Episode 1: Andrew Wong – Marketing Challenges in Fintech & Beyond

August 27, 2018

Andrew Wong is the head of global marketing at 8 Securities.

Before joining 8 Securities, Andrew held executive and general management positions at Yahoo! (Silicon Valley), Asia-Pacific, Australia, and Japan where he was responsible for marketing and driving revenue growth across Yahoo!’s entire portfolio of brand and performance ad products.

Andrew started his career at Overture (acquired by Yahoo!) building and launching global search marketing platforms. He is also an advisor to several companies in Asia and Silicon Valley. Before Yahoo!, Andrew was an analyst at UBS Technology Investment Banking group.

A Silicon Valley native, Andrew is a graduate of NYU STERN School of Business.

What’s covered in this episode:

  • How frameworks and customer knowledge help drive massive improvements to your marketing onboarding, engagement, acquisition and retention funnel levels
  • How new fintech companies can leverage partnerships to build trust within industry and with consumers, even against established finance monoliths
  • Why testing marketing tactics quickly is just as important as knowing what to test
  • The differences in working at a Fortune 500 company versus at a startup
  • Why disruption is more important than your competition
  • The case for using Facebook as a marketing and media channel in Japan.

Podcast Transcription:

(This transcription has been redacted for readability.)

Jenny: So what is this podcast all about? We’d like to define it as exploring all the different facets of marketing insights and knowledge that a modern marketer needs to have nowadays across all levels of “the stack.” Now, for those people who don’t know what “the stack” is, it’s a phrase that came from the app developer / programmer world and being inspired by that, we want to cover everything from SEO, media planning, social commerce, PR, ad tech, UX, programmatic buying, branding, you know, you name it.

In the marketing world, there’s a lot of talk about integration strategies, what they call 360 degree marketing, whether you’re in the startup world or corporate world. There’s also a lot of demand from Global CEOs to understand more about Mainland China and also emerging markets in Asia. This is where we come in. That’s where this podcast comes in.

I’m Jenny Chan and I’m hosting the first ever podcast of this entire series. We have our first heavyweight guest Andrew Wong Head of Marketing for 8 Securities.

I’ll leave you to do a little bit of an introduction Andrew of 8 Securities.

Andrew: Yeah, of course. Well Jenny, it’s really great to be here. I really want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to your listeners.

I’m the Head of Marketing at 8 Securities. We’re a leading mobile investing company with licensed offices in Japan and Hong Kong.

Before 8 Securities I was at Yahoo! for 11 years in different product marketing, general management and leadership capacities. I’m originally from Silicon Valley and I graduated from NYU in New York.

J: Perfect. How do you feel at this point in time 29th of June, 2018, 6PM, two years into the job as far as I’ve calculated at 8 Securities in the fast growing fintech world. How do you feel in the industry?

A: I think this is just an amazing time to be involved with mobile investing services. I mean, I think what we’re seeing now, at least in the market is really a couple of major trends. I think one of the things we’re seeing, at least in mobile investing here in Asia is that really there is a clear opportunity to serve the investing needs of millennials, especially as this is the generation that’s grown up in the mobile-first environment. Some data points around that: there’s around $6 trillion USD in disposable income that’s been estimated to be available by 2020. That’s more than any previous generation recorded, to give you a piece of context. I think the second that makes it really exciting to be involved with mobile investing is that there’s a desire from this target audience to have a low-cost entry point and a quick pathway to experience value, right away. And I think third – and this is kind of interesting – this generation of millennials really want financial services to be simple. Relevancy is just table stakes, they want the service to be interesting, they want it to be as seamless as ordering a pizza on UBER Eats or Deliveroo or something like that.

A: I’m really excited to be part of this space and see this evolution occurring before my very eyes.

I really came to Asia around 2009 during the financial crisis where I wanted a change; I wanted to see how global users really experienced our consumer and ad products, but consumed and experienced it from the perspective of their local challenges that they had, whether it would be Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, India, Korea and really finished out and grounded out my career working in Japan and really seeing how Japanese users take to heart digital services and how advertising has to be really sophisticated to be able to reach these Japanese users in digital environments. It was an amazing journey – 11 years. I started out without grey hair and I finished without a few.

