Building the consumer banking platform of the future with Goldman Sachs
Building the consumer banking platform of the future with Goldman Sachs
A marketing superstar and industry disruptor, Arianna Orpello has been a change agent in financial services for more than a decade. The Head of Marketing, Consumer Bank/Marcus by Goldman Sachs shares her honest perspectives on being a woman in a male-dominated industry, the future of banking and the secret to owning what makes you different.
Heather: Today, I’m speaking with Arianna Orpello, a marketing superstar and industry disruptor. Arianna has been a change agent in financial services as a marketing leader at Capital One, at TD Bank and now at Goldman Sachs. She’s a role model to colleagues wherever she goes, especially to working parents, and has a slew of awards to prove it—including Brand Innovators “40 Under 40” and AdWeek’s Working Mother of the Year. When we spoke, I was so impressed by Ariana’s no-BS attitude, by her honesty about the ups and downs of being a female leader—especially a mom—but mostly by her deep passion for being part of building a better future. So with that welcome, good to see you.
Arianna: Thanks Heather. I’m so excited to be here today.
Heather: So, let’s go back to 2008. When you started your career in financial services, a historically male-dominated industry, what attracted you to the industry? And what was it like being a young woman in a “man’s world”?
Arianna: Oh man, this is such a good question to start with, because I think it’s something that, you know, when I think about 2008, how far we’ve come, in so many ways we’ve progressed so significantly; but I think about myself as a young advertising professional in New York City, who had a mentor who took a chance on me and put me in a very junior role where I got to do so many things. I was sharing a studio apartment with a friend, and it was awesome. And I got to live the New York advertising life, which was really cool. I was making no money, but I loved my job.
Then I decided, after a while, that I wanted to move back to Philadelphia to be closer to my family. I had a networking connection that I had met, and he said, “Hey, I know you want to move back to Philadelphia. Let me introduce you to this guy, he works at ING Direct. He’s amazing. He’s a product leader.” And I was, like, “I don’t want to work at a bank. Why would I want to work at a bank? I’m in advertising. I’m cool. I’m not working in a bank, no way.”
ING Direct was an amazing company—entrepreneurial, brand- and technology-led before its time, mission-driven, purpose-driven—and I fell in love with the people. Everybody you meet is a chance to meet somebody else, and that has been a theme throughout my career. It has always been people taking chances on me and connecting to people and having them open a crack and a door for you—then running through it and taking the opportunity.
I joined ING Direct. I moved back to Philadelphia. And it was, of course, very male-dominated when you looked at the leadership team run by two fantastic, visionary Canadian men who, frankly, were just disrupting a category. And even though it was a male-dominated environment, they worked against the grain. It didn’t matter how old you were; it mattered how good you were. It mattered how fast you ran. It mattered if you thought differently from others, if you were more creative, because the whole business was built on that. So it was a perfect environment for me. And I grew up there. I worked under a man named John Owens. He was the head of marketing. He was an ex J&J marketer, and he just took me under his wing. And every time my boss left, he gave me the next job; and that boss left, and he gave me the next job. We were just an amazing partnership, and I think that really accelerated my career—just having someone who believed in me and was willing to throw me in environments and situations that other people might not have. I think the culture enabled him to be able to do that.
I think it’s interesting when I think about “male-dominated”—because, for me, my best mentors and people who opened the most doors for me were actually men pushing me through the door and saying, “No, you’ve got this, I’m behind you.” And I think that there’s something special about that.
Now I’m in a completely different situation, which we’ll talk about later…which I ran to work for three female powerhouse women at Goldman, because I’ve never been on a situation where I’ve been able to be underneath amazing women. And this is a great opportunity for me to be able to do that.
Heather: There’s a lot written about how women need male sponsors simply because, often, it’s men who are in those positions of power. And without that, women won’t be able to get into positions of power; and, therefore, women under them won’t. So to your point, people took chances on you; but you’ve obviously been able to always thrive in those environments.
So then you described moving on from ING, doing amazing things at TD Bank and Capital One and a call you got about an opportunity to come to Goldman. And your first instinct was probably the same one as when you were an advertising executive in New York, like, “absolutely not.” So tell me what was going through your mind. How did you say, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to go for that?”
