Achieving Differentiation in a Crowded Market, With Aaron Wollner of Quontic Bank


“The more digital you get, the less of a personal touch in the human aspect you get. Our mission is to hang on to and continue to deliver on that humble beginning as a community bank, where it was all about the human touch.”



with guest:

Aaron Wollner
Chief Marketing Officer

Quontic Bank

Episode Summary

In this crowded marketplace, how can a community financial institution possibly differentiate itself? Better technology is table stakes, because as soon as you add the latest shiny object to your tech stack, every other FI in town will add it, too. In the end, differentiation can only come from better ideas.

In this episode of The Digital Banking Podcast, our Josh DeTar welcomed Aaron Wollner, the CMO of Quontic Bank, which is the best online bank according to Forbes. Wollner discussed the importance of authenticity for a brand to resonate and explained the concept of non-monogamous banking. The two discussed the importance of digital transformation, how Quontic adapts to macroeconomic changes, and the one question you must constantly ask.

Key Insights

For a brand to resonate, it must be authentic.

When Wollner arrived at Quontic about two and a half years ago, the bank already had a tagline — Adaptive Digital Bank — which they kept. According to Wollner, he kept some of the basic things in place drawing on them to create brand guidelines and further establish the bank’s identity. His stated goal was to bring authenticity to the brand and develop the brand voice. “It was not easy,” he said. “Just because you’re trying to be authentic, it typically doesn’t work; it’s borne out of a lot of hard work. That’s the best way I can put it.”

You can tell how great your idea is by how excited people are about it.

With such a crowded market, financial institutions must bring original ideas to attract new and retain existing accountholders. Wollner regularly conducts ideation workshops with his team. During one, they came up with the concept of non-monogamous banking. “The way that you can gauge a great idea — because that’s a super subjective thing — is how excited people are,” noted Wollner. “If you’re in a room of people and you can feel some energy, you can feel some excitement around this idea — in this case, non-monogamous banking as a go-to-market concept — you have to capture that energy and not let it die. It’s so easy to have something feel bigger than it needs to be. So, by that, I mean make it small.”

⚡ The importance of asking: Is this working?

Brand development is the strategic process of creating and distinguishing your company’s image, products, and services from your competitors. Like many organizations, Wollner said that Quontic is “building the plane while flying the plane” and pointed out that it’s critical to ask: Is this working? “If something isn’t working, you need to be able to acknowledge it, look it in the eye, and say, ‘This isn’t working.’ That’s why it was so crucial when we were doing the brand guidelines and developing the brand itself — checkpoints, milestones. Every six weeks during the project, we would step back as a group and ask ourselves that very simple, fundamental question … I guess part of that’s luck but also hard work and diligence. We came up with really great stuff that we kept on getting excited about.”

Guest At A Glance

Aaron Wollner
Chief Marketing Officer

Quontic Bank

Find Aaron On:

Wollner is a marketing leader in fintech with 15 years of experience building high-performing teams that extract insights from data to drive growth. He has delivered results for Fortune 100 companies and startups. Having worked in both big agencies and the startup world, he combines the process needed for a large organization with the flexibility required for a growing one. A pandemic, funding challenges, and an introduction to the CEO of Quontic led to Wollner bringing a thoughtful and data-driven strategy to a fun and tongue-in-cheek marketing approach for a bank looking to be an adaptive digital bank.

[00:00:30] Josh DeTar: Welcome to another episode of the Digital Banking Podcast. My guest today is Aaron Wollner, the Chief Marketing Officer for Quontic Bank. Now, it was very obvious the first time I talked to Aaron that he is a very intentional person who puts data to his thoughtfulness. Um, he actually even mentioned, “I’m a very intentional person with everything that I do.”

[00:01:50] What makes that statement so funny is that what brought Aaron to Quontic in the financial services industry was anything but intentional. Aaron was on a career warpath in his early twenties that led to some burnout. So, he took a very intentional three-month hiatus to backpack, scuba, and surf through Asia.

[00:02:09] And after coming back into the professional world, Aaron really doubled down on innovative marketing for FinTechs. He then found himself at a startup tech company focused on bringing a human element to helping people get out of debt. Long story short, a pandemic, funding challenges, and an intro to the Quontic CEO led Aaron to take on the role of bringing a very thoughtful and data-driven strategy to a fun and even tongue-in-cheek marketing approach for a bank looking to be the quote, adaptive digital bank.

[00:02:40] So, Aaron, I think there’s a, a lot of things that we get to talk about in that today. Welcome, uh, welcome to the podcast.

[00:02:46] Aaron Wollner: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

[00:02:49] Josh DeTar: You know, it’s super funny. We were talking about this before we started recording, and I think Aaron and I very quickly bonded over, I don’t know, uh, I don’t quite how to describe ourselves on this one, but our fan of, like, always being on the move and even just pacing around while we’re walking and, and just talking about how, you know, being very intentional about kind of moving as we do things helps to kind of settle our brains so we can focus.

[00:03:12] So, Aaron is even just pacing around as we’re doing this podcast, and I love it, so. Yeah, man, I just, uh, I’m excited to have kind of, that kind of personality on the show.

[00:03:21] Aaron Wollner: Absolutely. I’m, I’m pacing as we speak.

[00:03:24] Josh DeTar: Well, while you pace, one of the things I really wanna start with is I think it’d be really cool for you to just, especially as the chief marketing officer, so maybe this is kind of your daily job, but give our listeners a little bit of overview of what is Quontic, you know, what made you guys decide, “The world is missing a Quontic.

[00:03:42] We need to start one,” and then how do you be really thoughtful about messaging that brand to consumers?

