Jonas Ng (Laurel Road) - Best of Both Worlds

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This is a podcast episode titled, Jonas Ng (Laurel Road) - Best of Both Worlds. The summary for this episode is: <p>Jonas Ng, Chief Operating Officer at Laurel Road, chats with Ajay and Vincent about focusing on the needs of a particular target segment, and how you can potentially grow interest in other products and services.</p>

Speaker 1: Maybe big data has gotten too big. Whether you're a B2B marketer or a consumer brand, your data needs to be viable, relevant and accessible so that Stirista can help you retain customers, acquire customers and make it personal.

Ben: Welcome to The Marketing Stir podcast by Stirista, probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your year. I'm Ben, the producer here at Stirista. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders and get their take on the current challenges of the market, and we'll have a little fun along the way. In today's episode, Jonas Ng, Chief Operating Officer at Laurel Road, chats with Ajay and Vincent about focusing on the needs of a particular target segment and how you can potentially grow interest in other products and services. Give it a listen.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista's The Marketing Stir. I, of course, am your host, Vincent Pietrafesa, the Vice President of B2B Products and Partnerships here at Stirista still, Interim General Manager. It's not on my card yet, but I'm going to put it on. I have a story about business cards in a second that I'll get to and I'm going to bring up my co- host about it. I have a bone to pick with him over business cards. But ladies and gentlemen, it's great to be here. Before we get started, let's just talk about Stirista for three seconds. That's all. Well a little longer than three seconds, but that's it. We don't get into advertising here, but just so you know who we are. Stirista, we are a marketing technology company. We own our own business to business data, our own business to consumer data. We help companies access that data through our technology. We have our own email sending. We have our own DSP. We can help you get new customers. Who doesn't want that? People want that. Email me, vincent @ stirista. com. That is how confident I am. I just gave you my email address and boy, do you use it. You certainly do. Now, that's how you know you have the listeners, when people use your email and reference the podcast. That is a good thing. Another good thing, a great thing actually, my leader here, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know why my voice just did that thing, but it's excitement, my CEO, my co- host, Mr. Ajay Gupta. What's going on, Ajay?

Ajay Gupta: Hey, Vincent. Doing pretty good here. Just recovering from my bourbon trail and my birthday vineyard drinking. So my body can barely handle alcohol right now is what I'll say.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I know you had a great, great birthday. Shout out, happy birthday to Ajay. It was a couple days ago. Is this the 12th to 29th birthday? Is that it? Is that how you're billing it these days?

Ajay Gupta: Yeah, 28 was getting a little suspicious, so I started saying 29th.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. Right in the border. Right in the border of just, " I'm still fun." Are you though? But yes, I'm sorry I missed that trip. It seemed like a lot of fun. But yes, another birthday. Doing a lot of great things there at Stirista. We announced a couple acquisitions. We're growing. Growing's good. Growing in this time, come on.

Ajay Gupta: Yeah, it's pretty crazy, right? We've gone from, I don't know, probably about 40 people when you started three years ago. Now, we are over 150, so that's pretty crazy to think about.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, that's right. I didn't even think about it. I was always telling, I was like, " No, I was employee 41 and then it was 80 something and now this." This is great. Yes, four years. June is coming up on four years at Stirista, Ajay.

Ajay Gupta: Four years, all right. I was shortchanging you there.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Shortchanging me. I've known you for 13 years, but four years as an amazing, one of the-

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. You'll probably see, we're doing the virtual orientations this week. I don't know if you've done yours yet.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I've done it. I've done it, people.

Ajay Gupta: Okay, yeah. There were 39 people there, holy cow.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I know, I'm like, " This is an audience." I was doing my orientation about our B2B services, our B2B products. Probably very entertaining, as they said, very entertaining. But yes, four years ago in June, Ajay made one of the greatest decisions of his entire life, and that is to bring on yours truly. And he regrets it ever since. He regrets it ever since.

