Toni White, EVP and CMO of Synchrony Financial ― the erstwhile GE Capital’s new incarnation in the marketplace ― is expert at using analytics to create new and disruptive product and customer service models for the financial services industry. The irony is that White herself is a veritable poster child for career continuity, having spent nearly four decades with the same employer.
However, White will assure you that the challenge of transforming GE Capital from its roots as a financer of major appliance purchases to Synchrony’s current position as a major provider of private issue credit cards, B2B installment financing and retail banking has left her little time over the years to be bored.
Seamless Retail Experiences
Throughout her impressive career in financial services, White has specialized in using the tools of market research and analytics to design customized financing programs that create growth and reinforce customer loyalty across different channels and market segments.
CMSWire sat down with White recently to discuss Synchrony Financial’s new mission, the role of data analysis in achieving it and why marketers should pursue both baby boomers and millennials.
Sobel: During your long career with GE Capital, you held multiple strategic roles before helping to manage the Synchrony stock swap and spinoff. Can you tell us about your early career and what still excites you about financial services marketing today?
White: I started out at GE Capital working with our customer service teams. That gave me a deep understanding of the customer experience, not only how our customers approach purchases and develop payment preferences but how account management influences retailer and customer satisfaction.
In addition to my operations experience, I’ve led marketing for a number of our marquee client programs and worked with business development to collaborate closely with our innovation and information technology teams. Having the opportunity to work across all facets of our business has given me a passion for analytics and data — and how to use those insights to cultivate and drive loyalty for our financing programs. It is a dynamic industry that is continually changing and evolving, which makes it incredibly interesting.
Sobel: You have called the re-branding of 80-year-old GE Capital a “great accomplishment.” Can you share your challenges?
White: Our roots in consumer finance trace back to when GE began financing appliances for customers but GE wanted to focus on the industrial portion of the business. The biggest challenge we faced from a marketing standpoint was continuing the track record of success we had achieved as the largest issuer of private label credit cards in the United States without the halo of the iconic GE brand.
We conducted extensive research with internal and external stakeholders and set a comprehensive, strategic marketing and communications plan in motion to launch the new brand. In the wake of our IPO on July 31, 2014, our branding journey continues but I’m pleased with our progress in creating our own name, identity and culture.
Sobel: You have said that Synchrony Financial’s tagline, “engage with us” captures what you see as an opportunity to help grow your customers’ business on each and every transaction. Can you tell us more?
White: The bottom line is that we are not successful unless our retail partners are successful. We thrive on our partners’ success. We’re committed to creating a better experience that helps build loyalty.
As the payments landscape evolves, Synchrony Financial is working to ensure that our partners can nimbly adapt to changing payment technologies to provide their customers with innovative financing options. That translates to private label credit cards that offer meaningful loyalty rewards, instant discounts, easy ways to apply for credit, mobile wallets and the flexibility to manage accounts across channels, whether in-store, online or via mobile devices.
Sobel: In a recent sponsored post, Synchrony made the point that “No matter how easy it has become to shop online, sometimes you just want to visit an actual store.” Can you tell us more?
White: Results from our Fourth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study conducted last year show that shoppers enjoy the immediacy and interaction of in-store purchases. Shopping in-store enables them see and feel the product, interact with a store associate and take the product home on the same day.
But we also know that digital tools continue to be an important part of the research process, empowering shoppers to navigate information and narrow options. The study indicated that 80 percent of all research for major purchases starts online. These insights are a valuable reminder for retailers that providing an integrated and consistent experience across all channels bridges shoppers from online sources of information to physical store visits and ultimately, purchases.
Sobel: You spoke to the Women in Retail Leadership Circle recently about how to develop a multigenerational retail strategy that focuses on both baby boomers and millennials. Can you share your thoughts?
White: There’s no question that baby boomers are a shopping force and have provided many retailers with their main source of income for the past decade. But millennials are growing in number and purchasing power so retail strategies must start to focus on this generation in order to be successful.
Although not yet spending in the largest amounts, millennials are now the largest generation in the US workforce and 80 million of them are entering their peak consumption years. The ideal strategy is one where the boomer population feels valued and delighted, while the millennial feels excited and interested. Both can exist in one seamless retail experience but to do that, you need to be where they shop, whether in-store, online or mobile.