[00:03:50] Aaron Wollner: Yeah. So, it was not easy. And the reason is, is because I think that, I believe that in order for a brand to really resonate and connect with a broader audience, uh, it needs to be authentic. And authenticity is one of those, you know, hearts-and-nail things where just because you try and be authentic, it typically doesn’t just work, right?

[00:04:12] It has to, it’s born out of a lot of hard work, is the best way I can put it. And so, when I arrived at Quontic about two and a half years ago, the tagline was already there, “Adaptive Digital Bank.” We, we didn’t knock that down, you know? Uh, I didn’t gut the logo. A number of years ago I was a VP of Marketing for another FinTech, and my boss and CMO, who was a great guy, very, very smart,

[00:04:37] you know, a businessperson who knew his stuff, he did take on a vanity project. One of the first things he did was gut the logo and spend nearly a million dollars researching and refining that. And so, you know, sort of witnessing that and, you know, it’s debatable whether that was a mistake or not.

[00:04:53] But anyway, I, I saw, I saw sort of what it was like to, um, you know, try and make, make your mark in a way that it doesn’t necessarily bring authenticity to your brand and really develop, you know, the brand voice. So, all that to say, I kept some of the basic things in place. And really, what I did was roll up, roll up my sleeves along with my team.

[00:05:16] I’ve got, you know, really talented group of about 15 people. I have a creative director. Her name is Jody. Very talented. And we actually did an experiment, looking back, it was a little dangerous, but we built the plane while we were flying in the air, which is not a, you know, a great way to do things necessarily.

[00:05:34] And by that, I mean we created the brand guidelines, which established our identity, right? In, in our graphics and in our words and in our personality and, and all that good stuff while we were doing the dot-com redesign. And so, this was roughly a 10-month project, and during that time, we were actually, you know, we had intentional milestones where we’d piece together parts of the, of the brand guidelines

[00:06:01] and at the end of it we came out with something that was just spot on. And so, so yeah, that’s what, that’s what we really aim to do. I think one of the things that you had noticed when I think you poked around was we’re a little tongue-in-cheek, right? We’re a little playful. And so, one of the things that we established near the top of our brand guidelines is with a wink, right?

[00:06:25] And so, we wanna do things with a wink. And doing that, being a little playful and it may be a little coy and maybe a little fun, it’s, it’s kind of risky in my opinion, right? Because you could hit the market, it could come off as, like, goofy or unserious, and at the end of the day, you know, banking, lending, this is people’s money, and a lot of the times that’s their livelihood, and trust is a major aspect of it, so it was actu, actually a risk in my opinion, but that broadly speaking, the, the journey that we went on to established, established Quontic and our brand.

[00:06:59] Josh DeTar: I want to come back to a little bit of how you built the plane while flying it and kind of how you went through the process of identifying that your brand, you know, was authentic, saying with a wink. But before I do, could you maybe just give us even a step back and just talk to us a little bit about what is Quontic and what is your place?

[00:07:19] I, I’m gonna just do this for our listeners, um, encourage you to go and, and look at the website and stuff, but, you know, if you go to, uh, Quontic’s LinkedIn, um, you know, just the “About” is essentially, you guys are an actual FDIC member bank headquartered in New York, but talk to us a little bit about what your niche is.

[00:07:41] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, we’re an online bank. And our roots, our origin story, if you’re a superhero guy, is pretty humble. And so, we started a little, little over a decade ago as a sleepy community bank outside of New York City, and then fast forward 10 years, obviously, a lot goes into this, but we’re now a national digital bank that has a pretty full trophy case. In just last year,

[00:08:04] we won our biggest award, Forbes named us the best online bank. And so, that, that journey was not an, an easy one, right? We had to go through a digital transformation, you know, one of those buzzwords, what does it even mean? But we came out the other end, and so we are an online bank, we’re a digital bank because there are no physical locations, right?

[00:08:26] And we have all of the technology and the stack and the digital experience, and a lot of that it sits with me and my team in terms of that digital experience, right? How people find us, the dot-com, the application, the customer communications, so on and so forth. And so, I’m a big believer that, you know, it’s the sum of the parts.

[00:08:47] So, all these little things that we do, all the, you know, little emails and, and, and advertisements and, and communications, they add up to what really should be a feeling, and they, that goes back to, you know, hitting the mark and having an authentic, you know, voice and image. And so, that’s really worked well for us.

[00:09:05] But, just a few sort of, you know, basic facts about Quontic, like you said, we’re FDIC, right? So, legitimate bank that is insured by the United States Treasury. We also, some, some more acronyms are coming your way, be warned. CDFI, so Community Development and Financial Institution. The, the US Treasury gives that out to about 3% of banks in the country, and we’re one of them.

[00:09:28] So, what that means is we need to do roughly 60 % of our loans to a predefined population, right? So, one way to think about that is the underbanked. So, you know, we’re primarily a mortgage lender, and, you know, more than half of our loans are to people who deserve to get a mortgage, right? They, they, they tick the boxes from a financial standpoint, but they may not be conventional,

[00:09:53] right? They may not exactly fit the box, and they may not have, you know, all the standard documentation that that’s required coming out of Dodd-Frank and the financial meltdown of 2008, you know, all that stuff was good, right? Generally good for the economy and the, and, you know, financial institutions overall, but that actually cut out a portion of the population that, again, deserved to be in a home and get a morgage,

[00:10:15] but just don’t check those very basic boxes. So yeah, so we really do have, a good, strong, clear mission right, to help the underbanked through that CDFI designation. And then on the digital bank side, just to sort of round it out, you know, if I were to sort of drill down into, you know, who we are as a, as a bank, right?

