Agile in Finance - Growing market share in the stock market
BenchMark Finance is a financial company that provides its clients with brokerage services for trading in stocks, currency pairs, stock indices, precious metals, cryptocurrencies, and others. The company’s clients invest online in the financial markets and have the power to decide what trading strategy is most suitable for them.
In June 2021, BenchMark Finance made the strategic decision to expand the company’s market share by offering some of the most competitive conditions in the stock trading and ETF market.
The main goal was to attract new clients who do not have much experience in stocks and ETFs trading and want to learn how to invest successfully. The biggest challenge was to find an innovative and effective method to reach this audience without exceeding the allocated budgets.
The company turned to AgilePool, an organization that provides expertise in optimizing workflows and methods for developing innovative products, with a proposal to work together to achieve the set goals.
Over the following two months, AgilePool worked closely with the leadership team of BenchMark Finance to develop a marketing product through which the company will promote the stock investment and expand its customer base.
During this period, the best practices from Lean-Agile Ways of Working were used and the principles of Design Thinking and Lean Startup were applied. A key factor for the engagement’s success was the regular one-on-one coaching sessions between the AgilePool coaches and BenchMark Finance’s CEO.
The result was the creation of a successful marketing product, which attracted 34% more customers than initially expected during the first four months. Additional benefits were that the company managed to save resources by significantly optimizing the time for creating and testing the new marketing product, as well as improving the attitude and intrinsic motivation of the company’s employees.
The Journey to a Successful Finance Marketing Product
Step 0: Team and Goals
The initial coaching sessions opened our eyes that we needed to start working as a fully multi-skilled team instead of distinct groups of single specialists. The AgilePool’s coaches helped us understand that working in silos is a source of waste in our work process due to dependencies, hand-offs, and misalignment.
So we took the step to form a cross-functional working group, which included three people from the marketing team of BenchMark Finance, the CEO, and a coach from AgilePool. Before kicking off, it was fundamental to define the team’s most important goals, the ways to measure success, and working agreements.
Step 1: Empathize with The Customer
The coaches guided us to follow and embrace the principles of “Customer-centricity”, so the foundational step in the process was to put ourselves in the place of potential clients who want to invest in the financial markets.
We tried to find out what their real needs were and what their biggest “pain point” was – a specific problem they were facing.
The coaches mentored us that we needed to avoid biased decision-making, based solely on personal opinions and gut feelings.
We had to be data-driven.
We did that by conducting customer interviews, defining different types of user personas, empathy maps, and user journeys. As these activities are quite time-consuming, we agreed to time-box them for two weeks. Time-boxing became another useful technique in our new Agile toolbox.
The gathered data suggested that there is no shortage of potential clients who want to invest in stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of companies from the United States and Europe, but we didn’t know what is preventing them from doing it.
Step 2: Find the Customers’ Pain Points
The analysis boiled down to two possibilities that block people from trading – it was either the commission rates or the lack of experience and ignorance.
BenchMark Finance already provides competitive commissions, but we gave up the idea of advertising them directly as we didn’t believe the rates were a major factor or a dealbreaker.
We knew that there was another underlying reason and that it was related to the lack of experience and ignorance of exactly which shares to choose for investment.
This is how we defined our initial goal and it was to help potential customers choose more easily which stocks to invest in.
Step 3: Identify the Experiment
Knowing which direction to go forward helped us focus our thinking.
Here we got our second very important Agile lesson – we always have to verify our conclusions with an experiment.
The next challenge was to identify it, so our partners from AgilePool organized a brainstorming workshop, where we generated various solutions that we could try. Every idea was welcomed, no matter how crazy or unrealistic it might have sounded. “No judging” was one of the main rules we embraced as a team.
After generating the ideas, we continued discussing them. We sketched them out, analyzed, and evaluated them.
In the end, we chose the one we considered the most promising.
The idea was to prepare an analysis for selected shares to be sent to customers. We decided that BenchMark Finance analysts could write one analysis per week for a particular company. The analysis had to explain why this stock is promising and how much the stock will cost in 6 months.
