438: Customer Loyalty; RBC Royal Bank is Light-years Ahead of Free Toasters, with Darby Sieben

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Customer loyalty initiatives are expected. What isn’t expected are banks spawning software companies to let you know which day is garbage day. Darby Sieben is currently head of RBC Ampli Inc, an engagement cashback platform that connects consumers with merchants. Ampli.ca is part of the RBC Ventures which is the beyond banking arm of Royal Bank of Canada. Leading a team of 60, Ampli was launched in July 2019 and since then has grown to a national brand and has established itself as an effective platform for merchants to acquire and reward its customers. Listen to George Leith and Darby discuss RBC Royal Bank’s new-age customer loyalty programs including an app that informs you when to roll out the garbage bin, an app that streamlines the incorporation process for business owners, and an app that walks users through the immigration process to Canada. This “beyond banking” is all about solving bigger problems and it’s yielding massive results.

**For Canadian listeners only: Download the Ampli App and use promo code DARBY10 for $10 in your account, courtesy of Darby.

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George: This week on the Conquer Local podcast, a long-awaited guest. I’ve wanted to have Darby Sieben, who is the head of RBC’s Ampli program, and RBC being the Royal Bank of Canada, or maybe they’ve branded to be RBC, but Darby and I’ve known each other for a long time. In fact, he is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and we met around eight or so years ago and have been watching his career. And, over three years ago, Darby landed as the head of RBC Ampli. And, it’s part of a group known as RBC Ventures. And, Kantar brands rank RBC as the number three bank brand in the world behind ICBC in China and Wells Fargo in the United States. A very large organization, it’s international in scope, and they’re a bank at the end of the day. That’s where they started. But, I think what we’ll find from Darby is RBC is a heck of a lot more than a bank. And, we’re gonna learn some things about RBC Ventures, and these new brands that they have been spinning up that look a lot like tech companies. Darby Sieben, the head of RBC Ampli, part of RBC Ventures, coming up next on this week’s Conquer Local podcast Joining me this week on the Conquer Local podcast. I say old friend, but you’re not old, but you and I have known each other for a long time. My good friend, Darby Sieben, the head of RBC Ampli. Darby, welcome to the show.

Darby: Hi. Good afternoon, George. It’s great to be here.

George: And, we’re finding you in beautiful downtown Calgary, Alberta today.

Darby: I am. And, it’s actually a nice sunny day out with little smoke, so I’m actually kind of excited about that.

George: Fun fact Darby is actually from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, grew up here in Saskatoon, and you spent a big chunk of your career with Yellow Pages, and at the pinnacle, were the president of a group called Mediative. And, you give the listeners a bit of the background as to what you did at YPG, and then as the president of Mediative?

Darby: Yeah, absolutely, happy to. So, Yellow Pages Group actually acquired an agency of mine in 2005. We had an agency based in Calgary that was doing traditional media tracking, as well as SEO, SEM, web development, and what have you. Yellow Pages Group bought that company in 2005, and then I joined them in 2006 to basically lead all of the digital transformations as we were moving from a print-based organization and starting to get into selling, obviously, digital products. So, during my career at YP, had a great run, managed all of the incredible partnerships, signed the first reseller agreement with Google in Canada. Facebook… We powered the maps data behind Google Maps, iOS, Yahoo Search, helped YP build out a lot of the digital products that today are obviously… That they’re selling. Led a lot of the M&A transactions as we acquired a number of different companies over the 12 year period that I was with them. And, during that timeframe, I had a little bit of a sting, to the three years while I ran Mediative, which was our national agency that focused on international clients, where we were doing really enterprise-level… Search enterprise-level display. We also built out and worked with Walmart, building out Walmart Media Group in Canada, which was selling the CPG advertisers that were listing on Walmart’s web properties. So, Yellow Pages Group was a really interesting journey. Everybody thinks it was a print company, but we did a lot as we transformed that business into a leading digital player in Canada.

What is RBC Ventures?