[00:10:36] Because how boring is a bank, right? Let’s, let’s be honest. If you close your eyes and try to picture a bank, it’s, it’s columns and marble and suits and, you know, lots of stiff sort of interactions and it doesn’t need to be that way. And we love sort of breaking down that, you know, that, that idea and delivering something new and fresh.

[00:10:56] And so, the way that we’ve done that is go to market with this idea of digital bank with a heart, right? Because typically, there’s a trade-off. The more digital you get, you know, the less of a personal touch in the human aspect you get. So, you know, that’s our mission. Our mission is to hang on to and continue to deliver on that humble beginning as a community bank where it was all about the human touch, right?

[00:11:22] The, the branch down your block. It’s all about relationships. So, how can we apply that human-relationship-based approach at scale? And just to sort of round out that piece, it ain’t easy, right? Like, we struggle with that every day and every week, but that’s what drives us from a mission standpoint.

[00:11:40] Josh DeTar: You know, it’s funny you mentioned, like, the word bank, even, is just very boring. And what do you think of when you think of a bank? I, I actually had a very similar thought this morning. I was putting together a LinkedIn post, and I just threw in a couple of emojis into my post, and I looked up emoji for a bank, and, and it is, it’s, it’s literally exactly what you would expect, right?

[00:12:02] Like, the emoji, the, I would say quintessential, like, you know, young hip way of communicating visual says, “Yeah, bank is this boring building.” Like, that’s the

[00:12:14] image they wanted to use to convey a bank. So, um, I think that that’s a really interesting opportunity for somebody like yourself, right?

[00:12:22] A marketer who wants to say, “No, no. I want to change my consumer’s perspective of what is a bank to them.” And, you know, you were talking a little bit about how it’s really important for a brand to resonate for them to be very authentic and how the Quontic brand is with a wink. And, you know, I’d made the comment to you before we started recording is I was just doing a little bit of research before the podcast.

[00:12:47] You know, one of the ads that Quontic has out really, you know, struck me, and it was, you know, a cartoon image of this couple sitting on a little grassy hill, and he’s got his arm around her, and it starts off with a, a kind of a moving percentage and it says, you know, percentage of people have another,

[00:13:09] Josh DeTar: you know, and they’re kind of trying to lead you down the maybe path of where your head’s going, but then it says “Bank” and his hand is reaching around her and like petting a piggy bank, but there’s, like, three other piggy banks nearby. And I think that that’s it, that’s such a true point, right?

[00:13:25] Like, we’re at a place today where I’m a total credit union dork. I’ve been a member of the same credit union for almost 20 years. I sit on their board, and I have multiple financial institutions, right? And, and if we qualify, what is a financial services provider, um, you know, I had a recent guest on who made a similar comment where he was like, “Open up your phone and just tell me how many financial apps

[00:13:47] you have.” Right? There’s tons. So, when you think of Quontic and you kind of are willing to be like, “Hey, look, we know we’re not your only, and we’re good with that.” So, how do you kind of use that internally to drive, like you said, trying to hit the mark of we are who we are, we’re not who we’re not, and then we’re gonna try and message that super effectively to our consumer base?

[00:14:12] Aaron Wollner: Yeah. Yeah. So, by the way, that, that concept, we called that non-monogamous banking, which, which we had a bit of fun with that.

[00:14:22] Josh DeTar: Yeah. You trademark on that or?

[00:14:25] Aaron Wollner: Coming up with that was, was obviously fun. But so a, a number of things there. I think in terms of, you know, I don’t love the, the term ideating, but in terms of coming up with, with great ideas, right?

[00:14:36] You need to carve out the space for that, one, and two, relieve the pressure, right? Because if you have this pressure that you know, all right, we have a one-hour block, and especially over Zoom, by the way, even harder, where we’re gonna, we need to come out with, you know, three great campaign ideas.

[00:14:53] Aaron Wollner: It’s hard to do that. So, I think that creating the, the forum and the space to very openly, very freely, you know, have idea flow and then in a non-judgmental, non, non-pressure way. So, we get together as a marketing team every couple of months in New York City, in our Manhattan office, and we do, we do this sort of workshop

[00:15:11] and in two workshops ago, we came out with this non-monogamous banking concept. Now, now you have what we think is a great idea and a really good measure in my opinion, and we could probably, we’ll probably cover data analytics and statistics in a bit, but, you know, not everything is scientific as much as we want it to be.

[00:15:31] But the way that you can gage a great idea ’cause that’s a super subjective thing is how excited people are, right? So, if you’re in a room of people and everyone’s, you can feel some energy, you can feel some excitement around, you know, this idea, in this case, non-monogamous banking as, as a go-to-market concept,

[00:15:50] you gotta capture that energy and actually not let it die, that it’s so easy to, you know, have something feel, feel bigger than it needs to be. So, by that, I mean make, make it small. So, when you come up with new concepts, you know, as a marketing guy, I always think about experimentation and starting small.

[00:16:08] Aaron Wollner: So, that ad you saw, you know, we didn’t develop this massive campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars behind it. We started small, right? We started on paid social. We started with probably something like, you know, 50K to a 100K budget, very clear metrics, uh, behind it, and we didn’t need to produce, you know, dozens and dozens of different ad units for different platforms.

[00:16:30] We made it small, and once we saw traction and, and good reactions, we double down. And so, just sort of generally speaking from both getting there, right, how do you, how do you get there? How do you get to what we think is a great idea and then executing it, for us, the trick has been, you know, keep it small and consider basically everything in experiment.

[00:16:51] Josh DeTar: So, is that a lot of how you applied, that’s a perfect segue back to what I wanted to come back to. You know, you made the comment about, you were kind of building the plane while flying the plane, so is that how you approached that process of kind of putting together the current refresh of the external-facing culture and brand of Quontic?

[00:17:11] Aaron Wollner: Absolutely. Yeah. And, and I think that the key there is you need to have, like, an eject button, right? Because if something isn’t working, you need to be able to acknowledge it, right? Look it in the eye and say this, “This isn’t working.” And so, that’s why it was so crucial when we were doing the brand guidelines and developing really the brand itself,

[00:17:32] checkpoints milestones, right? So, I think it was every six weeks during the project where we would step back as a group and ask ourselves a very simple, fundamental question, “Is this working?” And the answer came back, “Yes,” at each, I mean, I guess part of that’s luck, but, you know, hard work and diligence and we, you know, we came up with really great stuff

[00:17:53] that we kept on getting excited about, right? Like, the hat I’m wearing has a rocket pig on it, like a pig riding a rocket. And, like, we came up with this concept, you know, we, there’s dozens of these examples, but everyone loved rocket pig, right? So, we, we actually.

[00:18:10] Josh DeTar: I mean, how you not love a rocket pig? I mean, just saying that out loud is.

[00:18:15] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, I, it’s, it’s fun, right? So, whenever we stumble upon, like, fun things that we think has some energy in life to it, this is another sort of, a lot of this stuff is, you know, stuff I’ve developed both from mentors along the way and just, you know, personal experimentation, but, like, when we came up with that, like, a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago at this point, I, I printed, like, 50 T-shirts and hats and just started giving them a, around the office.

[00:18:40] And that, by the way, that’s a part of culture and brand. And it’s not necessarily about the idea, like, self-promotion or marketing, the marketing, although it kinda was. But, but yeah, I mean, you got, you gotta sort of, it’s all about energy and momentum, in my opinion.

[00:18:55] Josh DeTar: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I mean, it’s something, you know, we talk about as well is just how important it is to, one, going back to what you literally started this podcast with about being authentic, right? It’s really important for marketing to market what is actually the truth. If you’re out there saying that our brand is very, you know, with a wink and tongue-in-cheek, but you’re not, that,

[00:19:18] it’s just not gonna work. Right? So, it’s gotta be authentic. But then it’s gotta be both internal and external, right? Because a lot of your job as a marketer is to get people bought into that brand and culture, and like you said,

[00:19:28] get about it. And so, you know, getting people wearing rocket pig hats around the office, if that gets ’em pumped up and excited,

[00:19:37] you know, especially when you’re talking about building a digital bank and things like digital transformation, like, happy people build happy software, happy software makes for happy consumers, right? So, it, it’s kind of a big circle, I think.

[00:19:48] Aaron Wollner: Oh, my goodness. I could not agree more. Right? Like, the joy aspect. Right? And most of the stuff that we put out there, you can see we are having a bit of fun with it like that. I think, I really do think that comes through. Right? And, and not every time, right? We, we miss the marks sometimes, but it’s, it’s, like I, it’s a sum of the, sum of the parts and, you know, if the team is having a good time and feeling good, it really does,

[00:20:11] it, it’s wild. It’s actually, it, I, I get reminded of this, you know, every so often how, you know, having a bit of fun along the way and people enjoying their work, oh my goodness, it, it, it comes right through on, on, you know, what we put out there.

[00:20:27] Josh DeTar: Yeah. I think we have a very similar perspective on this, that, you know, what we do the service. You provide is really serious stuff, right? I mean, we do digital banking software for community financial institutions where if our software breaks or is down, you know, that can have catastrophic consequences for that financial institution because they’re solely reliant on us as a vendor partner.

[00:20:51] And so, we, we take that very seriously. But anytime we have an opportunity to find something that we don’t have to take serious, we are absolutely gonna take the opportunity of that. Um, because it does, right? It just, it creates that more energetic, both internal and external brand and gets the buy-in from our team to make happy software.

[00:21:10] Aaron Wollner: That’s right. Yeah, absolutely.

[00:21:12] Josh DeTar: You know, that kind of leads me to a question I had, you mentioned that Forbes had just recently touted you guys as the best online bank. Right? What kind of things went into that and, and what were the things that you found that you were really proud of? Like, “Oh, I’m super glad that Forbes noticed and recognized us for this.”

[00:21:31] What were the types of things that, that kind of got taken into consider there?

[00:21:36] Aaron Wollner: Yeah. It, it wasn’t easy. So, there were real tactical things that we had to do, and everything could be broken down into pieces, right? And so, what one of the first exercises we did as a group a few years ago when I joined, was take stock of our image online, right?

[00:21:53] Look around, gather and basically compile our current reputation online, right? Through publishers, through reviews, through search results, so on and so forth. What does it look like? And it looked okay. But what we were able to do was piece together and find patterns. And so, you know, I’ll give you one very plain example, right?

[00:22:14] So, not everybody knows who Quontic is. That’s okay, right? Maybe one day. But, you know, we’re not, we’re certainly not a household name by any stretch. But you know what? A lot of folks, most folks out there know who NerdWallet is, or Bank Rate, or Forbes, right? And so, there, there’s this, there’s this power to that, right?

[00:22:32] And so, what they say about Quontic and the other, you know, competitors of ours in the online digital bank space, it’s crucial. And so, there’s pros and cons when they do reviews, right? And they do reviews on, on Quontic, and they do reviews on Quontic savings account checking accounts. We have a Bitcoin rewards account.

[00:22:50] We give out a free ring when you sign up with a checking card, that’s a wearable payments device. All this stuff, right, that, that basically is our products that get reviewed by these pretty big brands and, and publishers out there. You know, they, they do pros and cons. And so, addressing those cons was, like, a very simple, practical way,

[00:23:10] you know, for us to sort of clean house a little bit and, you know, we got dinged on even though we say that, you know, we’re, we’re no fees, which is true, right? There were still some esoteric, hard-to-find fees that kind of, sort of wrap it, right? So, addressing that, cleaning that stuff up was important.

