All the Way to the Bank

Bank Australia Head of Strategy and Communications Fiona Nixon on her innovative Clean Money campaign and the go-to tools that power her day to day

Portraits by Maria Savelieva

“I’m not sure that I set out to do both internal and external communications, but you have to have the internal engagement and the internal communications sides humming before you can really be successful with an external brand,” Fiona Nixon says.

Knowing how to balance the two, she says, has become her superpower.

Bank Australia Head of Strategy and Communications Fiona Nixon lives and works in Melbourne, where her customer-owned bank with a staff of 430, is headquartered. Before joining the bank almost six years ago, she advised financial services, government and nonprofit clients at Essential Media Communications and also served as manager of external communication at the Department of Planning and Community Development of Melbourne, Victoria.

How did she begin her journey melding these opposite parts of her experience? “[I] started to think about how do I combine the internal and culture-building side of my work with the external brand. I … think it’s so important because if you are only focused externally and you don’t have very, very clear alignment for the work being done internally, it’s always going to be more difficult to achieve what you need,” she explains.

Nixon also leads the bank’s Clean Money campaign, which ensures the bank doesn’t use funds to loan to industries that “cause harm,” such as fossil fuel companies, weapons manufacturers and the gambling industry.

We recently asked Nixon about her career highlights and lessons learned. Here’s how she communicates.

On her bank’s innovative Clean Money campaign

“This is a project that I had dreamed of about five years ago that we finally landed this year. The board signed off on a public statement that the bank would avoid investments in fossil fuels, gambling, armaments, some intensive farming and some animal welfare issues—so those were the things that we would avoid. And then on the positive side, we’ve made a commitment to invest a lot more money into housing for people with a disability, community housing, community renewable energy and those sorts of positive things. That was a fundamental platform that this Clean Money campaign is now built on.

“We have, for the past five years, been pursuing a strategy to find people who care about the role of business in solving social and environmental issues. And we’ve been working on a strategy to create an alternative for people who want to see their money do positive things in the world.

“The concept is: When you put money into a bank account, it doesn’t just sit there. The bank uses it for and lends it out to other people and invests it in things. And we’ve been trying to frame up a narrative around the idea that it really does matter where you have your everyday banking.

“We’ve moved along that path—from talking about ourselves as the bank Australia needs for reasons of environmental responsibility: the fact that we don’t pay any executive bonuses, we don’t push our staff to hit sales targets, which have all been really big issues in the Australian context.”

On success metrics of her Clean Money campaign

“We’ve had two months of record new customers joining the bank, bringing close to 5,000 new customers. We have seen a 3.1% increase in our brand awareness. The [new Clean Money] 45-second ad has been viewed on Facebook and YouTube almost 3 million times within eight weeks of launching, as of May.” (One commenter wrote on the bank’s YouTube page: “Yessss, when banking meets leadership!”)

“We’ve had [it] on television since the end of January in Australia. We’ve been doing it in a fairly targeted way, with one of our main channels being the Special Broadcasting Service here in Australia. The ad has had really, really strong pickup and viewership with an estimated reach of nearly 3 million on Facebook and YouTube alone, and over 4 million on other digital channels. And we’ve had record growth of customer numbers in the last two months since the ad’s been out and a lot of engagement from all kinds of people, which has been really fantastic. For example, the week after the first big push of the TV ad and outdoor advertising, our Sydney city branch had a line of people queuing to become customers, which was a first.”

On her dream job

“To be honest, my first dream was to be a foreign correspondent. There are not a lot of foreign correspondents in Australia, so for us it’s the ABC, which is our public broadcaster. But I always really admired the work of the correspondents for the BBC, as well. Being a politics nerd, that was always a dream.”

On her favorite comms tool

“Sprout Social. It keeps an eye on all of our social channels, and it allows me to listen in to issues all the time. I probably check it six or seven times a day. I first check it in the morning after exercising. I try not to look at emails or anything before I’ve done some exercise.

“On top of that, we use a couple of different dashboards. The organization uses a [banking] tool that we can see movements in deposits and new customers, so we would look at that every day and see what the pipeline is looking like. [Customer acquisition] obviously is a big [driver] for us at the moment. Our media buyer also provides us daily updates on which content is performing the best, and they’re using Google Analytics to do that and feed through information to our digital people.

“And we use Workplace by Facebook as our internal social platform. That’s the other app I keep a really close eye on because it gives me a sense of what’s happening around the bank and what people are thinking about and the kinds of conversations that they’re having.”

On work-life balance

“Look, it’s a challenge. We’ve got three teenage kids and the job, obviously. And I’m also doing my executive MBA at the moment. Exercise is absolutely critical for me. I try not to stay at the office very late. I come home and try and cook dinner and have dinner with the family at night. For me, it’s just carving out a couple of non-negotiables and then letting the chaos reign around that.

“I’ve been doing this small-group personal training with an amazing woman who absolutely kills us three times a week. We do weight training a couple of days, and then this morning was the intense intervals, so I did a lot of boxing. My hands are actually shaking still.”

On a communicator she admires

“I have been watching with extreme admiration Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister [who in March instituted a ban on assault rifles after the killing of 50 at two mosques]. I have been absolutely impressed with her, but these last couple weeks I think she’s just demonstrated to the whole world what leadership is and what communication is in a very, very difficult time. She hasn’t tried to create a vision of leadership and communication that is not who she is, so when she speaks it’s from the heart and it’s very authentic. I also think she’s not afraid to say what she means. And she speaks and writes simply, directly. And that, for me, is absolutely critical to communication.”

What industry trends are you paying attention to?

“The rise of AI will not only change the way we do our jobs but also how we think about audiences. It’s likely that AI agents themselves that mediate information between individuals and companies will become a new audience that we will need to understand and communicate with.”

“I’m also really interested in Jonathan Hanwit’s IABC webinar in September, ‘How to Strengthen Your Company Culture Through Values-Driven Communication,’ as culture building is a key priority for my team over the coming 12 months.” [Sign up for this webinar.]

Adam Wren

Adam Wren is executive editor of IABC's Catalyst magazine.

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