Connecting with Gen Z: Why Santander is reaching out to a youth audience

Given most people never ditch the first bank they sign up to, connecting with young adults is crucial. Moreover it gives brands a fresh start with an audience that hasn't lived through the financial crisis, Santander CMO Keith Moor tells Marketing.

Santander: reaches out to students
Santander: reaches out to students

Watching a group of young students prepare to pitch creative ideas to a formidable audience that includes Santander CMO Keith Moor, it is clear creative energy is not something that relies on age or experience. 

This spirit is what Santander is trying to tap in to. In partnership with creative network YCM it has run a competition to give young people an opportunity to respond to a brief and pitch creative ideas. The winner gets an internship with agency WCRS. 

Whether you were party to what happened in the financial crisis or not, all banks and building societies got tarnished by it

But the move is about more than supporting the creative industries. it is also about positioning Santander as the bank for students. The competition, coinciding with freshers' week for many new university recruits, is timely.

Marketing caught up with CMO Keith Moor to ask why it is important the bank connects with the next generation of consumers. 

What is the event about?

It's an opportunity for students who are learning their trade to learn more about the development of creative ideas by giving them a brief and potentially a platform for them to go wider. 

The brief we've given them is about using their insight to help us better target the student market from the point of view of someone that's in it. 

If we think we can make the idea work, we'll put it on social media and our student hubs and use it in other forms of activity we do. 

How important is it for Santander to reach out to a youth audience? What are the challenges?

Cutting through to anyone is about relevance. Being a bank we have a very wide group of customers - from people who are retired or mid-career with families right through to people taking out their first bank account and going away to study. 

What brands can sometimes fall into the trap of doing is creating something that is "one size fits all". Our communications strategy needs to be appropriate to each segment. This is basic marketing 101 and the agency we work with is extremely effective at that.

But we want to help young people. Often we focus on educating about money but we took the opportunity to nurture a slightly different type of education in the creative industry. 

Obviously these guys are digitally savvy but they still need a bit of advice and like the reassurance of face to face contact 

It's not just about us targeting students. It's about exercising the opportunity to help support education and help people get the next step up on the ladder. 

The benefit of doing it with a team of their age is you get credibility, and we might find the message has more believability.

Are young people cynical about financial brands?

People's attitude to banks is not as bad as people sometimes make out. Our trust scores have risen significantly over the past few years and our perception of service. I think people are finding their faith in banking restored bit by bit. 

Whether you were party to what happened in the financial crisis or not, all banks and building societies got tarnished by it. You've got to rebuild credibility. 

I think historically the place where you open your first bank account is the place where you stayed but that's not going to be the way it is going forward. Bank accounts now are extremely portable, which means you have to genuinely earn the loyalty of the customer. 

I think the generation of people coming into the student market now are the ones who will understand portability is there. Whereas convincing older people is very difficult. 

Obviously these guys are digitally savvy but they still need a bit of advice and like the reassurance of face to face contact and that's why we have a presence in a large number of universities on campus. 

Customers will decide what channel they use - there will be some people who want internet only operations

What do you think of the emergence of online-only banks like Atom? Are they a threat when it comes to nabbing digital natives?

I think first and foremost competition is good because it's healthy for the sector. Competition brings new innovation and a focus on making things better for customers. Markets where there's not much competition can be complacent.

Secondly, customers will decide what channel they use. There will be some people who want internet only operations, and so I would see a market for internet only competition. But at the same time, in our experience the majority of customers like to have the choice of going online, picking up a phone or going into branch. 

Do they want to go into branch to talk about their balance? Not necessarily. Do they want to talk about how to set up a direct debit? They can probably watch a video online. But when it comes to buying a house or doing some longer term planning it's definitely more face to face. The majority of people like a blend.