NatWest Group CMO Margaret Jobling on Business Growth, Strengthening CEO-CMO Partnerships, and Weekends Away

Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief
June 18, 2024
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LONDON - Do you remember how you felt walking into a bank with your parents? Did your heart quicken, your grip tighten on your parent’s hand? Looking up to the seemingly towering ceilings and journeying past the looming desks is akin to stepping into an entirely different realm. It’s a realm that carries whispers of adult mysteries and societal machinations far beyond the playground's scope. Is it wrong that I sometimes get those same feelings today? I’m just here to open an account, promise.

And that’s just a local branch. 

But I suppose a child’s relationship with banking is inherent from their parents. For me, born into a working class family in the north west, I was surrounded by family members who had a distrust of the banks. A child from a different background, let’s say, may be used to a rather different view - stocks and bonds, savings and investments playing a natural part of dinnertime chatter. But for many children in the UK, life skills and access to financial education is poor. 

NatWest at 250 Bishopsgate, London recently had a makeover by Architects, LOM

Bridging Tradition and Innovation

Walking up to the headquarters of NatWest at 250 Bishopsgate, London you can’t help but look skyward. It’s formidable. An 11-storey steel-and-glass structure. But the absence of columns and pediments put me right at ease as we step into the circular doorway and onto the grand sunlit welcome area. 

It would seem my first impressions of NatWest’s headquarters are no accident and actually developed a theme for our whole interview with the CMO of NatWest Group, Margaret Jobling. 

The structure of the building, designed by EPR Architects in the late 1990s, recently had a makeover by Architects, LOM. LOM director John Avery said they looked to turn traditional corporate design “on its head”, creating a more flexible and sustainable building with an extended life.

“We focused on fluid layouts that facilitate collaboration and promote wellbeing, while providing additional space within the existing structure without compromising users’ experience and wellbeing,” he said.

And we totally get it. 

Following the customary security clearances, we passed through an airy corridor, home to a museum of NatWest’s history, and into a meeting room. Healthy snacks, mineral water and a selection of teas at the ready, we settle in. 

CMO-CEO Relationship

Moments later Margaret Jobling beams in. With a welcoming smile and Sunderland accent, I forget I’m deep within a legacy bank’s headquarters. And Jobling’s willingness to chat about interior design, home renovations and breaks away from the city is a refreshing introduction to the person at the helm of marketing here. Jobling is open, transparently sharing the bank’s aspirations, areas needing progress and what matters most. 

Jobling isn’t from a banking background. And as our conversation ensues, the combination of her character and FMCG background is evidently offering up a refreshing perspective to marketing in the financial services industry. An industry where product, data and stats continue to rule supreme over creativity.

Talking of the CMO-CEO relationship Jobling says, “The biggest difference I see is by sector. I started out at Unilever and Unilever is marketing through and through; marketing rules the world. So the CEO tends to be a marketer. They run the P&L, they run the innovation, they run obviously all of the marketing, so the business doesn't question marketing because it's just who they are. The business is driven out of being marketing-led.”

Jobling explains, “I've reflected on it over the years because if you think of the dynamic in consumer goods, the retailer is king. The retailer owns the customer. The retailer has got the data and actually your job in consumer goods marketing is to create products and services that meet needs because if you don't you've got hope in hell. So you've got to really understand your customer because you haven't got the data.”

She continues, “You need to create products and services, you need to then sell it to the retailer and then you need to advertise the backside out of it. When that customer goes in store they've got to hit your products and it's got to turn off the shelf. When I started in consumer goods you would say, you probably had a year range review, does it sell, does it not? By the time I left FMCG you were lucky if you were working on a three to four month window.”

Jobling observes that “the world is product in banking; product in energy. They are not marketing businesses. They don't start from marketing, they start from hedging on the energy or hedging on the interest rate or the product of financial institutions.”

Honing in, comparing the relationship between CMO-CEO across sectors Jobling says, “Marketing is seen as, not as lower in the food chain, harder to justify. So I've seen that the relationship between CMO-CEO is very different from the world of consumer goods to the world of financial services. You're not seen in the same way as being a critical driver of growth on the P&L, so you've got to work very hard. You need to be very commercial, very metric, able to see this pound is showing up in that place. Why? Because most of the CEOs in a financial institution will be bankers. Predominantly male bankers, traders.”

Swinging in a CMO’s favour, though, is a more complete picture you have of your customers in financial services. Jobling explains, “In my world [at NatWest] I know where you live. I know what products you've got. I know where you spend your money. I can probably tell you how many kids you've got. I can tell you whether you shop in Sainsbury's or Asda. I can tell you if you've got a dog or not. In consumer goods the only way you get access to data is through buying data from the retailer - Nectar or Tesco Clubcard.”

