Congrats to Jane Fraser (but equity is still a long way off)

Like the rest of the world, I’m delighted with Citi’s announcing Jane Fraser as its next CEO. Still, as is often the case with great news, irony underlies the announcement. We are, after all, commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment. One would have hoped that by now “major bank names female CEO” would be banal, not news.

But news it is. As Emily Flitter and Anupreeta Das last week for the New York Times, …

Booms and busts and scams and panics have changed Wall Street in many ways over the decades, but one thing has stubbornly remained the same: The top jobs have always gone to men. Now, that last citadel is about to fall … Ms. Fraser’s ascension is groundbreaking on Wall Street, which has never quite shaken off its longstanding reputation as a boys club.

“Never quite shaken off its longstanding reputation” is, I think, being generous. More accurately, Wall Street has not yet ceased deserving it. I’ll hasten to add that glass ceilings are by no means limited to banking. What they do seem limited to is the highest-paying careers.

“Why don’t you go into sports?”

NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” host Peter Sagal summed up the issue well last week when, referencing the recent gender reveal party that sparked a wildfire, he quipped, “Back in the day, you’d reveal a baby’s gender by waiting till it grew up, joined the work force, and then you’d see how much it gets paid.”

To Sagal’s point, even in 2020, women overall make about 81¢ for every dollar men make. That number rises to 98¢ within verticals, a fact that lazy thinkers, motivated reasoners, and misogynists use to defend the status quo. The overall disparity, they’ll tell you, exists simply because women tend to opt for lower-paying careers. This overlooks the obvious follow-up question: If it’s true that women opt for lower-paying careers, why?

In fact, “opt” is the wrong word. It’s probably more accurate to say that society, academia, and business—not necessarily by design—still steer women toward lower paying careers. There is a prevailing myth, fueled by popular but ill-informed books, that women are intrinsically better at some tasks and men at others. Such would have readers believe that women emerge from the womb pre-ordained for lower-paying careers. (How convenient for men!) Surely this has some influence on boys’ and girls’ respective self-concepts as they grow up and eventually seek work.

The myth influences employers, too. Consider a 1999 study that Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at The University of Melbourne Cordelia Fine, PhD, cited in her book Delusions of Gender:

In one recent study more than 100 University psychologists were asked to rate the CVs of Dr. Karen Miller or Dr. Brian Miller, fictitious applicants for an academic tenure-track job. The CVs were identical apart from the name. Yet strangely, the male Dr. Miller was perceived (by both male and female reviewers) to have better research, teaching, and service experience than the luckless female Dr. Miller. Overall, about three-quarters of the psychologists thought that Dr. Brian was hireable, while only just under half had the same confidence in Dr. Karen.

Perception finds its way into practice in other ways. Noted astronomer Pamela Gay, PhD, observed:

It’s often hard for women and minorities to rise to positions of power—to break through that glass ceiling … where the constant downpouring of belittling comments and jokes plays a destructive role in self confidence. At my university, I’ve heard tenured faculty laugh that there is a policy not to hire women into tenure track physics positions. They do this in front of the junior faculty. I’ve heard people joke that the reason I’m in a research center rather than in physics is because I have boobs. It’s all said with a laugh.

People of color face similar societal roadblocks. The world’s most famous astrophysicist, Neil deGrass Tyson, encountered opposition as a boy when he set his sights on a career in science. The incident was recounted in The New Yorker:

At the age of eleven, Tyson spoke with a teacher … about his fascination with astronomy. Tyson’s older brother, Stephen, who is an artist, recalls, “The teacher asked, ‘Why do you want to go into science? There aren’t any Negroes in that field. Why don’t you go into sports?’”


To its credit, the industry has been trying of late. The Financial Brand’s President and CEO Jeffry Pilcher recently noted:

Some banks have started accepting the unfairness of the situation, and how things must change. Bank of America, BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo and Citi are among those who have announced a corporate commitment to equal pay for all, regardless of gender or ethnicity. To take it another step, hiring managers at Bank of America can no longer ask how much job candidates made at their last job as a means to further bridge any pay gaps.

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the industry’s coming to terms with inequity is due to social consciousness, PR-mindedness, or a growing awareness that women make up half of the market and, increasingly, control significant funds. Either way, we have a long way to go before equity becomes a reality. Nor will it be easy. Though exclusion can arguably come about on its own, inclusion usually happens only by design, backed by vigilance and commitment.

In short, kudos to Fraser, and to Citi.

Posted in Digital payments by admin. No Comments

TBT: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (And it’s not too late to put it to work)

Originally posted two years ago. But even in 2020, October still follows September, so I figure it remains relevant.

