CMO50 2020 #21: Monique Macleod

  • Name Monique Macleod
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Commonwealth Bank
  • Commenced role December 2017 (joined 2008)
  • Reporting Line Group Executive
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 200 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Financial services
  • 2018 ranking 17
  • Related

    Brand Post

    In 2019, the Banking Royal Commission left Australians with distinct a lack of trust in the industry and CommBank. As CMO, Monique Macleod, puts it, the bank’s reputation was weak at a nine-year low.

    “We were a brand in reputational crisis,” she says.

    In line with the corporate strategy to be a simpler and better bank, Macleod developed and delivered a three-phased plan with three tenets: Apology, Action and Renewal. The plan gained strong support from CommBank’s board and executive leadership team (ELT).

    “Earning back trust in one of the country’s most iconic brands required a significantly different marketing approach,” Macleod says. “We had to apologise and ensure it was heard, repeatedly. Holding this ground was critical. Consumers would not stand for us ‘moving on too soon’.”

    With Macleod’s gentle encouragement, CommBank’s CEO wrote to all customers to apologise for where the group had fallen short and commit to change. Customers were invited to respond, and a team stood up to address more than 60,000 responses.

    “‘Better Starts Now’ was the platform by which we galvanised our 40,000+ employees that change needed to take place immediately,” Macleod says.

    A 12-month roadmap of deliverables based on changes customers wanted was then developed with the ELT. One proof point went to market every week for 42 weeks under the platform ‘Better for You’. Aimed to be different, rational and about a commitment to change, initiatives included compassionate care to standing up new hardship teams.

    “The campaign had the earnest tone of a company working hard, appropriately direct and humble. Deliberately pared back to copy, simple active language, emphasising the change effort underway,” Macleod says.

    It was demanding but rewarding and it worked. ‘Better for You’ had a significant reputational uplift for marketing activity. And by galvanising the organisation around the strategy, CommBank improved its reputation score from low in March 2019, to regain the negative ground from the Royal Commission, Macleod says.

    Business smarts

    Significant internal reflection was required following the release of APRA’s Prudential Inquiry into Commonwealth Bank which outlined shortcomings in governance, culture and accountability, Macleod continues.

    “We responded with a multi-year remedial action plan that detailed changes we would make to how we run the business,” she explains. “The plan has nine priority areas that address each of APRA’s recommendations. It provides a roadmap to lift the ‘voice of risk’ and the ‘voice of customer’ in our decisions.”   

    Shaping the strategic agenda by ensuring it is grounded in the voice of the customer and agitating for change across the organisation has been the hat Macleod has firmly placed on her head. With the backing of ELT, her team expanded to ensure customer insights, customer experience, performance metrics and customer complaints are well understood, utilised and federated across the business. 

    Starting with ELT, marketing ran a scrum which elevated customer insights to shape portfolio investment, product design and experience breakpoint improvements. 

    “The organisation had always thought of itself as putting customers at the centre of what we did. To shift the culture, marketing had to show what good really looked like and lead the way to a much deeper understanding of our customers, their wants and needs,” she says. “We had to show how to utilise these insights in the course of everyday business decisions as well as long-term strategic planning. We had to ensure the organisation could make the nuanced shift from being customer focused to becoming truly customer centric.”     

    Evidence of success has come in many forms. A recent example Macleod points to is the five-year strategic roadmap for CommBank’s retail bank, which has been jointly developed from the outset between strategy and marketing.  

    Data-driven approach

    Martech is a critical enabler for all marketers aiming to deliver hyper-personalised, real-time and safe customer engagement so it’s no surprise CommBank has ring fenced for its three-year technology roadmap to continue improving capability and customer engagement.

    For example, the group has invested in and built data-driven search and programmatic strategies powered by over 1200 individual customer traits, in partnership with Adobe Analytics, Google and the Trade Desk. This capability allows Macleod’s team to target or suppress customers based on these traits and has resulted in greater than 30 per cent cost efficiency due to improved relevance.

    ‘Engagement martech’, as Macleod describes it, then includes two further key platforms: The CommBank app and CommBank’s Customer Engagement Engine (CEE). The latter uses over 200 AI models, analysing customer data to surface the most relevant communications.

    “Together, we can achieve remarkable reach; our app has 6.1 million users and to date, CEE has enabled us to send billions in app messages to our customers,” she says.

