Lisa Wood, Chief Marketing Officer, Atom Bank

“As a new brand starting out, we can't tell customers we're brilliant, we can't tell them to trust us. All that has to be earned."

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


Lisa Wood - Atom Bank

Career to date:

2014, Chief Marketing Officer, Atom Bank
2012, Head of Marketing, First Direct
2009, Head of Customer Propositions, HSBC
1994 - 2008, Marketing Co-ordinator - Head of Brand, First Direct
1991, Research & Analysis Manager, Midland Bank

Creativebrief: As Chief Marketing Officer at Atom Bank, what’s your primary focus?

Lisa Wood: Building a great brand reputation and ensuring we know exactly what our customers are thinking about us. We’re very passionate about making sure we’re getting customer feedback and learning from that. Then building our road maps as a business to make sure we have constant improvement from a customer perspective.

As a new brand starting out, we can’t tell customers we’re brilliant, we can’t tell them to trust us. All that has to be earned. The best way we can do that is engaging our customers and getting them to tell our story.

Creativebrief: Can you just outline your career to date?

Lisa Wood: I took a Business Studies degree and absolutely loved all the marketing elements. I started life as a marketing graduate at Midland Bank. Ended up in a research role, then got the opportunity after a couple of years to move out to Jersey. They asked me to be the Marketing Project Manager for their new expat business, 24/7 telephone banking.

Loved the global aspect of the role because it’s interesting working with a globally diverse target audience. We had customers in over 200 countries. Marketing into different countries, it was very diverse in terms of what you could and couldn’t do. That was a great job for giving a global perspective on how different cultures think about managing money. The UK is quite risk averse whereas if you go into the Far East, they are far more dynamic about the amount of risk they’re willing to take.

I got the opportunity to come back to First Direct in the UK. I managed current accounts, savings accounts, investments, insurance, a whole range of things then ended up being the Head of Brand. I had licence to play around with [the First Direct brand], do something different and not have to tow a corporate line. It’s great fun managing the communications for that kind of brand. I ended up deputising as Head of Marketing at First Direct. Then they asked me to move back to Jersey for a couple of years managing their marketing communications, digital and product. We repositioned and relaunched that brand and then I came back to First Direct as Head of Marketing.

I’d always had a huge amount of variety in my career at HSBC so didn’t feel the need to change direction. The First Direct brand was my love. I loved that lack of corporate-ness, being able to challenge and do something different. I was getting to the point where I felt we were being constrained so I wanted to go and do something different.

Mark Mullen, the CEO of Atom and other colleagues at Atom had come from First Direct so I knew Atom and had been keeping an eye on them. I reached out to them and they said we’re looking for a Chief Marketing Officer. I was ready for something different, far more challenging and less wrapped up in the corporate politics, getting back to doing the stuff I love which is building a brand.

“As a new brand starting out, we can't tell customers we're brilliant, we can't tell them to trust us. All that has to be earned." 

Creativebrief: What attracted you to Atom Bank?

Lisa Wood: There was something about a personal challenge. It was going to be an eventful ride, but it would stretch, challenge and develop me. One of the things I constantly look for is am I learning something new, being stretched or having to think differently? I knew this role would do that because it put me way beyond my comfort zone in terms of starting a brand-new business, building a brand from scratch.

I’d worked in the industry for just over 20 years and during that time there had been plenty of things that personally I didn’t like. In particular, the way it treated customers. I saw an opportunity to challenge and change a sector and drag it into the 21st century.

Creativebrief: What work have you done with Atom Bank over the last year that you have been most proud of?

Lisa Wood: We launched mortgages in December 2016 with vigour, looking at ways we could change perceptions and behaviours. We wanted to challenge the products being sold and raise awareness that a 5-year deal might be better for consumers given the uncertainty that we could be going through. So, we did an offer, it was very tactical: 5-year mortgages at 2-year prices. It was a brave move and bought us a lot of PR coverage. It certainly worked in terms of shifting 2-year mortgage business into 5 years. We drove a lot of traffic to brokers as well, so they benefitted from it.

Something tactical but a very simple idea executed to challenge the industry. The conversation we have is, what are some of the things the industry is doing that may not be in the best interest of consumers and how do we challenge that?

Creativebrief: In your position at Atom Bank, what processes have you put in place to ensure you’re working with more diverse teams? How do you encourage that from agencies you work with?

Lisa Wood: We’re based in the north-east specifically as a business to distance ourselves from the city, where you’d expect a new financial brand to be building itself. We come with a different perspective because we’re not London centric, we’re not feeding ourselves on the stuff that’s going on within London.