George: I’ve wanted to have you on the show for quite some time. And, now it’s aligned that we have you on the show today. And, what I want the listeners to understand is there’s a story here. That’s why I wanted Darby on the show, but this isn’t just happening in Canada. And, it isn’t just happening in North America. It’s happening all over the planet, and that is the banks are coming. And, you now are at RBC. When I first heard you moving over there, I’m like, but Darby’s at a bank, but it’s tied into an initiative that RBC has been driving. I think it’s important for our group to understand that RBC Ventures is very much a software company inside, RBC is the parent company. And, that’s where you are now, today. So, could you give us at a very high level, what is RBC Ventures? And, then we’ll start talking about what you lead, which is the Ampli product.

Darby: Yeah, happy to. RBC Ventures started a few years back. and I think it was a big, bold vision by the leadership team at RBC around how do we go beyond just traditional banking, and start to solve solutions for people outside of just the core financial products. And, obviously, those are really important. RBC invests a lot of money in building incredible solutions for core finances. But, when you think of RBC Ventures, we look at the world slightly differently, which is there’s a whole bunch of other interesting problems that we can help businesses and consumers solve. And, we think if we can help them solve them, now, what that does is that actually introduces RBC in a more favorable light. So, just to give you a couple of highlights on a few of the ventures that we’ve launched. Owner’s a super exciting venture. Owner helps people, as they’re thinking about starting a business, and getting incorporated, to really make the process of incorporation super, super simple. The tie into the bank is obviously after you’re set up with an incorporation, we’d love you to have an RBC business banking account, but what we’re really trying to solve with Owner is how do we streamline that process to get you as an entrepreneur and get you incorporated. We have another venture called Arrive, which really looks at permanent residents that are coming into Canada. How do we get them set up and navigate everything? It’s one thing to get your permanency, permanent residency to come into Canada. But, then there’s a whole bunch of host of other things that you’ve got to do as a newcomer to Canada. So, those are a couple of exciting ones. Then, we’ve even taken a few ventures that we’ve acquired, that we think are very strategic. Dr. Bill is a really exciting one, and this is a company that we purchased. And, what they’re trying to solve is how do we give more time back to general practitioners? Because, trying to bill as a GP, trying to bill, against the work that you do is actually quite a difficult process. So, they built an incredible platform to streamline the process for GPs to manage all of that billing infrastructure with healthcare and provinces. And, then this allows them to spend more time with their patients. So, we have a number of different ventures across consumer, across business, across mobility, and they all solve different problems, and even some of them as simple as Garbage Day, which is a simple app that basically says, “Hey, you know, today I have to put out the black bin instead of the blue bin.” Or, Rocket Man, which is, how do I connect people from point A to point B on public transit systems? And, it’s all about solving bigger problems. And, then, of course, we know with each thing, all interconnect back to financial services products, and it gives us the opportunity to talk about our products, at the right time, at the right place in a user’s journey.

George: I remember, one of the first times I heard about Owner, and this was even before you had arrived at RBC Ventures. And, we started to meet the team there, and they were asking us questions around how we might be able to work together. And, at that time there was just a couple of logos as a part of the Ventures but it… Have you ever shut anything down? ‘Cause, you guys start these new ventures to solve these problems. Are they… Any of them that didn’t work? That…

Darby: There are. We have, we have. And, I think part of the Ventures’ thesis was we looked at problem sets, and we figured out what can we come into market? And then, of course, as you know, when you start to launch a business, you take it into market, you learn a lot. So, we have sunsetted some ventures. Butter, which was one of our subscription management products. We did decide to sunset that one. Well-spent, which was helping people to reflect on their purchases. We sunsetted that one. And, when we say sunset, it was just the idea, the teams, the people, they’re with the organization. We look at how we can repurpose them around. We look at how we can take all the learnings, from what we’ve done with those adventures, and apply them to other ones. But, yes, we do shut down some ventures, but we do it because maybe the product-market fit wasn’t quite right. And, so we’re just taking a step back, tweaking it a little bit, applying those learnings, and then figuring out what’s the best way to apply it.