    By way of example, she points to the ‘Coronavirus money plan’, which came off the back of confusion about government assistance in the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. CommBank quickly published a financial support guide to clarify what was available.

    “With this content we developed multiple digital journeys in the app to help our customers set up a money plan to manage coronavirus impacts. These journeys leverage their data to provide customised guidance and support,” Macleod says.

    Then when home loan repayment deferral became reality, CommBank within a week had developed and executed a personalised contact strategy through its CEE for a backlog of 22,000 requests for financial assistance. These chalked up impressive open and click through rates in the first 24-hour period, “demonstrating the relevance and timeliness of these communications, responding to our customers need for financial assistance”, says Macleod.

    Customer-led thinking

    Helping Macleod realise this more customer-led approach is the inclusion of the customer strategy within the marketing function. This has been combined with research and insights, providing accountability for a more holistic ‘Customer Strategy and Insights’ team, she says.

    “Bringing together these teams has allowed us to unlock the value of the data we have, build a deeper understanding of our customer base and their needs, and democratise these insights to drive improved customer experience,” she says.  

    It’s this combination of team forces that led to increased visibility around complaints handling and a prevention plan in the retail bank. As Macleod points out, complaints provide a rich source of insight into key customer breakpoints.

    “This new team have significantly uplifted complaints analytics, providing regular, comprehensive and near real-time complaints reporting to the retail leadership team, non-financial risk committee and the board,” she says. “This has enabled well-informed, quality leadership conversations and importantly allowed us to prioritise our customer program of action based on where we’re falling short of customer expectations.”     

    Macleod’s team has also been helping the business bank, using insights to lead to a change in product proposition that’s delivering strong business results.

    A persistent pain point for small business customers was the fee on our business transaction accounts. In November, the fee was removed and CommBank launched the $0 Monthly Account Fee option, starting with customer communications, increasing digital acquisition activity and launching ATL in February. 

    “We’ve seen a 90 per cent decrease in complaints relating to that fee, as well as a 153 per cent increase in traffic to the Web page, converting to a 28 per cent uplift in new accounts,” she says.  


    As if the challenges of the royal financial commission and battered brand reputation haven’t been enough, 2020 has been defining through the bushfires and COVID-19, Macleod says. 

    “Our teams have risen to the challenge; pivoting at pace, demonstrating resilience and creative excellence,” she says.

    As bushfires ravaged the country, CommBank opened up grants to help communities rebuild. “When Shane Warne auctioned his iconic baggy green to raise funds – we bought it.  Thirty-two years of supporting cricket meant we could jump at the opportunity, and send it on tour around the country for fans to enjoy,” Macleod says. 

    “We championed societal change, with 21 years of support for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team, reviving the famous Mojo ‘Cmon Aussie Cmon’ classic to fill the MCG for the T20 Women’s World Cup. 86,000 fans watched the team take gold and smash previous attendance records.”    

    Moving at pace to lead industry in the COVID-19 response by helping customers in their time of need was a must for Macleod. Alongside its financial support guide and deferred home and business loans, the ‘We Can Together’ campaign was launched, highlighting useful tools such as ‘Benefits Finder’ and ecommerce solutions.

    “Research shows consumers see CBA as leading industry with the best response of the banks. It’s all down to our amazing team and their dedication,” Macleod says. “They have significant pride in the work we have done, and our engagement score this year has increased by 20 per cent.”

    Cross-functional collaboration

    Through all these efforts, cross-collaboration has been critical to managing reputation and organisational outcomes to future proof against issues of the past. “How we show up, consistently for all of our stakeholder groups in a co-ordinated manner is crucial to maintain the momentum we have achieved,” Macleod says.  

    To help, an ‘integration forum’ for critical functions that need to come together with a lens to ensuring CommBank clearly delivers against the corporate and brand strategy on an ongoing basis has been established. This brings together group strategy, marketing, HR, external + CEO communications, government and investor relations to review major strategic projects on the roadmap.

    “We openly share marketing plans and invited feedback and input from peers where otherwise that might not have taken place, in turn encouraging others to do the same.  This has helped shape how these teams now appreciate the connectivity of our roles, actions and broader impact we can make,” Macleod concludes.

    “Over the past two years, the CMO’s role and marketing’s place within the organisation has been critical and highly valued for its ability to help shape the strategic agenda, earn back trust, drive customer-centricity and deliver bottom-line outcomes.”  

    Share this article