Finance 2021 Outlook: Fortune Favors the Bold

Mar 18, 2021
Written by Christopher McFarland

As the financial services vertical further expands—including credit cards, bank accounts, online banking, insurance, tax fintech and much more—CJ understands the need for deep, specialized expertise.

After nearly ten years working in financial services, most recently with American Express, Christopher McFarland joined the CJ leadership team in 2020 as Vice President, Finance Vertical. His deep knowledge of the financial industry spans across credit card issuers, retail banking, pre-paid, and insurance verticals.

Here’s Christopher’s take on the financial headlines from Q1 2021 and how finance marketers should be thinking about the year ahead.


Christopher McFarland, Vice President, Finance Vertical, CJ Affiliate


The US economy will grow 8% this year—that’s an upward revision by Goldman Sachs from just last quarter. Your boss will likely ask you when. The answer? It’s already started.

American business leaders are understandably cautious, but the vaccine rollout—now averaging 2M Americans per day according to the CDC—is well underway. Despite the more aggressive strains evolving in the UK, South Africa, and California, the curves are showing promising signs of flattening out. That aside, we know that the February unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 to 6.2% according to the US Department of Labor. If 5% is truly optimal as economists suggest, then we’re only 1.2% away and you can already feel the momentum.

The Future isn’t Simple, but it’s Loaded with Opportunity

I’m not prone to flights of fancy (I’m an ENFJ, if anyone still does that) and former AMEX colleagues will attest to my profoundly bearish outlook at the start of the pandemic—questioning whether VPN networks could handle a global work-from-home scenario that followed only weeks later. But the point isn’t just to identify problems (we all know how easy that is), it’s to identify opportunities.

I believe we’re in a “Field of Dreams” scenario—build it strategically and they will come. At CJ, we see travel booking trends and optimism is now focused not just for end-of-year, but for this summer. It’s likely no coincidence that my prior employer’s rational value reinforcement strategy on their travel-benefit-loaded Platinum card with monthly PayPal credits goes just through June.

Hotels and restaurants must rehire soon while vaccinations and infection immunity are making our communities safer. In the US, coupled with housing market stats, Wall Street records, bi-partisan interest in infrastructure, the current administration’s clean energy technology focus, and the reduction of consumer debt, the future looks promising. Not simple—but loaded with opportunity.

Case in Point: Buy Now, Pay Later

CJ has previously reported on the efficacy of Buy Now, Pay Later payment models and why only 1 in 3 millennials have a credit card. The financial savviness of Gen X consumers is also more accelerated than generations prior out of sheer need—caregiving to parents and children alike, debt from college loans and credit cards, and three market-correcting job industry downturns in the last 20 years.

Both populations seem more aligned with economic, political, and environmental stability—while quickly learning how to leverage their pocketbook to wield change. As more of our advertisers seek to build or partner with Buy Now, Pay Later technologies—which millennials in particular view as a positive disruptive-to-the-industrial-complex development—advertisers can leverage this trend in a bigger picture narrative. It highlights what many failed businesses of the past have learned ex-post-facto: evolve or die.

The playbook seems clear. Reinforce stability, security, and reliability for mature audiences while giving millennials what they want: technologies that evolve the banking paradigm (ie. Buy Now, Pay Later), and business propositions that align with personal beliefs such as words and action toward inclusive, environmental, and political stability. People are looking for companies that care and are using their platform for the greater societal betterment.

CJ can connect your message with the right publishers to reach the audience you want, earn their trust and maybe that illusive quality more powerful than stickiness—loyalty.

Another big story here is agility. Banks and issuers were notably adaptable in response to COVID-19 closures. If big banks want to remain competitive in an increasingly democratized space, they must shed some clunky formality in favor of speed and efficiency. CJ helps with that too by providing best-in-class tech with a foundation in data. It doesn’t hurt that we offer strategy development and execution as well, if that’s what you want. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you can buy vs. build.

Kitchen Table Economics & Personalized Well-Being

Many fundamental things have been highlighted during Covid-19—a desire for community, more outdoor access, work-life balance, education plans for children, migrations, social activity related mental health dynamics, and the importance of playtime among others.

According to CJ data, meal kit advertisers have grown +150% in 2020 alone, and a handful of savvy credit issuers have taken note by increasing card benefits for food delivery apps. But this is really a microcosm—how else can family units be supported while amplifying bank issuer centrality? It’s an opportunity not just to increase product stickiness, but to increase significance.

The recent acquisition of Credit Karma is a mere jumping off point to showcase pre-qualification options to consumers—opening the door to more targeted offerings as long as PII considerations are well-made. Consumers are willing to share data if there’s something in it for them, and despite the discomfort when seeing highly specific offers on platforms, 72% of consumers prefer to only engage with personalized messaging.

We’ve all been made forcibly more nuclear—or in some cases, more isolated. Are there other benefits or services that might promote safe connectivity like preparing a meal together at home? For example, we know consumers are increasingly more focused on renovating their homes, because they spend so much time there. Can bank issuers be part of that narrative and issue HELOCs while they do it? Or think about retirement and investments in funds that align with specific social priorities? Or leverage an abundance of interest in mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation to connect spa and well-being benefits.

Build it strategically, and they will come—because CJ can connect you with a targeted base of influencers that reach your audience. And the message can be about overall well-being as much as it’s about financial well-being—we all know they’re intimately connected.

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