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90 | Caution and curiosity: how to handle AI in financial services

19 min listen

With a digital marketing career spanning four decades, David Blackburn has seen a lot of new tech come and go.

In this episode, the esteemed Chair of ANA’s B2B Chapter tells us why the key to his evolving career is being ‘chronically curious’ and how he sees AI’s potential to disrupt financial services as much as the internet and mobile did. 

 Plus, if you’re a B2B marketer and didn’t make it to ANA this year, get ready to hear why you really shouldn’t miss it again...

Ready to discover more? Tune in to the rest of the Masters of B2B Marketing here!



View the full transcript here

90 | Caution and curiosity: how to handle AI in financial services

Jon Busby: David welcome to the tech Marketing podcast. It's a pleasure to have you here. Thank you. We are here on the morning after the award, so we're all feeling a little bit worse for wear but tell us your story. You currently work for Pro Shares, is that correct? That's right, yes.

So how, what's been your journey in B2B up to date?

David Blackburn: Yeah, I have always. Been a marketer at the intersection of technology and business. And often that, that happens in financial services. Early in my career I gravitated towards the financial services space and that's where the interesting work was happening, and that's where the companies were making the investments and doing the things.

So I came up in the, Pre-internet days worked at a number of brands where we were launching the website for the first time or wow. Establishing that presence. And then as the concept of, multimedia or interactive or marketing technology, I've had all these job titles through my career.

As those became more ingrained in corporate culture, corporate operations I found myself in roles that. We're focused on that. Okay. The first I would say big B2B experience, I was at Bank of America. Working on the US Trust brand, so the ultra high net worth segment, and that is a B2B space cause we're not selling checking accounts and credit cards to individuals.

We're selling very high-end financial services and planning services and investment management services. Either to high net worth individuals or to tax attorneys or accountants or other intermediaries. Yeah, that's a step into b2b. Yeah. Had a good long tenure there. And then next, my next role was at DTCC, the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which is, it's itself a very B2B focused financial infrastructure utility.

Okay. If you don't know what it is, you can look it up.

Jon Busby: Yeah. Basically spot the bridge over here. I think Sonia was telling me, basically, is it. It. The DTCC, is that correct? DT basically dtcc, yeah. DTCC is has the goal to back up currency or something along those lines?

David Blackburn: It's the capital markets the trades.

Wow. So DTCC is private owned by the banks and brokerages that operate in the capital markets. Wow. And itself is member owned. And so the owners are also the customers. And essentially every trade that happens on the US markets, Gets set up through brokerages, and then they send that transaction to DTCC, which then guarantees that the transaction will be completed.

Okay so they verify that both parties, one party has the securities, one party has the cash, right? And if either of those parties defaults on that trade, DTCC is there to ensure that it happens. So just make sure that the markets keep ticking over every single day to the tune of 90 million transactions in a day.

And I, last year, two quadrillion dollars securities transactions processed in a year. Yeah. So it's all about reliability, dependability flawless execution. Yeah. Data. So it's, it really is the biggest. FinTech you've never heard of.

Jon Busby: Yeah. That was, that's fascinating. Yeah. That's ama.

And then did you move from there to where you are today?

David Blackburn: Yes. I moved to ProShares in in the fall last year. Okay. I had a good tenure at DTCC. ProShares has a very interesting story as a really innovative asset manager. Doing some very interesting work. And I had some.

Fascinating conversations with the team there and I now run digital marketing for pressure.

Jon Busby: So you've gone a I'm also a digital marketer, David. So I started life in this industry probably around 15, 20 years ago. But just I find it fascinating how you've been there the advent of the internet, be you.

Building first websites for brands to now work for a company that if I'm correct, essentially is at the forefront of ETF and trading. Yeah. Fair. In things like Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Yes. That's fair. So that is an incredibly innovative journey. What's been your memory of the the biggest learning that you've taken through all of that?

David Blackburn: I would say the big learning and the thing I tell. Mentees when they, when I'm in those relationships, it's just stay curious, keep learning nice. Be willing to read the next chapter in the book. And sometimes it just means being one chapter ahead of everyone else, or sometimes it means really being out there and checking all the things out because you never know which of these disruptive technologies or innovations is really going to hit it big.

But I, I'm chronically curious and have kept myself as much as possible on, on the edge of these things as they develop. And that's allowed me to evolve my career as the technology space has evolved as well.

Jon Busby: I think I'm gonna steal that. Chronically curious by the way.

