Rabobank’s first digital chief on building a digital strategy

Head of digital talks about the cohrent story he's trying to build around digital for the banking group and why cross-functional communication and data are key

According to Rabobank’s chief digital officer, Bryan Meredith, too many organisations today still misinterpret digital as a pure communication channel.

“For me, it’s as much about the convergence of data coming from these digital interactions as the ease with which people use digital to communicate, and it’s the value that can be added to existing services and channels,” he tells CMO.

Bryan Meredith
Bryan Meredith

Meredith is Rabobank’s first dedicated head of digital and has spent the past two years building the financial institution’s digital strategy and capabilities. Starting his career in design, he quickly moved into roles that were digital in nature, building up an interest in usability and the way people interact with technology.

Since then, he’s worked with great organisations in a number of sectors including financial services, and telco, expanding his digital skillset while also developing leadership and strategy expertise. Through all of this, he says he’s been driven by the way in which the changing digital landscape can be used to define opportunities to add value to customers.

Make digital cohesive

The role upon joining Rabobank was to provide the organisation with a cohesive strategy that covered digital in all facets. Meredith’s team has twofold responsibility: Firstly, to drive and support digital strategy; and secondly, to take operational ownership of everything digital from a customer experience and product development perspective including mobile, social, digital media and marketing communications.

“It was also not allowing Rabobank to just follow the strategy of others, but use what we know about digital to take a close focus on customers and how we add value to them,” he says.

“The role was recognition that the whole digital Iandscape is changing very rapidly. While we had digital marketing people looking at components of it, the organisation isn’t unaware of how rapidly competitors are advancing their digital strategies and that we need to outpace and outstrip them when it comes to our client focus.”

While the leadership team and organisation had already made the commitment to digital by appointing a dedicated digital leader, Meredith says it was important to sit down with the executive group, work through where digital could add value, and get their buy in on a one-to-one level before unveiling something new.

“I needed to get a clear understanding of what value we want to add before putting solutions on the table. In that was defining what digital actually meant,” he says. “When I came in, there was a more marketing and communications focus towards digital. That’s not to say we weren’t doing good things in other parts of the organisation, but the role is bringing these ideas and concept together to provide a unified view.”

From there, Meredith’s focus switched to improving key platforms including mobile and banking apps, and redeveloping Rabobank’s websites. This involved some technology investment into replacing all platforms related to the company’s Web presence and online activity.

“Behind all that was developing an internal ecosystem that supports what we are doing in order to enable the flow of data, behavioural targeting, multivariate testing, and the types of things that start to change the way we operate and communicate to people,” Meredith explains. “It’s one big component, but a foundational piece to what comes next.”

Build cross-functional communication

Not surprisingly, to be a successful digital leader, Meredith has also had to build strong ties not only with the IT and marketing functions of the business, but also good working relationships across operational and product teams.

“I sit with people from across the business on a daily basis. But having this role has certainly strengthened that digital view and the focus is less myopic on both sides,” he continues. “All parties have skin in the game to get to an agreed outcome. I report through the GM of marketing, but can’t do well without technology and people. No one is an island.

“Digital is not the responsibility of one group, and my role is not to claim responsibility for all of these pieces. I’m as much reliant on others holding pieces of strategy and puzzle to deliver. It needs continuous communication.”

While this approach may not be as neat as holding one area of accountability, it does ensure everyone takes some ownership and responsibility to applying digital thinking and interactions to their part of the business.

“Sure, someone may have accountability for some components coming to life, but ultimately it means all parties are on-board and hand in accountability isn’t left to one team to sort out everything,” Meredith says.

“Equally, with our program office and business strategy teams, we need to make sure we have shared measures of success and are all singing from one song sheet. That success starts further back in ensuring we focus on the same customer outcomes and people outcomes.”

Put the customer first

Innovation programs are another piece of the picture, and Rabobank has several running across the organisation that involve cross-functional teams coming together to look at new product and services development and change in the context of the customer.