Arianna: For me, it’s always about running to things versus running away. I wasn’t looking. I had an amazing gig at TD. I loved my team. I felt like I built a phenomenal culture. I was co-leading a marketing department of over 200 people with my best friend, and our engagement scores were through the roof.
When I got the call, I got it from a recruiter whom I really trust. I was, like, “Listen, thanks but no thanks. Like, I’m good.” And she was, like, “But it’s at Goldman Sachs.” And I was like, “That’s great, but I’m in consumer. Goldman Sachs doesn’t really have a consumer business. And, you know, there are wonderful things about the brand; but there are also challenging things about the brand.”
And then she said something to me which was really interesting, and it continued through the process. It was, “Listen, the first two women you’re going to meet are Fiona Carter and Stephanie Cohen.” And for anybody who knows those two names, you don’t want to say no to meeting those women. Fiona is a legend in marketing. She cared about diversity and women’s representation before they were cool things to care about. She’s a Oxford-studied marketer, who grew up in planning and moved throughout her career to run massive agency teams and then do incredible things at AT&T and other brands. And Stephanie Cohen, she’s been at Goldman Sachs for over 20 years. She is a powerhouse. She has ascended to the highest ranks of Goldman Sachs. She was just named one of Fortune‘s top women. So I was, like, “Okay, I’ll meet them.”
I met Fiona, and she was everything that I thought she would be. She was thoughtful. She was methodical in what she asked me. She was passionate about what the firm was doing and the role of marketing and creating this strategy that had never been done before—very much a commonality in her career, like just creating stuff that doesn’t exist.
And then I met Stephanie Cohen on a Saturday, and I remember the recruiter saying to me, “Remember whom you’re meeting. You’re walking into a room with, literally, the top woman in finance who’s running a division at Goldman Sachs.
You know, I’m not really a formal person, if I’m being candid, and it sort of shook me a little. So I got up Saturday morning. My kids are screaming. I put on a suit. I got on my Zoom call, and she was in workout gear. She said, “Hi, how are you? Sorry we’re meeting on a Saturday.” She was awesome. She was immediately personable and connected. And she asked me thoughtful questions, but she was very specific about the role she saw for marketing and the consumer business moving forward.
I knew within 12 minutes and thought, “Gosh, I have to work for these women. They are amazing.” It shocked me, because it wasn’t what I perceived would be the case within the walls of Goldman Sachs. And everything since that has been the same; it’s a phenomenal culture. I think just the spirit of winning and the spirit of doing things differently and better than others is so in my DNA—and it’s so in the DNA of the organization. I think that’s when the best marriages happen.
So, I’m loving it. And I also think I have the best job in the bank. Who doesn’t want to build the consumer banking platform of the future and be able to tell that story to the world and really change how the category’s done. So I’m super excited.
Heather: I love that story. It sounds like, really, it is about the people, as we always say. But was there the tipping point for you that said, “Do I want to do this?”
In addition to working for these women, what is the vision that you’re working toward that’s so exciting?
Arianna: There are two things in addition to working for these powerhouse women. One is: Fiona’s the first chief marketing officer ever at Goldman Sachs, and she’s got great sponsorship at the highest places in the organization about the role that marketing will play in the firm moving forward. So she’s drawing great talent. There’s a lot of energy around what marketing will be and can be; and being able to be part of authoring that at a firm like Goldman Sachs, which has been around for 152 years and has nearly a trillion-dollar balance sheet, is pretty amazing.
The other is really about banks caring to play a role in the financial success of their customer base. When you think about great brands and the reason great brands sustain, I think it’s because they make good on the promises that they make to their customers and consumers. Otherwise, marketing is just nonsense; and I’m not in the game of nonsense. I think I’m in the game of meaningful connection with people and customers and all of that fun stuff. This was the opportunity to actually join a team that I believe will create the consumer banking platform of the future for a next generation of customers who won’t just accept how things have been done before and want something different from their bank.
Banking has become such a rational category, where people try to out-compete each other on this basis point or that fee or this rounding error—no one cares. What consumers care about is actually someone caring about their financial success in life. Money is, literally, the most emotional thing in a person’s life other than their family. It enables everything. When you look at how consumers now think about money completely differently. It’s seen as an enabler. And the fact that 74% of consumers say banks play no role in their financial success is abysmal to me. That makes me super sad, and I think it’s something that Goldman Sachs can change. It’s something that Goldman Sachs Marcus will be uniquely positioned to do in the market, and I’m really excited about that. So those things, in addition to working for powerhouse women who transformed things, are probably the primary reasons I decided to join.