Cause I think that actually, that somewhere it summarizes a lot of the interviews we've had over the last couple of days. Really. The I'm interested, you talked about being a chapter ahead. If you were to look a chapter or a book ahead today, what are you in investing in b2b?

David Blackburn: in b2b?

If we had this conversation eight months ago, I would've said automation and machine learning. Maybe virtual reality, augmented reality. XR Metaverse. Yeah. But now it's obviously, yeah. Generative ai. Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Norbury: We didn't know you were gonna say that,

David Blackburn: that story changed very quickly.

And so we, we saw a presentation yesterday where people said there was the internet and then there was mobile, and now there's generative ai. I think that's fair. I think it's fair to say it's on that scale. Maybe it's on the scale of. The iPhone and not mobile as a whole, but I'm, I think I'm more betting that it's on the scale of mobile as a whole.

And certainly from a marketer's point of view, whether you be brand side or agency side, the capabilities are fantastic. With limitations and risks, and we need to be careful. It's very wild west. It is right now. Yeah. There's some great talk out there right now to quote very smart person that I respect a lot This.

Generative AI is not like getting Einstein on your team. It's like getting a thousand interns on your team. And that's, I think that's the right way to look at it. That's what you mean.

Alex Norbury: Yeah. That's, I haven't heard about it. That's

David Blackburn: really good.

That's Ben Jones from Google. If you want to footnote him, he's Okay.

He's a former boss and he's super sharp and he's on the edge of a lot of these things. But yeah it's not gonna come in currently. This may change in Yep. Three months, right? Yeah. Or 18, or It's not gonna come in and give you the big strategy, the big idea. But boy, if you have a ton of just, the small tasks I.

And you can set it upright and you know its limitations and you deal with the hallucination and all that. It's incredibly powerful and it's only gonna get better.

Jon Busby: The image you've just given me is one of, and I'm sure the copy team in our agency talk about this. It's just lots of monkeys at typewriters.

Yeah. It's, that's what it is. Eventually one of them will be able to write a novel. Yep. But it's, yeah, I've gotta say it's fascinating. Are you using ai, generative AI currently in your role? Or are you pla how are you planning on using it?

David Blackburn: Not in a formal way and only ex. Experimentation piloting.

Very cautious, right? Yeah. But essentially air gapping, anything we do from our actual processes. Yeah. But who hasn't used it to write an email? Here are my points. Write me an email. Yeah. You read the email you have it's a trust but verify sort of situation. Yeah.

And Yes. So we're, I think we're all using it, but it's not a formal part of the process yet. We are having conversations with our agencies and vendors about how they're using it and what their policy is, because I wanna have very clear transparency there

absolutely. Because I think there, there's the hallucination risk. There's the verification risk. There's potential copyright. Yeah. I say that it, it doesn't, it, it doesn't copy full swats of text, and yet everything it writes is copied from somewhere somehow. And I think the lawyers are going to have, yeah.

Something to say about that eventually. Yeah. Yeah. The curious have not really stepped in, so in financial services obviously worry about that. My colleagues who work in healthcare are also concerned about that, so I think the curious will have something to say eventually. Yep. But we're not there yet.

So for now, We're taking the point of view that it, the burden is on us to evaluate the risk and mitigate the risk appropriately.

Jon Busby: I'm in, Alex, you can probably phrase this better than I can, like as, so we are agency side. We are, we've got a duty of care to our clients to use this technology responsibly.

So we've outlined this, we call them a series of compasses cause we know this market's gonna evolve. You can't, we can't have a hard yes or no answers to, to a lot of these questions, but coming from a client side, having these discussions with your agencies, with your suppliers, like how can they make it easy on, how can they make it easy on you to make those decisions and what are you looking

for in those conversations?

David Blackburn: Yeah.

It transparency, right? Just clear transparency. On the level of where at if a large corporation in the US is engaging a tech vendor and we have soc and SOC two verification processes. We'll get there eventually and AI will probably be rolled into that.

But in the meantime, let's be in that. Yeah. Mind frame while we have the conversations. Okay. What can it do? What can it not do? What are the risks and make it, I want them to be more knowledgeable about it than I am. So that they're not accidentally gonna slip something in. There was a famous story two weeks ago or so of a lawyer who submitted a brief to a judge and he cited a bunch of cases that didn't exist.

Yeah. He had chat GPT do his work. Wow. And the judge was not happy. No. So I, and that was just, Ignorance on his part. He thought, Hey, great new tool, I'll use it. Yeah. And got himself in a lot of trouble. Yeah. And I want to make sure that the people who are working with me Yeah. Are similarly cautious and aware.

Yeah. And that transparency is gonna be key as it develops more. As the tools get stronger, as they get more closely integrated into the. The platforms that we're already using. Every, everybody has now pivoted from the, the sales enablement solution to the AI powered sales enablement solution.

And I wanna make sure they're doing that Intentionally thoughtfully, and they're sharing with me where they are on their journey. They, yeah. Yeah.

Makes sense. It's interesting, I think your, you mentioned, was it trust but verify? That approach, I think is where we need to head with it.

I think Gary Kasparov, who was one of the chess grandmaster, but verify came from the Russians originally.

Jon Busby: That makes sense. Yeah, exactly. That's a. Perhaps that's a great point, but Gary Kasparov, who was your chest Grand Master, got beaten by the first ai not the first ai, but Big blue. Big.

Yeah. He famously talks about augmented intelligence. So I think that's the frame that we tend to try and use it. Which is, it's there as a tool, like you wouldn't think of going back and not using Photoshop. Yes. And so the cat is out the bag. Pandora's box is open with AI.

But it's now up to us to use it responsibly. Yeah. I think

The companies who are banning it are taking a very shortsighted approach. Yes, there is risk and if you don't have a policy in place, maybe you do need to block it in your office. Place, but you can believe that your competition's using it.

So it's a very interesting business model actually, this because cause Apple famously just, there was the big Samsung case where Samsung, the code got out. Code got out. Exactly. So Apple are famously blocked it and said they're not gonna use it. Of course, the open AI responses, we have this API that's private, so why don't you just roll it out internally using our API.

Yes. And then it's, so they're finding ways of monetizing that free service. I think for me what scares me is just how much of a black box some of it is. There's no it's not like an algorithm that anyone can open up and understand. It's Right. It's, you put some inputs in, you get some out, you get some outputs, and it's just difficult to,

David Blackburn: and yet I think the black box is getting smaller and smaller.

I think there's a lot of open source work that's interesting. Yep. That's giving people access to the tools without necessarily going all in on the, the GPT LLM. There, there are ways to get smaller versions where you can fire it up on your Macintosh if you want. With limited functionality the actual black box driving it is still a black box, but it's smaller and you can build more pieces around it.

So that's that. I think that'll be interesting to see how far we can go with that. If we could get to a truly open source model for a lot of it, that would give people a lot of peace of mind, I think.

Jon Busby: So Let's move, let's shift gears to the ANA. Yeah, sure. So we are here at the a Masters of B2B conference.

Yes. And so David, tell us a bit about your role that you perform here.

David Blackburn: I've been a member of ANA for, I don't know, 15 years or so, just a fantastic organization. They do a lot of great advocacy for the industry, and they. Are really committed to building the communities of different marketers, communicators across all industries.

I am the chair of ANAs B2B committee. Okay. Which is volunteer role that I enjoy doing very much. There are a number of committees, there're 20 or so, but B2B is the best friend. And so that the committees provide many things. They do events like. This, it's a that runs this conference, but it's heavily connected with the B2B committee.

But in between the big events, there's just a ton of other things going on whether they be live small, live events locally. Virtual events obviously got much bigger during covid, but that's something they've continued to do. And it's the, everything from showcasing great work.

To educational sessions, bring in a law firm to talk. It won't be long before we have a law firm or a regulator coming to talk to the committee about some implication of ai. Yeah. But communications, advertising, things we need to think about in our daily work.

It's a great opportunity to go to a committee meeting and learn something. And then of course the networking aspect of it. Yeah. The committees are a really high powered brain trust. We have fantastic people who are doing amazing work in very senior jobs at the biggest companies Yeah.

Who come and participate and share and whether it's the presentation they make on the stage or the chitchat you have during the coffee break. It, it really is an invaluable resource. And, here's the plug. If you're a member committee membership is free. All the activities are included in your membership.

And it is something that I've benefited from greatly. It's been fantastic chairing the B2B committee, just, it's not a huge job, but it's really nice to have a say in the direction of it and work with the ANA as they do the work.

Jon Busby: And so you've jumped straight to what one other question I was gonna ask, which is, how can people get involved?

So they can just join the a, which is a great, how often do those committees meet?

