San business-writing sample:
Financial service executives are forced to make decisions in an environment which is constantly shifting. Whether it’s an evolution of market forces or a revolution in technology, a new interpretation of trade laws or a subtle shift in demographic trends — all conspire to make short-range planning difficult and long-range planning positively nerve-racking.
On the positive side, the current financial climate offers unprecedented opportunities for increasing market share and profitability. To successfully take advantage of these opportunities requires not just flexibility of approach, but the ability to test proposals against the realities of the financial marketplace.
Within the financial services field, banking is a prime example of these heightened risks and opportunities. Since about 1980, there has been a steady trend towards deregulation of banks. This enables banks to offer a whole new range of services to their customers. Like it or not, banks are going places they’ve never been before. On the other hand, deregulation has also meant that non-banks can now compete with banks by offering traditional banking services. Like it or not, banks are going places they’ve never been before. Our firm is widely known for its ability to help banks assess the competitive threat from nontraditional vendors, while profitably navigating through new territory themselves.
Our ability to help financial clients navigate is enhanced by our expertise in a number of key areas. For example, our long experience in financial consulting to the federal government means we can offer our private sector clients the benefits of many years of insider knowledge of Washington. (In fact, when EFT technology was first emerging and the government wanted to assess the opportunities it presented for the distribution of federal benefits, they hired us.) Also, we specialized very early in two areas which have turned out to be critical to financial clients’ success in this new era: targeting marketing efforts through segmentation, and customer satisfaction research.
The Bank Mar keting Association decided to sponsor a syndicated research study about the consumer “middle market” on behalf of seventy member institutions. The B MA wasn’t just interested in abstract theories: they wanted a working tool that would enable their member banks to break down their potential markets into segments they could market into at a profit. In other words, they expected real-world results. Not surprisingly, they turned to our Financial Services Group.
To be useful, such a project must address the questions banks are actually asking: not only what segments are out there, but which ones to target, and how to find them — both in the general market and in the bank’s own customer base. To be done accurately, such a project requires the close integration of many skills, including questionnaire design, market-history analysis, statistical analysis, and so on. Calling on our expert staff in these and other areas, we developed a landmark study entitled The Cons umer Middle Market: Battle ground of the Financial Industry. It segmented U.S. households earning between $30,000 and $125,000, concentrating on such areas as institution and product usage, delivery systems, and financial institution image. But more than that, we developed a PC-based system which enables us to help banks develop segment-specific marketing programs for themselves.
For example, we’ve been using this tool First National quadrupled its previous response rate. to help First National Bank of Chi cago create a direct-mail program aimed at marketing its products. We “scored” the bank’s customer list to determine which names are most appropriate for particular promotions. The result? First National has quadrupled its previous response rate.
There’s been an increasing appreciation in financial marketing circles of the value of customer satisfaction tracking programs. We helped pioneer the use of sophisticated questionnaires, focus groups, and statistical techniques to ensure accurate, meaningful, and useful results in these programs.
In one case, Cit ibank was concerned about their home-mortgage business. Since they position themselves based on high service and fast turnaround rather than on offering the lowest rates, it was critical that Cit ibank have tools for measuring whether their service levels actually were at consistently high levels. By setting up a system to collect, analyze, and compare satisfaction data from both Citibank and competing banks, we helped them to define and maintain uniformly high service levels.
In another case, the Prud ential Insurance Company realized that its field sales force is a very powerful group which determines much of what happens to the company, yet by its very nature remains somewhat autonomous. We helped them develop the new idea that the sales force should be viewed as internal customers of the company. This meant analyzing their satisfaction as well as that of the policyholders.
To do this, we surveyed agents, agency managers, and office managers at 119 pilot agencies. In order to properly survey 25,000 policyholders, we developed five different questionnaires We provide our clients with actionable steps, not just vague ideas. (scientifically designed and balanced so as to prevent our results from being skewed by “leading questions,” preconceptions, or unconscious biases on our part). When we got back the questionnaires, we processed the data into our computers and created a statistical model to analyze it. We’re currently creating a measurement system which will enable us to give Prud ential management a set of actionable recommendations, not just vague conclusions.
This points out an important aspect of our financial services approach. Our roots as a data research organization make us particularly good at acquiring and analyzing data, but we don’t stop there. That’s because in our newly expanded role, we don’t just serve the research arms of our clients’ organizations. We now offer financial service companies an unusual blend of data research and management consulting. And we know from long experience that line managers often don’t know how to use statistical information. Boiling such information down until it’s actionable is no easy task, but that’s precisely what we specialize in. In other words, we make sure that our work is concretely useful to our clients’ line managers, not just “interesting” to them.
We hope it’s clear by now that we offer our financial clients real help, not just hand-holding. And while most of our financial customers are in retail banking and insurance, our experience spans the full spectrum of financial services. We’ve talked about market segmentation and customer satisfaction; here are some other typical problems we might tackle:
In all cases, our Financial Services Group is dedicated to doing more than just designing a research program, collecting data, and doing a statistical analysis of it. We’re committed to helping our financial service clients use that data in the real world in which they operate — and that includes making definite and firm decisions, implementing those decisions, and then evaluating their impact upon the client’s business.
Given the current state of the financial world, this material may sound obsolete. This page was written years ago, and is displayed here as an example of my business writing, not as a source of current information.
It might seem strange that some consulting companies have asked me to analyze their services — since that’s a service they typically provide to their customers.
Actually, it’s not really strange, for a couple of reasons.
First, I’m not a general business consultant. Although bright and articulate, most executives and consultants don’t specialize in clear communication. I do.
Also, consultants know better than anyone that an outside observer will often see things that people on the inside can’t quite see — no matter how observant they are.