I am the first to admit that when it comes names of commemorative months, National Cyber Security Awareness Month isn’t the sexiest. Reducing it to the initialism NCSAM makes it easier to write, but not easier to pronounce—En-see-sam? Nik-sam? Ink-sam?—and it it doesn’t help in the sexiness department, either. 

Perhaps that’s why, even though NCSAM has been around since President Obama signed it into being 14 years ago, it doesn’t generate much press beyond sundry institutional posts. 

Missed opportunity

And that’s a curious thing, considering security concerns are keeping a good deal of people from opting into and using digital banking. Letting October pass without taking advantage of NCSAM is a missed marketing—and service—opportunity for financial institutions. 

Some may hesitate to raise the topic of cyber fraud et al to avoid instilling fears where none existed. But the reality is that the fears already exist and are in fact pervasive. A Fiserv blog post earlier this summer entitled “Why It Pays to Address Consumers’ Concerns About Bill Pay Security” reported (disclosure: Fiserv is my employer):

Among consumers who haven’t used mobile banking in the past 30 days, 57 percent cite security as a concern … At 81 percent, personal data and identity theft is the most common security concern with bills, among all those who are at least somewhat concerned about security and billing. Data breaches (65 percent) [and] Internet security (39 percent) … are other top concerns.

It has become something of a given that reticence when it comes to embracing new technology skews older. Were that the problem with digital banking enrollment and use, a plausible solution (and I beg your forgiveness for saying it with such directness) might be to wait until Millennials have replaced Boomers as the older generation. But this time it turns out that Boomers aren’t necessarily the holdup. For Millennials, technology that connects a game to a TV is one thing, whereas technology that connects a handheld device to their money is quite another. To wit, the Fiserv study also found that …

… early Millennials involved in managing bills are the most likely to have security concerns. When thinking about payment security, 64 percent of those ages 18 to 26 are worried about the safety of paying bills and 49 percent say they’re worried about receiving them.

October is nearly upon us, but it’s not too late to capitalize on NCSAM. After all, like other months, it’s a whole month long. And, happily, there’s a way to put NCSAM to work for you that is a win-win, that is, benefitting clients and financial institutions, yet won’t require much investment in the way of esearch, production, and person-hours.

NCSAM as a marketing—and service—opportunity

Having individual control goes a long way toward alleviating fear. And while great respect for the dangers of online fraud is well advised, there is a good deal that clients can do to increase their control over their online security. Furnishing that information is a great service to clients, and for banks it can mean fewer future cases to resolve. It’s also a great way to make clients view a bank in a favorable light for its thoughtfulness in having provided the information.

While it may be too late to launch a full-blown campaign, other, quick-turnaround PR opportunities are within reach. It should be an easy matter to write up easy-to-implement security tips and distribute them via press releases, newsletter or e-letter articles, and email to clients.

Nor is there any need to scurry about digging up content. Many organizations have already done that for you. Cisco, for instance, offers a wealth of blogs on the subject. The National Cyber Security Alliance maintains the website and makes its content available for anyone’s use. Of particular help are pages such as:

You might also check with your state university. The University of California has created an online National Cyber Security Awareness Month Toolkit. In my home state, the University of Utah is doing likewise. So is the University of Richmond.

While you’re at it

Besides providing safety tips, be sure to highlight the technology and programs your financial institution has in place for protecting clients. Familiarity may have rendered them banal to you, but to clients they are new, fascinating—and reassuring.

Of course you’ll need to run all material by Compliance and Legal. Just don’t let them rewrite or even edit. To do so would be to ensure impenetrable copy no client will read and that, therefore, will do no good. Ask them to explain what needs to change, and why, and then pay a real writer to do the revising. (If your Compliance officers and attorneys fancy themselves writers, as many do, steel your resolve and stick to your guns.)

The number of financial institutions that miss the chance to capitalize on NCSAM surprises me, but their lapse has its positive side. The few financial institutions that jump on this opportunity will be the ones that stand out.

Posted in Digital payments by admin. No Comments

Walmart takes on Prime, while Amazon drones on

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you—Walmart to your door, Amazon to your sky.

Here’s how describes Walmart Plus*, Walmart’s new delivery program, set to debut tomorrow:

For $98 annually or $12.95 a month, members will receive unlimited, same-day free delivery, Scan & Go on the Walmart app that allows customers to scan their items as they shop and pay with Walmart Pay for quick and touch-free payments and a 5 cents discount on gas.

Feature for feature, Walmart could well have branded the new service “Walmart Prime” were it not for pesky trademark laws. After all, Amazon Prime is similarly priced at $12.99 a month or $119 a year and promises a similar lineup of benefits:

Unlimited Two-Day Shipping on over 100 million items and One-Day Shipping and Same-Day Delivery in over 10,000 cities and towns as well as 2-Hour Delivery with Prime Now in select cities.