We’ve made sure we’re building teams from a range of sectors. We’re quite an eclectic bunch. We’ve got some people that have worked in the industry. We needed some of those skills because managing and building products, you need that expertise. But on the marketing side we’ve got very few who’ve come from the financial services sector. We’ve got people from the agency world, from completely different disciplines. In terms of the age range, it’s quite broad as well.

We make sure that we are challenging our agencies. We don’t work with many agencies because we’ve got a fairly small marketing budget. One of the things that we have done is built that expertise in house to save us money. Mother are our lead strategic partner and the reason we like Mother so much is that they were open to challenging us. One of the things I look for in an agency is are they willing to be very straight with you, to tell you how it is, give you a different perspective, challenge your thinking and create some tension? That’s very healthy.

“I'd worked in the [financial] industry for just over 20 years and during that time, there had been plenty of things that personally I didn't like. In particular, the way it treated customers. I saw an opportunity to challenge and change a sector and drag it into the 21st century."

Creativebrief: What are the secrets to a successful relationship between client and agency?

Lisa Wood: Making sure that we both value the same things in terms of way of working. I don’t want agencies that are just going to say yes, we like that idea and build on it. I like agencies that are going to challenge the idea and come up with some new thinking.

Mother definitely had that challenger intellect, really wanted to go after the same things we wanted. Making sure there is that tension there and you’re continually looking outside of sector as well. I don’t take a frame of reference from financial services because I don’t believe the standards are good enough in terms of marketing. What inspires me is the stuff that has gone on outside of financial services, other game-changer brands. So, constantly encouraging the team to look externally and taking inspiration from there.

Creativebrief: Something that we’re quite interested in at Creativebrief is the changing nature of the traditional pitch. What’s your opinion?

Lisa Wood: I’m in two minds. We did a traditional creative pitch when we bought Mother on board. Pitches are great for getting to know whether an agency both intellectually and creatively stimulates your thinking. There is a role to play for the pitch where you can learn enough about each other’s business to know whether you are going to work well together, spark off one another and produce good work.

That works when you’re looking for a big strategic partner that you’re going to invest time, energy and money into. Marketing is moving less in that direction. It is moving where there is less of an over reliance on one key strategic partner to where you will choose agencies because they’re good at a specific thing rather than having one relationship that delivers multiple things.

It has to change because more relationships doing specific things will drive less value for the agency overall. Therefore, the pay back to them is questionable and I wouldn’t blame them for questioning that as well.

Creativebrief: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Atom Bank?

Lisa Wood: Banking generally or consumer behaviour in banking is quite lethargic. It’s not a sexy industry. People don’t take action - 85% of UK current accounts are held with the big five or six high street players and you don’t see a lot of switching. Shaking up the industry is our biggest challenge, getting consumers to take notice and change behaviour.

“Banks offer much of a muchness right now...We want to design a bank that has clear purpose and adds value to customers and delivers something different that they find useful."

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Atom Bank?

Lisa Wood: To establish ourselves as a credible threat to the big players. There’s a number of new challenger banks and we can raise awareness that there are different propositions out there that can add value to customers. I don’t see them as a threat. What I want to do is shake up the big players. That’s certainly Atom’s ambition, to make our mark so that we are a credible threat, winning business back out of the big banks.

Creativebrief: What do you think is Atom’s strongest asset in terms of being a strong contender to the big six?

Lisa Wood: Banks offer much of a muchness right now. Whilst they’ve made great in-roads to be more customer centric, the underlying businesses are still driven in a way to provide shareholder value, at odds with doing the best thing for your customer. We want to design a bank that has a clear purpose and adds value to customers and delivers something different that they find useful.

If you ask someone whether they trust banks, no. Do you trust my bank? Yes, I do and then if you unpick that, what they mean by trust is that a bank offers them a reliable, secure service. What they don’t mean by that is I trust the bank to act in my best interests and look after me. That’s the gap for me that is missing in the sector and that’s what I’d like Atom to fulfil. Offer reliable, secure, consistent service because that’s an absolute must when it comes to banking. Build a proposition that’s really giving something back to customers and acting in their best interests.

There’s a huge amount you can do with financial data. The transactional data that a bank has can give you a huge insight that could be used to help customers manage their money better than they do today.

Creativebrief: Looking outside of the industry, who or what are you inspired by?

Lisa Wood: I love great design, architecture, buildings. It speaks to my more creative and artistic streak. I get creative inspiration from buildings and renovations. I’ve done a couple of projects myself but taking something old and transforming it into something new and exciting that is very well designed is something I get a lot of inspiration out of. To some extent that’s probably what attracted me to Atom - I love creating new things, taking things and transforming them.