Being the first CMO: ME Bank's Rebecca James talks customer centricity

The inaugural chief marketing officer at this digital-first banking institution talks about customer engagement and technology

ME Bank CMO, Rebecca James
ME Bank CMO, Rebecca James

In the second of our profile series on the first CMOs recruited to their organisations, we speak with Rebecca James, CMO of ME Bank, who was appointed to the post in January.

James has more than 20 years’ experience in marketing and advertising and was most recently the managing director of agency, Lavender, for seven years. In this role, she led a team of 110 people and covered a broad range of clients such as Westpac, BT Financial Group, Ikea, Microsoft, Coles, Telstra and Qantas.

ME Bank was established in 1994 by several industry super funds and initially provided home loans, before becoming a fully fledged bank in 2001.

You can read the first profile in this series, DesignCrowd CMO, Dan Ferguson, here

Why ME Bank appointed a CMO

James attributes ME Bank’s decision to appoint a dedicated marketing leader both to its aggressive growth plans, as well as customer centricity. At a personal level, she says she was attracted to the company because of its current technology transformation project, which is due for completion early next year and will open up a new range of digital services for customers.

“Overall, I’ve been charged with establishing a customer-centric culture within the business and to rally the marketing and product teams to implement this idea, designing product and service experiences around our customers,” she says.

“In the context of a bank with aggressive growth plans, and which is about to take ownership of a brand new technology system, opening the bank up to offer a whole range of new digital services, it’s important to give responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience to one area of the business. Designing a great customer experience is a powerful strategic tool for realising growth. A CMO with a broad mandate brings the focus needed to achieve these aims.”

For her first year, James’ key responsibilities include helping enable customers to open their own accounts online, filling in gaps in the product range, and creating new products. She’s also tasked with raising the profile of the brand both in terms of awareness and consideration, and helping meet its growth targets.

“My top three priorities have been establishing the three-year business plan and vision for the business, ensuring we have the best team structure in place to maximise the effectiveness of the team, and ensuring we’ve got enough investment in brand and marketing to achieve our growth,” she continues.

“ME Bank is also small relative to the majors, which means it tends to be quite agile in its operating rhythm. These characteristics provide great opportunities for a CMO to get things done and to be a major contributor to the growth of the bank.”

Skills of a modern marketing chief

In order to cope and succeed in a fastly evolving business, James believes it’s vital for CMOs to be digitally savvy, as well as have the ability and agility to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. This includes admitting to mistakes quickly and moving on.

She also sees the need to engage with and instil trust from the board, as well as motivate a high-performing team, as other musts for any marketing chief.

“Generally speaking, I believe most businesses these days are evolving quickly and the same skills are needed regardless of the size maturity of the business,” James continues.

Another important attribute for any CMO is having a long-term and strategic view, and to be able to communicate that view across the business, James says.

“For me, this means being able to communicate the benefits of creating longer-term improvements to customer experience, rather than at just one point in time,” she says.

“The one exception [as the first CMO of an organisation] perhaps is ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, which is required more for a challenger organisation than a mature and established business.”

A CMO’s closest ally

Given ME Bank’s technology-led innovation approach, it’s arguably unsurprising James nominates the group’s CIO as her biggest supporter.

“It’s a real positive as this is one of the most important relationships a CMO can have,” she claims.

“Technology will define which banks succeed or not in the 21st century and will have one of the biggest impacts on our customers. An effective working relationship is of huge benefit to the business.”

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