How to Institutionalise Innovation with Maja Neable of BMO

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In this week’s episode, Eric talks to Maja Neable, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer Banking & Chief Data & Analytics Officer at BMO Financial Group about let’s say… one of the more innovative marketing campaigns we’ve seen recently! In spring 2022 BMO decided to tap in to the gaming community by creating a discord to help educate and advice this community on personal finance matters. 

There is a lot of insight into how you create an innovative environment for your team, and how to navigate meet your customers where they are - they might even be on the discord!

Scratch is a production of Rival, a marketing consultancy that builds challenger brands, strategies, and capabilities to change categories. Today's episode was produced by Hanna Samuelson and hosted by Eric Fulwiler. 

Find Rival online at, LinkedIn, Twitter

Find Eric on LinkedIn and tweet him @efulwiler.

Say hi at, we’d love to hear from you. 

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Recent news

BMO twitch activation, BMO NXT LVL 

BMO turns rainbows into bank deposits for at-risk LGBTQ+ 

BMO and Scotia are the ‘most attractive’ bank stocks 

BMO first Canadian financial institution to launch ‘True Name’ by Mastercard 

Spoken about on the show


Eric: Hey, before we get into today's episode, I have a favor to ask actually. So we are now over a year in with Scratch. We've recorded about 50 episodes and by the time you're listening to this potentially more, it's been amazing and I've really appreciated the feedback and support from you all. But I really want to try with the second year to get scratch in front of a wider audience. And so I'm asking you if you've been listening for a while or if you're new, if you find this content valuable, if you're supporting what we're trying to do, I would really appreciate it if you could just take a second press pause on this episode. Either leave a review or share this episode and scratch with someone else who you think would find it valuable. It would mean a ton to me and to us as we're really trying to build the audience and the rival brand and get this content in front of more people that we think and that you think can help. Thank you so much for the continued support. Now onto the episode,

Maja: It may sound a little like not sexy or not exciting, but at the end of the day you have to think as a leader a lot about what are your ways of doing and how you're institutionalizing what you're trying to do. So, and for us it's innovation and thinking boldly about how to serve our customers even better, but we have found the ways to institutionalize it and I think that's critical.

Eric: I'm Eric Fulwiler, and this is Scratch Bringing You marketing lessons from the leading brands and brands rewriting the rule book from scratch for the world of today.

Hey everyone, my guest today is Maya Neable. She is the SVP Chief marketing Officer, banking and chief data and analytics officer for Bemo, a big incumbent bank in Canada. She is based in Toronto. Really interesting conversation. We connected a while ago and took a few emails for me to convince her to come on to tell her story, but I'm really glad that she did. So we start with, it's not often that you see marketing and technology analytics in a CMO title. And so of course had to dig into that and we learned that Maya was actually a mathematician by training. So that was fascinating and I get a chance to ask her specifically what she does differently with her team to bring data into the process. We talk about a campaign that they launched recently that's really interesting on Twitch and how the bank is activating through that channel to try to get into gaming, of course, reach a younger demographic.

It seems like it's going very well. And then towards the end, and I think this is really one of the big takeaways for me, it's really fascinating. I'm obsessed with understanding how do you drive change in big organizations, how Maya talks about and has approached what she calls institutionalizing innovation at Bemo, a 200 year old financial services organization that is doing really challenger, innovative, disruptive type work as a brand. So she's got lots of principles and specific practices for everybody to learn from. So I know you're going to find a lot of value from this one. Without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Maya Neable. Hey Maya, how you doing today?

Maja: Hi Eric, nice to see you. Doing well. Thank you.

Eric: It is great to see you as well. I've been looking forward to this conversation. Obviously we connected a while ago and actually I think you are, I mean know you are not Canadian or maybe you are Canadian at this point. You're not originally from Canada, but I think you're the first Canadian guest and Canadian brands that we've had on the show, so there's at least that distinction. But yeah, I've been looking forward to this since we first connected and hearing more about what you've been doing at bmo. So why don't we get into it Maya, let's start with the first question, which is tell us about a brand that you are very curious and passionate about right now and why.