Ajay Gupta: Oh, what I admire most about you is your humility.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, people say that about me a lot. But it's great. So the bone to pick, right? We're at conferences now. People are back. Business cards, they should be back. I gave a few people my business card, you would've thought, Marketing Stir audience, that, I don't know, I pulled out something, a stink bomb or something. And Ajay was like, " What are you doing giving out your..." I was like, " Business cards, they still exist. Why not? Give a card. Come on." I encourage everyone to keep printers in business, get a card. But yeah, it was-

Ajay Gupta: Yeah, I think-

Vincent Pietrafesa: You were crazy on me.

Ajay Gupta: I think you have brought back an old tradition. I told the sales team they can have business cards again.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice. I love it. Yeah, I still have a lot of them. I haven't run out and put my Interim General Manager title on there yet, but it's happening. I'm going to give out a lot of cards and we're going to get that on there. But enough about that, Ajay, all the great stuff we're doing at Stirista, a great guest. We have great guests. I really enjoyed talking to this guest. I met him before, not in person, we're going to change that. We're going to change that. But very interesting story, very interesting things that they're doing there. Ladies and gentlemen, a warm welcome, Jonas Ng. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Laurel Road. Jonas Ng, what's going on, Jonas?

Jonas Ng: Hey, Vincent. How are you?

Vincent Pietrafesa: Doing great. Doing great. We will change that. We will meet in person.

Jonas Ng: Sounds great.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I haven't met a ton of the guests that we have on here, but when we do, it's great. We have fun. We've already shared, we've already shared time of our life, right? Not the time of your life, I'm sure this is not the time of your life, but we've shared some time in our life. But Jonas, it's good to have you here. Jonas, tell us about... So Laurel Road, people might have heard of it, but talk to us about Laurel Road, backstory, people may know who it's connected to. So I'd love to hear that.

Jonas Ng: Sure. Well first off, Vincent and Ajay, thank you so much for having me. I think that the podcast that you guys are producing have been fantastic, so I really appreciate you having me on board and I'm excited about the discussion. And before I answer your question, I'll give you a funny anecdotal comment about your business card mention. But my email inbox is so overloaded. I have voicemails that I haven't listened to for weeks now. And with a bit of perverse and historical irony, if you actually want to get ahold of me, actually, the way to maybe capture my attention is to give me something physically, right? To hand me something, to mail me something, because it's really hard to break through an email these days. But an actual hand delivered part of some sort or a letter of some sort, that's old- fashioned, yeah, but it's actually a way to stand out at this point, certainly to get my attention.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. You heard it here. You heard it here, Ajay. Yeah, another person said that too, Jonas. Thank you for backing me up there.

Jonas Ng: Yeah, yeah. It sounds like you guys are incubating a business card, printing business on the side, but we'll plug it, we'll plug you. But I'll answer your question really quickly. My name is Jonah Ng and I serve as the COO for Laurel Road, which is a division of KeyBank. So I think some of your listeners might be familiar with KeyBank. KeyBank is a regional bank here in the United States, we have a branch presence in 17 states throughout the industrial north, the Midwest, a little bit of the northeast and then all the way out to the Pacific Northwest and then the west. And so four years ago, KeyBank actually acquired a FinTech out of New York called Laurel Road. And Laurel Road was actually a small business, a FinTech that was catering to medical professionals and was focused on student lending in particular. These were two things that KeyBank was very, very much interested and very much aligned to KeyBank strategy. Number one, it was focused on healthcare professionals, which was inaudible a core of what we were trying to do. And number two, it was an entry into the student loan business which was a lending business that we very much wanted to enter. A couple of interesting things actually, an anecdotal sidebar, but with the acquisition of Laurel Road, Vincent, KeyBank's executive team actually embarked on a small social experiment, if you will. So unlike the previous acquisitions that KeyBank had made, he decided to leave most of Laurel Road intact. So usually in the past, after an acquisition, most of those individual components would be divided up and then reorganized under the corporate flagship. So think marketing or technology or operation. With this particular acquisition, we chose to do something differently because historically, the breaking up of the acquisition would effectively dissolve whatever made them special in the first place, right? Whatever made them attractive to buy from the get- go. So with Laurel Road, we intentionally chose to leave things intact. And everything that touches the customer or the customer experience such as branding, or marketing, or pricing, or engineering and user experience and so on, those are all still organized under Laurel Road. So about a year ago, I had been with KeyBank for four years. I was asked to join the Laurel Road leadership team to lead operations, credit and underwriting, customer service, risk management, quality control, sales, servicing, things of that nature.