“Lines of communication are opened up right at the point of customer discovery, and we’re working out the problems we are trying to solve, not just the workload involved in putting solutions together,” Meredith says.

When it comes to customer objectives, Meredith says there’s an emphasis on opportunities to remove friction from interacting with the bank, and notes there are always ways of improving and optimising processes as well as building systems that help Rabobank perform better as a business.

“They’re the easier ones to identify as they are based on the business we do today,” he says. “But we also look at how we add value in ways we don’t do today and ways of adding value to the business and our clients that are perhaps not their immediate concern, but will be in the future. It’s those that we’re bringing people together to look at, and working together to find what those opportunities are and success metrics for them.”

Tapping the data pool

Data lies at the heart of all digital success, and Meredith describes data as the unifying ingredient to interconnectivity of Rabobank’s digital and analogue experiences.

“The extent to which we seamlessly and securely understand the data we have, and allow data to be connected and analyse, is the extent to which we’ll be successful in our digital strategy coming to life,” he says.

“I have a vested interest in some way shape or form on data strategy. We’re working on a number of pieces in that digital ecosystem and there’s a data ecosystem that works hand-in-hand with that. Together they will enable our success operating across digital channels and non-digital channels and create seamless customer experiences.”

Work done to date has largely focused on improved dataflows, and Rabobank has started putting behavioural targeting into digital concepts across its digital channels, Meredith says.

“We’re starting to use data to trigger the way we reach customers and the next thing we say to them, and the way we might deliver the messages to them across our multiple brands,” he says. “That’s the start, but the holy grail is for all of it to be interconnected.”

Meredith anticipates data insight will increasingly inform a different view of the customer at Rabobank.

“We do know a fair amount about our customers and the majority are agricultural, so we’ve always had that focus,” he comments. “Digital and data are not necessarily changing the view of customers, but as we start to learn about some of the subconscious triggers that change behaviour and dive more into the future of farming and where that goes next, the closer we get to the frontier of where we head next.”

Meredith’s key priorities this year are firstly to ensure the changes made last year in embedding the digital ecosystem are well entrenched.

“We’ll then take a step back and look at the customer facing strategy of that and where digital components add value,” he says. “We also have a strong focus on innovation with horizon 2/3 activations.

“It comes back to having fully cross-functional teams looking right back at customer discovery, what are the opportunities, are we agreeing on them from a wide and diverse view, then testing that with clients and forming a view based on the inputs they give us.”

Lead with the story, not the tactics

For Meredith, chief digital officers need to take a holistic view the digital landscape and avoid getting too bogged down in the detail.

“It’s about forming a coherent story on what is happening,” he says. “There is so much happening all the time with new business and technology coming to light, so first and foremost, a chief digital officer really needs to find what is actually going to add value for their business, and not be tied down to understanding what is happening.”

That’s not taking operational responsibility for everything that happens in digital, however, Meredith says.

“It’s raising the digital questions with people within that business,” he says. “It’s about getting business to understand and adopt a focus on their roles that should be digital and see the value they can offer.”

While he agrees the role of chief digital officer could end up a transitional one, Meredith says it’s a vital position today for steering organisations successfully through the new world of connected customers and commerce

“The more technologies grow, the harder it is for various people to keep a check on it and still be able to do what they are trying to achieve day to day,” he claims. “There’s a real need for someone to give some sort of expertise around what’s possible, but also to take accountability for ensuring the rest of the organisation understands that. You need to be driving the agenda forward, not just keeping abreast of digital.”

At some point, will just be part-and-parcel of how customers and staff interact with organisations, Meredith says.

“But there’s a long way to go before many organisations have a coherent strategy and digital is well understood,” he adds. “I’m a big believer in the organisation seeing success through its clients and customers. Digital is such a huge opportunity to understand what people expect and what value we can give to them and leveraging that.”

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