There are, however, notable differences between the services.

Notable differences

Prime offers an advantage in the form of access to Prime Video and Amazon Music, whereas Walmart Plus has no analogous offering.

Yet Walmart Plus offers advantages of its own. Same-day delivery tends to be the exception for Prime, depending on where you live, whereas it promises to be largely the rule for Plus. Walmart is better equipped than Amazon to pull off that benefit because, no matter where you live, you can probably throw a stick and hit three Supercenters and a Neighborhood Market without aiming.

And Walmart has the advantage in grocery deliveries. Walmart offers a vast selection of groceries, whereas Amazon Pantry’s selection is limited. Although Amazon acquiree Whole Foods Markets offers free, same-day home delivery with $35 minimum, availability is tied to its 487 U.S. locations, whereas Walmart’s 4,674 U.S. locations—each a virtual local warehouse—are all but everywhere.** Walmart is known for low prices; Whole Foods, not so much.

Yet for Walmart, being the low-price leader may be a two-edged sword. People attracted to Walmart’s low pricing may balk at paying $12.95 a month plus tip for the privilege of shopping from home. And, like Whole Foods, Walmart requires a $35 minimum purchase for free delivery.

Heading off Amazon

Walmart is wise to take on Prime at this time, even though, according to the National Retail Association, Walmart’s $510 billion in annual revenue makes it the world’s largest retailer. Amazon is its closest threat, coming in at a little under half that amount, a mere $233 billion. (A distant third place goes to a German discount grocer not familiar to most Americans, the Schwartz Group, with $123 billion, a little more than half of Amazon’s revenues.)

So Walmart has quite the lead. Nonetheless, as I have noted before in this space, giants can topple—think Sears, WordPerfect, Kodak, or Motorola. Even if you happen to be Walmart, it’s wise not to engage in laurel-sitting.

Moreover, home delivery is no longer the wave of the future, but the wave of the present. With a worldwide pandemic still afoot, people who can stay home are advised to do so. Retailers who cannot accommodate a public loath to show up in person must surely fail.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s an Amazon drone!

There’s no disputing that Amazon has led the world in home delivery. And now Amazon is ready to blaze new trails—that is, new airways. CNN reported on August 31 that Amazon is at last ready to “launch” its long-awaited drone delivery service:

Amazon received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday, a milestone that allows the company to expand unmanned package delivery. The approval will give Amazon broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers,” the agency said … [giving] Amazon the ability to carry property on small drones “beyond the visual line of sight” of the operator. Amazon said it will use the FAA’s certification to begin testing customer deliveries.

The eventual goal, Amazon Prime Air VP David Carbon told CNN, is 30-minute deliveries.

I cannot help wondering how Amazon plans to deal with dogs that love to chase moving objects, which is most dogs. Surely Carbon and his crew have thought that one through; but it’s not hard to envision alert Labrador retrievers joyously snatching drones from the air and gleefully burying them in the backyard.

Whether delivered by van or drone, I am all for the growth of home delivery. No matter which retailers lead, the payments industry always wins.

*A day or two later, an ad for Walmart Plus showed up in my Facebook feed. Walmart’s joining other advertisers in boycotting Facebook for the latter’s refusal to fact-check political ads was, apparently, short-lived.

**Source: Data company ScrapeHero. See

Posted in Digital payments by admin. No Comments

TBT: When it comes to innovation, think small

It’s not every day that a shoe makes me think. Although this post from September 23, 2014 is dated—iPhone 12 is due later this month—there is still something to be said for thinking small.

Yesterday when my wife kicked off her ASICS workout shoes, I noticed this line on the removable insole: “Be better than yesterday.”

That, I realized, says it.

The financial services industry is obsessed with innovation. Rightly so, for we cannot let the competition outstrip us. But when we limit innovation to mean the next big shiny new toy, we have a forest-for-the-trees thing going on.

Shiny new toys that take the world by storm are rare. Smaller, “better than yesterday” changes are far more common, and they are no less able to take the world by storm.

For a low-tech example, consider a mid 1980s innovation. There was nothing shiny or even new about a bottleneck with a twist-off cap. But placing it atop a one-quart container of motor oil was new. This tiny change overhauled the industry. It made the round oilcan obsolete and grew the home oil-change market by making the product easier to handle.

For a high-tech example, observe the people lined up outside your nearest Apple Store, waiting to hand over a substantial wad of cash for the just-released iPhone 6. Let’s be honest. The 6 is shiny, but it’s hardly new. It’s pretty much a 5 with added doodads. And the 5 was pretty much an elongated 4 with added doodads. Purists will no doubt revile me for trivializing, but come on. Even today, the 4 meets the basic need. Die-hards who haven’t upgraded miss out on little in the way of functionality. Apple, it seems, is the master of effecting big change by thinking small.