Vincent Pietrafesa: And Jonas, talk to us about how... You've always been connected to the banking industry, right? Like you said now, Laurel Road, KeyBank, before that was nationwide, right? And what drew you to that? How did you get involved in it?

Jonas Ng: Yeah, that's a great question. I think if you had asked the previous high school or college version of myself, I'm not entirely sure I would've said that I would've spent the next 25 to 30 years in banking. I think I stumbled into it after college or maybe so the last years of college. There was a credit card company that had this great rotation program where you got to see the entire business over the course of a year to two. And I'll speak very frankly, I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. And I thought that seeing all these different rotations, seeing how an entire business ran might actually give me a sense as to what I might want to choose for my career path. I will say that seeing all those different rotations, it absolutely showed me what I didn't want to do.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Mm- hmm.

Jonas Ng: And over the course of the next couple of years, every opportunity, every job that I took, it would open up a new door, right? So maybe I was working with you and you and I were working on something in marketing together, so it opened up some marketing avenues, or we might do things in credit or in fraud. So every opportunity just led to the next step and then the next step after that. So I guess the reality is I'm not a whole lot different than how I was when I was a college senior. I probably still don't really know what I want to do with my life.

Ajay Gupta: Jonas, what are some of the challenges that you face as a chief operating officer and how are you able to overcome them?

Jonas Ng: Yeah, Ajay, I think that's a great question. And my guess is a lot of your listeners are probably going to have very, very similar stories or similar experiences and so on. The number one hardest thing that we are tackling at Laurel Road is responding to a changing dynamic in the marketplace or in our business. In the banking world, again, a lot of your listeners are probably dealing with this, but rates, interest rates have risen faster and higher than I've ever personally seen in my entire lifetime. And we're just coming out of a pandemic that lasted a couple of years. I had never seen this before, I would imagine many of your listeners haven't either, but we were locked in our houses for months, right? Well the rate changes and the macroeconomic changes have fundamentally shifted a lot of the things that we do in banking generally, what we're doing in lending, what we're doing at Laurel Road and what we're seeing with our target customer base. And so that's had a massive impact on what we're doing on a day to day basis. We've had to pivot, we've had to adjust, we've had to adapt. We've had to change our product, our marketing, our approach, our messaging, how we are delivering and so on and so forth to all of these dynamic changes in our business model. And this means that you are inherently acknowledging what got you here is not going to be what gets you there. While Laurel Road is tackling all these different changes in our business direction, this has a huge impact, Ajay, on the team, on the culture and on our organization. We are having to change quickly and significantly. It's very taxing on people. We're asking our team members to learn new things. Cross- training, we're trying to ask them to frankly do something that they may not have even been remotely hired for, something totally different. By the way, not every pivot that we're making is actually working. So we're also asking them to be resilient, " Keep at it, keep trying new things, fail, fail fast, learn quickly." It really reminds me or it probably reminds a lot of your listeners that as leaders, as one of the leaders of the Laurel Road business, my job is to find more and more ways to keep our people engaged, to keep them energized while we go through this massive amount of disruption. Otherwise, there's a real risk that they become exhausted, or actually even worse, they become checked out.

Ajay Gupta: That's pretty good points, Jonas. On the flip side of it, obviously in spite of all of the challenges, you love working. So what is your favorite part of the job?

