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How ATB Financial is Breaking Cultural Boundaries Around Money Whilst Gathering Secure Customer Insights


ATB Financial is a leading financial institution based in Alberta, Canada. The company was ranked the #1 place to work in Canada in 2020. While ATB has been deeply rooted in Alberta for over 80 years, the organization is constantly evolving to meet the changing financial needs of its customers. That’s why, in 2017, ATB began building a new digital banking experience.

Brightside is a banking app, that helps Albertans spend and save for what they love, while doing more of what they love.

In this article, we will look at how ATB Financial created The BHive, a research community built on CMNTY Platform that is focused on understanding financial stressors, identifying ways to reduce them with digital tools, and co-creating banking products with Albertans.

Meet ATB’s Research and Community Management Team

Grace Villanueva joined Brightside in 2019 as a community manager, and she is the primary moderator for the BHive platform. Having several years’ experience with other community platforms, Grace was eager for the opportunity to utilize CMNTY.

Caitlin Meachin is Research Lead at Brightside. Known for her work experimenting with innovative research methods, Caitlin’s focus is on championing the customer voice and fostering brand advocacy in a saturated market. She was already familiar with CMNTY from previous work at a digital experience design agency and introduced the platform to Brightside.

The Challenge: Changing the Market Research Approach While Encouraging Personal Conversations

ATB Financial was challenging the status quo of banking by building Brightside. The goal was to question traditional processes and build a new digital banking experience with (rather than for) its customers. To accomplish that, Brightside knew many diverse perspectives would be needed. In fact, Grace, Caitlin, and the whole market research team is made up of people from outside of the banking world.

“We knew that, in order to grow organic interest in the Brightside brand, we needed to articulate this new vision of breaking banking. To be transparent, it was a group of people who never built a bank before.”

Connecting regularly with potential customers in Alberta, a relatively small market, was a critical step in order to build successful products. What Brightside was looking for was a solution that enables ongoing insight gathering around customer problems, generates quality product feedback, and ensures a high level of data security (crucial when working within the banking industry).

Caitlin explained: “I was looking for a qualitative tool and wanted to know if this (the chosen platform) would allow us to do some simple surveys, what kind of data it generates on the backend that we could manipulate and analyze, and what kind of experience it would provide the community members.”

Furthermore, Brightside wanted to talk to their potential customers (and for customers to talk to each other) about money and banking through an online community. Such personal conversations in a public forum can be extremely uncomfortable for people, so the team needed to find a way to foster trust with the crowd first.

“I love that users can be anonymous in BHive if they want to.” Grace explained how this privacy of personal information, along with the moderation team being very transparent in sharing their own personal finance stories, helped build trust and encouraged members to open up about how money impacts their life. “People get a sense of comfort that they’re not alone in their money problems and everyone’s dealing with the same stressors.”

The Solution

The decision to use CMNTY was highly strategic, according to Caitlin. The amount of research the team needed would generate high costs if done through traditional methods. An online community would prove a more efficient alternative with higher quality outputs.

For us, CMNTY was this perfect sweet spot of customization, great price, and having the features that we knew we needed to succeed in co-creating and achieving our brand advocacy goals.

Multi-level Interactions

To get customers engaged, the team used a plethora of features. In the beginning, forums were the place to start discussions about life and money. Since members could start their own discussions, there was immediate value in learning what topics they were interested in that the team hadn’t thought to ask about. Questionnaires were also helpful from the outset for Grace and Caitlin to A/B test various product concepts and compare and contrast customer preferences.

A Complete Solution for Quant and Qual Research

Another essential activity Brightside used to develop trust with their community was sharing back results to demonstrate how member feedback truly drives business decisions. Unlike some other platforms, in CMNTY, you can easily share back results from polls and questionnaires via the blog, and then have a conversation about them.

Grace highlighted that they use almost all research features in the platform. There is an intentional mix of qualitative and quantitative research that allows the team to find key data points and then dig deeper to find out why certain trends or outliers appear.

“We’ve done creative storytelling activities and diary studies where we can follow someone for a week and see how they are spending money. That is something that would be much more expensive and harder to recruit for outside of the platform.”

The Impact

Grace and Caitlin were strong advocates for the research community running on CMNTY Platform, and they shared what they think the key advantages and components are.

#1 Anonymous and safe way for users to share uncomfortable stories

“The BHive is an amazing breeding ground to see people’s emotional responses to money. It’s private and anonymous, so you can share your experiences and personal money stories. People get a sense of comfort in sharing their money problems.”

#2 Adaptable and flexible data collection

Compared to other research methods, the community is ‘always on’. That means members can share their feedback and pain points whenever it makes sense for them. The result of this is much more organic and rich insights into customer emotions and motivations that you may never uncover in an interview or focus group. “Traditional research is very in the moment and frozen in time. People’s feelings about their money and how they deal with it changes all the time and is triggered by different situations. The community allows us to keep a pulse on customer sentiment as it changes over time.”

#3 Seamless customization.

The platform customization options were essential in choosing the solution. CMNTY has enough customization possibilities without being overwhelming. The team didn’t want a solution that would require hiring another resource to manage it.

#4 Simple and fast to get members onboard

The platform doesn’t require a steep learning curve. With the simple registration process and Observer role, various stakeholders in the bank can jump into the conversations at any time and see for themselves what customers are saying. “No one needed to learn a thing”, Caitlin added.

#5 Positive change without money incentives

The BHive has proven to be an invaluable solution for collecting customer feedback for ongoing product development. Testing new features with community members, getting a response (almost) immediately, and showing members the impact of their participation with little monetary incentives creates an invaluable cycle of customer-centric product development. It empowers community members by showing them the positive change they influence, and proves that they are truly building a new banking experience with Brightside.

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