We also decided to offer the analysis free of charge, provided that the user has become a customer of BenchMark Finance.
Step 4: Run the Experiment
We have moved on to the stage of validating the idea. We had to confirm it or reject it in the quickest and cheapest way for us.
This is the most tricky part – how do you do that? Luckily, the AgilePool coaches helped with this, too.
In just a few days, we created an advertising page in which we presented the advantages of the analyzes, without really doing any of the analysis yet.
This was a true eye-opening guideline from the coaches – we didn’t need to have the full product implemented in order to answer the most important question “Will the customers actually use it?”.
To find out if we were headed in the right direction, we contacted only 20 pre-selected clients to whom we sent a link to the advertisement page and asked for their feedback.
Step 5: Incorporate Learnings
To our surprise, the 20 potential customers did not like the idea of analysis.
And here things became even more interesting. We grouped the reasons into several basic categories.
Many people said that the analyses were not enough for them to start investing as they did not know how to work with the trading software and how exactly to make a deal.
Other customers had already selected certain stocks but wanted to learn how to analyze them by themselves.
Some clients did not understand why they should pay a commission for trading shares with BenchMark Finance, given that other financial brokers offer stock trading “without commission”.
Although we failed, we were delighted because we learned something important, and last but not least, we did it fast and cheaply.
The failure prevented us from spending even more time and money working on the wrong solution, and also gave us invaluable knowledge and insights that we couldn’t have otherwise gained.
We had to take the feedback into account, learn from it, and repeat the original process, starting with new ideas.
Step 6: Adapt & Repeat
We needed to come up with a new marketing product.
The task was more difficult this time because we learned that clients have different needs, but none of them were basic.
So we decided to run another experiment – to organize a training course on stock trading. That way, we could best answer our potential clients’ questions and teach them how to invest successfully. The training focused on how to use the trading software to make a deal and taught people how to evaluate a company.
And last, but not least, we had to explain that brokers “without commission” worsen the purchase prices and in the end, the costs for the customers are much higher.
We approached to validate the idea by creating a new advertising page. We described what users will receive from the course and launched a lean advertising campaign with a minimum budget of only EUR 50 as we did not want many people to sign up for the first version of the course.
Only a week later we conducted the course with about 40 participants. It seemed that this time we were on the right track because we received several registrations for opening trading accounts.
Step 7: Iterate & Improve continuously
We knew there’s room for improvement and we wanted to concentrate only on improving the things that matter most for our clients. The AgilePool coaches taught us how to do small increments, but faster.
To gather feedback, we contacted a large part of the participants in the course. The conversations gave us new knowledge about their needs and insights about what we can improve in the training course.
We realized that most of the participants wanted the course to be more interactive and more practical. So we decided to change the structure of the lectures by replacing most of the slides in the presentation with real examples in the trading platform. In addition, people wanted to see live how the lecturers trade.
A key decision was to dedicate the whole first lecture to real deals with stocks and stock funds. By the next course, we changed several other minor but important details, as well.
We conducted the second course with over 60 participants. This time we received a few more registrations to open trading accounts, but we were still far from what we wanted to have as new customers. However, things seemed to be promising and we kept looking for feedback and ideas for improvement.
In the following months, we did two more courses, each better than the previous ones, and the results were not late.
By November 2021, BenchMark Finance has already completed 4 courses. During this time, the company added new features that improved the customer experience and made them more confident to invest.
The latest is that the team has returned to the idea of analysis, as it originally intended to do. Analytics became part of a larger analysis and forecasting portal, which added advanced video tutorials and trading ideas.
At the moment, BenchMark Finance does not only achieve its goals for market growth and income, but the results even exceed the initial expectations.
Petar Krastev, the company’s CEO, commented that he was impressed by the innovative and adaptable approach that AgilePool has applied in the work process, as well as by the desire and motivation he saw in the employees. He was even more enthusiastic realizing this was just the beginning of their Agile journey.
According to him, BenchMark Finance has managed to save resources by significantly optimizing the time to create and test the new marketing product. He also believes that the team has delivered much more effectively than similar marketing projects that they have worked on in the past.