Jonas Ng: Yeah, that's a great question. And I think it's fundamentally based upon how I describe what KeyBank and Laurel Road are doing right now. So in some ways, Laurel Road is a separate entity. We act and we operate autonomously. In other ways, we're actually a microcosm of the much, much larger KeyBank. And so we have similar products, we have a mirror or a smaller version of almost everything that we do in the bigger corporate identity, right? In the mothership. So my role is involving a whole number of factors of running a banking unit that are very exciting, they're very, very challenging, right? So we see it all, we've got to solve it all, and that to me is invigorating, right? I thrive on having those day- to- day challenges that are constantly evolving. But there's also something else interesting, Ajay. Laurel Road is almost a smaller company inside a much larger company, right? So there is a small entity that operates somewhat independently as part of a bigger company. We actually still have a very startup FinTech ethos in the Laurel Road DNA, right? So we are still acting like a startup, even though we're part of a very, very large company. So even though we're a small company and a large company at the same time, it's like the best of both worlds. So on the one hand, if you think about KeyBank, we have a balance sheet. We have capital. We have a customer base. We have deep expert experience and expertise. We have things like employee development and a strong HR support of our employee base. That comes from the larger company, right? That's also infused with the startup part of the Laurel Road side of things where we can be dynamic. We can be nimble. We can move quickly. We can try new things. We're oftentimes the testing ground for new innovation or new capabilities that show promise for the broader KeyBank. So I guess, Ajay, my long answer to your question is that my favorite part is actually having the best of both worlds, right? You get to be dynamic and entrepreneurial, but I don't have to worry about my benefits plan. It's pretty good.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Jonas, let's talk about Laurel Road in itself, right, places a strong emphasis on financial education, offers resources to its customers. Why is that so important, financial literacy these days?

Jonas Ng: Yeah. Vincent, you're asking about something that I think is something that the entire country really needs to address. So KeyBank, our mission at KeyBank is to empower our clients and our communities and our employees to thrive. So we define it as no matter who you are or where you are in your financial journey, whatever barriers are in front of you, we're going to help you. We're going to help you tackle them, we're going to help you move forward. The problem is that both financial education and financial literacy are tantamount that people thriving. In order to achieve wellness, you really need to have a good understanding, a good mastery of just the basics of money, the basics of finance. This is actually just two weeks ago, some of your listeners might have seen this, but the inaudible was reporting that three out of poor Americans, it was 77%, 77% of Americans actually report feeling anxious about their financial situation. And the financial worries that Americans have, they span a whole range of issues. It could be about saving and retirement, it could be about paying for college or kids' education. It could be about buying a house or maybe for Vincent, you and Ajay, on buying a boat or buying multiple boats, right?

Vincent Pietrafesa: Mm- hmm.

Jonas Ng: The anxiety comes from a variety of different things, right? In fact, actually a few years back, the Federal Reserve does a survey. They asked five basic questions of tens of thousands of Americans. And at the time, two out of three Americans got three out of them wrong. They didn't get more than two questions right, and these are basic questions. There are basic questions about financial literacy, things like interest rates, compounding interest, the impact of inflation, the cost of a loan over the life of that loan, and also diversification, just a basic concept around diversification. Three fifths of Americans couldn't answer those questions. So we feel like KeyBank, I mean the first tasks or the first step in tackling these very, very stressful topics is just starting with awareness, right? Just basic foundational education. You've got to understand the fundamentals of money and how it can lead you to your goals. Here's something else to think about, people's emotional and physical health are inextricably intertwined with financial wellness. I'll put it in a different way, money stresses us all out, right? Actually next to cheating and communication problems, it's the number one cause of divorce in this country, money problems. So we just frankly believe that when you have customers who they understand the basics of money, it just relieves them of financial stress, money stress, and that's good for them. And when it's good for them, that's generally speaking good for us. It's good for business, right? So when you're financially well, you're doing business longer with KeyBank and Laurel Road, that's good for everybody.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I definitely agree. But you guys even go beyond that, Jonas, beyond financial products, financial literacy, that education there, you're also helping customers with career development resources.

Jonas Ng: We do.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, talk to us about that and what's the reasoning behind this approach and how it fits into your broader mission.

