FEATURE1 November 2010

Ex-Wells Fargo researcher banking on success in new role

Features People

Susan Prendergast is settling into her new role of associate director at consumer insight agency Insitas after six years working in the US for banking giant Wells Fargo. In this Spotlight interview she looks back at her time on the front line during the financial crisis and explains how the banks can regain consumer trust.

How did you get into market research?
My career started as an academic, working at University College Cork in the Department of Management & Marketing as a lecturer and researcher. While there, I also completed a PhD. Subsequently, I took my research training into industry, and worked for a Silicon Valley software company. I am fortunate to have found early in my working life a field that I am truly passionate about.

What was it like working in the financial services sector during the recent recession?
There was a lot of fear and uncertainty as the credit crisis unfolded. I was fortunate to be working for a US bank with an extremely conservative business philosophy and so emerged relatively unscathed. Nevertheless, the financial sector was subject to massive change both in regulation, closures and consolidation. This in addition to general macro-economic deterioration led to day-to-day impact on working in financial services – in terms of tightening of budgets, needing to do more with less, and ensuring that merger activity was successful.

In the UK the banks have acquired a very bad reputation among consumers. Is it the same in the US?
Yes, among US consumers we saw a weakening of faith in financial services. Overall levels of trust and satisfaction took a beating. The experience has led US consumers to shift to a more risk-adverse mindset, and be more likely to spread risk across different financial providers. It has also led to increasing demands for full disclosure and transparency such as with fee structures. It means that financial services businesses need to demonstrate value propositions that are clear and measurable.

Do you think the banks can ever regain the trust of consumers?
I think that the crisis has presented some financial institutions with an opportunity to embrace true customer centricity and deliver what consumers need – trust, transparency, guidance. Over time consumers will gravitate to those institutions that truly put customers at the heart of their business.

Having worked on both client- and agencyside, what are the big differences between the two?
On the agencyside research is your business. You need to be a trusted provider of expert advice and service to your clients. On the clientside, research is one piece of the puzzle that informs your business decisions. As a research professional you need to be able to understand your company’s business, and know where research can add value and also where it cannot.

What is the most difficult or challenging research project you have worked on?
There have been many challenging projects for sure. I think the most challenging ones especially from an agency perspective, are those where the researcher has insufficient access to the client’s internal business perspective. Understanding the clients business is critical to ensuring that the research is of value to the client organisation.

If you could turn back the clock and start over again is there anything you would do differently in your career?
Not really. Of course there is always room for improvement in any situation, but I do think we learn so much more from failures and disappointments. Plus, if I did anything differently there are many wonderful colleagues and friends that I would never have met over the years, and I cannot imagine that.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I am a big believer in the notion that unforeseen opportunities always present themselves. I like to remain open to that and see where my market research journey takes me.

News of Prendergast’s appointment was first reported here.