George: For our international listeners, as I said off the top, this is happening, we’re actively involved in five different discussions in different countries where banking org… And, I can’t say the names because of non-disclosures, but banking organizations are looking to help solve their customers’ problems, and problems outside of just banking. And, in fact, I think your term internally Darby, correct me if I’m wrong, is beyond banking.

Darby: That’s exactly it. I mean, part of I think what a lot of the banks globally, and we’re very proud of this from an RBC perspective, we’re deeply integrated with the communities across the country, and it’s really about, how do we help consumers? How do we help businesses? If we can continue to solve problems for people, and we become very… We stay relevant, and it just continues to help the entire Canadian economy move forward. If we can help solve some of the problems that we think we’re solving that are important problems to solve.

Customer Loyalty: Free Toasters to Spawning Software Companies to Solve Customer Problems

George: In the good old days, you used to get a toaster if you opened up a bank account, and that toaster was cost of acquisition to bring on that banking customer. I believe if I look at a billboard, or I watch a TV ad, or… The cost to acquire a customer in Canada is around $300 because, virtually, every banking organization is offering me $300, or an iPad, or something like that, around that cost point. Is this… Am I reading between the lines correctly that this is another way for you to acquire customers, by helping solve other problems?

Darby: We believe so. Yeah. It’s definitely a case where, I think as you solve different pain points, incentivizing based on… A toaster, or what have you, incentivizing is important. But, I also think it’s important when you look at… If I have an organization that’s helping me solve two, or three, or four problems, there’s a good, real reason why I’d wanna continue to work with that organization. And, so we’re seeing some great results on that particular front. Obviously, Ventures continues to grow. The organization’s grown massively in the last three years, and I think we’re right on the same path of where our CEO’s vision is, which is really, how do we help Canadian consumers, and Canadian businesses, and grow the Canadian economy? We wanna do our part on that front.

George: So, the product that you are responsible for and our leading is called Ampli, A-M-P-L-I, and encourage our Canadian listeners to go to the app stores and download that app because we’ve got a little surprise for you later on. But, let’s talk about Ampli, and the vision of this… Of this tool, I guess is what I want to call it, ’cause I use it all the time.

Darby: Yeah. I’m really excited about that. I mean, when RBC reached out and said, “Hey, Darby, we’re thinking about, loyalty, the loyalty space, what are your thoughts on this particular front?” And, we have this concept called Ampli that we want to take into market. I got really excited, ’cause there’s not a lot of opportunities where you can really think about how can you solve both a consumer problem and a business problem at the exact same time. And, so just for your listeners, Ampli is a mobile application. From a consumer perspective, we call it an engagement application. And, we started off with this notion of cashback. And, the concept is, as a consumer, link your financial information, we support 130 different FIS across the country, link your financial information. We’ll use a watch and match tech, and we’ll reward you for shopping at different brands on our platform. On the business side, this is an incredible opportunity to use the data that we’re collecting from users. And, we’re very transparent about what we’re collecting, why we’re collecting it, and the value that we’re gonna provide to an end consumer, but it’s really to help businesses think about… We solve three… We think we solve three problems for businesses. How do we help them acquire customers? How do we help them increase their basket size for existing customers? And, how do we help them increase frequency for their existing customers? Using financial data as the mechanism in order to do that. And, we do it from the perspective of it’s a pay per sale model. So, there’s no cost per clicks, no cost for impressions. It’s all based on what we drive in terms of value. And, I often think of it as it’s finding that great intersection of a consumer that wants to interact with a brand, and then creating the right value exchange for both parties. And, if we do that well, I think we’ve got something that’s quite scalable.