Jonas Ng: Yeah. I know it sounds a little strange, you're actually not the first person that's asked me about that. Like I say, you're lending, you're in banking, what are you doing about telling people about career development? Yeah, I think our answer to your question is Laurel Road actually has a sub- mission from KeyBank's broader mission. Our mission at Laurel Road is to give members financial peace of mind, right? It's the same concept. But healthcare professionals in particular, they have very, very unique challenges, right? So typically, they have gone to many, many years of schooling and delayed gratification as they put themselves through school with doctors after med school, they're going into residency or internships or fellowships. So that's a solid decade of education before you can actually start yielding and benefiting from the fruits of your education. Their lives are actually impacted by some pretty stressful demands. Think about it in a pandemic, Vincent, they're first line employees, they're right on the front line of this pandemic of COVID. Their jobs are incredibly stressful. It wears on them, just the day- to- day stresses of caring for people's health. Additionally, they have really been delaying the start of their career fully 10 to 15 years after the rest of us, right? So they're entering the workforce well after we have established ourselves. So Laurel Road at its basic core, we help them out with personalization and some advice, financial counsel. We give them some tailored products and perks and things of that nature. But there's a more subtle concept here. When it comes to the healthcare professionals that we try to serve, right, their financial wellness is very much intertwined with their career and their career development. That's something that we've realized over the years. They make financial decisions based upon that career path and their family needs and where they are in their life journey and their lifestyle and their personality, right? Are they going to be the people that join a medical practice or are they going to start their own practice? Are they going to go for continuing education? Are they going to be a teaching doctor? And so on and so forth. So the point there is that their financial decisions, their financial thriving is actually pretty much hand in hand with a lot of those career choices that they're making. So we just generally believe we're going to help you with both, right? We could be helping you with making the right financial/ career choices. We're going to help you potentially with skill building or ongoing education, right, continuing to further venture education, which generally leads to increased earning potential, right? With increased earning potential, we can help with that as well, right? So they go hand in hand.

Ajay Gupta: Jonas, we don't always have guests from the financial sector so I have to ask you this one. What is your advice for people considering refinancing their student loans or taking out a personal loan at this point?

Jonas Ng: It's a good question, Ajay. And let's just start out by saying it is a very complex world right now. And I might be a little bit older than some of your listeners, when I went to college, getting a student loan and then refinancing was pretty much dictated to you, right? I went to college and they said, " Here's the lender. You get a loan from them." And then I graduated six months later, just started repaying and it took me all 10 years and I paid them off, right? I followed orders. The ecosystem these days, it actually goes back to about 2010, is considerably different than when I went to college. And so at this point, customers and borrowers have tons of questions about repayment, how to repay, how much can I afford to repay and so on. And actually since I went to school, there's been a number of things that have been introduced into the ecosystem that make it even more complex. For example, roughly around 2008, 2010, the government installed a new program, private lenders, I got my loan from Great Lakes I think and Sallie Mae, that has changed. In the last 13 years or so, you get the loan directly from the government at this point. And if you're going to school, they will guarantee your loans. So afterwards, Ajay, there's a whole bunch of nuanced things that you have to consider, right, after you repay. Do you stay with a government program or do you actually consider going to a private lender like a Laurel Road or a Citizens Bank or something of that nature? The other thing is that there's programs around tying your loan repayments based upon how much you actually make in income, income- driven repayment programs. These add a lot of complexity because there's actually multiple IDR programs that the government offers. Actually something that we are specialists in, actually we specialize in these programs, are called public service loan forgiveness. So a couple decades ago, the government installed some programs that said if you work for a qualifying government entity or a nonprofit and you make payments for 10 years, after 10 years, the rest of your debt is forgiven. So the long story shirt, Ajay, is we tell everybody it can be very complex. It can be pretty complicated. It's intimidating quite frankly. To the average borrower who's not in banking, this stuff is just confusing. And who has time to read everything published by the federal government about what's going on and here are all the different nuances of what you need to do on your student loan. We actually have a consultation service that I'd love to plug to your listeners. We acquired a company about a year ago called Gradfin. And with Gradfin, you can get a personalized plan. It's a free consultation, 30- minute consultation, with a student loan specialist. And they talk to you agnostically and objectively through all of your options to find the best approach that works for your goals. And we help our customers either refinance to a lower payment or get out of debt sooner or get enrolled in one of these programs. We provide a service where we will successfully monitor for you and just say, " Hey, Vincent, you're doing everything right. Keep at it. You've got five more years. Here's my reminder. Here are the things that you need to keep doing. Keep at it." We've provided all those services to these customers who quite frankly, it's just a pain to try and keep yourself educated under all the freezing nuances about student loaning. It's a complex world, so that's what we're here for.