Ultimately, the relationship between CMO-CEO rests on two dynamics. “It depends on the category and where they place marketing. It [rests on] their notion or prioritisation in the organisation and belief in the function.” 

Jobling explains, “The other thing I've seen in every business I've worked in is the definition of marketing is different.” 

Ahead of taking on a new marketing role she suggests asking, “What's in the function? What am I accountable for? Have I got the ability to drive change? Because if I'm just accountable for the advertising or the sponsorship or the partnerships, that's very narrow. Versus saying, actually, I'm responsible for making sure that customer experience and or the data and analytics that's driving the decisions and the marketing is part of all of that, but the definition of what it is is fundamentally different by organisation.”

Margaret Jobling of NatWest shares advice for fellow CMOs

Advice for fellow CMOs

What advice would Jobling give to another CMO, or somebody that aspires to be a CMO, sitting on the board and fighting those battles for land? 

She suggests, “We are there to deliver the business strategy. You have to understand the business, where the business makes its money, where their priorities are.” 

She says, “The most successful marketers are business people who have the ability to talk the language of the business but can deliver great content, creativity and prove that the activity equals return. And if you can't, you're the colouring-in department. You're the comms. person. You become the sort of, ‘Can you get me a campaign to deliver? Yeah, can you do me an ad? Because we sort of know we need you, but we're not really sure what you're doing for us,’ rather than actually being at the table helping them think about strategy, the gaps and opportunities.” 

Looking back, 25-years ago, “In my Unilever days, if you were building a plan for go-to-market, you'd go, okay, I need to be on the Coronation Street ad break at the beginning and the end because 90% of population watch Coronation Street on a Tuesday and Thursday and that would hit majority of eyeballs in the UK - supplement it with a bit of press and a bit of OOH and job's a good 'un.” 

How different a marketer’s job is today. 

Jobling states, “You've got a world where the experience is fragmented, customer behaviour is segmented.” Jobling’s advice? “Be absolutely creative. Be commercial. Understand the landscape of media, which is ever-evolving and quite murky in some areas. Be financial. Understand customer experience because it's broken unless it works. So you could be showing up with the best ad in the world on whatever channel. Then if I hit your world and you say you call me, you don't call me back or I can't transact on the app, it all falls apart and you've got nowhere to hide.” To summarise, she notes, “Whatever you say and do, if there's dissonance between the promise and the reality you'll get crucified for it. You cannot be inconsistent with your brand promise anymore - you get found out.”

The stark realities of a multi-faceted day of a CMO leads us to ask Jobling if she thinks agencies realise the full number of plates she is spinning. With a sigh, Jobling’s reply and remedy is a surprise. “Definitely not. But I don't know if I want them to either. You don't want them embroiled in your problems. As a CMO, you play two roles. I'm on the ex-co helping run the business, a role model of what good looks like, and thinking about how we deliver our business commitments to the shareholders, the world and his dog and the regulator. I don't want them worrying about any of that stuff, because that would just grind them to a halt. I need them to understand the business performance. I need them to understand the tensions and the dynamics of the market. And, I want the folks to deliver a brilliant creative outcome that's going to help me drive business growth.” 

Insourcing vs Outsourcing

Jobling finds this tension of what you insource and outsource fascinating. She ponders, “How do you retain talent?” And using GroupM as an example, Jobling voices the impossibility of competing with them, the world's leading media investment company, on media buy. She says, “You are delusional if you think you can. My core competence is not media buying. My core competence is understanding customers, understanding our business ambition. It's being able to translate that into brilliant briefs to create great content and knowing where to go and reach the people that I want to talk to.” 

Explaining further Jobling says, “I don't want to get into it, unless it's a strategic imperative or I genuinely believe I can do it faster or cheaper. Beyond that, I don't want that because I don't believe I can retain the talent. But first of all I'm not even sure I can attract the talent and then the world is moving so quickly. So if you look at investment in tech, how are you going to keep up with that? The value will be in the technology and the capability, as in the brain power capability, strategic planning that you put against it. And also the issue with media agencies is that for too many years, they made their services about the value of media buying. It's basically human collateral. That's what I'm buying in creative.” 

She says, “In media, you made it about the cost of the GRP. And therefore, they're struggling because they can't get clients to value straight creative thinking. And actually, what they need to be able to value is the value creation they can bring through their thinking and their technology, not whether they can buy ITV cheaper than the man next to them because that's not going to be their differentiator over time.”

Marcus Rashford OBE and his work reaching younger audiences with NatWest

Building On NatWest’s Legacy: Future Generations 

NatWest is a legacy brand in a crowded space. The PRA has authorised 23 banks since 2013, perhaps most notable is Starling and Monzo. The future of any business is staying relevant to the future generations. 

