CMO of the Week: BNY Mellon's Natalie Sunderland

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BNY Mellon’s roots go back 240 years to the founding of the financial system in the United States.Natalie Sunderland is excited to be working for such a historic company.

BNY Mellon’s roots go back 240 years to the founding of the financial system in the United States.

Natalie Sunderland is excited to be working for such a historic company. In her role as chief marketer, she is tasked with telling the story of this established financial institution in the modern world.

“The company is at such an interesting inflection point right now and the marketing and communications organization is at the tip of the spear,” says Sunderland. “We're a little bit different than we used to be. Our team is responsible for modernizing the perception of the company. What motivates me is the fact that every day we get to move the company forward. I can see the impact of his team's work. When I go to sleep every night, I know that I've left my fingerprints all over the company in just a little way.”

Some of those stories are about the company’s purpose and how it shows up. For example, Dreyfus, BNY Mellon Investment Management’s liquidity solutions firm, launched the BOLD share class in 2022 that makes a 10% contribution of its net revenue, a minimum of $300,000 annually, to fund Howard University’s GRACE Grant Program. This partnership allows investors the opportunity to pursue their financial objectives while also making a social impact with their investment decisions. 

“In addition to our core bread and butter day-to-day experience, we think a lot about how we can use our platform to empower communities and make an impact on the larger communities that we're all part of,” explains Sunderland.

Prior to joining BNY Mellon, Sunderland held senior marketing positions at Addepar, Citi and American Express, among others. Brand Innovators caught up with Sunderland from her office in New York to talk about building brand awareness, working with Howard University and the company’s upcoming 240 Year Anniversary. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How are you thinking about innovation?

Financial services is a fairly conservative category so innovating means a few different things. It means showing up in a way that most other industry peers are not showing up. For example, earlier this year, we introduced our new brand vibe. We shifted from pale blues and golds to the bold colors that you'll see today –pink, bright yellow, bright blue, purple. You don't see many other financial services institutions doing that. When we have our Town Hall, we play top 40 music as intro music. We're constantly trying to approach it with a differentiated mentality. 

We're also looking at the way that other marketers are thinking about AI, thinking about similar things. In my view, innovation can be the small little things that get your audience to believe that something different is going on as much as it is the big things.

What key campaigns and initiatives are you working on right now?

We've really taken a page out of the Airbnb playbook, focusing a fair bit on earned media. We're telling the stories that help create the right perception of a company. My favorite most recent win is when one of the trade publications that covers us fairly regularly saw a post on our social media feed about our security dog Wilson retiring. They covered that as an industry retirement. We're really thinking about how earned media can tell a broader cultural story about BNY Mellon not just as a business news story. 

In addition to that, I see an opportunity for the market to just get to know us a little bit better. In our brand study, we see that people know us but they don't really understand who we are and what we do. The market and our clients could benefit from better understanding. When the market knows us better, they like us a lot. We see that they love us and they're likely to recommend us. So that's a big part of our strategy. 

What is your brand's mission and how is that showing up in your creative?

We're actually the oldest bank in the United States and the oldest company in New York City. Our company is turning 240 this next year. It is an important milestone for us. And so we're giving a lot of thought to how we want to celebrate that important milestone with our clients and other key stakeholders.

Established by Alexander Hamilton in 1784, we were founded around the same time as the founding of America. We've played an intrinsic role in shaping not just the United States, but frankly the global financial system. We see our role, whether it was 239 years ago, or today, playing a fundamentally important role, to the way the financial system – and the resilience of that financial system– works. 

Earlier this year, BNY Mellon and MoCaFi, a FinTech forum providing services to underserved communities, formed a strategic alliance to extend payment options to unbanked and underbanked communities. We introduced something called SPARK shares, which allow clients to direct a donation to an eligible nonprofit organization of their choice while actually investing in money market funds. We tend to think a lot about how we can best serve our clients and meet their needs, while at the same time doing good things for the community and the financial system.

What is your approach to storytelling?

Overall, putting a focus on clients' stories has been a big part of our strategy. When we look to our 240th anniversary, it’s about not just telling the stories of clients, but telling the stories of how collectively we've worked together to strengthen the fabric of the financial system, both in the United States and globally. We're also doing a better job of telling employee stories as well. We made a pretty sizable investment from a resource perspective on what we call Life at BNY Mellon. On LinkedIn and internally, we're really looking for employees to share more about the experience they're having on the professional growth side and on the well being side, and what it feels like when you're part of this special community.

I learned early on that you need employees to truly understand and believe the impact that you're making. The best way to do that is through the lens of our clients. Our clients see our employees as being quite differentiated and strong. I like for our clients to see the great things that are happening here.

How have your past roles helped shape your approach to leadership in your current role?

I started my career at American Express and I owe a lot to my experience there. I had an opportunity to step into a number of building and innovation roles, whether it was running product development or helping to stand up the online bank a number of years ago. Coming out of American Express and a couple of years at Citi, I went to work for startups. I helped build three companies, creating new categories and driving growth. The startup experience was really useful for me, because I learned to really own the end commercial results. We can do a lot of beautiful work in marketing, but if it doesn't drive tangible outcomes that enable the company's growth, then it's not so useful. 

Right now BNY Mellon is a little bit like a startup because we're in build mode, transforming the company, changing the way that we operate, improving our operating model so we can be more for our clients. We can also really power our culture. As a result, we're always focusing on those strategic areas, as we think about the work that we do.

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