Ajay Gupta: And Jonas, you have such a cheery disposition talking about very complex topics, so I would love to know what helps you stay motivated and inspired?

Jonas Ng: Yeah, I'll answer in a personal way and then how about a professional way?

Ajay Gupta: Sure.

Jonas Ng: In a personal way, in order to manage my own stress and keep myself motivated, I actually play a whole bunch of different musical instruments. So if I come home and the day was particularly grueling, or stressful, or just tiring, I'll go home and I'll bang out something on the guitar, or I'll play the piano, I'll play my saxophone. My wife actually will joke she can tell what kind of day I had by the music that I'm playing. So if I'm just smacking down on my piano and I'm playing angry rock and roll, she can tell it was a frustrating day. Or if I'm playing a really melancholy piece of classical music, she just knows to stay away, bring me a glass of wine, maybe some food, right? But she could tell what my day has been. But how about this? Professionally, I'll say this, I actually got this advice almost 25 years ago from an old mentor. And it was when I was first starting out in my career. He suggested that at every stage of your career, at every stage of your life frankly, you should surround yourself with your own board of directors, your own career advisors. He actually called it a Circle of Winners. So my friends and I, we did this, we called ourselves the Circle of Losers. But his message was you try have yourself surrounded by people who will help keep your energy levels up, especially when things are tough, especially when times are very trying, because those are the folks that are there to inaudible you, or to motivate you, or to counsel you, or to listen, or to compel you, to drive you, to push you, right? Or make fun of you actually. I'm imagining if it's Victor, he's going to definitely... Or Vincent rather, he's going to definitely make fun of you, right? So in this day and age, especially when we're not even interacting face to face, we're doing this over a Zoom call, it's good to have those human interactions because those are what drive your mojo, right? Those are the ones that are going to keep pushing your energy levels up higher. As an example, so here at KeyBank and at Laurel Road, there is a loose confederation of folks that I've met over the five years that I've been here that we try to maintain regular touch bases, sometimes as a group, sometimes individually. We call the group Team GSD. It's basically the team of folks who know how to get stuff done around here and seeing them in action, it can't help but just motivate you and drive you as well.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Jonas, yeah, you saw I was pointing to myself. I'm like, " Yes." Am I that guy for you, Ajay, trying to keep you motivated with positivity? Or I'm the negative guy in your life?

Ajay Gupta: I think you have enough positive energy for the whole company.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Thank you. Thank you. I try to be positive. You know what's funny, Jonas? You said the Circle of Losers, me and a group of people in this industry, we call ourselves the Thousandaires Club, like the millionaires or the billionaires, it's the Thousandaires. It's a bunch of just people from this industry here and we have Thousandaires dinner and it's like, " How do I join?" It's like, " Well do you at least make a thousand dollars a year? Sure." It's just a joke on thriving to be more, so I love that take on it. So Jonas, you said Gradfin is the-

Jonas Ng: Gradfin.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Gradfin, that's one area there that certainly separates you. But the last Laurel Road question before we get into some personal questions, some fun questions, what else would you say differentiates Laurel Road from some of the competitors, right? It's a crowded space, right? But what's separating you? Gradfin's certainly one of them.