Maya: This is a difficult question because there's so many that pop up in all of our lives that we tend to relate to. The two that I want to really talk about, one is called KNAX It's a Canadian undergarments brand and it is done such an amazing job connecting to its target audience. It really embraces the humanity of who we are and the personal connection we have with all of our undergarments and how we feel about it. But it is really very, very inclusive brand and the way they market in the way they show up, in the way they connect with our consumer, with their consumers, it is really that inclusivity aspect of it is taken to the next level. And I find it's very relevant to their target audience. They've been very successful growing like crazy mostly online with some physical distribution and have recently sold majority of their equity to a larger company. But I've just been a consumer and an observer of this and I have been pretty impressed with how a brand can really go to the core of the customer at its heart and then continue to innovate and provide a relevant new and fresh experience in a space that it's been around for a very, very long time. Would they have this invites to their customers to ask them to, if you're wearing our products, can you raise your hand and we're going to pick a diverse set of our customers to showcase them in the next campaign? And I was pretty impressed with how diverse, truly diverse that group of customers that they were able to showcase was. So it wasn't just an idea that I think has been rehashed a number of times, but it was just the execution of it was so authentic and I really liked that a lot.

Eric: And I think it's interesting what you were saying about the inclusivity piece because a lot of people see that in the way the brand comes to market in the communication. A lot of these challenger brands are very effective at building community around what they stand for. But actually, and knowing a bit about what we're going to talk about with some of the campaigns and the work you and the team have done at bmo, a lot of that comes from a differentiated insight and differentiated strategy that leads to that type of outcome and output. So yeah, I pulled up their website. I think it looks really interesting. We're always interested in different challenger brands and different markets doing different things, so we're definitely going to check them out. I think that's a great suggestion. Maya, were you going to mention another brand?

Maya: I was, and it is a brand of a YouTuber I follow. And then it's just something I'm really curious about how these niche brands are being developed by content creators all across different platforms. YouTube obviously being one big one, but there's so many others such as Twitch where many of these creators create their own brands. We all have a brand, we all have personal brand whether we like it or not, whether we manage it or not. And how does one go about authentically creating what that brand is? I have my own YouTuber that I follow. Her name is Sydney Cummings. She is an amazing fitness and personal life coach that I really enjoy spending my time with her. She brings lots of positive energy to my life. And I have just been curious about how does one learn from people like that and take that into our own personal lives and think about our own personal brands and what we can learn from some of those successful typically quite young influencers that are finding the niche segments that are relevant and very passionate about them.

I recently just read one thing I was going to share, heard about it actually when I was at a conference in Khan that more than 60% of gen Zs will say that they follow a YouTuber that nobody else they know follows as well, which means that the word has become, the world has become so targeted, personalized, and fragmented is that we can all have our own unique interests and we connect with these people in the space through different influencers. We connect with people that have similar interests like us, but they don't have to be our neighbors or the kids that we go to school with or our spouses or our typical friends. You create these groups and they're so niche and there's so many niche little aspects of it. And if you talk to your friends and your community, you find out that people have all these unique personalities that they follow, whether it's because they like bonsai trees or they're very curious about specific art that they're interested in. So just the word is getting through this connections more personalized and also more fragmented.

Eric: I'm going to come back to that and use that as part of my question when we talk about your Twitch campaign, because I'm guessing that that thinking had something to do with what you ended up executing on for bma. But let's talk about you real quick. So I think the place to start is your title is you are the SVP Chief Marketing Officer, banking and Chief Data and Analytics Officer marketing at bmo. So talk to us a little bit about that title, what it means, your role, and that'll be great. I guess we're kind of going backwards in reverse chronological order, but you've been in the banking space for a little while, seven years at bmo. You were in Telco before that Expedia back in the day, Microsoft. So tell us a little bit about your story starting with your role and why you and the leadership team at BMO decided to create this role in this title for you in the way that you did.