J: I guess I can’t classify you as a millennial marketer marketing to other millennials, can I?

A: Well, I think I still look like a millennial but I guess that’s up for interpretation.

J: I have read a lot of your reviews, testimonials of people reviewing you. There’s a perception in the marketing world that technical or tactical marketing, that involves a lot of technicalities like sales analytics or measurement of metrics are “low level” while what is really coveted is really high-level strategic thinking, marketing thought leadership and stuff, so there seems to be a gulf between the corporate marketing world and the startup world. Do you agree with that kind of situation and mindset?

A: There’s a misconception depending on who you ask that marketing is “just buying ads” or “insights.” If you abstract marketing to its essence, it’s really about the academic and fundamental discipline of understanding your customers, from when they touch your product, become aware of your product, onboard to your product, to how they use your solution, to things that you need to do to retain those customers.

A: It’s really the academic discipline of understanding your customers from the complete end-to-end conversion funnel.

J: How then would you transfer that academic knowledge to execution?

A: That’s a great question. I think, one of the things I see in the industry right now is they all want instant gratification. They want these one-hit wonders they read about UBER, Airbnb, Dropbox and think one of these hacks will miraculously turn them into a unicorn. I think it’s always great that you can get these one hit hacks or find some pockets of optimisation that you can pursue, but I really come from the philosophy from being at Yahoo! and having the privilege of being at 8 Securities is that it comes down to having a framework and thinking about marketing through a framework and having a process for things. I really look at that framework, at least in my current role, around 3 different areas. The first area is onboarding, the second is engagement, and the third is acquisition and retention.

Onboarding is the process of demonstrating the value of your product so that users come back. It’s making it repeatable and making it amazing.

A: At least for our company, as a mobile investing provider, onboarding is really that bridge between a download – people can search for our app on either the Google or Apple app store – and a mobile account opening. I think one of the things that we realise is that once you have a user on your app, onboarding is how you demonstrate, Jenny, the value and get them to return that value. The Apple app store and Google Play stores are just inundated and crowded and notorious for people who install and app and just uninstall it or forget it, it’s ruthless. From an onboarding perspective, it’s very critical to clearly demonstrate how invaluable your solution is to the lives of the people who are taking the time to download the app. I think one of the things that we see in leading companies like Airbnb, UBER, YouTube even, is that the onboarding is at the top of the funnel. What you do in the early stage is you’re going to have an effect on the flow of users until the later stages of your app. So that means you will have more users to engage, more users to retain and you’ll have more things you can share to evangelise your app too.

I think the second point I’d really like to talk about is engagement.

People might think, “oh that’s like notifications right?” Well, that’s not really it. Since onboarding is at the very top of the funnel, I think what we really need to think about as marketers are: what you do in the early stages is going to affect the flow of users into later stages into the app. So with more users, you have more of them, you can re-engage them, right? So, here at 8 Securities – I’m going to bring it back to our company – we want to give our customers the best personalized experiences possible at each point of our conversion funnel, from when they download our app, when they register their email and when they complete the mobile application. This includes, but is not limited to, a notification, in-app push in local language, we market in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English. We may wrap personalised content into a notification with merchandising activities – for example, if there’s a new IPO subscription we may bring that up as part of a mobile account promotion of some sort. I think at a much broader level, especially in financial services, especially online financial services, it’s very sentiment driven. If you don’t convert your customers within 48 hours, it’s going to be extremely difficult to convert them after 2 months. We make sure within that 48 hours we are able to engage those consumers so they are able to complete their mobile application.

J: Does the almost real-time customer service help tackle the issues like creditworthiness or securities, after all you’re quite a young fintech company – would they think your creditworthiness is not as close to that as a large bank like Citibank or HSBC. Obviously, the statutory requirements are helpful – do they actually give you mileage in terms of consumer perception?