Jonas Ng: Yeah, I don't disagree with that at all. I mean, Vincent, this is a competitive business and there are a lot of players and there are some very formidable competitors that we go head- to- head with. And we look at them with awe and inspiration sometimes now, and it's a challenging business at times. And at the end of the day, I think our answer to your question is we just got to pick our spot, right? Our CEO, he's always reminding us at KeyBank and Laurel Road, he'll mention this to Wall Street all the time, at KeyBank and at Laurel Road, we're going for targeted scale, right? In a highly competitive business, you focus on the needs of your particular target customer, your target segment. And hopefully what you can do is you find a way to do business with them. They really enjoy that experience. You get a little bit of a halo effect because they enjoyed not only what you were able to do for them, but your products and your servicing and so on, and they're willing to give you a chance to potentially consider other of your product and services. So at KeyBank and Laurel Road, this is exactly what we're doing. We strategically go after healthcare workers and healthcare professionals and we promise them that we're going to try and do things fairly agnostically to help them thrive, right? We simply just can't do everything for everyone so that's where we take our spot. We focus in, we zero in on that particular target customer and then we tailor our products and servicing and messaging and so on for their needs. Now, as a secondary part of that, there's another part, and it would probably be remiss of me to say, we are also investing in any number of innovation, new capabilities and so on and so forth because we're constantly trying to find ways to personalize our experience with the customers and make it a seamless and frictionless interaction with us. So we're just trying to constantly be better than the next guy and every time that the customer is interacting with us. So it's not just about saving a lot of money or having a great value, but also you're going to interact with us and you're going to love it.

Vincent Pietrafesa: No, I like that. And doing a lot of great things there. You rarely hear of any financial institutions doing that. Career development, financial literacy, helping grad students agnostically. So keep up the great work there. Jonas, let's ask one of our staple questions. And if I don't ask this question, why will I get emails? Why will I get people coming up to me at these conferences after I give them a business card and saying, " You forgot the LinkedIn question?" We may already know the answer. Maybe it is sending you a physical piece of paper with a card, but LinkedIn, COO, Laurel Road, right? You're probably getting a lot of people soliciting you with emails via LinkedIn. What's a message that resonates with you and what is one that you just hate?

Jonas Ng: Yeah. It's a great call out because I think we all need to acknowledge, I think a lot of your listeners are probably going to be nodding their heads, LinkedIn has become a very critical, very valuable tool when it comes to not just networking, right, or having some of those connections, but also business development, partnerships, research development, things of that nature. And the reality is that I get LinkedIn requests, dozens a week. I think generally, there's a few tips that I think a lot of LinkedIn experts will probably tell you. The first thing is that LinkedIn by its definition is trying to really capitalize on the connections that are between us, right? I guess semantically, you might be like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon that all link us all together, so to speak, in a professional world.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Mm- hmm.

Jonas Ng: And so I think the first tip that really anybody could probably remember or keep in the back of your mind is you should leverage the connections. That's what LinkedIn was designed to do. So a cold LinkedIn request or a cold invitation to connect is really going to be perceived as that, a cold one. If you combine it with some affirmation or a reference of the way that we're connected, you could say, " Hey, Jonas, this is Joe Smith. I'm buddies with Vincent, I think you did that podcast. It was great." Okay, you just made it personalized. If you don't say anything at all, I'm actually more inclined to ignore it. The second thing that I would probably say is that LinkedIn profiles, there's a lot of really great experts out there who they can teach you how to really create a profile that is going to be self- explanatory, descriptive, really gets to the heart of what you or your company do. If it's not, it's really going to be hard- pressed for me to accept your request because I just don't have time. If I could get a good stance as to what you do or what you don't do, then I'm more inclined to click the accept button because at least I'm about halfway there. If you have a vague description of what your company does, I'm going to probably be more inclined to say, " Ignore," because I can't waste time just learning about what it is that you do, right? So your branding on your LinkedIn presences are very, very important. And then the last thing I would say is that at this point, the more that you are posting, the more content that you're producing, the more that I get a sense as to who you are as a person, right? So I may quickly scan through, say, Ajay's profile and I'll see what he's talking about or I see who he's connected to, if we have any shared connections, if he's reacting to posts and so on. It humanizes Ajay, right? It puts a little bit of a digital face to the name. Otherwise, you are basically just pounding the pavement, dialing for dollars, if you will. But if I can get a sense as to who Vincent is or who Ajay is, then I'm more inclined to see the human and the personal side there.