George: I got a real world example of how Ampli impacted revenue for one of their customers. So, Darby did a deal with Lowe’s RONA, which is a hardware store. And, George has to do some work in his backyard. And, Ampli notified me that I’m going to get $20 at Lowe’s and RONA, if I go to make that purchase. So, I coulda went to three different lumberyards to get the thing that I needed, but because I was connected to the Ampli network, and because Lowe’s had put an offer forward, they got my $400, and I got my reward from Ampli. So, I might’ve spent that money at Windsor Plywood. I might have spent it, but because I was prompted by… So, this idea of loyalty, yeah, of course I go to Lowe’s, it’s just down the street from my house. My wife says I go there too much, but that prompted it to come to the top of my mind when I had a need for that product or service. You talk about pay per click earlier, is this in the advertising realm, or is it something more than that?

RBC Ampli: Customer Loyalty, Marketing Platform, and Pay-For-Performance Model

Darby: It is. I mean, I look at Ampli, we kind of touch three segments within the marketplace. One is we do have a segment of loyalty, because we see what a consumer spends. So, we know how often they’re coming into your business. We also have a good idea on are they spending money within your category? So, there’s a component of loyalty in an existing customers, but it is also a marketing platform, because we can help businesses identify individuals who don’t necessarily shop with them, but might be shopping in the category. And, then the question is, how do we get something in front of them so they can come into your store maybe the first time. And, then, once they get into the store the first time, it’s gonna be up to you to make sure that you retain ’em on that front. And, then the whole pay for performance model is how do we shift it to creating a better ROI for advertisers and lower that risk of some of the ad platforms that are out there and really make the pay per sale? Because, that ties into that mission that I talked about earlier on the Ventures perspective, how do we help grow the economy for businesses and how do we help grow for consumers? And, so, going to a pure performance model lowers the risk for an advertiser, and gives them that ability to say, “Hey, I’m getting a really positive ROI on any interaction with Ampli.”

George: You and I have been working with local businesses our entire careers, and that’s why I wanted to ask that question around tying the loyalty component to ads, because that’s really the black hole. I put money into this black hole, and yes, there’s some data on it today, but why I was always very interested in this is… I’m gonna use the A word, attribution, because you can see that a purchase occurred because of the message that was sent. And, that’s always been one of the biggest struggles of an ad campaign is we’ve never really been able to get right to the transaction. Whereas with Ampli, you’re connecting your credit card from wherever it might be, so you’re at that transaction layer. That’s really the secret sauce, isn’t it?

Darby: It is. It is. And, there’s other players that do this. We think that we’ve got a really, really interesting model here, that’s scaling within Canada. We’re focused purely on Canada. Some of our other competitors are focused more broadly, in different geographical regions. We’ve decided to really make a play, and see how do we serve as consumers and merchants in Canada. Once we dominate the Canadian market, then we’ll figure out where we go from there.

George: Well, and RBC definitely has an international footprint. That was going to be my question. So, thanks for answering without me asking the question. I appreciate that. You could see it in other jurisdictions for our listeners that are familiar with your brand and in other places. So, you’d mentioned earlier that you had a couple of products, you sunsetted it. what are we talking about inside Ampli and RBC ventures as far as team size? Like, are we talking 50 people? Are we talking hundreds of people? Like how big of an initiative is this?

Darby: It’s in the hundreds. We don’t fully disclose the exact number, but I can definitely tell you it’s in the hundreds. With all the different ventures that we have, a lot of them now we’re in full-scale mode, because they’ve been operating for a couple of years. So, we’re quite bullish on the future. And, I think you’re going to see a lot more from some of the ventures that we’ve launched in scale. We just launched a new one recently called Mydoh, which I think is going to be absolutely game changing. And, this one is really about financial literacy for kids. How do we create more financial literacy in the market? How do parents manage digital, basically, allowance? Providing digital allowance to kids is an incredible product. I think this is one of the most exciting ventures that Ventures has launched in the last three years.

