November 9, 2011
Andrew Inwood was sitting around with his team one Friday afternoon mulling over ideas for his research and marketing business, Core Data, when he hit on a genuinely game-changing idea.
For many years the holy grail in financial services has been the net-promoter score. This is a measure that demonstrates how willing someone is to recommend a bank to friends and family. In Australia Bendigo Bank consistently has the highest net-promoter score of all financial institutions, with credit unions and other small banks not far behind.
â€œIf the net-promoter score really is what it says it is, then people should pay more for services from an organisation with a high score, which should also be growing faster than businesses with a lower score,â€ says Inwood.
â€œWe tested this on our net-promoter index and found banks with the highest score were not growing at all. We wanted to understand what was at work here and found the net-promoter score is a proxy for likeability. But what’s important for growth and profit isn’t likeability, it’s authenticity.
â€œBusinesses that are who they say they are and that do what they say they are going to do grow at the fastest and highest rate and are the most profitable,â€ he says.
For financial services, the understanding that whether or not someone is happy to recommend a particular bank is effectively meaninglessness should be a revelation and completely change the way banks research their customer base.
This out-of-the-box thinking is typical of Inwood and his team, and a key reason why in only 10 years, the business has grown from him and a laptop to a staff of 40, spread over four countries. Most recently, the business opened an office in Brazil.
Before starting Core Data Inwood had a successful career in marketing for AMP, followed by a stint in the UK working for Virgin Money. He returned to Australia to work for Wizard, before setting up his own shop.
â€œPeople at the top in financial services are typically lawyers and fund managers, They see the world through structures, financial products and yield rather than through the eyes of the consumer. This means financial services is missing the voice of the consumer. But all growth comes through meeting customer needs and I’ve built my business around this philosophy,â€ Inwood says.
The principle of every business should be to meet a genuine need: â€œYou can come up with a great idea, but if it’s not going to change the consumer’s life, it’s not relevantâ€.
His first client was his former employer, AMP, who asked him to help the business understand what customers were feeling.
â€œWhen you walk through the door of a bank, everything is about what’s happening inside the business, not about the customer. So not surprisingly, when I set about finding some research into financial services consumers I found there was no data, or the data was just really weak. So I built a research business to meet this needâ€.
Ten years on, he has built a vertically integrated business with three parts.
â€œThe first part is a research business that surveys customers as a mass to help businesses understand their future. The second part is about individual customer experience,â€ explains Inwood.
For instance, for a recent project he commissioned 320 people who needed financial advice to act as mystery shoppers with real financial planners.
The third part of his business is a database company. â€œThe reason I started this company was because most databases are full of Cs and Ds and their opinion isn’t crucial to financial services businesses,â€ says Inwood. In contrast, his 232,000-strong database comprises largely As and Bs – or the most affluent consumers.
The international expansion of the business began in 2006 when a former AMP colleague moved to the UK and couldn’t find a service similar to Core Data’s, so he asked Inwood to set up in that market. It was a similar story with his US business. Then, when a client of the UK business wanted to access the same service in the US, he opened in that market.
China, from a distance
â€œThe same thing happened in China. A colleague I had worked with in Australia went to China and couldn’t find a business that was offering a service similar to ours. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t have a Chinese database, and the Chinese don’t like independent data. But my colleague had a database I could useâ€.
Today, the Chinese business is operated from the Philippines, after the cost of doing business increased eight times compared with when he first opened in China.
Inwood says for him there are three key success factors in business.
â€œFirst you have to stand for something. You have to understand the problem you are solving and the gap in the marketâ€.
His second piece of advice is to hire the right people. â€œYou need to get the right people on the bus, people that really get what you are doingâ€.
Lastly, says Inwood, â€œyou need to create an environment where people can flourishâ€.
â€œIt’s all about having focus, satisfying client needs, having fun and of course making moneyâ€.
Andrew Inwood’s top tips:
1. Be really, really good at what you do. Be clear, be specific and be professional and get better every year.
2. Velox Edo Tardis – that’s the fast eat the slow – so if you are going to do it, do it, don’t muck about
3. Have a goal. Break everything up into a series of goals. â€œI go quarterly and I see them all as bricks in a road.â€
4. Happiness isn’t about money – neither is success. They come from being great at what you do. Trust me the money will follow.
5. Be strong. Your enemy is in the mirror not on the streets
6. Don’t focus on the competition – focus on being good at what you do.
7. Be a realistic optimist.
8. Build systems in the business – a great business has great processes.
9. Build an esprit d’corps, make sure you have plan for everyone in the business and share the rewards of success.
10. You need a team to do this. Remember that every day and treat everyone with dignity. Always apply the rule â€“ how would I feel about this?