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Partnering Up

Parnering Up

Last year, millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, more and more Gen Y consumers are making the largest purchase of their lives, with the National Association of Realtors reporting that 90-plus percent of that developing demographic planning to be homeowners eventually. 

The critical need to market to those masses is what every mortgage company must address these days, and Chase Mortgage’s Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bonitatibus brings to the considerable task passion, personality, and the power of both her diverse experience and Chase’s integrated financial services platforms.

“We view marketing not as a function, but as a revenue-generating part of the bank, which, in this case, is mortgage,” Bonitatibus says. “We’re also the No. 1 choice for banking among the millennial population.” 

Barry Hess, Executive Director of Mortgage Originations Marketing Strategy at Chase, says, “Amy takes her cutting-edge communication skills and combines them with unique customer and market perspectives, creating a dynamic leadership model. An inspiring leader with an abundant amount of energy, intelligence, and commitment, she has her finger on the pulse of customer needs and is bringing new, innovative marketing solutions for our customers.”

At first glance, Bonitatibus might seem a personal and professional paradox. She is laser-focused on the work at hand, yet has already managed communications for Chase’s Card Services, Mortgage Banking, Auto Finance, and even Technology divisions in her five-plus years at the bank. She is risk-averse in her career, but at the same time always open to new challenges. 

The upstate New York native and former deputy press secretary for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton knows more than a thing or two about strategy. She also is learning how to play chess from her 5-year-old and 7-year-old sons, with some help from her husband, of course. 

“I am motivated by the number of talented women who I work with every day that are juggling multiple roles at once, from their careers to their family and to even philanthropic interests,” says the mother of three boys. “I truly admire the fact that they’re able to make it work and be hugely successful across all facets of their lives. My family and friends might say something similar about my life, that I have a lot of balls in the air at once, but I somehow manage to make it all work.”

Pam Codispoti, President of Chase Branded Cards, calls Bonitatibus not just an innovator, but also a “force of nature.” Lesley Corydon, Chase’s Executive Director of Servicing and Correspondent Marketing, relates a story about when she assumed the CMO position in December. Bonitatibus made it her first priority to travel to Columbus, Ohio, to meet the marketing team. When childcare for her sons fell through, she flew them out with her. 

“Any other working mom would have cancelled that trip,” Corydon says, “but Amy knew how excited the marketing team was to interact with her and didn’t want to let them down. The Columbus team has flourished under her leadership in large part due to her presence and genuine efforts to get to know each and every person.”

Bonitatibus calls herself a creature of habit—“consistently consistent.” She married her high school sweetheart, Ryan Crowley, who also works for Chase. With the demanding jobs and travel schedules, she and her husband rely heavily on family—both her brother and sister-in-law have been nannies to their boys—and that relationship-driven modus operandi certainly doesn’t end when Bonitatibus goes to the office. Leveraging unique, internal relationships at Chase Mortgage to forge new ones with customers, the creature of habit creatively supports the growing habit of homeownership for a new generation.

Serving & Surfing the Wave

Millennials may have a leg up on other generations in the tech category, but that only goes so far in the housing market. Although the largest demographic since the Baby Boomers and, in 2016, the largest group of first-time homebuyers, millennials are still the new kids on the home-buying block. 

According to Zillow, they are encountering a highly competitive market, one with 3 percent fewer homes available (year over year as of February) and values that are nearly 7 percent higher. TransUnion reported that almost a third of 18- to 34-year-old consumers said they hope to purchase a home in the next year, but more than 40 percent have concerns about their credit. Nevertheless, in another study, the credit-reporting company projected 13.8 million to 17.1 million first-time homebuyers entering the housing market in the next five years, with Millennials likely to make up the majority. TransUnion also added that more than 20 percent of first-time homebuyers open additional accounts with their mortgage lender.

Acknowledging that a subset of millennials may reject “traditional values and choose to make different life and purchase decisions,” Robyn Mahoney, director of strategic marketing for Wipro Gallagher Solutions, echoes Bonitatibus’s sentiments: many want what older generations want, but found themselves behind the financial eight ball with a rough job market and much tighter lending requirements.

“We are definitely seeing a flood of Gen Y homebuyers entering the market today and part of that reflects job security and confidence,” Mahoney says. “Now, it is a matter of tapping into their desires and finding creative ways to help them live their values.”

It’s nice to have a familiar face, so to speak, to turn to during the critical and sometimes daunting process of becoming a homeowner. Even better is a financial partner with economies of scale and professionals literally thinking outside of the box. Chase Mortgage’s marketing program has certainly achieved a higher profile and energy level with its new promotional and educational partnership with the “Property Brothers,” aka Drew and Jonathan Scott, the hosts of the HGTV show now in its sixth season. Bonitatibus called the connection organic as the TV brothers were already Chase customers. 

“As we committed to the current ‘Two Halves Make a Home’ campaign featuring the ‘Property Brothers,’ Amy immediately made the most of connecting the communications and marketing teams,” says Nancy Demuch, Executive Director of Mortgage Brand and Advertising at Chase. “The result is a bit of a 1+1 = 3. Amy has strong relationships across all lines of business. People respect her opinion and ability to get stuff done.”

“A customer of her work,” Sean Grzebin, managing director and head of Consumer Mortgage Originations at Chase, remarks about how Bonitatibus demonstrated an impressive level of engagement and ownership for one new to the CMO position. Fun and perhaps a little flashy, yes, but the real key is that the ‘Two Halves Make a Home’ campaign drives value for multiple Chase channels: the branch business, the consumer direct line and home equity.

