Raising interest: Rick White, Scotiabank

It's one thing to advertise friendly, helpful service. Meticulously taking steps to ensure follow-through on this ubiquitous marketing promise, though, is another matter entirely.

It’s one thing to advertise friendly, helpful service. Meticulously taking steps to ensure follow-through on this ubiquitous marketing promise, though, is another matter entirely.

Scotiabank’s Rick White, VP brand and marketing management, has done just that. He has discovered that dedicating time and resources to customer service can be well worth the effort – especially since Scotiabank’s brand identity hinges on friendly associates helping frazzled customers ‘find the money.’

As a result, he has helped Scotiabank rise from its position as dead last among Canada’s Big Five banks just 10 years ago to a consistent jockey for third place with CIBC for market share.

White’s commitment to good customer service stems from the insight that consumers often find banking a complicated, ‘necessary evil.’

‘Truly what the consumer is feeling is confused,’ he says. This idea led to the decision to position Scotiabank as the simple, helpful choice. After ensuring the org was aligned around the positioning, the next step was to let people know, so he and his team worked with Toronto-based agency Bensimon Byrne to create an integrated campaign in 2002 to raise the bank’s profile and establish the new branding.

The result was the ‘Life, Money. Balance Both,’ campaign that resonated well with consumers, and won a silver Cassie in 2002 to boot. ‘He’s not one to settle – he’s always challenging himself, [and] the agency,’ says David Rosenberg, SVP/CD at Bensimon Byrne.

When White joined Scotiabank in 1994, it had been almost 15 years since the bank’s last TV campaign, and it didn’t have a clear brand identity. As a result, it lagged well behind competitors, and most Canadians were unfamiliar with it. ‘At that point, they were not perceived as much of a financial marketer,’ White recalls. ‘They were very tactical in their approach.’ His boss, EVP marketing, sales and service Barb Mason, recognized that it was time for change. She hired White shortly after assuming her role overseeing the corporation’s marketing department to help her shake things up. ‘I certainly viewed that we needed to make valuable changes in the company,’ she says, noting that when she took over the department most of the marketing efforts consisted of posters and print brochures.

Mason thought White would be the ideal person to help her turn things around because of his eclectic industry experience, including marketing stints at BMO, Royal Trust, Mary Kay Cosmetics and even running his own consulting firm, White House Marketing. Mason was particularly intrigued by White’s five years helping to launch Mary Kay in Canada, during which time the company’s Canadian sales force grew from zero to 15,000 women. ‘I found that interesting because you’re motivating people,’ she recalls.

His experience at Mary Kay did turn out to be quite valuable at Scotiabank. Six years ago, White initiated an overhaul of the bank’s internal incentives program to reward better customer service practices like spending more time with clients. ‘At the branch level, [we want to] take the time with the clients to go through the fundamentals. It’s really step-by-step,’ he says. ‘We felt the outcomes would come if [bankers] were doing the right thing.’

The program, called Applause, saw the annual seven-figure incentives budget entrusted to branch managers to reward their own staff.

‘I really borrowed from my Mary Kay days,’ he says, referring to the cosmetics company’s well-known incentives programs. Previously, Scotiabank’s incentives were handled by the head office based strictly on sales, rather than practices.

This move also helped improve marketing’s frosty relationship with branch staff. ‘At first, I hated going out into branch land because they hated the marketing department,’ he recalls. The program also includes ‘Peer-to-Peer’ certificates that employees can use to acknowledge each other. White says that half a million certificates were presented last year alone.

Mason also credits White with helping the bank redeploy marketing resources through cost-saving measures like early media buys and consolidating print efforts. Another cost-effective initiative spearheaded by White is an internal online service that allows bankers to customize their own marketing materials while maintaining the brand identity. The service helps bankers feel they have more control. ‘He gives everyone a voice at the table – that’s important in a very large organization,’ notes Mason.

With Scotiabank’s brand identity nicely carved out and its internal resources aligned, White has shifted his focus to looking for more ways to make the brand connect with Canadians. ‘They’re really trying to support communities at a grassroots level in a meaningful way,’ says Rosenberg.

And in the past couple of years, White has been focusing on seizing prominent sponsorship opportunities, which has led to high-profile deals with the likes of the CFL, the Giller Prize, the Edmonton Oilers, the Ottawa Senators and most recently, the Rick Hansen Foundation. ‘The one thing we look for is something that is quintessentially Canadian,’ he explains.

He also has a big sponsorship announcement with the City of Toronto coming up this month, but he’s unable to give away any details.

As for his own quintessentially Canadian brand, White credits Scotiabank with the amount of trust the financial services company placed in him to develop and implement a strong brand identity.

‘It’s tremendously gratifying to see a vision shared across the entire corporation,’ says White. ‘Something that was an initiative of Barb Mason and myself has been embraced by the whole organization.’


Favourite movie:

Apocalypse Now. The times, the music. I go to a lot of movies. This one, I could probably watch once a week.

Favourite TV show of all time:

The Sopranos. The dramatics of it all – the acting is fabulous. It’s a little bit different than the usual cop shows.

Favourite TV commercial of all time:

I have it printed on my mind. ‘E-N-O, ENO! When you’re feeling low – ENO!’ I don’t know why, but [the jingle] has stayed with me my whole life.

Greatest strength:

Being able to find common ground among a diverse group of people, and clearing the way for our team to execute it.

Ideal retirement spot:

Woody Point, Nfld. I just bought some property there. It’s a very artistic little fishing town.