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VOL. 127 | NO. 186 | Monday, September 24, 2012

Marks Thrives on Challenge of Promoting Services


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Dan Marks isn’t an information technology manager or a management information systems analyst, but these days anyone promoting a bank is automatically invested in digital technology.


The ever-changing world of Internet innovation is a bank marketing officer’s best tool, and job No. 1 is being the first to find out what’s next.

“The part I love about marketing is that there’s both an art and science to it,” said Marks, chief marketing officer for First Tennessee Bank NA. “It’s about ideas, but it’s applied creativity.

“The reality is that art has intrinsic value. With marketing, if it doesn’t create a result, there’s no value. (At First Tennessee) we’ve become increasingly more disciplined in assessing and optimizing marketing.”

Marks contributed a chapter to the book “Lessons from the Top: Leading CMOs Share Their Case Studies” on mobile banking and its effect on the systems banks use to process payments. The book and the standalone chapter, titled “The Impact of Mobile on the Payment System,” are available on amazon.com.

Other topics in the book include social networking in banking, basics of marketing, and technological issues in marketing.

“(Writing the chapter) was a fun way of taking myself out of the day-to-day context and giving some perspective on where the ball’s going,” said Marks.

And in marketing, perspective is needed because new technology is being used by large numbers of people almost as soon as it becomes available.

Marks is from Atlanta originally but went to college at Belhaven University in Mississippi. After graduating with a degree in business, he took a few years off and went to work for a business consulting firm, a choice he said widened his insight into different industries.

“Periodically I talk to college students and I tell them if you can stomach it, working at a consulting or agency business right out of college really gives you a great accelerator in the experience,” said Marks. “You work tons of hours, but it gives you a ton of exposure. If you work for one company, you get one perspective.”

He later got his MBA from Vanderbilt and in 2003 joined First Tennessee as a strategy analyst. After a series of promotions, Marks became CMO four years ago.

At present he faces two big challenges in marketing the bank. First, Marks said, all banks, but especially the larger ones have a black eye from the economic crisis that arose from the collapse of the housing industry.

Second, most of the newer digital innovations that banks use to lure in customers like mobile banking and deposits via smartphone are inexpensive enough that smaller independent and community banks can offer them as well.

Smartphone-related services are now expected rather than exciting incentives.

“When I started (at First Tennessee), the iPhone had just launched,” said Marks. “Now there are over 110 million active smartphone subscribers. That’s a change in how we market.”

Still, only about half of those smartphone users have downloaded apps for mobile banking, meaning there is still some growth potential in that market.

But smartphones and apps have been around long enough for banks to determine trends in how they are used. In terms of customer retention, Marks said the message to banks is quite clear.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive to offer services that keep customers out of bank branches, technology keeps customers loyal longer.

“We definitely see that as customers become engaged with more of our channels, our highest retention rate are the customers who use mobile banking,” Marks said.

“We place a lot of emphasis on meeting customers where they want to be. There is some advantage for us. It costs a little less if customers don’t come into a branch, but really it’s about tailoring our customer experience.”

First Tennessee launched the ability to deposit checks through mobile phones a little over a year ago, and Marks said that too is here to say.

The bank’s website, meanwhile, is emphasizing a connection to live human beings. Customers who open an account online will see the picture, name and contact information of the First Tennessee employee who handled the account.

Customers can also rate products on the site, and good or bad, the feedback is welcomed, Marks said.

“I’d rather err on the side of being open to feedback knowing that you’re not going to please everybody, than pretend that everything is hunky-dorey,” Marks said.

The usefulness of social networking sites to banks is also somewhat murky though most banks now have them. It’s not clear how they could in future be used to provide services for customers.

“The part that is challenging for our industry is that there are a lot of regulations designed to protect consumers around advertising and products and services,” Marks said. “So with using social networking, we’re taking a more measured pace to think how do you comply with those laws. It’s hard to imagine that in five years social networking is not a mainstream form of communication. It’s going to affect how we do business.”

Banks as a whole are also still pondering the future of smartphones as mobile wallets through which payments in stores can be made, but Marks said the next big innovation may be how banks process checks internally.

Specifically, bank customers have gotten tired of trying to deposit checks before 2 PM in order to receive credit that day. Marks said First Tennessee may soon have new systems in place to provide credit for payments much faster.

“We’re doing a lot to provide a simplified digital payment experience for our customers,” Marks said.

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