Andrea Riley

What does Ally stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

The brand is positioned around this idea of being a relentless ally for our customers. We offer financial services products that are integral to our customers’ lives and financial well-being. We empower our customers financially.


How specifically do you empower your customers?

We invest in tools that make the financial process easier for customers. For example, we have 24/7 customer service. On our website, we list call wait times for our call centers.

We have a tool on our website called the dejargonator. Financial terms can be hard for people to understand, so if you come across a term that’s confusing, you can hover your mouse over it and we’ll explain it in plain English.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

We launched our brand amid the great recession seven years ago. When we launched, we said the world doesn’t need another bank, it needs a better bank. Our ongoing promise is to solve for customer pain points, many of which revolve around complexity in the financial services sector. Simplicity is at the core of everything this brand was built on.


What are the challenges of creating simple experiences for customers?

Creating simple experiences can be expensive. For example, when we launched, many people expressed that they didn’t like offshore call centers. So we made all our call centers domestic.


What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

The benefit has been tremendous growth in a short amount of time. We have over a million customers, $62 billion in deposits in 7 years.

Another significant benefit is our brand has become the hallmark for customer service. We like to say we created emotion in a category that was emotionless by delivering a simple, pain-free, intuitive experience to our customers.


Who are your customers?

Our customers likely have accounts with multiple banks. You might have your checking account at a large bank, and your savings with us. We’re also the largest auto lender in the country.


How do you personally lead as a simplifier?

We’ve streamlined processes. Instead of heavy governance and multiple layers of approvals, we’ve designed an efficient workflow whereby plans are set at the beginning of each year, and people have the autonomy to move things forward.

I also practice what I preach by maintaining my own work-life balance, reminding the team that life comes first and work second. Colleagues have the option to work from home.


What’s an example of a simple customer experience you’ve had recently?

I’m working from home today, and this morning we lost power. I first thought the process of contacting the electric company—Consumers Power—would be miserable, but my experience was so pleasant: on their website they had a simple procedure where you put in your phone number and address, reported your problem and they texted you updates on the progress of restarting your power throughout the day.


What’s the top advice you’d give other brands trying to simplify?

Deliver the experience you’d want as a customer.


Why do you think it’s so difficult for companies to operationalize simplicity?

Simplicity can be expensive and difficult to implement, especially for mature companies that have legacy processes. Companies are around to make profit, and plans to simplify often don’t show instant return, so they can be difficult to justify.


How front and center was simplicity at the inception of Ally?

Very much so—complexity was a huge part of the business opportunity we saw. Financial services was ripe for disruption—there was a huge opportunity to simplify, speak in human terms, and deliver products and services that people need in order to control their finances.


How do you keep simplicity front and center?

Simplicity is a competitive advantage. Now it’s harder and harder to maintain because everyone’s after simplicity now—not only have people seen the success we’ve had, but customers are demanding simplicity, which has made it a cost of entry.

We’re maintaining simplicity by focusing on our brand tenets—do right, tirelessly innovate and obsess over the customer—and relentlessly delivering on them.


Is there anything else brands should keep in mind when simplifying?

Don’t just compare yourself to other brands in your category; compare yourself to other best-in-class brands.


What’s the biggest mistake brands make regarding simplifying?

Brands often assume too much. They don’t ever really go out and ask people what they want. Ally has customer panels we reach out to on a regular basis, especially around new product launches, and adjust accordingly based on the input we receive.


What does simplicity mean to you?

Simple experiences are those that work the way you expect them to work, the way they should work.


This interview of Andrea Riley, chief marketing officer of Ally Financial Inc., was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.