A: We have been one of the very few fintech companies in Hong Kong that are licensed by the SFC from the very beginning. There are a lot of unlicensed fintech companies in Hong Kong – in fact, I think in Hong Kong there’s a fintech conference every other week. This license from the SFC really gives 8 Securities that stamp of approval that we are operating under the highest standards and integrities and we make that known to our customers when they ask about the firm. Our co-founder Mikaal Abdulla and co-founder and Chairman Mathias Helleu they really have a track record really managing financial institutions in Asia specifically, really able to drive that Global Asia-European mandate in the 1990s and 2000s for E-Trade and then from there they were able to build that kind of trust both on the intermediate level and B2C consumer side so that’s really from being licenced. Another thing I want to call out is the growth part of the question you had earlier, which is as part of our growth strategy. Growth starts with having a defined strategy in place and then having the process and functions to be able to collectively execute against that. In 2018 of this year, we entered into a strategic partnership with Nomura Asset Management to really launch digital wealth management solutions. This was their first ever fintech investment in their history. They don’t enter into these things very lightly. We’re working with Nomura Asset Management both in Japan and Asia to launch new digital wealth management services that can really influence mobile investment solutions for millennials and advisors.

J: You did mention that you really want to shorten the process for millennials to make buying financial services just like buying a pizza. But we cannot escape from the fact that even if it’s a robo-advisor service, no matter how easy you make it, the conversion funnel is extremely deep, whether it’s a B2B, C2C service or even from Normura’s perspective or from 8 Securities perspective. When a product like yours, where the conversion funnel is extremely deep, how do you solve it, what are the specific difficulties that come up and how do you tackle them?

A: I’ve been spending a lot of time on to crack that long, deep conversion funnel is really thinking about acquisition. You do have word-of-mouth acquisition that happens over time as people become more aware of your service. It’s still kind of early days for robo-investing, but for brokerage, trading stock has been around in Hong Kong for a very, very long time. So one of the things we always try and think about is, you need to know your target audience if you really want to think about driving efficiency in your conversion funnel, especially if it’s very deep. And when I say “know your target audience,” it actually means understanding what are their motivations, not if they’re male or female or if Traditional Chinese is their language preference or they prefer English English – that’s just table stakes. What we’re talking about is what are their motivations for investing? How do we translate those motivations and desires into personas? You know, our target audience if I may rationalise it is the young, mobile professional.

You actually have to find these people in the market and chances are you’re not the only people who are trying to find those named audiences. So within that, you need to think about making sure that you drive efficiency in what is a very deep conversion funnel you think about what are your cost constraints? How does that match against my LTV that you need to think about versus your CPA so that your Lifetime Value is greater than your CPA?

It’s all about having a framework and a process because you may get lucky once but you may not get lucky twice, so you really have to have a process and a framework to test, optimise and grow and become more efficient and especially around these deep conversion funnels and over time, you just get better.

J: But how much experimentation is enough? How do you know that your A / B bucket tests are large enough to derive some kind of positive conclusion? So how much experimentation is enough before you know that you’ve got a concrete process now? From onboard to engagement to user acquisition, as an example. When do you know that is the point to do fewer experiments that must frustrate current users?

A: Well, I think that’s a great question, one of the things I always say is when you go into an A/B testing situation, you have to know what you’re testing. You don’t just test for the sake of testing.

A: Maybe the testing condition is we believe that people who have a propensity to have English as their language of choice convert a lot better and deliver higher deposits than let us say people who have Android and Traditional Chinese. You have to really understand from an A/B testing standpoint, what are you testing for? That’s one. Two, you have to make sure that the comparison parameters that you’re testing can actually be compared. An example could be Traditional Chinese vs English, Android vs iOS, images vs people, images vs the device…

J: So what has worked for you guys?