We ask Jobling how NatWest is reaching those young audiences, the future entrepreneurs, to talk about business banking. Jobling shares, “I think we do tons in that space. So we operate a lifetime value model. What we recognise is, as you mentioned,  you've got to get flow and stock from a young age, because if you don't, there's no point. The stats would say if you're a customer from a young age you tend to stay with your bank. I said to someone when I joined NatWest, you could jump up and down naked in front of me with a thousand pounds and I wouldn't have switched banks.” 

So to answer this, to get customer’s attention at any early age, Jobling is asking: “Where are they? What are they interested in? What channels are they playing in? How do I become culturally relevant with relevant content? It’s a combination of influencers, a combination of being on all the key platforms, (Snap, Pinterest, TikTok) working with those platforms to go ‘help me make brilliant content.’ And then you need to make sure you've got relevant products and services.”

NatWest is in 60% of schools. Their key initiatives are their Accelerator Hub, Money Sense, Career Sense, Dream Bigger - all programmes under the umbrella of an initiative called ‘NatWest Thrive. NatWest Thrive is ‘a program aimed at developing the self-belief, confidence and money skills to help young become who [they] want to be.’ 

And it’s at that moment when we chat about Marcus Rashford’s work with the bank to tackle, as Jobling describes,  “A massive problem in the UK where youths have been under-invested in and actually schools are not educating on life skills,” that I remember something from my childhood. The collectable NatWest piggy banks. And being invited to watch a 20/20 cricket game for winning the school county cricket tournament, sponsored by NatWest! It really worked back then. 

Today, a focus of NatWest’s is reaching the younger generation in their ‘safe space’ - youth clubs. In 2023 NatWest Thrive with Marcus Rashford ‘was piloted at 15 clubs across the country helping more than 800 young people improve their money management skills, gain clearer ambitions for their futures and the essential life skills needed to keep them on track.’ An independent evaluation of the program reported that 98% of young people felt improved confidence after four or more sessions. 

On these youth programs, Jobling states, “You talk to these “You talk to these digitally savvy, young people and they say the last place they would go is a branch on the high street. They feel it’s a scary, corporate, faceless place. So actually we're doing a lot to go, how do we become part of culture? Influence is a big part of what we do. Now we work with Stephen Bartlett and he's phenomenal in terms of how you help younger people; Gary Vee, also.” 

Challenging stock banking photography. NatWest‘s move for authentic representation

The Imperative of Authentic Representation

But marketing effectiveness is more than reaching specific generations. We delve into the multifaceted task of effectively engaging diverse audiences to use NatWest’s products. 

Jobling shares, “Holistically I guess I go ‘you need to get your own house in order to get your supply chain sorted.’ So is your agency network diverse? Have you got diverse people working on your business? Are you generating diverse content?”

On measuring impact and diversity efforts, Jobling says that “they did a lot of work with DECA to go on and measure the impact against cohorts, essentially.” Part of this included “how well we are doing with Black, Asian and Chinese, for instance.” Said Jobling, “So you've got to look across the entire mix and make sure that you are internally representative because if you're not you're never going to be externally representative.”

To ensure this is happening, Jobling points to the importance of “how we show up representative of our audience and then make sure that [we] are actually presenting ourselves in that way and if we're not, what do we do about it?”

Jobling describes a key initiative as being “a very strong employee-led network. So, the multicultural network, the female network, we have enabled disability. We basically show them our work and say, ‘Are we authentic in representation?’ We've learned a lot.”

She explains, “Even around the language and how you talk about people. So how do you get comfortable? And actually, how do we make sure we are not just lumping everybody in. I think you need to be able to look at it and say, yeah, I can see me in that. And how you're presenting people isn't stereotypical in its own right. So I think we've got quite a lot of checks and balances in the process and then measuring the outcomes.”

But speaking realistically, Jobling reminds us that although it would be ideal to speak to each demographic, it’s costly. “One of the biggest challenges generally as marketers we've got is the proliferation of channel, the balance of segmented versus cost effective. And I think you've got to be really clear about what your value pools are. The more segmented you are the more expensive it is and therefore the less commercially viable it becomes.”

How are NatWest doing with DE&I? Transparently, Jobling states, “It's going, I would say. It's like being on the Fourth Bridge and you’ve just got to stay on it. I think people talk a lot about the D, not enough about the I.”

She maintains, “You can have as much diversity as you like but if you don't create the conditions that people feel that they can literally be themselves, speak up, build psychological safety, getting the right balance...But it's always more, we can and should be doing. The world's moving all the time.”