[00:23:26] And, you know, so it was a combination of that exercise and, you know, more tactical product-related work that we did and the brand work. And we also have relationships with, with these publishers and, you know, I think any industry insider knows that there’s a certain reality, I know that publishers, you know, try and

[00:23:49] Aaron Wollner: appear that it’s church and state in terms of, you know, what they write about organically versus, you know, paid, but we do advertising, obviously, on rate table, so, you know, we are advertising on a lot of these, you know, big publishers in the financial and FinTech space. And our contacts are obviously not the ones doing organic reviews for, for example, but it’s not really truly fully church and state if we’re being honest.

[00:24:15] So, anyway, it was a combination of relationship building, tactical product type, work and, and like I said, the brand stuff, and this has been really rewarding, actually, to see, it’s like the parrot effect, right? When you say something enough about yourself and it, and it’s true, it gets repeated. And so, it’s been really rewarding to see, you know, a lot of reviews, a lot of major publishers,

[00:24:41] you know, sort of spit back how we talk about ourselves. Because you know what? They observed it to be true themselves, so that, it’s kind of a, you know, a multi-pronged approach, but yeah, it took a, a couple of years to get there.

[00:24:53] Josh DeTar: So, I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but are you saying that Quontic being named Forbes’ Best Online Bank was very intentional?

[00:25:01] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We, we well, hon, well, you know, yes.

[00:25:07] Josh DeTar: And, and, sorry, let me Quontify that by saying I, I mean that in the best sense, right? That it was very important to you to be recognized by a big name like Forbes as one of the best banks. So, you went through and looked for both ways to get on their radar to make sure that you got an, the evaluation, and then you took an analytical and data-driven approach to look at

[00:25:29] what are the things that would keep us from being named the best bank? And then how do we resolve those so that when it is looked at, we can arguably stand up against anyone and say, “Objectively, we are the best online bank.”

[00:25:43] Aaron Wollner: That’s right. Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:25:46] Josh DeTar: You mentioned the topic that comes up on almost every podcast these days, and I’d love to get your take on it, especially going through some of these different data-driven cycles that you’ve gone through to understand, you know, who you are as an institution and then how do you message that.

[00:26:04] And especially being an online bank, what is digital transformation or what has it meant to you over the last little

[00:26:13] bit?

[00:26:14] Aaron Wollner: Over the last little bit. That’s an interesting one.

[00:26:16] Josh DeTar: Yeah, I feel like that’s an important qualifier to that question because I think that changes a lot, and I don’t want to use the pandemic as the, the catalyst for that because I think especially someone like yourself that’s probably, maybe it accelerated a few things, but I doubt it was the biggest catalyst for quote-unquote digital transformation for a digital-only financial institution.

[00:26:37] Aaron Wollner: Totally. Yeah. No, it’s, it’s a great question. So, once you get past the basic, right? And, and, and I, I love practical examples that sort of illustrate the larger point, you know, in online bank application, right? That is digital, digital transformation, right? The ability for a prospect to become a customer and to go through a, an interface that isn’t a, you know, a pain in the ass, that works seamlessly and connects to your core systems,

[00:27:03] you know, that’s, that’s a, a piece, a major piece, a good example of digital transformation online application. So, once you have stuff like that in place and you’ve got the basic building blocks of what constitutes that, that sort of basic, you know, quote-unquote digital transformation, evolution, right?

[00:27:22] Aaron Wollner: So, I think it’s, you have to evolve with what’s coming out. The hard part is there’s always new stuff coming out, right? It’s, like, dizzying. And so, how do you pick? And I think one of the things that, you know, and by the way, if I sound like I, I know the answers to things, I, I typically don’t. Like, I, I struggle with this big time, right?

[00:27:41] Because every, and I think it’s an industry problem too, every three to five years, which is extremely fast, there is a new acronym that if you don’t have it, then you’re basically a dummy. That’s kind of what it feels like to me and to the, you know, my peers that I speak with, it’s like, um, you know, here’s a good example, a DMP, right?

[00:28:05] Which was born out of, you know, a few other acronym-based type systems that goes back to the CRM and yada, yada. But basically, if you didn’t have a DMP, then you weren’t really digital, right? You don’t have this quote-unquote 360 few of your, of your customer. You’re not doing, you know, things like cross-device stitching, and you’re not able to truly, truly personalize.

[00:28:28] It’s partially true, right? But you have to know yourself and know where, where you are in your journey in terms of digital transformation. So, I think the trick is, is that you gotta constantly evolve. And the, the hardest part is deciding, you know, of all the new things that are flying at you, at, at, at all of us, what makes the most sense to evolve, you know, our tech stack and our, our, our digital transformation journey? So, I, I struggle with it myself.

[00:28:56] Josh DeTar: Yeah, I think that is an interesting one. You know, we’ve just started kind of pouring through some of our own data of guests who’ve been on the podcast and how often the, the term “Digital transformation,” or an equivalent gets used and it’s something like 70% of our guests bring it up at some point or another.

[00:29:12] And what’s really been fascinating to me is that, you know, everybody has a different definition. I even had one guest who said, “You can’t define it.” That’s part of the whole beauty of, you know, kind of these different ideas that come up, like you said, every, you know, half a decade or so, there’s some new, “You have to follow this to be a successful company.”