A: I can’t make any blanket statements or reveal any secret sauce but what I can say is that once you identify, this is what you want to test, these are the conditions that we want to test, and then you run those experimentations, you need to apply them very very quickly. And sometimes that experimentation is done through advertising, through acquisition, but then sometimes that experimentation could be done on the basis of how you want to optimise your onboarding. If we take away this button on the onboarding experience does it make any difference as to whether or not people are actually going to complete the mobile account opening? So you have to know where you want to apply the A / B testing, on the acquisition side, on the onboarding side, do you have the right parameters on which upon to test.. I think this is why the concepts around data science, machine learning and statistics are becoming really really hot right now. I’m so glad I took a statistics course in college over the summer and I still remember those things 15-20 years later. It’s because a lot of what marketing is around testing, A/ B different variables, different variables, different parameters, what works, what doesn’t work. It’s very similar to financial theory, which is, you have a mean, a variance, I have a portfolio of tactics and my job as a marketer is to understand the portfolio tactics, test each tactic by itself, test tactics so that I can understand what is the incrementality of using one media plus another media to deliver a return and then try to minimise the variance against the return, the return being, is it the number of leads I need to generate within a certain cost constraint? Are there certain critics that keep you up at night, or certain criticisms that you still are working on, something like that?

A: I think our competitors, I often look at it this way – we at 8 Securities are really focused on driving our narrative, which is zero commission mobile trading through Tradeflix and automated investment through Chloe. Our competitors have their own ways of doing things, they have their own tactics and you may see their advertising in the digital or offline world. I think that’s very healthy, that means there’s a lot of activity going on in our space.

I think what keeps me awake at night is the next disruption curve. I don’t really worry about competitors. I think it’s very important as a company to focus on delivering the value and mission that you as a company want to deliver and not get distracted.

J: So what is it for 8 Securities? You already see yourselves as a disruptor so are you going to get disrupted by another disruptor (laughs).

A: You know, they often say a disruption cycle is every 10 years, right? If I had a crystal ball – my crystal ball for predicting what those disruption trends is probably not as accurate as others – but I always try to keep myself aware that you may be the pacemaker, the disruptor but there’s always a new technology, or new business model or something coming in from left field that could disrupt you. That’s why it’s always important to be agile and flexible in your strategy.

I think one of the things that I really enjoy about working in 8 Securities is you can offer your opinion and share it and it’s really interesting, you can actually see your opinion and your ideas executed very quickly because we’re very agile. I think one of the things that I remember at Yahoo! – I love Yahoo! it’s very much a part of my blood.

J: Your blood is purple.

A: I bleed purple – you guys know what I’m talking about! But I don’t have to go write a 50-page document, and then have 3 other people review it and have 2 people sign off on it then get a meeting with somebody Silicon Valley and pray he or she doesn’t cancel at the last minute.

At 8 Securities, we can actually move very quickly – we can have a scrum, we can talk about things on Slack, with each other and say, “hey maybe if we gave the opportunity for our users to do X, Y, Z and we can test it, maybe that could have an incremental impact in terms of how many people go on and complete a mobile account opening.” Maybe we’d use a whiteboard and think about that and what is the UX and the level required and before you know it, we can push it out in a release cycle and I’m like, “Oh my god, we already did it? Well, let’s test it right away. And that’s happened in less than a week.

J: I do still have many questions – I mean you are a numbers guy right and Andrew, statistics plays a large part in your job now and I know until April this year, 8 Securities has not invested very much in marketing except for a few early day videos playing around with the number 8 meaning prosperity in Hong Kong. Could you give me some numbers – how you plan to achieve specific onboarding and UA targets – do you have any specific goals that you can share?

A: Well, I can’t go into too many specifics, but I think what I can say is that the average age of our customer is under 30.

I think one of the things that we’re really excited about that as we really go into growth mode is the research shows that in Hong Kong, investing ranks as one of the highest categories of financial products as measured by online search on Google. I mean, that’s awesome. We’re just really excited and pleased with the traction and some of the feedback from our customers. Our customers are those who let’s say want to put just a minbar of $1000 Hong Kong to get started with a simple affordable, reliable mobile app. I mean, for Chloe, we get 7-15% annual return for investors through an ETF portfolio through 28 countries and 3000 stocks and bonds and through TradeFlix with 0 commission you’re able to buy 15,000 HK and US stocks. So I think one of the things that drive our future growth is how we scale this narrative. How can we enable people to experience the core product value even more? How do we get this done at scale?

