Experiential Learning: A Financial Services Firm and Brierley Institute Students

As a corporate member of the Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement at SMU Cox School of Business, Synchrony Financial has worked extensively with us. Synchrony shares our commitment to develop the next generation of customer focused professionals, and our MBA students have taken on projects for the company and their clients. 

We asked Bart Schaller, EVP and CMO at Synchrony, about the experience.

How do you describe your role at Synchrony? 

Synchrony delivers customized financing programs across industries including retail, health, auto, travel and home, along with consumer banking products. Our business is built on a partner-centric model, through which we provide our client’s customers the best integrated experience we can to drive value, loyalty and sales.

As EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, I’m focused on innovation and driving new growth strategies, including developing new products, channels and value propositions to deepen customer engagement with our partners and their customers. 

How did you decide to engage with the Brierley Institute? 

As a business centered on customer engagement, we’re attracted to the Brierley Institute’s commitment to developing students’ and professors’ understanding of customer engagement to create loyalty and brand value.

On a more personal note, my wife and I are SMU alumni, and our son graduated in 2019. I appreciate the opportunity to give back to SMU for the education and development that the university has given my family.

You've participated with the institute in MBA student projects. How did they work out for you? 

We’ve participated in four student marketing analytics projects so far with more to come.  These are terrific opportunities for students to work on real-world business challenges.

In the completed projects, we gained new insights into customer behavior through the analysis and market research completed by the student teams. In particular, the second project team identified an emerging customer segment for our partner. We followed that project up with an additional project on that new customer segment to dive deeper into optimizing engagement. 

Would you do it again?

Definitely. The student engagement enriches both us and our business partners. We’ve gained new insights and looked at business questions from a different perspective. 

Can you tell us about your participation in the Brierley Institute’s Professors Institute? 

I’ve had the pleasure, along with Synchrony’s EVP of Data Analytics, Michael Bopp, of speaking at the Professors Institute for the past two years. 

The ability to engage with so many high-caliber marketing professors in one room is a unique opportunity. We’ve had rich discussions about emerging trends in financial services data — data security, privacy legislation, AI, machine learning. We feel privileged to spend time talking with marketing professors about practical business challenges they and their students will be facing. 

What else would you like to add?  

Data drives our models, but in the end, it’s all about relationships. Hal Brierley and Marci Armstrong are terrific partners. Everyone that has worked with the students is impressed with their talent and dedication to the projects. Our hope is that participating in these projects will enrich their professional journeys. 

We’ve seen the Brierley Institute drive new insights for our customers, and are excited to see how the Institute leverages digital and traditional media in the future, to create loyalty and value while investing in the next generation of marketing analytics talent. 

Note: This is interview has been edited for length

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