Citizens Bank mines big data to drive loan, deposit growth

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Many bank executives claim to know a lot about data, but those who can generate higher profits from troves of customer information are less common. Put Beth Johnson in the latter category.

When Johnson became the chief marketing officer at Citizens Bank in 2015, she got to work building a data and analytics platform that it could use to better target customers with offers for deposit accounts, consumer loans and other products.

It was an ambitious project for a regional bank — and it required a big investment. But the Providence, R.I., company had just completed its initial public offering and was looking for new ways to grow, so Johnson set about converting data into action.

To start, she hired several data scientists with experience using the latest technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The analytics team initially focused on ways to improve direct mail marketing, making sure offers were relevant to customers’ needs. More recently, the team has found ways to help retail employees offer products over the phone and in person.

The investment has paid off in a big way. In 2017, the company’s analytics platform helped generate $2 billion in incremental loan sales, as well as $1.4 billion in additional deposits.

Next on Johnson’s agenda is creating a more personalized experience for people whenever they interact with the bank — for instance, recognizing who people are when they visit the Citizens website and then presenting them with the services that best suit their needs.

“What we’re trying to do now is move toward true personalization,” she said.

Johnson, who joined Citizens in 2013, does not shy away from tough assignments. In the mid-1990s, she took a job as an entry-level analyst at Goldman Sachs. Shortly after she joined, a trader lost “a lot of money,” and Goldman asked her to move to London to help develop a model that would allow the company to more accurately assess risk in its trading businesses.

In her new assignment, she worked with Bob Litterman, a senior executive who had developed a risk model alongside Fischer Black, the famous financial economist.

The assignment put her in regular contact with high-ranking executives at a relatively young age.

“I was on the phone with the heads of fixed income within Goldman every day, to just give them an update from London, so it was a lot of exposure to senior decision-making early on,” Johnson said.

Johnson was 22 at the time and was one of only two women on Goldman’s London trading floor who was not an administrative assistant. While the experience was challenging, she said she was mostly focused on her next move: applying to Stanford Business School, where she later received an MBA.

“I just had fun with it,” Johnson said.

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