Banks can win back trust by striving for boringness
After years of presenting themselves as modern and forward-thinking, a succession of scandals has made banks of all shapes and sizes look to the past in a bid to regain public trust.
Banks are falling over themselves at the moment to tell us they’re on our side, sticking up for the small man and hardworking families. They have traditional values (which they never lost by the way) and won’t take risks with our hard-earned money.
Such is the scramble to appear untainted by recent controversies, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is due to resurrect the 250-year-old Williams and Glyn banking name (which disappeared from the high street in the mid-1980s) for its new UK ‘challenger bank’ which, incidentally, it’s creating after being forced to divest itself of over 300 branches as a condition of its government bailout.
The return of traditional banking values
Elsewhere, we’ve had Lloyds’ 250th anniversary advert with its famous black horse helping people through a series of historic or life-changing events throughout the decades. This has highlighted the bank’s longevity with the horse a metaphor for strength and trust.
There’s been a parade of other banking adverts that look back with rose-tinted spectacles at real or fictitious events gone by, such as Natwest’s recent mortgage advert ‘The House that Jack Built’ in which a young boy recounts the ‘romantic’ tale of his mum and dad living with his grandparents while they saved to buy their own house – the house he now lives in. Again a traditional view of banking.
Yorkshire Bank recently made its own tear-jerker (I was very tired, don’t judge me) with its June 2014 ‘We Care About Here’ campaign. This advert featured a range of ‘everyday heroes’ – an air ambulance pilot, a zoo-keeper, a parent and child, underwater engineers, a cycling team – going about their daily lives. It was subtle yet powerful.
Personally, I like many of these adverts. The production values are top drawer, they tell a great story, and the soundtracks are beautiful.
PR alone can’t fix a beleaguered industry
As a PR practitioner, I applaud the efforts of my contemporaries. They’ve done some great work in helping the banks reposition themselves after the banking crisis.
However, if there’s one lesson recent events have taught us it’s that no amount of gooey-eyed advertising is going to make people trust the banking sector if the banks themselves aren’t fixed.
Just when it seems the sector is moving out of crisis mode, along comes another scandal. In the last 18-months alone we’ve seen scandals involving alleged Libor rigging, foreign exchange manipulation, and links to illegal money-laundering. It’s no wonder banks are still languishing at the foot of the corporate trust league.
An undeserving reputation?
This only reiterates the view that the vast majority of people don’t want flash behaviour from the institutions they entrust with their money. They want a safe pair of hands.
It’s actually a great shame that the actions of a few have damaged an entire sector. Reckless activity in the investment banking sector in particular has tainted almost all banks and allowed the media to portray bankers as the baddies.
However, I’ve previously been involved in advising a UK bank on its regional public relations activity, both before, during and after the banking crisis. Here the focus was always on local business banking, with deposits made locally supporting business growth in that area. I would trust all of those people I dealt with at the bank to handle my money.
And herein lies the key to solving the problem. It all comes down to trust. The only way banks will regain the trust of their customers and other stakeholders is through being able to demonstrate a long-term positive change in behaviour.
A long-term strategy for repairing reputations
Banks, by the nature of their business activities, are always going to face crises, but the public will be far more forgiving if such incidences are few and far between.
They need to rid themselves of malpractice and return to doing the simple things well. In essence, this means being boring. My advice to banks is strive for boringness. Do what you were put here to do. It’s still possible to be different AND boring.
That’s clearly a strategy that has driven some of the aforementioned bank PR and advertising campaigns. But ultimately, this strategy will only work if the banks can live up to these traditional, safe and responsible credentials. This is a process that could take years, if not decades. Time is going to be the greatest healer.