David Blackburn: It depends on the committee that there are 20 or more committees. Okay. Everything from email marketing to APM to B2C to B2B. Wow. Internal agency. Yeah. Which is all kinds of themes. Go to the website. click on the committee's link. You can see it all. Some events are open, some events are members only. Yep. Okay. But that's the way to find out. And membership. I membership is free. Yeah. Sorry, some of the things are free. Some of the things, some of the are free. Okay, fine.

You're gonna be better off if you're, if your company joins. Yeah. And then you get it. Yeah. And then you get access to everything. Yeah. Which is another plug. I'm not, this is not a paid endorsement, but it's a, it's an incredible value for money in terms of. What your company pays for membership and then it just gives access to every employee.

Alex Norbury: Yeah. Based on what we've seen, but based on what we've seen in the last, few days obviously we, we have exposure to lots of thought leadership and lots of insight around B2B marketing. And what the latest and greatest is. And over the last two days, I have to say, for all, new members or non-members right now, there is so much value. Yes. You've got some seriously incredible people. Yes. Talking about some really well thought through, but also future thinking. Ideas, practical work that they can actually use especially for the up and coming B2B marketers.

Yes. Really on, on an individual basis. It's, yes, there's a lot a lot to take in. That's very valuable. And we've had an amazing few days here. That's a very short amount of time. Yeah. Whether we've been exposed to it.

David Blackburn: And so extrapolate that out to, if you can have those kind of smaller check-ins throughout the year, whether it's.

Once a month, or the committee. Yeah. I think B2B, we meet two to three times a year for a big committee meeting. Yeah. But we have events more often. Yeah. Multiply that out by the number of committees. Yeah. And yeah, there, there's just an awful lot. And as I said, it's a brain trust.

It's a. Safe cone of silence discussion. Yeah. Space often, not obviously when you're up on stage, but just a lot of really interesting insight gets shared and it's invaluable.

Jon Busby: Yeah. And I would say, we're actually running some similar round tables and the topic we've picked at the moment, which I'm sure is resonates with everything we've just talked about, is digital disruption in an age of economic uncertainty, right?

We are, we have gone through probably the. Tech especially, has gone through one of the roughest six months, but some of the most disruptive six months as well with things like artificial intelligence coming out. So the only way I think if you are in a senior position, you can't rely on training or book your books are gonna be out of date by the time they're published, is you've gotta learn off your peers.

Yes. Is there anything that you've taken from the committees over the last six months that you've implemented in your business?

David Blackburn: Always right. Whe whether it's. Yeah. Seeing someone who's an expert in ABM and how they're doing it. Yep. See, seeing someone from Google or LinkedIn speak yesterday, right?

That's, it's just exposure to not necessarily the latest and greatest. It's not cutting edge or bleeding edge things because that's not B2B operates but strong thinking. Backed up by examples and proven success. Yep. In terms of techniques or technology or process or whatever it might be.

Yes, for sure.

Alex Norbury: Yeah. We've seen so, so many fantastically strong brands doing the things that. Logically you've got, as again, from an agency perspective, you're like, this is, this is so Right. And it's very different when your agency says you need to be doing this versus other very successful technology brands.

And I think, coming back to what you're saying about membership, I, I dunno, what's stopping people, but I have to say, if you can get as many people as possible, just hearing some of the things, they're going to be better at what they do. They're gonna be better at what they do individually, and they're gonna do a much better job working within the brand that they, yeah.

That they work for.

David Blackburn: And really tactically about that, a lot of. Organization, memberships live in the sales or marketing budget. Budget ANA membership often lives in the training and development budget. Yes. Which, yep. Which I absolutely see it as serving that role.

Yeah. And it's, it you need to encourage people Yeah. To get involved. But we find that once, They're in and they've clicked in and created their account. Yeah. Seen the stuff. Yeah. That it's, it takes on a life of its own and people are delighted to be involved with it.

Alex Norbury: Absolutely. I have to say, we are working with one of our clients who's here this week, and actually they are here to learn about how it can help their recruitment and talent strategy. Absolutely. Really interestingly, and I think absolutely right on.

Jon Busby: It's a big benefit.

Awesome. David, thank you so much for joining us this morning after we were all a little bit sore headed after the awards last night. It's been a pleasure having you on the Tech marketing podcast.

Alex Norbury: Yeah, we're good to meet you. Hope to have you guest again soon.

David Blackburn: Thanks, guys. It been a pleasure.

See you soon.

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