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The emotional connection opportunity in financial services marketing

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Facial recognition in fintech

The NHS website has an entire section on managing your finances; money (or the lack of it) is the top cause of stress in the UK.

But the thing is, the financial sector has yet to seize the opportunity that digital technology allows in the field of emotional engagement. Maybe there’s something about spreadsheets; the cold hard rational approach to digits doesn't lend itself to the emotional connectedness at the heart of successful communication.

The most accurate financial tools are useless at calibrating emotions. There is a disconnect between the tools that are available and the human problem at the centre of the industry.

And we have a whole range of feelings when we're looking at our finances, the feelings that go from a simple 'have I been paid?', to 'can I pay for the education my child deserves?' This range of emotional states is not currently accessible to digital tools.

Now, there has been some exploration in this area for quite a few years. I was the creative lead on a major vision project for a global bank a few years ago. It was at a time Google Now was in the zeitgeist; a service on your mobile that learnt your behaviours and predicted the information you needed. The thrust of the project I was on was about the context of the user's situation allowing their habits to inform the financial products displayed.

However, it was only halfway there – it knew what the weather was and what your spending habits were and little else. Certainly not how you felt.

It's 2017, and the technology we have available to us now is facial recognition. The Japanese company NEC has developed a facial recognition system and is using it to verify payments. The halo effect of using facial recognition to unlock your phone or open up your bank account is that would also give away your emotional state.

The opportunity now is to build tools that have an emotional awareness. We can now provide different sorts of information to the user depending on how we perceive them to be feeling and get a sense of their reaction to that information.

So the interaction becomes less like a utility and more like human communication.

There is a precedent for this if we step over into the automotive industry. Years ago, I was working on a prototype vehicle for a US auto manufacturer, and the car itself had coloured lighting inside the dashboard. These prototypes could read the user's wellbeing through a heart rate monitor in the steering wheel. If the user was perceived to be too stressed, it changed the colour of the lighting in the vehicle and help them relax.

Given the precedent, the time may be now for the technology to be used in the fintech industry.

Inevitably, this opens up an ethical dilemma. If we know how people feel should we influence their spending habits? As marketers should we be allowed to do this? We could start to introduce behavioural nudges at times of emotional peaks.

If someone is feeling happy would they be allowed to spend more?

If they're feeling sad is that a time to suggest some retail therapy? Those shoes they've kept looking at online might just be the instant karma they need.

An entire new debate opens up. When do your tools know too much about you?

I for one would like a financial company to partner with us to explore this emotional context in digital tools. Maybe as an R&D project.

More broadly, we should, as a communications industry, start talking about the fact that we can have more meaningful human interactions around the most stressful and worrying service that human beings experience in the UK.

Martyn Gooding is creative director at Gravity Thinking.

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