“The energy by which she engaged on it, the actual hands-on approach to the initial creative concept and then the final output, it was really pretty awesome,” Grzebin says. “None of the initiatives from the past few years focused as much on aligning to our business objectives, and the actual campaigns, I think, are just right on.”

According to WatersTechnology, financial industry leaders viewed centralization of data as the most important issue to address last year. In an age where mortgage companies still struggle to harness all of their information, Bonitatibus’s experience, connections and initiative at Chase make her a one-person silo buster.

“The insights we’re able to gain from customer behaviors and attitudes really help inform the broader business strategy,” Bonitatibus says. “That’s one of the reasons I collaborate so closely with the other CMOs across the other businesses. The insights they may be gaining from our customers may be a little bit different from mine, but equally as relevant and beneficial to both businesses.

The Chase Is (Still) On

When a financial services company serves nearly half of American households, it could linger on its laurels, but that’s not the case with Chase. Chase Mortgage continues to push toward new housing horizons with vision and experience that are second to none.

“Banking that many U.S. households, roughly 60 million nationally, gives us the unique opportunity to create lifelong relationships with our customers,” says Bonitatibus. “It also allows us to design unique marketing offerings that benefit customers with multiple interests in Chase.” 

The venerable JPMorgan Chase & Co. certainly hasn’t lost touch with the younger generation. Chase Mortgage saw a surge in millennial homeownership among its customer base: mortgagors under the age of 35 went from 20 percent of its originations volume in 2015 to 36 percent in 2016. 

Led by Bonitatibus, the Chase mortgage and credit card units seized the opportunity at the intersection of that generational growth in homeownership and the fact that half of all Chase Sapphire credit card customers are Millennials. The result? Chase Mortgage has partnered with Chase Sapphire to offer 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points for existing Sapphire customers who purchase a mortgage with Chase by August 6. 

Bonitatibus, who served for a year as Chief Communications Officer for both Mortgage Banking and Card Services, articulates the strategy: “Our goal is to deepen relationships with our existing customers so this partnership with the mortgage and credit card divisions was a natural one to me. You’re seeing an interest among Millennials who want to be rewarded for experiences. One of the experiences is pursuing the endeavor of homeownership. So how can we team up to help our customers take that next step?”

Grzebin calls Bonitatibus’ approach a holistic one, a combination of her marketing and communications backgrounds, the power of the Chase brand and her personal creativity and connections to other units. Unique preparation meets a major opportunity in the mortgage market.

“The question about Millennials isn’t whether they’re going to buy a house, it’s when they’re going to buy,” Grzebin says. “Given the high penetration rate on the Sapphire card with the Millennial population, it’s a natural bridge to the homeownership goal and our mortgage products. Amy has great insights to really leverage the power of the brand based on her previous support of the credit card business.”

According to Chase Mortgage, the “modern” target customer is primarily a Millennial in his or her early 30s, one establishing a career while growing financial assets, including an appetite for making homeownership part of their lifestyle. Bonitatibus reports that Chase has a very large percentage of Millennials customers, roughly a third of the bank’s total customer base across all consumer products. Also, 75 percent of Millennials reside in the Chase footprint, i.e., its branch network. 

“It’s an important demographic for us and one that we’re really interested in serving,” Bonitatibus adds. “So we’ve spent a lot of time on how to create even more value for Millennials through integrated offers that are unique and meaningful to them.” 

The path is quite wide and very long for a banking powerhouse such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., which results in the availability of rich customer data to use to tailor new offerings. Like a financial friend, but one with more than 5,200 branches and 16,000 ATMs, Chase offers services that can act as stepping stones for Millennials maturing toward the biggest purchase of their lives. 

“This was a great opportunity to connect two areas of Chase,” says Codispoti. “We know these Sapphire Reserve card customers crave travel and experiences, but we find many also are considering purchasing a home. With consumer confidence on the rise, homeownership is a natural next step for the Millennial generation.”

At Chase, it’s not just the variety of financial services offerings, it’s the overall value. It’s not just about the customer touchpoints, it’s connecting the dots into relationships. Not only is the latest offering supported by those impressive origination growth statistics, the marketing partnership behind it is a repeat of the proven Bonitatibus and Codispoti collaboration, which in only two weeks met its full-year goal for new accounts opened after the August 2016 Sapphire Reserve credit card launch. That was without spending a dollar on marketing, Bonitatibus proudly adds. 

“We want to build lifelong relationships with our customers, which means we want to be the first credit card in their wallet, be by their side when they purchase their first home and offer financial advice and services all along the way,” Codispoti says. “We are not just a credit card issuer or just a mortgage provider, we are an overall financial partner with products that meet our customers at the various points in their financial journey.”

An online search on how to market to Millennials produces 22 million hits, almost twice as many as one on mortgage banking. Smart minds, such as Bonitatibus, know that this is not your father’s mortgage market; they also can see by the 16 percentage point increase in Millennial homebuyers from year to year that a unique opportunity is upon them. Not all experts, however, can meld the strong professional perspective and relationships with the ingrained institutional advantages of a $2.5 trillion consumer and commercial banking business.  

About Author: Brian Lee

Brian Lee is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and former editor of Western Real Estate Business magazine. Although a big fan of mortgage and housing content, the Wake Forest and University of Georgia graduate considers his top moment in journalism a one-on-one interview with baseball legend Hank Aaron in 2009.

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