Maya: Yeah, I mean I think I'm very lucky to work for an amazing organization. Our bank is over 200 years old and one of the big reasons why I think we are still around and still very successful is that we keep reinventing ourselves. We keep looking for new relevant ways to help our customers. We're a full service bank. We serve anything from underserved customers up to CEOs of capital markets, so have everything under the sky when it comes to banking. But the way the bank I think has been around is by being true to its values. Our purpose is to boil the grow, the good in business and in life. And I think we do that every day. And the way we do that for our customers is by looking for new, relevant, innovative ways, better ways to serve them, to help them in their financial lives, to help them make real financial progress to advise them on one hand to make their lives simpler and faster on the other hand. And we're always on the lookout for a better way to do this. And I think that is the core of the success of the bank. I am lucky to have a portfolio of very, very meaningful marketing that drives the business. That's the p b marketing. I really like that aspect of marketing, which is really connecting the marketing to the business results think super important for any CMO. And then the data piece, the data and technology at core of marketing. You can't do it these days, so without it. So it's the combination of the left side and the right side of the brain I think are the key to success. And having the data and technology and thinking about them as an enabler of the way to connect with the customers is the key. So I'm lucky enough to have this, all of these elements in my role and I really, really enjoy it. Before BMO as you said, I spent seven years in telco space. I have done everything from leading front lines, so I had the opportunity to lead the stores and the contact centers and all of our channels to all aspects of marketing to strategy and financial planning. So really learned the business that way and quite enjoyed the telco and found lots of parallels between the two industries. And before that, I spent seven years with Expedia started at Microsoft and then with Expedia. And that was a really fun ride super experience started really small and kind of saw that company grow to really a new way of serving travel needs of many of our customers. And I was part of the digital team that designed lots of these experiences and had lots of fun doing that. I quite enjoyed it. So quite a mix of the experiences in my life and I really like that a lot. I like learning new things and I think that's driven me through my career. So taking on new challenges as I went and taking the learnings from what I had already done and thinking how to apply them to a new context, new industry, new country, new business challenges has always been rejuvenating for me and inspiring and I think that has kind of guided some of these decisions in my career.

Eric: How did you know when to push for a new learning opportunity and challenge within an existing business? Take on a new role, new responsibility, whatever it was, versus actually moved to something different? I think that, yeah, I've thought about that a lot from my career and I think probably the people listening, that's probably always a question as well. Learning and growth is a huge part of what I think everybody should be looking for. Sometimes you can get it within the company you're at and sometimes not, but how did you go through that to decide whether to stay or whether to move on?

Maya: And everybody has to answer this for themselves, Eric. So I think that's such a personal question I try to create, and I will speak to that a little bit. I try to create an environment in here and now where we're constantly learning, there is a learning agenda to everything that we do because I really think that's what the business needs, but it's also what makes us happy and inspired and intellectually stimulated. And that I think is an important way to think about your work all the time. What can I be learning every day as opposed to just needing a new job so that you can learn something new. Nonetheless, I think changing things in your career is just very natural. We all want to do something else at some point in time, and I am a mathematician by background. I can really understand data well and ask good questions and process information but I am by nature very intuitive person, so I listen to my gut instinct a lot.

So it's, I think having that connection with what your inner self is telling you, when is the time to maybe do something new? I would say that often in my life, opportunities have come to me as opposed to me seeking them. And I think I've just been open to the opportunities. And then when one presents itself you can analyze things in many different ways, but at the end of the day you need to look in what your gut is telling you. Is this going to be something you want to do? Is it going to be fun? Is it going to be a positive challenge? And so I went for it. And I would say the third aspect of it is we all have to recognize that we're, we're not just work in this podcast, we talk about work and marketing or whatever the topic of our work may be, but we're complex human beings. There's a lot in our lives that fits together. And I think it's fair to recognize that the context of your life where you want to be both physically, whether that's geographic location or what's going on for you personally at that time is also component that plays into that decision.

Eric: So let's dig in a little bit more at the work you've done at BMO. And before we get into talking about this Twitch campaign and kind of your general approach to bringing modern marketing into a 200 year old business, I just want to unpack a little bit, a couple things that you said in your overview of the role. So I'd be curious on the data and technology side and you wearing the data and analytics hat as well as the CMO hat, can you give us a specific example? I think everybody of course talks about the importance of data within modern marketing, left brain, right brain, bringing those two things together. Clearly you with a mathematics background probably have more ownership of that than most and a unique perspective. But what's one example of how you've brought data and technology into the marketing function within your team?

