CMO profile: Rebuilding AMP’s brand reputation

We speak with Renee Howie about the brand rebuilding work she's undertaking and why bringing customer data and insight closer to the work is critical to marketing success

Renee Howie
Renee Howie

When Renee Howie told people she was joining AMP, she got more than a few raised eyebrows. But as the marketing leader tells CMO, she had good reasons for wanting to take on the brand and business challenge.

“I did a lot of research on the brand, people and leadership before I joined. What stood out to me was the fact this is a brand that has been fundamental in building Australia and our community for 170 years,” she says. “That’s very rare in our market. We have done a huge amount to enable Australians across our wealth portfolio, advice and insurance portfolio, which we don’t have today, but was once a fundamental pillar of what we did. The original Alfred St building in Sydney was the first skyscraper in Australia. So there are things outside not only what we offered Australians but things we did in the community that I felt were owed the right to regain respect.”

Howie also took heed of the words inscribed on the walls of AMP’s Sydney office to ‘be a certain friend in uncertain times’.

“Under our CEO, Alexis George, the focus is on bringing the respect back to the brand and delivering on our promises. All of those will lead to the ultimate outcome of helping the Australian community retire and grow with confidence. I thought what a great opportunity to help an iconic Australian brand rebuild its respect in the Australian community.”

It’s nevertheless a weighty remit given the extent to which the AMP brand has been tarnished over the last five years. The damning final report from the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services in early 2019 revealed numerous endemic, dishonest and inexcusable practices across the sector, with AMP arguably suffering some of the biggest fallout through the fees-for-no-service scandal and revelations it had charged dead customers and sold unnecessary products.

The findings resulted in the scalps of several top executives and board, share price slumps and shareholder class actions as well as an investigation from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. AMP had paid at least $153 million back to 200,000 customers by the end of 2020 in response to the findings.

In the last 18 months, AMP has undergone major change led by CEO, Alexis George, who was appointed in April 2021 with a transformation and rebuild remit. Priorities have included reshaping its financial professional services advice approach and executing plans to split up AMP Capital, leaving the group with a small bank and focus on financial advice. The sale of the funds management branch, Collimate Capital (formerly AMP Capital) commenced in April 2022, and AMP also divested its 20 per cent stake in Resolution Life Australasia in June 2022.

During a recent AGM, George said her efforts are about rebuilding the AMP brand “so that we could be proud of it”. Levers she’s pulling to help include rebuilding purpose, championing simplification, growing banking platforms and supporting digital and data investment to help customers while managing and respecting risk.

How to move a brand forward

As CMO, the task for Howie is bringing this strategy, purpose and simplification to life through marketing, engagement and customer experiences. To achieve that, it was vital to recognise the brand’s current position in order to move forward, she says.

“One of the first issues we had and something that I’ve experienced in financial services is that you will have your own bias towards a financial services brand because of your past. I might have a feeling towards a brand because I’ve been in this industry and watched these brands for 20 years. But do Mums and Dads have that same perception?

“So the first thing we needed to do was get a good perspective of what Australians – both customers and non-customers - thought or felt about our brand. We just had to find out what people thought of us, and what they wanted from us, to build the roadmap and continue to build that in a way that brings the organisation’s purpose to life.”

The overwhelming finding was the need for AMP to rebuilt trust. “That was apparent across all audiences - and that comes from delivering on promises. So having clear promises you have set with the community then delivering on them, is key,” Howie says.

“The second thing we found was the gap in comprehension when asking people what AMP does now. We have gone through many iterations and divested out of businesses we might have been known for, such as insurance and AMP Capital. We are quite a different business today.

“People were saying to us, I don’t really know what AMP does now. So moving forward requires us to build that clear and simple comprehension.”  

Adding complexity is the fact AMP has historically done much of its work through intermediaries like brokers and advisors. “It’s not only trust and comprehension with them, but also end consumers,” Howie says. “Understanding how they’d like that to be communicated to was the next thing we needed to do.

“Finally, taking a look at customer versus non-customer was interesting, because the perception gap was quite wide. What was great for us was it showed clearly that customers have a great experience, they understand us and like us. But the gap between them and non-customers is far greater. That’s the role of brand and communications – to help with perceptions and bring the experience of our existing customers to the rest of the public.”

Brand purpose work

Aiding Howie was work kicked off by AMP’s CEO to build a renewed brand purpose from the organisation’s people “for the people”. A group of 42 individuals working across AMP went through a six-month process to determine what would be a purpose they’d be proud to show up to work for every day. This was then tested in market through customer research to see if it resonated.

The resulting purpose is ‘Helping people create a better tomorrow’. “It’s landed fantastically well with staff not only because they know we built it, but it also pays respect to our legacy while helping focus on moving focused,” Howie says.  

The broader strategy put forward by AMP’s CEO has three parts: Reposition the businesses, simplify the operating model and explore new opportunities for growth. Repositioning clearly fits into Howie’s emphasis on gathering insight and focus to begin rebuilding trust and comprehension of what AMP can offer Australians.

Simplifying the business is another very topical matter for the marketing team. Howie has spearheaded a piece of work looking at how simplification materialises from a CX point of view. Again, work started with customer insight, utilising verbatims, Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback and spending time with the complaints team.

“Simplifying our product range helps, as it makes choice and benefits of each product far simpler,” Howie says. “On the flip side, we found we needed to do a lot more simplification on how we communicate and enable customers to work with us when they need us.