AI's Impact on Marketing Creativity

AI’s effect on marketing has been prolific already. From AI tool’s ability to analyse vast amounts of data about customer behaviour and preferences, this has enabled marketers to create highly personalised marketing strategies. 

Discussing the advent of AI in marketing, Jobling comments, “If I look at AI, I look at what that's going to do. I think we'll be much more technology-driven in service of delivering great outcomes. It's more data-driven, more segmented, more targeted.”

How will AI impact creativity? “My fear in the industry is we've lost the art of creativity.  So I guess my fear for the industry is we lose sight of what actually makes us interesting and brilliant. But I think technology's going to enable a richer, deeper, more personalised experience. We just need to make sure we can engage and keep the flair.”

Building Strong Agency Partnerships

Creative excellence results from strong agency partnerships; continually pitching for new agencies can be counterproductive and undermine business growth. Jobling explains, “I'm a believer in ‘it's a partnership.’ I'm not a pitch girl, unless I think it's broken. I've always gone, I pitch it when it's not working and that's when you go to market and say ‘bring me who's doing interesting stuff in the world.’”

NatWest currently has a gap in its armoury. “So I mean influencers is a gap and we're a bit too piecemeal and ad-hoc and all over the place on what we're doing so we went out with an RFP on influencers. So then I would do a who's hot in this space who do we want to go and have a conversation with.”

Discussing when procurement gets involved, Jobling argues that “if you’re a marketer and you let procurement choose your agencies you should be let go quite frankly. They're there to help you get a great contract. They should not be telling you whether you're going to work with an Ogilvy or VML.” 

Explaining further Jobling says, “Procurement will be there in the process as my partner because I say I'm a good cop you're a bad cop. Because I also know unless you've got a very good contract you get screwed. So you need to make sure you've got it really clear. In terms of media agencies I've just got more cynical around it. I keep saying WPP's margins haven't gone backwards in the last few years. I think they're very good at finding ways to extract value.”

So how do you find those brilliant agency partners? For Jobling, it’s judging. “So I judge a lot. I love judging. I like seeing who's doing good work. I get to see really great work. I also scan the trade press to see what's going on workwise to see what's interesting, what I like.

So I did the chair of judges on the IPA accreditation for agencies for effectiveness. Fabulous. 

So then you get to go, oh these are hot, you've got a little hit list. I think a lot of it for me is just how do you keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on out there, otherwise you might think you're the tallest poppy but you're not really. I've always said exciting stuff is not necessarily going on in your own industry.”

On judging, Jobling shares, “What I always look for is strategy, execution, return. What were you trying to achieve? What did you do? Did it do what you said you were going to do? And have you got evidence to measure, to show that it actually did the job it was meant to do? Quite often, which has always fascinated me in those papers, I can tell the agencies who are very good at writing documents. If you can't get your strategy into execution, into value creation, I just go, no.”

Explaining further, Jobling's compass of effectiveness lies in “What have you done to grow the business? What have you done to save money? What have you done to grow share? It's much more about outcome and effectiveness.”

Escaping the city. Cromer, Norfolk. Image courtesy of Visit Norfolk

Finding Balance Out of Office

When Margaret Jobling isn’t navigating the intricate landscape of delivering NatWest’s business commitments to the ‘shareholders, the world and his dog and the regulator or strategising alongside her agency partners, where does she find herself?

“So, I hate the city. I'm from Sunderland originally but I'm a definite country, outside with the dogs type of person. It’s by the sea, for me. Always the beach. There's something about the sea. So you'd find me out dog walking, cycling, I run. I did the Great North Run last year. I was going to do the marathon but luckily I didn't get in - that's the best email I've ever had! I do yoga a couple of times a week to try and keep me flexible. I love socialising. 

Weekend beach walks in Norfolk. Image courtesy of Visit Norfolk

We've got a house in Norfolk so we get to Norfolk on the weekends. Literally, where we live, it's a tiny little village. It's got a pub, and it's got a post office, and the green. And they play cricket on a Saturday. So often we go for a cycle ride, we stop at the pub, have a gin and tonic, we watch cricket in the sun, watch the sun go down and then we cycle on home.” 

Just as the refurbished building seamlessly bridges tradition and innovation, our journey through NatWest's ethos under Jobling's stewardship serves as a connector between past perceptions and future aspirations.

Recall the nostalgic reminiscence of stepping into a bank as a child, heart aflutter with curiosity and wonder. Today, that same sense of wonder permeates our understanding of NatWest, not as a monolithic institution but as a dynamic force for change, led by individuals like Margaret Jobling who infuse it with fresh perspectives and vibrant energy.

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Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief