OTP Mentor is the investment advice program started by OTP Bank Romania in 2011. To support it online, we created from scratch an online personal finance education program, Dresoruldelei.ro, still the most accessible and complete of its kind.
Romania is overbanked, financial specialists say, with 42 banks compared to 35 in Hungary and 31 in Bulgaria. The economic and financial context, which was still far from stable and flourishing in 2011, had a surprising effect on smaller banks. They became more agile and more innovative in their quest to keep close their existing customers and fight fierce competition from the Goliaths of the market (BCR, BRD and Banca Transilvania).
One of these smaller banks is OTP Bank, our client since 2005, when they entered the Romanian market by acquiring a smaller local player. To keep their clients close, they created an investment advice program called OTP Mentor and started rolling it out in their branch network by mid 2011.
The “Why not?” question, where most good things begin
During one of our meetings, while discussing a small online campaign to increase awareness for OTP Mentor, someone came up with the ‘why not?’ type of idea: ‘Why not create an online investment advisor, so that you wouldn’t need to go to a bank office to benefit from advice?’. That was the turning point, where everyone in the room—the digital banking, private banking and marketing departments together with us—became instantly excited about the idea. We all decided to go back to our drawing boards and come back with a more refined approach.
OTP Bank’s thought was to create and develop an independent tool, to act as a virtual financial advisor, and create a strong new brand for it. They wanted a tool that could be easily associated with quality investments, long time planning, smart money and close interaction with their customers. The old ‘show me your money’ was to be replaced with the more human ‘take care of your money’. It was a turning point where OTP Bank decided to embrace a new religion—the consultative selling process. It may sound like marketing blah, but in those meetings, everyone was talking about the customer, as strange as this may sound when you think of bankers.
Going out of the building to meet real people, with real money issues
Most consultants look at charts and numbers in market research reports when it comes to understanding customers, they rarely bother to listen to an actual person (flesh-and-blood). We took the time to talk to a few of them face-to-face. We learned that, while the customer is always right, he’s at the same time clueless about managing his money. They are frustrated about banking jargon, don’t really understand how most products or services work, are afraid to ask because they are skeptical, and don’t trust bank promises. As a result, they resume to doing nothing about their money (instead, of course, spending it). For any bank, this means lost opportunities.
These interviews didn’t reveal things we didn’t know, but instead created a big deal of empathy. We tried to translate all our findings in a persona, an essential tool in any digital product, and that is how Bogdan was born.
A karate ‘sensei’ teaching you to tame your money
Slowly, the concept started to shape up as an online financial education tool for people like Bogdan. We compared it with a karate training program, where the ‘sensei’ (i.e. master or teacher in Japanese) walks the novice through the basic principles and exercises, then through more advanced stuff. At the end of the training program, the student would have to take the final exam; passing it proves he’s worthy and fully capable to manage his money.
Customers need a human voice behind any product, service, brand or corporation, but while we felt that the karate program was a proper metaphor, we agreed with the client that the idea of extreme discipline might scare a lot of people from the start. Therefore, we started exploring other concepts. Through a fortunate namesake trick—the word ‘leu’ in Romanian denotes both the national currency, and the wild animal—the ‘Dresorul de lei’ (‘Lions Tamer’) concept was born. Rather than being a rigid financial advisor or karate sensei, our lion tamer had to play a nicer role, the one of a connoisseur ready to share his advice.
Eventually, this was the best fit for a friendly tool that offers advice, data and all the necessary knowledge in order to help people tame their money. It is everybody’s dream to own money, control it and make it multiply like rabbits.
We mean business
We’ve always tried to build digital products where we go beyond bragging about our clients’ products, services or organizations, or purely selling. Marketing communication in the digital world is a marginal benefit for the final customer, while solving real life problems or meeting social needs can bring a more valuable and personal outcome to them.
It’s not always easy to keep a client (especially a bank) from overlooking relevance for the end user of their website or product. OTP Bank’s goal was to acquire new customers, activate dormant ones and increase overall loyalty. We needed to somehow blend this with Bogdan’s needs and address his distrust about being ripped off by banks. This is where Marius Ursache’s obsession with personal finance tools, himself a user and tester of such applications for more than five years, came to rescue.
Debating the format and process took us and the client two entire months to decide. At that point, we had a clear idea, and three things to focus on—defining the brand (graphics, animations and website design), writing the content (financial education articles and tutorials) and building the functionality (financial tools and simulators)—all at the same time.
We tried to introduce the concept with an engaging tagline—’Become one of the top 1% people in Romania who really control their money’—but after discussing it with the client’s marketing team, we decided to avoid claims which are not based on hard data. They’re a bank after all, and to them numbers come first. Instead, we used a more playful intro, supported by a short animation presenting the concept of the program. The animation was developed by the really nice guys at Carter Films, lead by Răzvan Sabie.
More often than not, clients leave content last. As an agency advocating for content, we’ve seen plenty of situations where building the platform took two months, and then we had to spend another ten more months collecting, editing, approving, publishing, changing, then publishing again loads of text, pictures or videos.
We were lucky to have the full responsibility for content development. We started developing content as soon as possible, and looked at using an accessible language, explaining all the financial jargon, and using tools and simulators wherever complex concepts were hard to understand. What you should know about Romanians is that they don’t get any kind of personal finance education, neither at home or at school. As a result, products like credit cards or any kind of financial investments are hard to grasp concepts.
The whole program was thought as a series of ten lessons. They started from simple concepts (tracking and managing expenses or income streams), to intermediate things (debit and credit cards, personal loans and mortgages), and ending with more advanced concepts such as investment funds and stock market. The lessons were fully developed and written by Marius Ursache and Dragoș Mănac (of solvabil.ro), together with the product people from OTP Bank. We had a pleasant surprise to see that they agreed to keep all the straightforward advice and tips in place (can you name any bank who advises its customers to hack credit card usage and use the credit on the card as a monthly buffer for savings?).
When the topic is money and not something more glamorous, content can be dry and boring. You cannot learn unless you put knowledge to work for you. With money this is often impossible unless you have enough in the real world, and enough time to see what happens. That’s why we developed quite a few wizards, simulators, budgeting tools, expense trackers and other visualizations, to help users experiment and “fool around” with money.
Under the hood
As we were saying, banks love and live by numbers, so once the project was launched, we started tracking various KPIs, from number of unique visitors, to time on page, number of leads generated or conversion rates). Unfortunately, they are confidential.
What we can say is that the customer feedback OTP Bank received was extremely positive, that customers appreciated the honesty and transparency of the lessons and, best of all, they were able to save more in order to spend on things that actually made them happier.
The results made OTP Bank ask us to create a new, slightly adjusted version, for the Hungarian speakers, www.penzidomar.ro.
Dresoruldelei.ro is still the best online personal finance education program available in Romania. We just wish it benefited some additional communication budget so that our lion tamer’s message could reach more youngsters who really need this kind of education.
Today the story goes on, as the Lion Tamer continues to help people understand more about money, day after day.
If you like our work and have an interesting digital project send us a message and let’s get in touch.