Maya: Well, we have for example, a centralized marketing technology team that takes all of our platforms and our MarTech ecosystem. But now it's fairly complex. I think there's probably, I dunno, a number of tens, I dunno how many different platforms that are integrated together to build this great customer experiences. And that wasn't one and done. That's an evolution of this team that has grown over the past decade where we had set the strategy that we'll get kind of best tool for the job, but we'll also look to make sure that those components are integrated to really provide great customer experiences. So we have lots of trigger-based personalized journeys, for example, now that we do with our customers that go through different channels to help the customers get the most benefit of the products and services that they get from bmo. And for that, you need both the data and the technology and the way to get the customer response back to adjust your journeys. And this again has been it's one, it's many examples of these customer journeys that we now have, all of which are tailored and personalized towards the specific customer needs.

Eric: So I'm actually going to save my second question for when we talk about your approach to bringing modern marketing into a 200 year old business. I just realized it probably teased that up better. So let's dig into this campaign, which when I saw I read the headlines around you doing it, I sent it to you and I said, Hey, I think this would be a great topic of conversation. So can you give us the overview of the Twitch activation that you did in the spring?

Maya: We have been looking at the gaming space for a bit of time and seeing that it is a large opportunity for any brand because not like an opportunity, well, let's go to this event and then maybe we'll put our brand out there, but more recognizing the fact that gaming and metaverse at the larger scale is becoming almost like your third space like homework. And then the third way for families and friends to spend time together. So it's not just watching Netflix anymore, it's not just going to with your friends to the mall. Families are now engaging in these experiences that are multi-dimensional and include some type of a gaming component to it. And we were saying, well, okay, so how do we connect to the customers in the ways that are relevant to them and specifically how do we connect to some of these may be younger audiences and how can we help them in the way that we aim to help our customers with their financial life at a place that's relevant to them? And we had explored the number of ways to go through different partner with different influencers partner with different platforms to sort of promote or advertise our products and services, but we were guided by the desire to truly connect with our customers in a way that's meaningful. So the reason why we went for Twitch and we actually created our own channel is that we felt that this would be the best way for us to dip our toes in the water. I would say begin exploring this space and understanding how does a brand like ours engaged with the customers in a meaningful way. A number of different fis have tried different things, but what we really wanted to do is have our authentic way to do this. And so the way we do that now, we had also wanted to engage our employee base. So we had the big contest and we picked our first gaming specialist. We hired BMO's first gaming specialist whose only job is to help customers who come to Twitch to advise them on different financial questions where they have. And so we just thought that this was the way to reach the audiences that we otherwise would not reach who are probably not going to want to come to the branch and ask a bunch of financial services questions. But when we show up and are accessible to them in the way that's relevant to them, we've gotten a really, really positive response quite a bit of an excitement. And we're not limiting this to be more customers only we're open to broader audiences to have the conversation about financial wellbeing because we believe that it's really important for the wellbeing of any individual to have that. And so that's how we put our best foot forward. We again, a start, Eric, I think there's so much more for us to do, but those were some of the guiding principles that landed us on Twitch channel as the first way to get it into gaming.

Eric: And so if I pick up on what you were saying before, talking about brands that you're passionate about and this creator that you follow, and then your observation and perspective on how anybody can find anything, there's content that's so bespoke, everyone can find their personal value stream and their niche within these online content ecosystems. It sounds like that factored into part of this strategy if I'm kind of hearing you, but a lot of it was, hey, let's work backwards from the customer where they, where can we bring value through the types of activations that we're doing? So I guess less of a question and more of an observation, but I'm just trying to connect a dot between we're all human beings, we don't only exist in our roles at work, in our roles in life. And it sounds like there's a bit of an overlap there maybe with how you've kind of been observing what's been happening with your personal content consumption and maybe where you're trying to push or some of the insights that led to how you've been pushing the brand. Is that fair to say?