Heather: Those are pretty sound reasons. Lippincott worked with Goldman Sachs in the ’70s, when we created their identity, and then over the years have done different things. We were really proud to work on Marcus and the conception of what that brand was supposed to be. Now there’s kind of a pivot where it’s Goldman Sachs Marcus. It’s coming closer into the core, which I think makes sense. Tell me how you see the brand evolving, what you want people to think about when they think about Goldman Sachs Marcus.
Arianna: I love this question. I just have so many dreams I swear, I wake up at 3:00 AM thinking about this; such as, the transition from Marcus by Goldman Sachs to Goldman Sachs Marcus is a small, yet important, transition for many, many reasons. One is what I talked about in terms of the category convention of consumers not believing banks play a role in their financial success. When you look at the strengths of Goldman Sachs as a brand, it’s known for financial excellence and prestige and knowledge and 152 years of helping the journey of financial success. Whether it’s an IPO or a company, it doesn’t matter. It’s the perception of the firm. That is a power asset and, frankly, one that FinTechs would dream to have when you think about it. Marcus, on the other,
If Goldman Sachs as a brand has one thing that it might have associations around, it is the fact that it feels inaccessible to the average consumer—which means, as a consumer business, we have to overcome this barrier that it’s inaccessible to me. And that’s an immediate thing. So I have to get across that we’re doing something different from you think we’re doing—and, by the way, it’s really for you. Marcus has great perceptions of being a brand for me. It’s an accessible thing. So I think it’s this careful balance of how do you unlock the power and the prestige and the financial knowledge that comes with Goldman but on behalf of a consumer, using consumer-centric experiences, using that accessibility.
The idea of innovation and the way in which we will build our banking platform—with a FinTech mindset that is fun and energetic and actually delivered in a way that people want to interact with—I think the marriage between those two things is like a dream. I think that that’s explosive.
There are two leaders at the helm with experiences in FinTech and other tech companies that I actually believe can do that: Peeyush Nahar, who’s leading the consumer business, has a great background from Amazon and Uber—and I just love the way he’s thinking about building this consumer-centric banking platform of the future; and Swati Bhatia, who joined from Stripe just under a year ago—a fantastic female leader with great experience doing things differently in financial services and just a creative visionary for the future.
When I think about what I want people saying in a year, I want every young, ambitious person—and, frankly, every person who shares qualities of winning and financial success and how to manage their money—to be, like, I’ve got to have that Goldman Sachs Marcus thing. I’ve got to have that. It’s actually going to enable me to do the things in my life that I want to do. And I think that it is super exciting to get to author that and be a part of a journey where you change a category but you help people. When I think about our country and how money and financial services are operated, I just don’t think it has done a service to the consumer and what they’re really looking for at the end of the day.
Heather: It is such an exciting proposition. I always get this sense that you are fueled by a higher purpose. And I know that sounds a little cheesy, but I feel like it’s true in what I’ve read about you and what we’ve talked about—just wanting to make things better, leave things better than you found them. Tell me about some of the things that you’ve tried to instill among your teams, how they can follow their purpose and what they want to do in the world.
Arianna: I’m a student of human behavior at my core, and I love people. I just love thinking about what makes people tick, how to get the most from people and how to make someone’s day feel a little bit better even in the interactions we have. One of my fundamental views is finding your difference. And in my career, I believe that the people who sort of opened and cracked doors for me celebrated my difference.
So, I thought everything was like that—find your difference and own it. Great brands do that, great people do that, that’s the thing. And that has stuck with me my entire career. So really, for me, that has been a primary philosophical thing that I’ve tried to instill in those around me. Don’t try to be like me; find what makes you different and special and own the hell out of it, because that is what’s going to get you into the places you want to get into. It’s not like being like Joe. Joe’s already there. You have something different to add than Joe. So think about how do you be Heather, and the best Heather, and own the difference and go after it instead of focusing on the weaknesses that we all have, which we tend to do as humans. Finding that difference and owning it is like rocket fuel for a career.