George: I’m at the bank. And, I happened to, full disclosure, happen to be an RBC customer. And, I was in the branch and it was… Some things you still have to go to the bank for. There aren’t a lot of things, and I’ll never forget this. I’m sitting at the counter, and the teller, after I was done, my transaction said, “Well, by the way, here’s a card and you get $20 off if you sign up for Wave accounting.” And, you have this accounting platform now, that that is a part of RBC, and this whole… This overarching concept of beyond banking and being the sales person I am, I’m like, well, that’s a hell of an upsell or cross sell you guys are doing right there, but you’re not… We see these organizations that deal with businesses, and this was a business banking transaction, and they’re trying to solve more problems at the end of the day. And, that’s why I wanted to have you on, because in the banking sector, you guys are all in in this, like this is… We’re talking a massive investment.

Darby: Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. It is. And, it starts right from the top. Dave McKay has been an incredible supporter of Venture. Has really led kind of the vision on this particular front. And, there’s all the executives within RBC and the team at Ventures very much look at how do we create additional value for all of our stakeholders? Whether they’re small businesses, large businesses, consumers, because it’s… If Canada succeeds and the economy grows, then we all win.

George: It’s an interesting business model. And, we were very grateful to have you on the show to share some of what you folks have been working on. And, it’s now three years or four years that you guys have been headlong into this.

Darby: It’s been three years. We announced Ventures on June of 2018, at RBCs Investors Day. Obviously, Venture started a little bit before that, but the public announcement was June in 2018. So, we’ve been three, over three years, hardcore at RBC Ventures.

RBC Ampli Promo: Your First $10 Courtesy of Darby

George: Well, for the first time, I’m pleased to announce that we’re gonna give away some money on the show. And, the good news is it’s not my money and it’s not Conquer Local’s money. It’s Darby’s money. So, let’s give our Canadian listeners a bit of a treat here. Darby, I guess you came with a bunch of $10 bills or something like that.

Darby: Yeah. So, for your listeners, George, or the ones that are in Canada. Obviously the ones that are not in Canada, I do apologize, but for the ones that are in Canada, if you are interested in checking out Ampli, go to the iOS store, or the Android store, type in Ampli. A-M-P-L-I. Download the app, and during the registration process its gonna ask you, do you know how to enter a promo code? And, if you entered Darby10, that’ll basically put the first 10 bucks in your account once you kind of linked up.

George: Great, we’ll put all the links in the show notes for everyone. So, you don’t have to worry about writing that down. You can just get it there and enjoy Darby’s money. I think every business needs to be thinking about what is your loyalty program? What is your loyalty strategy of taking that existing customer, and solving more of their problems, and continuing to strengthen your relationship with them? Because, as we heard earlier in the show, it’s $300 to acquire a new customer or a toaster. And, it’s expensive to get new clients. So, if we can take existing customers, and help them solve more problems, and maybe give them some rewards, that’s another way that businesses can help grow their organizations.

Darby: You’re absolutely right. And then, I’ve been in the digital marketing space now for almost 20 years, helped a lot of businesses over that time grow. And, I get really excited about the fact that I think we’re getting closer to that notion of… Build. I spend… I know 50% of my marketing works and 50% of it doesn’t, I just don’t know which. I think we’re getting closer to that point on… ‘Cause we do deliver great ROI for an advertiser, then that’s going to help lower their costs. And, hopefully that means that businesses can invest more in the experience for consumers. And, I think that’s a really important thing. Not criticizing any of the other ad platforms that are out there. They’re all amazing. They all do their job. But, I think that really helping businesses get a strong ROI is beneficial for them and beneficial for their customers.

George: Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because a lot of times it’s like, okay, what is the client’s budget? And, it’s more like, okay, that’s an important number, but where are they… What are they doing with it? And, where might we be able to find more efficiencies? It might not be spending more money or investing more money, but it might be in just making it more efficient.

Darby: Exactly. You got it.