For another high-tech example, consider movies sold for home viewing. My wife and I are blessed with two lovely daughters who make us suffer when they’re bored on long trips. In their defense, I should point out that they keep up the whining only 99 percent of the time. So, even though we own a bunch of kids’ movies on DVD, we paid for the same movies over again so the kids can watch them on their tablets and my wife and I can ride a few miles in peace. In order to sell us the same movies twice, no studio had to invent a device or secure new distribution rights. All they needed was a modest advance in distribution.

That, too, is the power of thinking small.

The lesson for bankers is, sure, keep a sharp eye for the next shiny new toy, but don’t overlook “better than yesterday.” A modest innovation might be under your nose right now, and it might just change the world.

Posted in Digital payments by admin. No Comments

A toaster in a new suit of clothes

Comments Off on A toaster in a new suit of clothes

The financial services industry has never been short on clichés. There’s the diminutive clerk wearing a green visor and sleeve garters. The rotund, cigar-chomping financier. The heartless, mustache-twirling userer.

Not to be overlooked are clichés the industry brought upon itself through marketing. There’s the “friendly banker.” (“If the banks are so friendly,” comedian Alan King quipped, “how come they chain down the pens?”) There’s the “your partner” bank. (Banks using that one would do well to look up partner in the dictionary.) And let’s not forget toasters, which, for whatever reason, came to symbolize the golden age of bank incentive offers.

The toaster giveaway cliché had its start when financial institutions took a page from direct response marketing playbook and began serving up incentive offers. A new account or loan could net you a TV, a household appliance, or your choice of a .12-gauge shotgun or .270-caliber rifle. (“Don’t you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?” asks Michael Moore, in his film Bowling for Columbine, as a banker hands him a rifle. The exchange was pure fiction. Gun-offering banks didn’t hand out weapons on bank premises. They arranged delivery or handed out certificates to be redeemed elsewhere).

The power of the incentive offer

Blogger turned ETF manager Eddy Elfenbein was partially correct when he wrote:

The reason banks offered toasters to new accounts wasn’t due to bad marketing, but due to outdated regulations. That’s the only way they could pass cost savings on to depositors. Free toasters from banks weren’t some happy relic of a bygone era, they were the one of reasons why the modern financial world came about. Interest rates were regulated and you couldn’t even pay interest on a checking account.

The regulatory choke-hold certainly played its part, but Elfenbein overlooks the power of the incentive offer to motivate purchase. Indeed, I take exception to “bad marketing.” A properly deployed freebie is good marketing. It cannot make you buy what you don’t want, but when it comes to a product you’re considering, the right freebie can make the difference between resolving to buy someday and versus buying now.

You’d be surprised at how often what turns out to be “the right freebie” proves counter-intuitive. In his book Of Marketing and Emasculated Goats, direct marketer Steve Cuno wrote:

Whether for small or big-ticket items, a compelling incentive will multiply response. I doubled natural gas fireplace sales by offering a free jar of honey for visiting a showroom. The jar of honey, incidentally, retailed for only one dollar. For an industrial manufacturer, I tripled sales by offering a $20 Victoria’s Secret gift certificate. Even though (or perhaps because) most of that client’s customers were male.

Whatever became of the free toaster?

Nowadays, on the increasingly rare occasion you see someone walk into a bank, you rarely see that person exit the bank with a toaster. But incentive offers haven’t disappeared. They have merely evolved. For instance:

• Instead of a toaster, an offer of a few hundred dollars might motivate you to open a checking account on condition of maintaining a specified minimum balance for a specified amount of time.

• These days it’s nigh unto impossible to find a bank card that doesn’t offer points redeemable for merchandise or cash.

• And “no interest for six months” is arguably a very expensive toaster in a new suit of clothes.

Donating to a cause isn’t an incentive offer

Sometimes you’ll see a quasi-offer in the form of “for every new account, we’ll donate to [insert charity here].” As I wrote last week, that seems to be working for upstart online insurance company Lemonade with its Giveback program.

But if it’s working, it’s not working as an incentive offer. Offers work by playing to the desire to get something for nothing, to eke a little extra out of the marketer “… if I act now.” The promise of a donation to a cause, no matter how worthy, doesn’t play to that desire. Lemonade’s Giveback program alleviates concerns about overcharging and delayed claims. That’s less of an incentive and more of a reassurance.

Supporting a cause is laudable on its own merits, of course, and it can make for good PR. It’s a classier way of publicizing philanthropy than a press release blatantly boasting “We just gave $X million to …”

Donate to a cause because you support it, not because you expect it to increase sales.

Posted in Digital payments by admin. Comments Off on A toaster in a new suit of clothes