Vincent Pietrafesa: No, I agree. And I like the leverage the connection. And the more vague, you're right, when it's like, " Hey, I'd love to connect." Well why? What do you mean? Add something. What do you mean you'd love to connect? Sure, I'm sure you would, but I'm not going to connect. So Jonas, the last question's here the personal side, right? Tell us about hobbies, what you like to do for fun. You said you play music there, but what else? Root in the Cleveland area. There must be diehard Cleveland fans, anyone from there loves Cleveland.

Jonas Ng: Well actually-

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.

Jonas Ng: Well actually, I'm originally from New Jersey.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Oh, nice. Yeah.

Jonas Ng: It's very, very dangerous to be me in Cleveland because I'm a diehard Yankees fan for example. And I'm usually the loudest and most obnoxious when the Cleveland Guardians are playing the Yankees and it can be dangerous to wear the wrong colors, right, at a Browns game and things of that nature.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.

Jonas Ng: What do I like to do for fun? I mean truthfully, I have two young sons and most of my waking life is anchored around really whatever the hell they want to do, right? So I mean of course we like to travel and of course my wife and I, we're foodies, so we love trying new restaurants and things of that nature. But from a inaudible perspective, we're either hanging out with other families who have kids their age or we're doing things that the kids want to do, whether it be going to the park or going to the trampoline zone or whatever.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.

Jonas Ng: For me personally, whenever I do have a little bit of free time to squeeze in for myself, I do like to golf so I try to squeeze in as much as possible. But you can imagine that I'm relegated to playing nine holes at 6: 30 in the morning when it's not interfering with me being a good dad, right?

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.

Jonas Ng: I don't get to golf that much and I'm really not that good.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I could relate, I have two young boys as well. And Tuesday evening, I coach my son's little league team. Did I play baseball? Yeah, it's all eighth grade, but here I am. That's what we do now. The last question, Jonas, is from our employees. It's a fun one. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and how would you use it? Your last question, hard- hitting questions here.

Jonas Ng: Hard- hitting, right. Superpowers that pop into mind. How about this? I'll give you three. So the first thing is I don't know if some of your listeners... There was a Netflix series called Black Mirror and there was one episode in Black Mirror with Jon Hamm. It was actually a special one I think called White Christmas. But Jon Hamm's character, his job was actually screened what was called a cookie. And he'd basically extract your whole personality and your brain and put it into a chip and then he would train the chip to effectively act as a personal assistant for your home life, running your house and cooking your breakfast and arranging your appointment book. Actually, that'd be fantastic, right, to have a clone of myself running my schedule and running my day to day. Second thing, which I think you all probably would agree with as well, I mean inaudible, who wouldn't want the ability to freeze time, right? Or even go back in time if you can. There's never enough time to do all the things that I feel like I need to do in my job, or in my home life, or being a good dad, or on the weekends, or taking care of my house. There's never enough time. And the last thing, maybe just because I'm interacting with the two of you guys, and Ajay looks like he has a bit of a poker face but I'd love to be able to read minds. So I sometimes joked in my career that I actually have had pretty good success selling things to customers or to clients. Selling things to my bosses, or selling things to the executive team, selling things to the decision makers, that's a whole different ballgame. So I'd love to be able to just mind read so I can figure out how to do that a little bit better.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it though, what a great breakdown to that question, Jonas. Thank you so much for sharing some time with us here at The Marketing Stir. Ladies and gentlemen, that's Jonas Ng. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Laurel Road. Check out Laurel Road, you know KeyBank, but check out Laurel Road. I'm Vincent Pietrafesa, that's poker- faced Ajay Gupta, this has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. Thank you so much for listening and we'll talk soon.

Ben: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir podcast by Stirista. Please like, rate and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, please email us at themarketingstir @ stirista. com. And thanks for listening.


Jonas Ng, Chief Operating Officer at Laurel Road, chats with Ajay and Vincent about focusing on the needs of a particular target segment, and how you can potentially grow interest in other products and services.

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