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Interview with Filippo Stefanelli, CMO of StashAway – The Challenges of Marketing in Fintech & in the APAC Region – Episode #22

Filippo manages marketing for StashAway, the leading digital wealth manager in South-East Asia. He is responsible for all marketing and growth channels with the goal of empowering people to accumulate and manage wealth for the long-term. Before StashAway, he co-founded a successful creative agency in Italy. Additionally, he lectures at universities and hosts seminars on brand positioning, promotional strategies, and effective communication.

In this episode, we talk about why he shifted from agency-life to working on the product side of marketing, the challenges that come from marketing in the financial technology space, considerations to think about when marketing in the APAC region, growth loops, what it takes to become a CMO, and more.


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

Okay, we are now recording and 54321 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. Again, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to listen to what I hope is a growing and useful resource for you. Whether you’re a small business owner, growing entrepreneur, someone curious in digital marketing or a practitioner in the marketing industry. Today I have a very special guest.


 His name is Filippo Stefanelli. Filippo manages marketing for spatially deleting digital wealth manager in Southeast Asia. He is responsible for all marketing and growth channels with the goal of empowering people to accumulate and manage wealth for the long term. Before stashed away. he co founded a successful with creative agency in Italy. Additionally, he lectures at universities and hosts seminars on brand positioning, promotional strategies and effective communication. Welcome, Filippo.


Filippo Stefanelli  1:03  

Welcome, Kenny. Thanks for the invite. My pleasure to be here.


Kenny Soto  1:06  

So I start the podcast with the same question just so that the audience could get more context on your career. So my first question for you is why did you get into digital marketing?


Filippo Stefanelli  1:20  

Because I was curious, I think this is the right profession, if you have an attitude, attitude, and you need to go around and ask yourself why I am being sold a certain thing when I go in a grocery store and why I am exposed to certain messages when I subscribe to a new SIM card for my phone. So if you’re curious, you’re I think you are naturally attracted, naturally attracted to to marketing, because then you want to understand how to sell stuff. And I think most of the time, we are all in the business of selling something to somebody else or to ourselves. So curiosity, in one word, the answer is curiosity.


Kenny Soto  1:59  

Curiosity. Perfect. And I know that you are currently based in Singapore, correct? 


Filippo Stefanelli  2:06  



Kenny Soto  2:08  

And why did you decide to move there and start working for Stashaway?


Filippo Stefanelli  2:16  

So after quite a longer career, and I think, yeah, 12 years, so after 12 years, in Italy, we as a co-founder  of a marketing and brand positioning agency. So I work in the creative field, and doing brand positioning and marketing services for lots of customers in many different industries, I felt the need to work more on the product side. 


So to go on the other side of the table, instead of meeting with dozens of these different customer from different industries, to focus on one, I love tech, I always been a tech geek. So I wanted to work in a tech company. Big or small i at the time, I didn’t knew. So what I what I what I done in order to improve my profile for the international environment because the other goal was to go out of Italy was to enter into a an International MBA and Executive MBA that I have done into INSEAD is the name of the school. 


Instead the campuses in France and Singapore and also Abu Dhabi in and that also in San Francisco. So I am, I came into Singapore for one of the model of my MBA, I met an incredible city hotbed of incredible tech companies, and then by lacquer by oceans by the fact that it also you need to be a bit lucky in life, I made the right opportunity. And so I made the move with the training and wife, a cat, and all my staff from Italy to Singapore. So let’s say that in the span of my MBA, I changed the industry, continent function. I guess everything. But the reality Yeah, and before of that I was selling creative and marketing services to many different industries from food, wine, entertainment, fashion. 


And so adapting to the finance world financial world was not complex. Also, because I was one of the first customer of a FinTech products in Italy back 10 years ago. So I love the idea of automating your investment, and things like that. So I was naturally attracted to this industry. But then for sure, I learn how to live with many regulations that are part of and rightfully so are part of this industry.


Kenny Soto  4:29  

Yeah, and personal finance and fintech overall, is a very important industry to be involved in. Just in general. It touches so many people’s lives because everyone has to live using money. And with that being said, what unique challenges does marketing and fintech have compared to all the other industries that you were marketing for in the past?


Filippo Stefanelli  4:58  

So for sure, it is a He believes in a regulated industry as I say, and this is a good thing in the sense that you need to protect the consumer and you need to be sure that you are not promising false things and that you are your failure not mislead, fintech. But Fintech is very is very broad definition. 


Inside FinTech, there are many niches, it could be, I don’t know, we are a digital wealth manager. But you could have somebody doing peer to peer lending, you could have somebody doing international money transfer, you could have somebody doing invoice financing, so I can give you the peculiarities of my space. My space inside Fintech is called Digital wealth management. And inside this space, the real challenge is to help people cope with their emotion. 


Because when it comes to investing, people could be very, very greedy, or full of anxiety, and they go from one extreme to the other. As soon as the market goes up or down, market goes up, everybody’s making money, I want to be part of it, and then people tend to buy exactly at the peak, when in reality they should sell, then the market goes down, oh my god, I’m going to lose everything and then people tend to sell exactly when they should buy. So they do exactly the opposite of what they should do. 


So, in order to help them understand this, we try to help them understand why there is such a big emotional component in what they do, and why they should acknowledge their emotion, but in a way make a sort of meditation out of it, acknowledging and taking the stance from from them leave their money to be managed by professional companies like as in like many other companies doing this, this job and doing what they do best, the property is not an active manager of their money, few people in the world are very good in active management, and you can count them on the finger of one or two and maximum all the others will do dollar cost averaging passive approach like marriage very cost effective approach like we do and many others who also in the US have done that. 


And and that will be the best for the long term retirement plan or they will financial model. Yeah. So yes, to answer your question, the emotional component in my industry is super, super strong. emotion that people emotional can literally hijack people’s mind when it comes to money. They are very primal emotion, they are very strong. 


Kenny Soto  7:24  

And, what would you say is like the average sales cycle from like the first touchpoint that a user a potential customer discovers the brand all the way up to when they actually start using your services? How does that journey look like for the customer.


Filippo Stefanelli  7:42  

So we are a long consideration product in the sense that you need a lot of on average, you will need quite a lot of time to understand where you want to put your other hand and money. There are trust issue, there are simply inertia because you have done stuff with your friends and your relative your ankle that to the man in that fan with that stock, you don’t want to open that topic again and again, maybe with your wife is a difficult conversation to have. So there is a trust component. 


And there is a lot of inertia around these topics. And you always think that you are too late. Oh, now I have already done the mortgage. Now I have already had my first kid. So when is the right time to start. Obviously, the old saying goes that the best time to stand was yesterday, the next best time was today. In this very long funnel, we try to be there with a holistic marketing strategy at every touch point. So we have top of the funnel stuff that you can watch. 


While you are distracted browsing to Facebook to super top of the funnel. Absolutely, they are just there to remind you then to plant the seed of doubt that probably you should consider one second what we are doing with your finances. And then as soon as you go down the rabbit, rabbit hole, we try to catch you with many many engaging piece of content that are full of educational angles. 


So we have a newsletter or webinars we do on demand inside our app on demand the educational experience competent inside the app in which you can educate yourself with 10 seconds 10 minute segments about around financial topics. We have our own podcast. So we do everything from an holistic perspective. 


And then at some point you will create we guide you to create a financial goals we do some survey that obviously because we are an ambulance regulated industry we need to do but also are very important to understand where we should LPU how we should help you the way in which will help you to decide what you need to do with your money in terms of which profile to choose which portfolio to choose etc etc. 


And then will become the moment in which you start investing and you became a customer and And at that point, there is a nice growth loop, call it the referrals, that in our industry are quite powerful. So the people you refer is, is an incredible source of low customer acquisition cost and incredibly high lifetime value. So an incredible good ratio between lifetime value and customer acquisition cost. 


And we monitored the referral rate plus our NPS very, very closely. And we try to understand how the market influences that and also the market as a as a big lever on that. But yeah, it’s a quite a long funnel. It’s not an it’s not a very impulsive kind of an assumption on the commerce, emotional kind of thing. No, not at all, is a very long and any requires a holistic strategy, in my opinion, that is able to provide engaging piece of content at every stage of the funnel. Yeah.


Kenny Soto  10:53  

And you mentioned previously, the unique challenges for marketing in the FinTech space, what unique challenges have you found in marketing in the Asia, Asian Pacific area, the APAC area? Because I know that marketing in that specific region has its own unique struggles and things that you have to consider, as opposed to marketing in like, Europe or North America.


Filippo Stefanelli  11:25  

Yeah, so this is also one of the reasons why I’m here in the sense that I strongly believe Asia is incredible opportunities moving forward, for demographic reasons for GDP, potentially, in the next decade, we’ll also and in general, for the incredible diversity that you can find in this area. And this is, this is absolutely the place where the internet could make the biggest change ever, in my opinion. 


So we are active in Singapore in Malaysia right now. And we are in the process of opening in multiple countries in the next month. So I can speak quite closely on Singapore and Malaysia. And but in general, what I’m going to say will be, I guess, quite applicable also to other countries, in Europe, where I live in the most of my life. 


And before coming here, yes, it is true that you speak different languages. But honestly, I’ve managed in the past marketing campaign across Italy, Spain, Germany, I have a customer with multiple headquarter in those countries, and also other countries in Europe, but more or less apart from the language you could share, you could bet that they share us a certain cultural understanding all of them. 


So honestly, the way in which you can speak to a 25 male guy just out of university in Spain, is not so different than the way in which you speak to the same guy living in Portugal, for example, I’ve started every time of my life in Portugal and the other Milan I can say, you share the same if you watch a Netflix show, probably you’re watching the same also in the other in the other side of the of Europe. 


So, it’s very very similar in the US this is extreme in the US you need to nail it down once then the people are there all us all very rarely to use a credit card or very rarely to imitate other behavior and then the momentum builds immediately. This is also the reason why you see always the same kind of advertisement during the Superbowl for example, once you nail it with one guy, you have needed with most of them and that is more than enough to generate the critical mass in Asia, in Asia or in Asia or because every country is is more worthy with many different ethnicity and cultural nuances, differently religions. 


So, Singapore is quite a unique experiment in which there are multiple religion actually living together and people from different faiths and that can live together with no issue that is very different from where they come from, in which there is one main reason and the other minorities that are not so in the air not in the military in such a specific way like like they are a peaceful way like they are Yeah. So that what does it mean? It means that if I do an advertisement in Singapore, with a certain animal, for example, that you could argue that the animal is a symbolic icon for lack and prosperity, especially in the Chinese tradition that is really really reliant on lack and prosperity and wealth, etc, etc.


 The same exact advertisement called probably make my company in serious trouble in Malaysia for the mutual income point. So you need to be very, very careful of what you do. Because you could offend people in a way that honestly, you lose immediately all the trust that you gain, then another component is the capability to adapt at scale to local market needs. We are a very small and agile company. 


Even if we are now more than 100 employees, we were 20, when I joined and a couple of years ago, we are still very stretched in everything we do. So you need to be sure that you can create one message at a quarter level that then you can customize and personalize in multiple ways in order to every looking very native in every channel, every country. And then you need to rely on very strong local themes to customize the message. 


But at the same time, always being compliant, and always being spot on with our brand positioning, with our tone of voice with our visual language, because we have built a brand equity over the years. And that clearly defines us. So it’s a delicate trade off, because every country in Asia is different water. And this is Soto in this part of the world.


Kenny Soto  16:17  

We haven’t covered this particular topic in the podcast before so I definitely want you to expand on it, what is brand positioning?


Filippo Stefanelli  16:29  

So there are multiple definition that you can that you can provide, that are the academic one you read on the books and you study on University. And and then the one the one that after many years in the industry, you feel brand positioning is the factor the capability to understand what you are not selling too. So in my opinion is Woo, woo, I don’t want a certain category of customer, I don’t want to be distracted, I don’t want to be the focus for my, for my ideal target. 


So if you define what the people the use cases for which your brain that will not be suitable, that is a good step toward the finding where you can position your brain because at that point, you will ever identify where your brain can have a really unique competitive advantage and unfair competition, somehow to call it an unfair advantage. Because your product speaks that language is built in a way that attracts organically new customer attracts them effortless, effortlessly. 


They those new customers don’t call the customer service because they are already into your brain that Athos and brain participation. So they are perfect, they refer other people, they put more money or buy more products than the average customer. And they are their ideal, ideal customer base that you would love to attract when you found them you found this brand position and you need to defend, you need to defend it. In our case, we obviously need to be very careful to not look like a traditional bank. 


This is why we exist. Now this is David versus Goliath, we are here to show people that the banking system there is a better way to manage your wealth than what the bank has provided to them, there is a more cost effective way there’s a more, there’s a way that makes more money for every risk point on average. And there is a way to manage their money on their phone, they don’t need to wait on the line. 


So we need to be very careful to respect that. So if you are comfortable in a traditional bank, being bounded, but at the same time losing a lot of money in fees, that does not mean we need to try to explain to you why it is different up to the point in which you understand our value proposition. If not, it means that is not the good a good faith and it’s okay. 


I mean, you can’t be the best product for everybody. You need to be very clear which customer you have not serving and set God in that for sure you know, Dr. Knight in a very in a very excellent way when he says that you don’t need to save all the customer you need. 


You need to have very clear point of view which customer you don’t want to sell. I have done the his house MBA a few years ago. There’s an MBA done an outstanding MBA for people working in sales and marketing. And he’s a great guy, this guy is in a very effective way.


Kenny Soto  19:34  

I’m glad you mentioned Seth Godin, because it’s a perfect segue into our next question which is what resources do you use to stay up to date in marketing?


Filippo Stefanelli  19:48  

So most of so in the past for sure the the big gurus like Seth Godin, I saw you a video of yourself having an interview with Gary Vaynerchuk or these these guys I was somebody I was following you since he was only in the wine industry. 


Because 10 years ago, I was working a lot with the wine consortium and wine companies in Italy. So he was already cutting edge state of the art thing 10-12 years ago. And then his career is a testament to that. So there are big rules that you can follow. 


They are quite famous, what I tend to do now I’m quite more curious on Twitter. And I’ve curated a list of, of people that I think are worth following, especially in my industry, that is fintech. Because what I appreciated that is to stay a bit out of the agency word. 


After having spent 12 years in an agency now I am a bit on the product side of things. So for example, I am consuming every tweet written by the older Creole behind the reforge, like ending chain Brian out for growth loop, no, Eleni all the staff around the X base rate of growth of important tech companies, or I don’t know, this is a vocabulary, call it growth hacking, that somebody’s criticizing the industry. 


But those people I derive a lot of knowledge by following them on Twitter by watching what they write there, or everybody now has a paid newsletter so I can have that bias alls.


Kenny Soto  21:30  

And my last question for you, you are a chief marketing officer. And I personally want to end up in a position similar to yours in the future. When I get more skills. What advice would you have for someone starting off in their career as a digital marketer who wants to become a chief marketing officer, what would you tell them is the most important thing they need to consider as they go through their day to day operations and tasks, so eventually end up in a position similar to where you are right now?


Filippo Stefanelli  22:06  

So you mentioned the word digital, but I think is restrictive to think only about digital. And yeah, lies the key of my answer. The world in which we are right now is very different than the madmen kind of TV series of the 60s, now you need to be a main revenue, then you go on your whiskey, you created an incredible headline and body copy.


 And then they after you put that on radio, television, and you sell a lot of whatever fast moving consumer goods your customer hired you to sell, okay? That word is not anymore the world in which we are on right now. Because the world in which we are right now requires the capability to manage in a holistic array of channels, we are on more than two a dominant channel, you as a CMO of a tech company, or whatever is your interior, I will say in b2b Even is the same in many b2c Industries is the same. 


So I will say, as a CMO, nowadays, in whatever industry you find yourself into, you need to be able to monitor and engage in a native way with 10 1215 channels. 15 touch points with your customer, a different stage of his journey, at different with different requirements from the customer side, and from the tech team, and the creative team, and the designer team and the product team. 


And in my case, the compliance team, the ops team managing this. So it’s complex cross stakeholder management. It is all soft skill basic. For sure, if you’re right to this stage in your career, you are attracted by a good design, I assume you are curious, as I said in the beginning of this interview, I assume you will know how to recognize from an beauty perspective and if you want ethical ethical exhibit strong word, but beauty is ethical from an engineering point of view of coherency of symmetry, you have a keen aesthetic  There is somebody doing the design, I have never been in code that I’ve never been a designer, I always been on the safe side of things. But there is some so the more you grow in your career, the more there will be somebody else doing they have skill part of your job. 


The soft skill part will be managing these people managing the frustration, the dreams, especially when they clash with other company departments. Because by being in 15 channels at once, it’s quite complex, especially if you’re understaffed perhaps so by definition, constrained resources, not in a big tech companies in which you have much more energy but then maybe you spend unfulfilled energy just in company politics, then go this is not what happens in a startup. 


But this is a component so the capability to manage it in holistic Could strategy across multiple channels more than manage the hard skill, the craft the capability to manage the people and the delicate emotional balance beyond that? Second thing is your analytical mind. At this stage, you need to sit down with the board in bringing value. 


Yeah, you can speak about an incredible outdoor phone campaign, you can speak about the latest radio ads that won the digital like, Ken, lions, whatever. But at that point, the board the CEO, the CFO, they want numbers. So you need to be very comfortable in presenting numbers, to tell a story with numbers, a story that resonates well, especially in an industry in an area, the CMO, the marketing area, in which it is very difficult to say, Oh, thanks to this new creative ads on Facebook, we have gained three more. 


We have reduced our churn rate by 0.5%. Last quarter. Yeah, but it was biased by so many exogenous external factor that is very, very difficult to pinpoint. Because the attribution is very complex in my in my in my industry, in particular. So multiple stakeholder capabilities, managing multiple stakeholder domains, multiple stakeholder, especially from a soft skills like emotional perspective, and be having a great analytical mind capable of telling a story with data. 

And the same mind that will also help you when you sit down with your performance team to understand why you need to try different things on Instagram paid ads, or why you need to iterate a different campaign on Google sem paid and things like that. So the analytical mind is usable in multiple ways.


Kenny Soto  26:49  

Thank you so much time, Filippo. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for all of the answers that you’ve given. And thank you to the listener, again, you have just listened to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. And Filippo, if people wanted to connect with you online, where could they find you?


Filippo Stefanelli  27:09  

So I have a newsletter, obviously, like everybody has that, is free. But the only issue is that is only in Italian. So most of the stuff I put in this newsletter links to English article, but as of now is only in Italian so I will and I promise I will do an equivalent in English. But probably the best thing is to search for myself on LinkedIn, you can search, maybe my name is a bit complex to spell. So just search statuary CMO, and you will find me Filippo STefanelli on LinkedIn. And then let’s connect from there. For sure, I will advertise whenever I launched the English version.


Kenny Soto  27:47  

Perfect so I’ll put his LinkedIn profile in the show notes. And again, thank you for your time, Filippo. Thank you for the your time to listener and as always, I wish you a great week. Bye

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