Fireside Chat with Credit Karma and Google

Managing financial health is getting more complex, and more consumers today are seeking financial information than ever before. People, especially digitally fluent millennials — the largest in-market audience for financial products [1] — expect personalized, helpful experiences at every touchpoint.

Engaging these consumers is both a complex challenge and a huge opportunity. In a fireside chat staged by FCS San Francisco, Mike Henry, Industry Director for Financial Services Advertisers at Google, sat down with Kiki Burton, Head of Growth Marketing and Technology at Credit Karma, to discuss how Credit Karma is embracing marketing technology to better serve its 100M+ members.

Below is a summary of the key takeaways from the November 19th discussion.

Small changes, big results

Mike underscored the difficulties faced by consumers today — 1) there’s currently $13.95 trillion in household debt [2], and 2) 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency [3]. And with less experience and less confidence, millennials are particularly in need of help as they will be on the receiving end of the largest wealth transfer in history over the coming years [4].

The good news is that the financial services industry can do more than ever to help millennials navigate these uncertainties. “How does your team drive Credit Karma’s growth, while also providing helpful experiences to customers? Are you able to do those two things so they complement one another?” asked Mike.

Kiki said two investments had massive impacts: 1) a cross-functional team structure to drive agility and deeper insights, and 2) investing in engineering and technology within the marketing team to deliver the right solutions to customers seeking guidance.

Credit Karma knew it could deliver more value to its members by making better use of the data that its members have entrusted to them. They started experimenting with a team pod structure composed of cross-functional experts — a performance marketer, a creative designer, marketing analytics specialists, and a core product lead — to work together to build better experiences for their customers. Together, these teams could connect the dots to uncover new insights that allowed them to deliver a better end-to-end customer experience. For example, this new structure allowed them to build more-useful landing pages, which helped customers find what they needed while also improving Credit Karma’s brand integrity.

“While it was a big organizational change, it bred a better team culture as well as excitement around new initiatives,” explained Kiki. “It’s still a work in progress, but it provides a great opportunity for people to work on different things in a rapid way.”

The other investment was building out a marketing tech team: product and engineers exclusively supporting marketing. This helped Credit Karma develop interactive components as part of that end-to-end experience to bridge the gap from engagement to product use.

Bringing martech into the fold

These two steps helped Kiki shift the narrative around marketing and demonstrate to all of the teams how they could collectively build and benefit from a robust marketing technology infrastructure, while staying focused on security and data privacy. 

“They came to see how we could use data in a privacy-safe, personalized way to tell our members about all of these powerful, useful tools Credit Karma had developed. Now, scaling the personalized experience is a company goal.”

Getting personalization right through data and creativity

Kiki underscored there’s no one-size-fits-all model for making the best use of data to create more valuable experiences for consumers. Credit Karma developed a custom approach, creating a centralized operations and governance team. “Trust is crucial for our business. This approach helps make sure the data are clean and consistent. We want to dial personalization up and down to deliver more value in the right way to our members’ experience.”

They find that rigorous testing of creative is the best way to dial up personalization. An approach for one channel may not work for another. Automation and machine learning are critical tools, allowing them to develop a sophisticated intent model, test at scale, and deliver high-quality, highly personalized engagement that matches millennials’ big expectations.

“We’ve seen phenomenal success with third-party algorithms that we tap into,” Kiki explained. “For example, we partnered with Google to leverage key signals and machine learning algorithms to help us understand how to best connect with members.”

What’s ahead

“There are no ‘words and pictures’ CMOs anymore,” Mike added. “Now they’re about using data and technology to create wonderful customer experiences.” 

While the marketing team still tracks metrics like revenue, MAUs, return match members, and frequency, they also care deeply about customers reaching their financial goals. Because getting marketing right means helping people get hard financial decisions right. Kiki added, “We also measure our members’ progress toward improving their financial health. At the end of the day, seeing the value we’re providing to our members gives me goosebumps.”

If we as an industry use data and machine learning to connect consumers to the right financial solutions at the right times, we will have delivered significant value to this next generation of consumers.


[1] Google / Accenture, Growing Share of Wallet Study, US, March 2019, n of 4,200 who have personal financial products or services

[2] Center for Microeconomic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Q3 2019

[3] Federal Reserve, Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017

[4] Coldwell Banker/WealthEngine, "The 2019 Millennial Wealth Report."