[00:29:32] And right now, digital transformation is one of those buzzwords. And so, when it’s thrown out as a buzzword that all these different industries are trying to, you know, adopt, it’s gonna mean something different for everybody, so there is no standard generic definition, but it is always really interesting to me to find, you know, how people have kind of defined that.

[00:29:50] And I think one of the thoughts that I have is for you guys as, as a digital bank, right? Where you talk about being a digital bank with a heart and being able to do that at scale, I have to imagine your, you know, definition of digital transformation has to impart, do something with that ideology, right? Would that be correct?

[00:30:14] A hundred percent.

[00:30:15] Aaron Wollner: Yeah. And, and, and I’ll give you a really good example of our, our recent tech stack evolution and, and, you know, ongoing digital transformation journey. So, we launched this about a month ago, and obviously, things take a long time to, you know, actually, vet and sign and, you know, get a project going.

[00:30:35] So, anyway, obviously, months and months go into this, but we rolled this out a month ago. It’s called Glia, which is, you know, applying, you know, conversational AI and the ability for customer service to be more digital, to do things like video interface, which is incredible, co-browse, right? So, imagine you’re on, you’re on

[00:30:57] You see, you know, the, the bubble in the bottom right, you know, live chat. And, you know, initially, you’re talking to AI, of course, because that you can’t scale that first interaction piece, it just doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. But very quickly, you’re passed through to one of our customer service people, and you had the option to go to video.

[00:31:19] Aaron Wollner: And once you’re on video, you have the option to co-browse. Right? And it goes sort of on and on, but those are some basic capabilities that, you know, Glia’s is a, a software provider specifically made for finance and FinTech, so it just made a lot of sense, and it’s really been great for us, and it was obvious as we

[00:31:39] sort of went into this concept and bringing, bringing it to life and, and launching it, like, if you think about a very clear example of digital bank with a heart, like, that’s it, right? The ability to see the person online, right? And have them help you and facilitate what you’re struggling with in that moment.

[00:31:58] Josh DeTar: Yeah, huge shout-out to our friends at Glia. I actually had, um, Jen Markus from Glia as a guest on the podcast quite a few episodes ago, so shout-out to her, and if you’re listening to this one, may be valuable to go back and listen to hers. It’s not even a sales pitch for Glia, I promise. She just does a job of talking about, you know, how do we do customer interaction right

[00:32:19] in a digital age. And yeah, I’m glad, I’m glad you brought that up because I think that is a really solid example of, you know, another point that you touched on earlier, which is, you know, the, the differentiator of a, of a financial institution that’s either a community financial institution or a, you know, a niche financial institution, kinda like you guys are, is, you know, relationships.

[00:32:42] And I think that is a really interesting term in today’s day and age, very specifically as well, because so much of what we do is remote, and so much of what we do is digital. But so much of what we do is also really focused on local and doing business with people we trust and doing business with people that we, you know, fundamentally, morally, politically, socially align with

[00:33:08] and so how do you find ways to build relationships in that world? And, and I think that’s a really, you know, powerful example of sometimes it means literally just actually looking somebody in the eyes, and you can actually do digitally.

[00:33:20] Aaron Wollner: Mm-hmm. That’s right. Yeah.

[00:33:24] Josh DeTar: You know, you talked about kind of this big fan of experimentation. So, is, you guys have kind of gone through this quote-unquote digital transformation age. How have you applied that experimentation mentality?

[00:33:39] Aaron Wollner: I think it’s really about going back to that earlier point of keeping things small, learning fast, being nimble, you know, not deliberating too much upfront. And if you have the philosophy and, and by the way, your average marketer today, you probably couldn’t say this 10 years ago for sure, but your average marketer today is, is AV testing.

[00:33:59] Right? And, and I think just the, and that’s a good thing, right? Because what that means is your customers can decide, right? In, in theory. Now, you know, I could go on and on about how probably, at least in my experience, more that, more than half of test results, right, looking at a percentage lift based on whatever KPI can easily be misread and misapplied.

[00:34:22] So, I, I do think it’s, it’s a bit fraught in terms of, you know, how you read results, knowing statistics, knowing where to where and how to apply things and so on and so forth, but if you, it’s, it’s really an attitude, right? And that attitude is, “I’m not gonna decide, right? The, the, the marketing team, the CMO, the whoever, right?

[00:34:41] We’re gonna put it out there and let our customers decide and we’re not gonna have a horse in the race. The, the, the goal is a better user experience.” And I, I, I say that because it, the goal is not lift. So, as marketers who work for a business, the goal is lift, obviously, right? An increase in, in, in conversion and whatever that conversion means,

[00:35:06] Aaron Wollner: but it provides a, you know, a percent lift to, you know, that, that point of conversion. If you approach it like that, it becomes a bit cold and a bit, uh, distanced. And actually, what I’ve found is what you test is more stale and a little more cautious. Whereas if you come at it from the other side, from the customer’s perspective as opposed to the business perspective, you need to, again, like at the end of the day, you know, we work for companies and businesses and, and the name of the game is improve and, and, and deliver results.

[00:35:37] But from a, an attitude and a, a, just a phil, philosophical perspective, if you come at experimentation from the customer’s perspective and increasing, you know, their experience and reducing friction and, you know, we love to use the word we as in, like, the industry, like, delight, right? Delivering a delightful experience, you know, there’s something to that. I think it’s really important to, to approach things in that way.

[00:36:03] Josh DeTar: You know, when you talk about the customer journey and, and how do you delight and, and how do you kind of structure even just marketing messaging around that so that you, you balance the need to grow your business, create sales, et cetera, while maintaining, I guess, something you’ve brought up before too, which is just, you know, this human element to it, right,

[00:36:30] and not trying to be cold and stiff and make it blatantly obvious that you’re just trying to sell a product for the sake of selling a product. So, as you kind of go through and do that experimentation and testing, you know, how do you look at even just the change in consumer behavior and how do you do that marketing in a way that keeps up with, you know, consumer’s expectations of how they would like to be marketed to.