Some of this is also with working with partners – for those of you who are listening we do have events with Vanguard for example and also our own owned and operated events. It’s really working with partners, right, working with partners to build out that narrative on the passive investment side or working with our own brand advocates on TradeFlix, they love trading zero commissions on a mobile app. They love talking about it so let’s work with them to amplify that message. So I think it’s just getting that message across on both online and offline channels and making sure we keep the customer experience and that onboarding

J: I’m still curious about how you lower your [marketing] costs. Anything from your CPI, CPA, CPC, especially when it comes to the user acquisition, when it comes to the final step. Can you detail the steps and your rationale behind them?

A: It’s really coming back to, “we solve this by having a defined structure in place that we can use in able to test and deliver and make things repeatable.” And that structure and framework is really focused on, this is onboarding, what can we do differently to be able to make this more efficient and make this to be able to get someone to download the app to actually complete the mobile account creating process. What are the things we can change? What are the things that we cannot change? What are the things that we cannot change because it’s mandated by the SFC that we have to ask these users these questions? Second, it’s about engaging our customers – what are the engagement tactics that we need to do more of? Do we need to engage people through email? Do we need to engage people using some merchandising tactics? Do we need to do things through push notifications at a certain time of day? Does it vary between Android and iOS devices? So I think there are a lot of things we need to think about on that front. I think the third part is also acquisition, acquisition being, you know, it’s a never-ending game. One of the things you see in acquisition is you have supply and demand. Over time media does get more expensive because media price inflation – what we called it at Yahoo! You have to constantly be thinking about this is the portfolio of tactics and what I’ve used, these are the tactics and media channels that our users live in, these are the media channels that I need to experiment on. Look at the gamut, look at the universe of media channels that are there, find the channels where you know your users live, find channels that maybe are not as established as Facebook or Google but they are worth exploring. Once you do, run experiments on those channels all the time but one of the things I see a lot of marketers do and I question is they say “I’m going to test 15 channels and I’m going to see which ones work and I’m going to use the top 5 that works well…” let me tell you there are only 24 hours in a day and there’s not a lot of time to build best practices across so many channels. You need to know where users live – do they live in those channels, and second you need to find out which media channels are not as saturated as others so you have an optimisation advantage.

J: I mean, what are the top 3 channels for 8 Securities in Hong Kong and Japan, respectively.

A: The reach that Facebook has in Japan versus let’s say, Hong Kong is very different and then, as a result, the profile of users that Facebook has in Japan versus Hong Kong are also very different. So, one of the things is Facebook say is why do people buy Facebook? Well, they buy it because of reach and targeting. That’s basically why people buy Facebook. You have an awesome reach and amazing targeting –

J: But in Japan less than 20% of the online reach than is typical.

A: Yeah, it is difficult and I think one of the things that you see in Japan, unlike, let’s say, the United States or other countries is that and I don’t remember the actual statistic, but I think it was something like you said 20%, Facebook Japan’s reach was at max 20%. Now, think about that for a second, if your max reach is 20% then that means the actual users composites, that comprise that is 20% of the internet population. The total population is roughly 150 million, yeah 20%, it’s not bad but it’s also not the 80-90% reach that you see [from] TV. And then also the use cases for Facebook in Japan are a little bit different than other countries, I think you see a lot of people using Facebook as an expression of their business activity, an expression of what they do in their professional life. It’s almost like LinkedIn, people express their business activity, their company events… I think in other countries indexed heavily not on your professional pursuits, but more on the social personal aspects of you as an individual. So the way people use the platform very much affects how you want to market to those users on that platform.

A: And when you have a max reach of 20% that also creates a certain, one could say, there’s a certain price consideration that you need to think about. Because if your max reach is 20% of the total addressable internet population then the target audience that you as a marketer are trying to go after would be much less because you’re not going to target the entire 20% you’re going to target certain segments of people that resonate with your product value, your product offering and that could be decidedly less and less.

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Podcast music by Ikson Music

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