The other thing, which you talked a little bit about earlier, is this idea that we all have a role to play in leaving it just a little bit better for those who are around us or those who are going to come after us. I view that as, frankly, an obligation; because you and I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t a whole bunch of women who did a whole lot of things that were probably a lot harder than the things that we’re doing. I think it’s RBG who said, “You can’t have it all at one time, but you have to decide where you’re going to leave your mark.” And for me, that has been largely about the idea that there’s so much still in the workplace around working women and moms.
I found myself, early in my career, in a place where I was senior when I was having kids. So, it allowed me to set norms and do things that usually someone who was at that age and at that stage wouldn’t do, because they weren’t senior enough to actually do it and change the norm and the organization. Sometimes people don’t like that stuff, because it’s a little bit uncomfortable—like talking about the fact that I’m nursing in my office and putting up a shade and letting, you know, working moms come pump in my office—because, why not?
Heather: Well, it goes back to the assimilation, right? When you’re at that age, and maybe you’re a young mom. I think so many times we are stopping ourselves censoring ourselves, to fit. And the idea that you’re celebrating these differences in saying. “No, there is a different way, there is a better way,” I think is just so inspiring.
Arianna: It takes courage; but just making people feel comfortable with who they are and being comfortable in their own skin and not always feeling judged or that something is expected of them…I think that’s so important as we all operate. We try to change the way that things happen in our world. One of those things for me and my husband was, we made the decision that my husband would stay home when we had our first child. So, he’s been home now for five years. My son is five; my daughter’s two. And he has gone through his own set of judgments and things. We lived in downtown Philadelphia, and he would go to the playground; and he’s, like, “I feel like no one’s talking to me, because I’m a man. I have no one to talk to. I’m just with these kids all day, and I have to figure it out. So he also is trying to find his own identity in a very gender stereotype situation, where people will say to him that he’s like Mr. Mom. He gets super mad and says, “Oh, I hate when people say that. I’m an active part of my kids’ lives, and I want to be seen and respected as such.” So, I think it’s all those things, where we just have to be a bit kinder to each other.
Heather: Absolutely. I remember when I was going back to work and didn’t take a long maternity leave. I had friends who made different choices. As you said, you don’t judge anybody—but there was a sense of, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re going back.”
And I think there was something that you had mentioned and that there’s a lot of discussion about—Can women have it all? I think the answer is, “Not all at the same time,” right? Tell me what that means to you. When someone says, “Do you think you can have it all? Or how do you do it all?” What’s your response?
Arianna: Oh man, my response…I really believe not all at once. We’re all making constant choices and one-offs every day and deciding what’s most important to us in that moment. I think the most important thing is having a support system around you, people who are going to have your back and are going to build you up. For me, that’s my partner—and even my kids understanding that, hey, that’s important to mommy. It’s an important thing. And, by the way, when there’s something important to you, I promise I’ll be there and explaining those things; it’s a team that you can rely on and leaders who believe in you and trust you and building that over time.
And, you know, one mistake that I see a lot—and that I’ve made myself at different points—is making sure that you’re very intentional about communicating what’s important to you. I think we don’t do that enough. I want to understand every person on my team’s intention and what they’re after, what’s important to them. Having those discussions, I think, can really help enable us all to understand each other better and then support each other better as a result of having the conversation. But we glaze right by it for some reason. It’s very interesting.
Heather: We’re people grappling with just so many different things in terms of discovering what we want, the pressures that we have at home or with family, so I think it’s really important that we should all feel a little bit more open to being your authentic self, which I know you’re a big proponent of.
Arianna: Yeah. And listen, the authentic self is the best self; and it gets the best work product. You will have the best relationships, because you’re being the most honest and true version of yourself, which allows you to operate at a different headspace than when you’re trying to be or to fit something that you aren’t. I think that’s really important.
The other thing is that COVID gave us a gift, which is the recognition that we need to be more empathetic. And I really hope, as a society, we don’t mess that up. It’s a lot harder to ignore that you have a life beyond the office—when I’m in your house and see your kids, and I understand that there’s more to you as a full person than just what you’re cranking out every day at work for me—than what have you done for me today?
And, by the way, I think Gen Z will demand it. I don’t think workplaces have a shot at retaining great talent as this generation comes of working age without figuring it out. Because this generation…I’m telling you, just from the work that I have done, I am super excited about what they will do for the world. They want to live life at its fullest today, which means making change and a difference and taking chances and all those things. And I think they will change it. I really believe that.
