The Challengers: Alastair Pegg, Marketing Director, Co-operative Bank

The Challengers: Alastair Pegg, Marketing Director, Co-operative Bank

Britain’s seventh biggest lender, the Co-operative Bank is an ethical bank. This means it avoids investing in companies associated with the arms trade, fossil fuel extraction, genetic engineering, animal testing and the use of sweatshops. Such a stance is certainly appealing to many consumers.

However, in the wake of the Rev. Paul Flowers scandal – and Moody’s subsequent downgrading of the bank’s credit rating – the Co-operative Bank has faced a significant branding problem. We spoke to Alastair Pegg, Marketing Director at the Co-operative Bank, to find out what makes the Co-operative Bank different and why he chose to work for a challenger brand.

“The Co-operative Bank is known for its ethical stance. This is backed up by our unique values and ethics policy, which we allow our customers to vote on. Ultimately, this means that they determine what we do and don’t do. It’s a very fluid approach, and one that ensures our customers’ priorities remain our priorities. It’s this purpose that’s at the core of the Co-operative Bank’s identity – it’s in our DNA.

“As Marketing Director, my primary role is to repair the Co-operative Bank’s brand reputation. This involves directing brand strategy, customer strategy and marketing strategy, as well as to listen to, and address, any customer issues.

“I chose to work for the Co-operative Bank because I was attracted by its social purpose. The bank, of course, has had its problems. But I really believe in what we are doing – in what we want our organisation to be. Although we’re the UK’s seventh biggest lender, our current situation, combined with the dominance of the market’s leaders, means that, essentially, we’re a challenger brand

“As I like to say, ‘it’s challenging being a challenger’. But it’s also exciting! When you work for a challenger brand, you get to see your ideas implemented quickly, you get to test and learn in real-time and you get to experiment with different approaches.

“Challenger brands offer something different and fulfil a slightly different need. For us, that means taking a truly customer-centric approach and working in a way that chimes with our customers’ beliefs.

“However, to be heard, we need to make sure that our message cuts through the noise. That’s why we try to be as clear as possible about what we’re challenging. Many banks are reinventing themselves after the financial crisis and, in my opinion, are pretending to be friendlier than they are. Our message is that we actually are different, that we’re playing a totally different game – which is what we have always have done. What we do goes way above corporate social responsibility: it’s the very reason we exist at all.

“Younger people are taking more interest in the way companies conduct themselves, which is great! As such, we’re trying to reach these people through social media and data science – using fluid segmentations that are constantly updated. By tapping into the right audiences, we hope to tell them who we are and show them what we’re doing – as this is likely to be something they’re very interested in. This means the ability to manage and drive data is incredibly important for us. And, soon, we’d like to augment our processes with AI.

“As a challenger brand, it’s essential that we’re able to react quickly and adapt our approach. I take inspiration from the likes of GiffGaff (who, in a very real way, put customers at the centre) and Tesco (who, back in the day, used data in completely new ways). But it’s not enough to imitate. You must be able to find your own path. Today I believe we’re doing that. If we’re successful, the market leaders will be forced to take ethics seriously. And that would be fantastic!”