The CMO Interview

Shift in Thinking Works to BofA's Advantage

Finucane Leads Transformational Charge That's Helping Bank Be Stronger Global Player

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Bank of America is a far different company than it was just two years ago. Indeed, America's largest bank has transformed into a much bigger global player. And while we've all read about the havoc that's rocked the banking industry during the economic meltdown, that alone hasn't changed Bank of America -- a fundamental shift in thinking about its business and marketing strategy also played a strong role.

Anne Finucane, global strategy and marketing officer, Bank of America
Anne Finucane, global strategy and marketing officer, Bank of America
Leading the transformational charge has been Anne Finucane, global strategy and marketing officer, who believes strongly in not just bottom-line driven, but also broadly defined, marketing initiatives.

Ms. Finucane came to Bank of America in 2004 when it bought FleetBoston Financial, where she had headed marketing since 1995. She joined Fleet from her own consulting firm, and before that she spent 14 years at the agency then called Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos.

"Marketing, advertising, research, direct marketing and all of that [traditional marketing], along with communications, social media, public policy, community activism and corporate responsibility, is all chaired out of my group," she said. Ms. Finucane oversees the company's 10-year, $1.5 trillion economic development and lending goal and a 10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative to address global climate change. "It's important that our go-to-market strategy approaches issues in the same way they're being approached outside the company. It's never just a marketing opportunity; it's a lot more than that."

And while Bank of America had already reorganized along those lines before the crisis, it had never been put to the test quite like it has been in the past year and a half, she said.

Having completed major acquisitions including Merrill Lynch and Countrywide, Bank of America relaunched Countrywide as Bank of America Home Loans, after first streamlining and simplifying the products and then making their focus and marketing "a commitment to clarity." By February, the refashioned mortgage provider had provided one million "clarity commitments," which are one-page easy-to-read mortgage-term summaries. That commitment has now also been extended to credit cards, with millions of similar summaries going to cardholders this year.

Ms. Finucane's division also relaunched the Merrill Lynch brand in the fall with a $20 million "help2" marketing campaign focused on both its wealth-management advisers and clients.

The company, which spent $464.2 million in measured media in 2009, according to WPP's Kantar Media, is now planning a relaunch of the overall brand later this year; agencies of record BBDO, New York, and Hill Holliday, Boston, are both working on the new brand campaign, as are Organic and The Brand Union. While Ms. Finucane, who reports to president-CEO Brian Moynihan, declined to give further details about the messaging, the campaign will indeed be large, as she predicted ad spending will go up partly due to it.

"As the marketplace grows and the economy improves, we're interested in building business and growing our share, and naturally that will take stronger marketing efforts," she said.

Ms. Finucane spoke with Advertising Age recently about the Bank of America brand today, where it's going and how she'll help guide it there.

Ad Age: Where is Bank of America right now, and what are some of the ways marketing is reflecting this transformed company?

1. Create a regular dialog with your CEO and board.

2. Stay on top of the news and where society is headed.

3. Develop talent with a mix of marketing skills and business acumen.

4. Integrate advertising and communications with public policy and social responsibility.

5. Champion your company's power to facilitate positive change.

Ms. Finucane: The economy is certainly beginning to come out of the recession, but it's a very slow period. The industry has had a large loss of trust among its customers and the marketplace in general. We can't ignore that. We're very much a part of that. We're all in a kind of scrum at this point -- all recognizing that the industry has lost some of the confidence of the marketplace, and we need to rebuild it as an industry. We particularly want to differentiate ourselves, not only in the industry, but with our customers. The huge advantage for us has been that we've come out on the other side with Merrill Lynch, so we're truly an investment services and investment banking [firm now]. And Countrywide was a company that brought with it a fair amount of troubles, but also brought us expertise in mortgages.

I would say that we went in [to the financial crisis] as a fairly symmetrical brand. We were the holding company, the product and the distribution. Now we have Bank of America as a holding company, Bank of America as the consumer bank, Merrill Lynch as the wealth-management brand, Bank of America Merrill Lynch as the corporate investment bank in capital markets, and Countrywide as the mortgage [arm]. So we instantly became an asymmetrical brand, and we have to think of it differently.

[We must answer the questions:] What is the overall offer of the company to shareholders and our employees? And then, how are we presenting ourselves to various customer and client bases? And then on top of that, it's become a global approach. We were largely domestic, and we would still see that as the bulk of our business, but the growth is clearly outside the U.S.

Ad Age: How are you taking on that marketing challenge with this newly asymmetrical brand?

Ms. Finucane: From a practical point of view, we needed to address the issues at hand first -- and that was demonstrating our financial stability. Secondly, we needed to maintain and grow our corporate social responsibility, so that even though we are in difficult times, we have not walked away from it and have, in fact, enhanced our overall commitment to the communities where we work and live. We're spending more than $200 million [this year] in philanthropy, being very focused on economic development.

Ad Age: What are your customers telling you as we begin to come out of this recession?

Ms. Finucane: The consumers' need now is not to maximize their portfolio or get a 100% mortgage with nothing down. They want to understand things, like how much house can they afford, and understand what fees they're going to be charged for the products we sell them. So now we're working with our customers and giving them tools. I'm not talking about boring them with financial literacy; I'm talking about showing them simple ways to reduce fees, to maximize what they've got, to budget and to get clear product information.

Even in a business that may seem like a commodity business, the execution, the products and the delivery are really important, and we appreciate that.

Ad Age: Has marketing and advertising spending gone up or down during this time? And have there been any particular media that have been especially effective?

Ms. Finucane: My feeling was that we had to be both offensive and defensive. We communicated what we were doing through our engagement with the press -- and the press certainly was engaged with us -- and through talking to elected officials, community groups and our advisory committee of leaders and activists that we meet with on a regular basis.

Spending was actually probably down year-over-year in 2009 from 2008; however, the confusing element is that, in acquiring Countrywide and Merrill, they accrue to us, and it might look like spending went up. In an absolute sense, spending went down from a pure ad perspective. But the amount of engagement we had certainly went up. Some of those distribution methods are less expensive than broadcast television. Sweat equity is what's required in engaging from a communications point of view.

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