[00:36:57] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, it’s a hard nut to crack. I think it’s really clear now in terms of the mortgage lending side of the business for, for Quontic. And people are searching, considering, buying houses very differently, fundamentally differently from a customer-journey perspective than they were a year ago or even less.

[00:37:20] Right? But, you know, the macroeconomic climate, rates, the fed, inflation, all this stuff mixed together, and, you know, things are tightening up, right? The pipelines are down across the board from, from a mortgage industry standpoint, and we’re no exception. We do a lot of work to try and, you know, uh, make the gains and, and keep things, you know, flowing as best as we can,

[00:37:43] but the bottom line is, and it even comes down to like, I’ll just use a very practical digital marketing example, like search. So, our search campaigns and what we’re going after are, are different than they were six months ago, a year ago, two years ago. And we moved up the funnel a little bit, um, which was a hard thing to do ’cause every time you move up the funnel, you know, you get, you get into, you know, lower quality typically, you know, your, your CPA looks better upfront, right?

[00:38:11] Like, the cost per, I should say, cost per lead. But your true CPA, right, the, the cost to actually get, you know, you know, a funded mortgage customer at the end of the day goes up because you moved up funnel, right? Like, you’re, you’re going after search terms that are broader and maybe more question-based, like, “How do I find a house?

[00:38:30] I’m self-employed. How do, how do I get a mortgage?” Right? Like, longer tail keywords, more question-based keyword phrases, and honing in on more specific audiences. So, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole of not just trying to address, and by the way, this is a core audience of ours from a mortgage lending standpoint, which is, I think, pretty fascinating,

[00:38:51] Aaron Wollner: self-employed, broadly speaking, but self-employed has these, you know, pieces to it. It could be a gig worker, could be a freelancer, could be a contractor, could be a consultant, right? Like, people talk about that in different ways, small business owner, and therefore, they search in different ways. And then not only that, you can go a layer down the, you know, the next layer on the, on the tree, and you’re talking about a chef or a driver, right?

[00:39:18] Or, and by the way, those are some of our bigger, you know, more specific audiences. So, anyway, it, it’s manifested itself very clearly on the mortgage lending side, and that, that’s, that to me is a really good, clear example of just how we’ve had to pivot and figure things out based on a different way that people are thinking and searching online.

[00:39:40] Josh DeTar: It’s interesting you brought up that point, you know, too long ago, my dad made a comment to me. So, my dad lives here in Portland where I live, but I live on the pretty far west side of the city, and my dad lives pretty far east, on the east side of the city, and with zero traffic, if I go to his house at 2 A.M in the morning, it’s, like, 35 minutes.

[00:40:03] Um, the wrong time of day, I’m two hours from my dad’s house. And so, I joke him all the time, and I’m like, “Pop, you, you might as well live in Kentucky, man. Like, sometimes it’s just ho so hard to get out and see you.” And so, I’ve been talking to him forever about moving out to our side of the city because he can work from kind of anywhere because he is self-employed.

[00:40:25] Josh DeTar: Um, he’s a piano technician. He’s been a piano technician pretty much his whole adult life. And the, the reason I’m telling you this story is, you know, he made a comment to me not long ago when we were talking about it, and he was like, “I’m never buying another house. I remember how much of a pain in the, you know what it was, for me to get a mortgage as a self-employed person,” right?

[00:40:44] So, being able to provide really, really targeted messaging to someone like him who’s gonna search for a mortgage probably very differently than I would, anyway, I just thought it was an, an interesting example that you brought that up.

[00:40:57] Aaron Wollner: Totally. Yeah. And, and, and this is the stuff that I love thinking about, talking about and figuring out as just a, you know, a marketer, um, you know, your father’s sitting at a computer, is he searching, you know, best mortgage for a piano technician? Probably not, right? And you can, you can look this stuff up, like, in terms of search volume, and, of course, you try and go after efficiency generally, right?

[00:41:18] And, and that usually means going after higher-volume, higher-quality stuff. So, it’s just really hard to, to sort of find that line, like, are we going after a very small audience of piano technicians or even, like, refine that, like, on the West Coast or in the Northwest or in Portland, you know? And how people search and, and how it changes over time,

[00:41:41] I, I think is just super interesting, and I love trying to figure that out with my team.

[00:41:46] Josh DeTar: Well, you know, what I think is also really interesting about that, Aaron, is, you know, I’ve talked about this a few times on the podcast, and it’s a conversation I actually have a lot of times with, you know, the community FIs that we service and especially the smaller ones, right, is this idea of being a financial institution and that sales is, like, a dirty four-letter word. I think a lot of times they get really, like, defensive even about, like, “Oh, we’re not, we’re not sales. Like, we are here to service.” And if I’m being, like, really obnoxiously blunt about it, which I think most people know is pretty much my standard MO, that’s gonna be the death of this industry.

[00:42:25] I’m sorry, but you have to sell. You are a business. I don’t care if you’re a credit union and you’re not-for-profit. You can be a non-profit, but still you have to generate revenue. You have got to stay in business. And all those wonderful fluff-and-stuff things that you say about what you do, you will not be able to do

[00:42:44] if you’re not in business. So, it’s really important to stay viable and to get your products and services out. And I think, you know, my dad’s a perfect example, right? If somebody made it really obvious to him through marketing that he, as a self-employed piano technician, could very easily get a mortgage, and it made him decide that he wanted to move out to our side of town,

[00:43:10] he’d see his grandson more. Like, that’s the little win that you, as a financial institution, may never actually get to hear or know. You may not know that by providing a sale that generated your business, your financial institution revenue, you helped a grandfather see his grandson more. Like, that’s pretty rad.