“It wasn’t always things like the contact centre or time to answer – those things are important – but also things like when you communicate to me, communicate with empathy and make it simple for me to understand what you’re asking me to do. We look after intermediated customers plus end customers, and that piece of work was done in both audience groups. The most overwhelming piece we needed to address was that end customer.

“Having a simplification drive has really enabled us to strip back and push back on a lot of overly complex language we sometimes use in engaging customers to make it easier for them. Also, when we can see clearly and rationally how we can simplify an operating model, process or a customer experience, the organisation simply says run with it. That enables and motivates the team to keep finding more of them, as they have the runway to achieve change.”  

An example of this in practice is digitising assets. Customer feedback, reviewing all NPS, complaints and verbatims information were used to understand what customers wanted to be able to transact online.

“We then did a correlation between that and call centre drivers, then built out what customers wanted to do online but we were not enabling them to do today,” Howie says. “It was a very rational piece of work. I took it to all the business leaders and said this is what we have found and here are some things we need to change to make this happen in a sustainable way, so we have ability to listen to customers’ feedback then actually adopt it within our digital assets and within an agile timeframe.

“Within a three-month period, we stood up the operating model, implemented three sprints, and we’ve already had over 10,000 interactions with those new apps we put online. That’s an instance of bringing the customer closer to the operating model and assets and building a process that means we can take feedback, listen and act on it immediately.

“That’s the art of simplification – we have removed any bureaucracy in the middle and gone customer, customer experience, let’s execute.”

The path to growth

As to growth, Howie’s primary focus is on banking, not only driving new customer acquisition but also improving services “so that we can find the right nuance of digital and human when customers need us”. In August, AMP launched its first digital mortgage for refinancing, and its mortgage book increased by $705 million in the last six months.

The second area of growth is its investment platform operating under the ‘North’ moniker. This has recently been rebranded, with a conscious decision made to remove AMP from the name and create a standalone brand within a portfolio approach. Howie reports 49 per cent uplift in total net growth over the last half-year.

“That goes back to the piece of bringing customer feedback – in this case adviser feedback – on what they want from the platform and bring it as close to the operating model to execute on that,” she says. “For us as marketers, we have then focused on comprehension and trust around the North platform. Historically, it used to be only for AMP advisers and now it’s available for all markets. We have had a role to not only articulate its benefits but also that it’s not a closed shop anymore. And we have seen fantastic growth as a result.”

Supporting Australians to embrace retirement solutions that are not just based around a super fund is another growth opportunity.

“Everyone knows the changing demographics and our ageing demographics, but we’re also seeing a need for control and ability to start thinking about moving from permanent work earlier than a retirement date,” Howie says. “Younger demographics are not wanting to solely rely on a salaried life and are also transitioning from full-time work earlier than their parents did. We’re also seeing individuals wanting to move to part-time work and transition in their own way, not going from super fund to a drawn down pension.”

Howie flags product launches in the second half of this year that start to solve a lot of those ‘transition your own way’ issues. A complement piece feeding into that is helping Australians understand the value of advice.

“Australia as a nation is under-advised; 70 per cent of Australians take on the financial behaviours of their parents and simply adopt those,” Howie comments. “Cultural evolution shows the way money is managed 50 years ago is maybe not the way it could be managed today.

“Destigmatising and getting advice for yourself to prepare for what comes next is quite altruistic – it enables everyone to do better.”

Telling the AMP story

To build capability to tell these stories effectively, AMP recently appointed CHEP as its new strategic and creative agency. Howie has also brought new individuals into the brand team, emphasising out-of-category experience working on consumer brands.

“We wanted to ensure we had the right blend of individuals who know our category but also those who are the right people and know how to connect with consumers,” she says. “We’ve got an understanding of how we are positioned today, we’re using our strategy to articulate how we want to be positioned tomorrow, and then using research to determine how we talk about that. That’s all encompassing – it’s not just creatively how we show up, but what our experiences look and feel like once we have determined what our brand platform will be. Then also how we show up in society and community and bring that brand platform to life.”  

Howie is now in the throes of a six-month process to devise the brand articulation and platform for AMP. Simultaneously, the team is looking at performance of existing assets using data insight to drive shorter-term optimisation and iterative improvement.

“An overarching principle we have applied across our team is bringing the data of our customers and data of market close to the work,” Howie says. “We have 1.5 million customers and a huge amount of behavioural data on how they engage with us across their product lifetime. We have a great opportunity to connect that closer to the work.”

Tech enables that, and Howie admits while there’s kit at her disposal, AMP doesn’t necessarily have “the silver thread” bringing this to market as quickly as she’d like.

“We have an awesome data and insights team and at the moment that’s very manual; they work closely with peers in the marketing team to help leverage the insights to increase our performance. But we do have a tech job to do,” she says. “As we look to that trend of people managing transition to retirement their own way, we want to leverage data more to increase our performance but also shine a light on things that educate them on that journey.”

Holding Howie in good stead through these efforts as CMO is a principle of listening and learning.

“Listening to customers, your people and the market means you can create work that resonates, that people are proud of, and that they’re motivated to continue to do,” she says. “That solves the problem of a marketing leader, which is to connect with your customers and to build fulfilled and motivated teams.

“The other thing is as you move through your career you do collect biases. Our industry moves at such a pace that if I didn’t pay attention and listen, I wouldn’t be able to enable my team to do their best work.”

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