Maya: Yes. I think, and I wouldn't really take too much credit for this direction myself. I think one of the things that we are so good at B Mont that I'm really proud of is the culture of learning and innovation that we have instilled. And that does mean that we invite our teams, our agencies to not just randomly put forward the ideas, but we have created an ecosystem and the ways of being where innovation and thinking out of the box is mandatory, where we actually dedicate a good chunk of our budgets towards innovation and thinking out of the box. And I would say for me as the leader, this was certainly an experience where I needed quite a bit of an education. I'm not a gamer myself, and so I needed to be educated in what this opportunity is, why should I care? And so I think that is also really something that that's a key to success for us is that you need to, as a leader, I think have that broader point of view, but invite the inputs, very broad inputs and continuously innovate. I think what has guided us is that core desire and humanity of bmas brand humanity is really at the core of what we do. Our desire to help customers is again, core to what we do, and I think that was a guiding principle that led us to this path, but it certainly did not come from me.

Eric: Fair enough. Interesting. Nonetheless. So I know we've only got maybe five minutes remaining, but I would love to touch on, obviously we're not going to do this conversation justice in five minutes, but when it comes to taking modern marketing into a traditional company, and I think actually traditional is the wrong word, an old business because there are older businesses that have been around for a while that are just as much a challenger as the FinTech around the corner and also vice versa. But I'd be curious about that at a high level, maybe how you've thought about it. And then I'm very curious, you talked earlier on about trying to stay new and relevant, and I'm sure that's a huge part of it. Sounds like that's a huge part of your approach and what's led to some of these interesting kind of disruptive activations, if you will. So I'd be curious generally how you've approached building the marketing function and culture that you have and how you're able to keep the team and therefore the brand focused on staying and relevant with everything that's changing in the world and your industry and market.

Maya: So I think it's two coins of this narrative. I think number one is you for any cmo, I think it's really important that you truly understand your business. The more you understand your business, the more value can you add to it. And so marketing as a function I think is going through a little bit of soul searching. What's our role? What do we do in the organizations? Can we prove our worth? Is it worth advertising? Is it worth communicating to the customers? Is it worth investing in all of these technologies? And I think the more we understand the business, the better we can do our jobs. At the same time, the more we stay true to the core of who we are as a brand, who is your valued customer? What's your value proposition and how you are delivering it through your network I think has to stay in the very basic level of marketing. True. And you have to use that as the anchor for what you do. Otherwise you kind of innovate. But what for? And it just seems random. You could be doing so many things. So you need some anchors and I think the anchors are probably something you want to repeat, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat to make sure that you're anchoring yourself into what you're really truly promising to your customers. Then within that framework, and we are highly regulated industries, so our frameworks are a bit tighter. Ways of doing things are a bit tighter but we have established those. And then within that you create your own ways of doing things. And what we have been able to do is say, we're not just going to say we're innovative company. We're not just going to talk about it. We're going to create the frameworks that force people to innovate. And we don't have an innovation team on the kind of job jar for every marketer. And what we do, for example, for every campaign, and I mentioned this, we divide our budget to 70% is tried and true, 20% are new things and 10% is totally wild stuff, like something we can explore or do something totally new. Then what I think is also really critical for us is that we celebrate both the suc, all of our learnings. We treat both the things that test that worked well and test that didn't work well. We treat them as learnings. We don't call them successes and failures, they're all learnings, and then we publicly share them. We have forums where we have large teams working on so many different products and services and we bring these teams together and invite them to share those learnings. And then within that framework, we make sure that they both, they all share what worked well, but they also shared what didn't work well and why didn't work well, and what are they going to do with that, and then we celebrate. So I think by doing that over and over again, we create the culture where failure is not seen as a failure, it's seen as a positive learning. Again, within our framework, there's certain things we don't want to test. And I think for every business that's really important, I think the teams can operate really well if they're clear on what is the sandbox, how far can I go, when do I have to check in, what are my decisions? And so I think for a big organization it may sound a little not sexy or not exciting, but at the end of the day you have to think as a leader a lot about what are your ways of doing and how you're institutionalizing what you're trying to do. And for us, it's innovation and thinking boldly about how to serve our customers even better. But we have found the ways to institutionalize it, and I think that's critical.

