AT A BANKING INDUSTRY conference, we were invited to talk about the future of bank branches, and how banks can best retain relevancy for their bricks and mortar assets. In a world where retail and service industries are increasingly being forced to balance the new demands of digital channels with their physical operations, banks are especially vulnerable. This is because more power is increasingly being put in the hands of consumers, bringing fresh relevancy to the old mantra “the customer is always right”.
We asked nine experts (including my perspective) working across the banking, public relations and marketing sectors what presents the biggest brand/PR challenge to the banking sector over the next five years. The responses were varied, but there was a broad consensus that banks need to balance restoring public trust in the wake of a financial crisis that still looms large, with the demands of an economy that is increasingly digital and customer led.
JAKE BLAKENY co-owner, I-Am
Creating an omni channel customer experience is the most urgent brand challenge facing the financial sector. That is, aligning all consumer-facing channels to ensure consistency of experience. Customers increasingly expect to switch between channels while managing their finances, and the dangers of over-investing in one channel are many.
Instead, the financial sector must take a broad approach to change and innovate in ways that strengthen their overall brand offer; ensuring that branches are designed that exceed expectations and that digital technologies adopted genuinely improve the customer experience.
CHRIS SKINNER chairman, Financial Services Club, Author, Speaker
Bank brands are generally disliked by consumers and governments because of bad banking practices that have come to light over the past decade. Mortgage foreclosures, excessive fees, poor use of data, along with films like ‘The Big Short’, give people the impression banks are just big, fat, greedy capitalists.
So the biggest challenge is how to turn around these perceptions and create a banking brand that is believed to be cool, trusted and aspirational. Apple and Tesla have these qualities. Can you name a bank brand that you could put in the same sentence as these two?
COLIN JACOBS Client Services Director, Immediate Future
The financial services sector has championed new technology, ensuring online banking is secure and real-time management is at our fingertips. Yet, the reality is that many customers still favor traditional channels.
Too few organizations have truly embraced digital transformation and fewer still understand the importance of integrated communication – so the challenge is delivering an omnichannel experience. Customers expect to be able to engage in the channel of their choosing & understand the value of investing in products or services. A sector that once led the technological charge is in danger of being left behind.
HEATHER BAKER Founder & CEO, TopLine Comms
Banks have lost a lot of credibility since the financial crisis and recent high-profile scandals and data breaches. Over the next five years, they are going to need to focus on regaining consumer trust and building their reputations, while responding to changes in the competitive landscape.
Fintech start-ups and challenger banks that are entering this market are now offering user-friendly, cost-effective, service orientated products that threaten traditional banks’ long-held market share.
ANTHONY SEXTON Head of Product, LendInvest
I think the biggest challenge the incumbent financial services sector has is proving to their clients that they deserve a chance to be/remain their financial services provider. Regulators are changing the game when it comes to enabling new forms of competition and I think 2016 will be a year where it becomes blatantly obvious that we’re all regulated by the same rules but it’s the way in which we apply them that enables new forms of innovation and experiences that meet customer needs.
So while we’ve heard a lot from the legacy banks about what they are doing, we’re seeing a lot more in reality from the challengers/neo-banks.
MEL CARSON Founder & CEO, Delightful Communications
I’d suggest one idea would be to really focus on their leaders’ personal brands and begin a program to try and show the human face behind not just the banks’ management team, but everyone down the ladder. The financial services industry has to observe a number of marketing restrictions, so as they are trying to win back trust, they need (as one part of the plan) to try and create a positive emotional connection with the public.
I feel they’ll do that best by realising people are their best asset and start personal branding and employee advocacy programs to win hearts and minds back.
LISA WOOD Chief Marketing Officer, Atom Bank
Brands will need to learn how to connect with consumers on the consumers’ terms. And the simple fact is customers are switching off to traditional advertising, wanting more meaningful and engaging interactions with brands. Brands will have to connect on issues consumers care about; they can’t afford to be seen to be pursuing their own agendas.
Banks can no longer rely on the notoriety and heritage of their brands (especially the bigger ones). Instead, consumers will begin to look for a deeper emotional connection, a richer experience and a clear purpose.
JILL KURTZ Principal, Kurtz Design Strategy, LLC
Successful business has always been about relationships and the challenge of building great connections with customers will be greater than ever. The banking sector is on the front lines of figuring out the issues posed by increasing online participation while also serving a customer base that values the traditions of brick and mortar locations with face-to-face transactions.
Banks need to serve older generations who expect the banker in their neighborhood to know them by name as well as younger customers who are digital natives and trust online relationships to guide their decisions. The banking sector is challenged to meet these very disparate ways of engaging equally well.
TANYA ANDREASYAN Editor, Banking Technology
The banking sector’s image suffered greatly in the aftermath of the financial crisis – bailouts, scams and scandals are not things the public can easily forget and forgive. So as banks now try to embrace all things digital, online presence can be in their favor.
Offering an easy-to-use mobile solution with real-time notifications to customers is more appealing than spending hours on hold or receiving a statement by post that you are overdrawn weeks too late. Social media can be a strong weapon if used sensibly: queries can be addressed quickly, and having real people behind social media gives banks a much needed human touch.