Things have never been more complicated for financial service brands. Turbulent times, unparalleled complexity and close regulatory and public scrutiny have delivered the perfect storm for the banking industry. Expectations, and the consequences, are higher than ever.
But fundamentally, beyond any artifice of advertising, our relationship with the industry remains one built on the comparatively straightforward notion of trust. With few exceptions, our money; our coins, paper notes and electronic transfers, can be exchanged for goods and services of value. These transactions are somewhat grounded in truth and realness. However, in times of uncertainty, customers have lost sight of what is real.
A world of distrust
We live in challenging times, so much has been thrown in the air. What was once so certain with the things we trust is no longer such a safe bet. This is a time when Russia gets to elect its own American president. Allegedly. A fried chicken shop should have chicken, right? Only as KFC recently demonstrated, now it might not. Our relationships with all brands and institutions is open to question, especially so for those that concern our income, investments and potential wealth.
Ten years after the financial crisis of 2007-08 began to rock the economy, the media conversation remains dominated by negative perceptions of an industry that is struggling to regain customer trust. The findings of Edelman’s Trust Barometer make continued uncomfortable reading for the UK financial sector. The longest running global survey on consumer trust saw its stalled recovery in the sector in 2018, following marginal but steady increases over the last five years. 7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is now the number one job for CEO’s in banking, ahead of delivering high-quality products and services.
Where are the trust builders?
As an industry, we must face some hard, uncomfortable truths. We’re letting the side down. The question of trust with brands often comes down to the effectiveness of advertising. Okay, there are some other non-too insignificant factors at play in this complex sector, but unfortunate as it is, we must bear some of the blame. We’re carpet bombing consumers with dull, empty messages in the name of optimised media. We’ve whitewashed views and homogenised consumer groups. We’re turning online encounters into a whack-a-mole contest of opening banners and pop-up offers. We’ve become so in awe of laser focused targeting and infinite alliterations of programmatic ads to the individual, we’ve lost sight of our ability to motivate a group. We’ve fallen into a paranoid fixation with short term metrics at the expense of the long-term health of the brand.
Winning hearts not wallets
Considering how scarce trust is right now, too many consumers are entrusting their money with brands they tolerate, rather than celebrate. Our relationship with money goes far beyond the transaction, yet with the odd exception of players like first direct, Atom Bank and Monzo, few real passion brands exist in financial services. These brands are bucking the trend in terms of distinctiveness; they don’t just stand for being trustworthy, they offer something more – a clear and inspiring purpose, and a very unique personality profile from their peers. These are brands who are also challenging the digital landscape through more fluid and targeted engagement to ensure their customer’s needs are placed above everything else, and which is highlighting gaps in the customer experience and loyalty performance of many other brands.
The financial services sector is awash with start-ups and re-invented legacy brands - exactly when long-term, far sighted, big thinking backed by in-depth consumer insight is needed. Too many brands are treading water, failing to uncover a genuine point of distinctiveness to enable them to stand apart and help potential consumers actively choose one over another. Bold statements of intent have been replaced by bland indifference for the consumer, with communications shying away from distinctiveness for fear of not cutting through, or the wrong channels are being used to connect.
We see the default all too often being to reflect more catch all emotive benefits by broadcast messaging without a push strategy with the same values or thinking across different touch points. This strategy is no longer sophisticated enough to deliver the personalised and relevant interactions that today’s consumers demand, resulting in hit and miss experiences that lack true customer understanding.
In this hyper-personalised world, brands need instead to develop distinctive attitudes and points of view, which effectively challenge perceptions and which the whole organisation and its customers can really get behind. Many brands claim to want relationships with consumers that move beyond the functional into a more emotional space, but exactly what emotional space is often less well defined. In order to connect emotionally and credibly, the key is then to create an outstanding customer experience across every touchpoint.
Suffering from legacy systems and outdated practices, financial service brands are falling behind other industries when it comes to digital innovation, failing to adopt technology beyond the most basic needs of digital banking. With the emergence of digital channels, the real opportunity to regain trust lies in embracing the hyper-connectivity of digital and using it to gain a deeper understanding of the new customer expectations of brand engagement and content that have emerged.
A real understanding of life right now is key to success for financial service brands; a distraction from the complicated, a reason to feel good. Genuinely understanding and championing their customers is what is needed to stand out from the crowd and nurture lost trust. Powered by customer data and insight, these initiatives lay the foundations of brand, positioning and product activity that can help recover reputations and inject some bravery and realness back into banking.