Eric: I love that term of institutionalizing innovation. I actually haven't heard that before, but it's kind of what I was getting at and I'm really glad that you went in that direction because I didn't even ask it explicitly, but in my mind, as you were talking about new and relevant, I think everyone talks about innovation. Everyone talks about how do you change the business while you run the business, and that leads all these companies to do these innovation plays and things like that. And that can obviously work for some, but I think what's a much more interesting and lucrative challenge is how do you actually drive innovation within an incumbent organization? Because you've got the scale. If you can get the innovation, then you've got the best of both worlds. Often it's said that it's change in a market is a race between incumbents trying to get innovation and challengers trying to get scale.

And it's one thing to talk the talk of innovation, which of course everybody does, but walking the walk of it and actually getting down to the brass tacks of like, well, what do you actually do differently day to day? And it's so interesting you bring up the 70 20 10, because I've done a lot of these interviews now, I think it's it's got to be going on a hundred, but it's amazing how frequently that comes up, some type of financial and some type of cultural process to, I don't want to say force, but strongly encourage people to actually invest in and then learn from taking risk essentially. So I'm kind of trying to distill this down as I'm talking out loud, but the 70, 20 10 thing I'm starting to tell people that that is, if I could tell them to do one thing differently, do that. Because I've heard it from so many people like you, successful CMOs that are doing really interesting things with challenger brands or big businesses that are really being innovative. And I love that cultural thing of retros celebrating, celebrating success failures, and I think we found the title of the episode in Institutionalizing Innovation. So thanks for that. All right, Maya, I am going to let you go. Thank you so much again for your time. Before I do, last question, just to sum things up or distill this all down into one takeaway for people, what is the one thing that people should do differently after listening to this episode?

Maya: Well, I'll give you two things but the first one is if you are a CMO or a marketing leader you should really think hard. How well do I understand my customer and my business? Both what does my customer need and how does my business make money? If you don't feel really comfortable about answering that question, I think that's the homework number one. I do think it's often forgotten kind of how important that is. So that's why I start by that. And then in addition to that, if you don't have 70 20 10, that shouldn't be too hard to implement. Maybe you don't have to do it on everything, maybe do it on some campaigns but then if it will help you institutionalize innovation or whatever your 10% is, I dunno if you can be more specific about what that is, but that is probably a good first step.

Eric: I'm sorry, I'm going to sneak in one more question because I think that certainly people listening to this, because I keep beating the drum about it, but I think a lot of people out there wouldn't disagree or probably would love to be able to put some money, whether it's a 70, 20 10 or some money in time into these big ideas. I think they can often hit a bit of a friction patch, if not a dead end, with trying to sell that through to their ceo, their cfo. You know, in a lot of organizations they're very sales led or spreadsheet driven. So do you have any advice for people listening who maybe really want to be doing that, but are struggling with, Hey, let me carve out part of my budget. And now with everything that is going on and people going through planning for next year marketing, many marketing budgets are probably not going up, how do you sell that through? How do you make the case for that?

Maya: Well, again, this is where you have to do the connect the heart and the mind of whoever it is that you are selling this to. I think it's start small have some low hanging fruit, some proofs that you can show them to people, but also know that the individual on the other side of the table is a human right. There's something that's going to spark their desire to learn more. So I think it's really important to understand that so that you know what angle you can take into. So yes, the numbers are important, data is important, but if you're just starting, you don't have the, but you could say, well, we want to do this and here are all the benefits that we could get from testing something new and just find something that's going to be relatable to that person.

Eric: Amazing. I think that's a great place to leave it. Thank you so much for joining us. Really enjoyed the conversation. Appreciate the time.

Maya: Yes, thank you. Good to see you. Bye-Bye.

Eric: Take care

Scratch is a production of rival. We are a marketing innovation consultancy that helps businesses develop strategies and capabilities to grow faster. If you want to learn more about us check out If you want to connect with me, email me at or find me on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe, share with anyone you think might enjoy it. And please do leave us a review. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

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