Heather: Yeah, and creating things that matter and that are meaningful to them. In some cases, that’s about climbing some ladder and getting to the next level. But in some other cases, it’s about something much more existential or deeper. What are your intentions, as you’re looking ahead in the next few months, in this new and exciting role?
Arianna: Gosh, I have so many. For me, I’ve spent the first 12 weeks doing a lot of listening to what people think about where we are today. What do people dream that we will be? How do we think about getting onto the team and its dynamics, figuring out the gaps that we have and the places where we can fill those gaps with great internal people, the places we’ll have to go outside and spending a lot of time on recruiting, because we have big aspirations in terms of scale and growth. I want great people who believe in what we’re going to do. So that’s probably number one—getting great marketing talent that can really take us to the next level. And that includes modern marketing capability, great partners on our roster, great talent on our inside team, data-oriented thinking, modern marketing-technology thinking and then just building an explosive and successful brand that is embedded in culture. I’m excited to get to do it, but it’s going to be hard work.
One of the really cool things for me in this role is that I get to sit on the operating committee of the consumer bank. That’s a whole different mind motive being really close and embedded inside the business to very much see how Goldman is run.
But getting to play a role of marketer inside the business and how to think about things the way we orient on customer experience, the way we measure customer experience if we want to be the consumer banking platform of the future and seen as the most customer-centric bank, what does that mean? And what does it mean, not just from a marketing and brand positioning and what we say we are, but in a DNA and how we live everyday, what we measure, how we talk to each other, culture, all of those things. So that’s been really cool.
Heather: Words are great. I love words. I love writing. But what do you do every day? How do you show up? What are you delivering, and what is the experience? I think more and more marketers are thinking of themselves as fueling the business and what is delivered every single day.
So the podcast is Icons in the Making. And what I love about the kinds of things that I’ve been talking about in each episode is the notion of what we think of as iconic or an icon is changing. And the people that are making things better and pushing the boundaries are very different and diverse. They come from different backgrounds and have played by different rules in certain cases. So I very much see you as that and am just curious. You’ve talked about mentors, you’ve talked about these amazing women you’re working for, but do you have an icon that you look toward or whom you channel when you’re getting through the day?
Arianna: I have so many icons. I feel like I have been so lucky to have the mentors that I’ve had—and I can like shoot them off by name. I can think about the role they played in my story, whether it was a push from behind or a door opened or whatever it was, and think about them as my story. If I were to write a book, my book would be about each of them and the role they played.
But my mom is probably my icon. Listen, I grew up poor. We had no money. My mom was a single mom, four kids, one of 12, 42 first cousins…I mean, large Italian family. My parents divorced when I was very young, and she worked her tail off to keep us afloat. And she also taught me, at the end of it, that love is really all that matters. I know that sounds so cheesy; but, fundamentally, you can have nothing. And as long as you have a system—and love—at the end of the day, you have people who are there for you. That’s what really matters.
For me, it was about independence. She wasn’t educated. She relied on my dad for everything. And when her world fell apart, she did not have her own identity. It was caught up in the identity of the family and his identity, and she made choices and trade-offs early in her life, because that’s just what was expected. So, for me, it was about using the hardships that she went through as a springboard for both the things that I wanted like that she had, which was love and connection and knowing that she was there, and also things that I didn’t want, which were: I want to stand on my own feet; I’m not ever going to be reliant on anybody; I’m going to be a damned independent woman, who can stand on my own feet. So I worked my tail off and stayed later and did everything I needed to do—and connected to people who believed in me and opened doors and pushed me forward. I think it is that that has made all the difference for me.
Heather: And all I can think about are the people that you’re talking to that you’re recruiting—as, again, you’ve got big ambitions—and as they are hanging up the phone or closing the computer Zoom call and talking to their loved one saying, “Oh my gosh, I just spoke to this woman and I just have to work for her! I’m so excited to see what’s going to be next.” We’ll be cheering on the sidelines, because we believe in the brand and what you guys are doing.
So thank you so much for your time and your generosity and your honesty. I’m totally inspired by you and can’t wait to see what’s next.
Arianna: Feeling’s mutual, I’m glad I got to meet you along the way. I like just getting to know smart women who are easy to talk to and have a lot of shared passion and commonality, so thank you.
The authentic self is the best self, and it gets the best work product.