[00:43:31] So, I think, you know, you were kind of just talking about how, you know, thinking about the customer journey and doing marketing and doing experimentation and testing, it’s sales, but you’re trying to find the right way to do that, and I think that’s, it sounds like something that you find very fun.

[00:43:49] Aaron Wollner: For sure. Right? And I think, on the one hand, labels don’t really matter, but on the other hand, they really do. Right? So, you know, what you call yourself matters, but that’s separate from sort of how you behave, right? So, so yeah, I think it’s hard to figure out, but at the end of the day, I think you’re absolutely right.

[00:44:07] You have to sell. And now you’re sort of hinting at where is the line between, you know, marketing and sales. That is a big gray area, and I think it looks a little bit different at, at every organization, but there, there’s, there’s a, like, a Venn diagram there, right? There, there’s, there’s overlap. There’s a shared space between those two circles where the two need to play, play nice together, and they actually, they have to, if they’re gonna succeed.

[00:44:35] Aaron Wollner: And it’s, it’s hard. I mean, it, it’s hard for us. I think it’s, it’s been hard everywhere I, I went. But yeah, at the end of the day, you, you, you gotta sell, right? And, and marketing plays a big role in terms of lead generation and just, you know, identity and brand and how people feel when they walk in the door and all that stuff.

[00:44:53] But, you know, we, we don’t close deals. Sales does. And the business needs to close deals, to your point.

[00:45:01] Josh DeTar: Yeah. You had, you kind of just touched on earlier that, you know, even macroeconomic climate changes can have a significant impact on how you approach marketing. And you said even just in this last year or six months, specifically for, you know, some of the business that Quontic focuses on, with, with mortgages, how has that changed, and how have you guys adapted to meet those changes?

[00:45:28] Aaron Wollner: The most interesting thing that, that we’ve struggled with during this, you know, macroeconomic climate is, “Do we, do we stop being playful, right? Or how, how, how playful can we really be when there’s a general climate out there, where there’s, there’s more fear, and there’s more of sort of just negative emotions really? But then, very practically speaking, there’s, like, higher unemployment, and inflation is rampant.

[00:45:56] Like, there’s real, there’s, like, real economic issues happening right now. And so, is that the right time to, to be winking at people, right? But then, at the same time, that’s who we are, and that’s what’s really worked for us.” And so, I think that it’s one of those things, and we started talking about this

[00:46:14] at the top, is, is hitting the mark. And so, we’ve developed a pretty good sense, right? And again, this goes into the unscientific bucket as much as I try and be as data-driven and scientific as possible, but, like, the I test, right? Like, when, when something, when we review a campaign and email a communication, a new, a new page, you know, whatever the, the thing is,

[00:46:36] “Is the tone right?” And we’re just a little bit more cautious about, about the playfulness and the, the light, you know, the, there’s a lightness to us and what we put out there through our visuals and words. And we’ve pulled back a little bit, quite frankly, because we think that that’s appropriate.

[00:46:53] Josh DeTar: Uh, it makes a lot of sense, and, and I appreciate that perspective. Aaron, look, I, I really wanna say thank you for taking time outta your day to come and be a guest on the podcast and share a lot of this insight with us of just kind of how you guys look at being a digital bank and, and how do you, you know, represent a brand with a unique value proposition to a unique subset of consumers here in the US and how do you think about it from both a business and marketing lens? It’s been really fascinating talking to you, but before I let you go, I have two final questions for you.

[00:47:24] So, for starters, you know, where do you go to stay up to date on what’s happening in, in our industry?

[00:47:30] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, it used to be more of a folder I keep at the top of my browser

[00:47:34] called “Read” and just a bunch of bookmarks, basically, right? And there, there’s industry insider stuff. Some are more plain and industry-specific like “American Banker.” There’s a bunch of FinTech publications that have, that have been useful.

[00:47:48] Now I’ve signed up for more newsletters, which has been a really great development over the past couple of years. And even a few FinTechs have really nailed that, that part just delivering useful news that sort of summarizes in a playful way, by the way, right into your inbox every morning.

[00:48:04] I think “Robinhood” is a really good example of a newsletter that’s just, delivers every time.

[00:48:10] Josh DeTar: Ah, that’s awesome. That’s a good recommendation. And last question. Where can people go to learn more about Quontic, and where can they connect with you?

[00:48:18] Aaron Wollner: Yeah, The website is, you know, born from our, our labor over the past number of years, but we’re always improving it. But yeah, check it out. Personally, I’m on LinkedIn, Aaron Wollner, and put that in the search, and you can find me.

[00:48:32] Josh DeTar: Awesome. Again, in all seriousness, this was a ton of fun talking to you. I think it always gets me excited to see people who are trying to think about, you know, “How do we do brand a little bit different?” And like I said, I think it’s always really cool too when I can pick up on some of the subtle things that, you know, the marketing team is trying to do to, to stand out

[00:48:50] and it just, that was really the case with you guys and I think your brand’s a ton of fun. I really appreciate the way that you put, you know, both hats on, right? The serious and the solid content creation from a value perspective and then playfulness of it. So, yeah, it’s been really cool to pick your brain on it.

[00:49:07] I appreciate it.

[00:49:08] Aaron Wollner: Absolutely. Yeah. Been, been a blast. Thank you.

[00:49:11] Josh DeTar: Yeah. Thanks for being a guest on the Digital Banking Podcast, Aaron.

[00:49:14] Aaron Wollner: You got it. All right. Thank you so much.

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