George: Well, thanks for the $10. Hopefully we can spend a bunch of Darby’s money, and with our listeners in Canada, we appreciate that. And, thanks for teaching us a little bit about what… Well, what Kantar is calling the number three banking brand on the planet. Congratulations for that. RBC is a massive organization trying to help their customers, whether it be consumers or businesses, solve more problems. In fact, even helping me understand which day is garbage day. Unbelievable story. And, it’s just showing how that convergence of the trusted expert, whoever that might be, and we’re able to turn to that trusted expert to solve more of our problems.

Darby: Awesome. Well, thank you, George, for the invite. Really appreciated the time. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell you a little bit about our story and… You gotta keep up the work on the podcast. I love the podcast. Love your guests. It’s definitely one of the top podcasts on my list. So, you guys keep doing what you’re doing, ’cause it’s very, very informative.

George: Thanks, Darby. Appreciate your time.

Darby: Alright, thanks George.


George: Well, it’s obvious that Darby and I could probably talk for hours and we have definitely done that as we’ve known each other over the years. But, what I wanted to bring to our listeners today is the story that we’ve been telling for the last four years is trusted local expert, and the trusted local expert, I don’t even know if we see him coming. And, that’s why I wanted to have him on the show today, because if you would’ve told me five years ago that banks would be building marketing platforms, or banks would be building apps that could tell you when do you have to take the garbage out? I would have said, “that’s crazy.” But, very smart people have figured out that they need to go beyond their core business, and really become customer obsessed, and see what problems they could solve outside of their traditional business lines. And, we’ve got all sorts of lessons that we can look back of organizations that didn’t innovate, and where did they end up. Blockbuster video. So, you could just put those names in there. So, what RBC is doing, and it’s a very smart strategy, is how do we go beyond banking? How do we recognize that we’re a part of the community, and what can we do to make our communities better, and solve problems for our customer base? And, so let’s look at the top three takeaways from Ampli, for instance. It helps with the cost of acquiring a new customer. It helps increase the things that your… Basket size, the things that you’re selling to the customer, solve more of their problems. And, then increase the number of times that you can do that or frequency. Can I get the customer back in more times to my business and solve more of their problems? It also is solving three big problems in the marketplace around loyalty. I think every business needs to be thinking about some sort of a loyalty program, and then marketing. And, Darby said that great line, 50% of our marketing isn’t working. We just don’t know with which 50%. And, then this idea of a paid for performance model. I think this is, if there’s anything that’s silver bullet like, in what Darby was just talking about, it’s the idea that you only have to pay Ampli if there’s money in the till. And, that is something that a lot of other tactics can’t offer. Is that idea of attribution. And, that was when he told me about what they were building and where they were going with it. Now, that I’ve experienced it, because I’m actually a user and my numbers are ticking up there. I think I got like $90 in Ampli rewards. I think about it first, before I make a buying decision. Am I gonna get any money? Like I’m addicted on the loyalty side. I want to be rewarded. It’s very similar to my Marriott Bonvoy, or my Hilton awards or my Delta awards. It’s that same type of a concept. But, interestingly enough, if you remember back, Darby said he could connect any credit card from any financial institution. So, it’s not… I don’t have to be an RBC customer. I could just use Ampli as a competing bank’s customer, but I start to be introduced to that brand, even if I don’t have a specific loyalty. So, they are solving some interesting challenges for their customer base. But, also, if you think about the whole idea of RBC Ventures, that’s why I wanted to get a Darby on the show, because I hear about this in various jurisdictions around the world, where folks in the financial community are looking at their customer base, and they’re figuring out ways to go beyond that traditional business model, solve more problems, grow more loyalty from their customers. And, of course it’s more money. That’s what businesses are. We talk about that. We solve people’s problems for profit. So, yes, of course it’s around, can we make more money? But, the mission is to help the local communities that they serve. So, thanks to Darby Sieben, the head of Ampli, part of RBC Ventures for opening our eyes a little bit around how financial institutions are starting to solve more problems. And, it’s right along the lines of that trusted local expert. We just want that expert to help us solve more problems because they’ve already built the trust. My name is George Leith. Thanks for joining us in the Conquer Local podcast, this week. I’ll see you when I see you.


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