a ridiculous joining fee or the kind of outrageous prices that some conferences attempt to charge. There are a whole number of articles on my website that trace back to attending one of their events.

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