Three Steps to Boost a Bank’s Image
With the holiday party season in full swing, bankers across America are faced with a dilemma: Do I tell people what I do for a living?
Bankers today fall just below lawyers and persnickety salespeople in the public’s esteem. Even President Obama pulled out the old pejorative “fat cats” to describe Wall Street types – and remind the public that these portly felines were at the root of the financial crisis we’ve endured.
Bankers aren’t used to this kind of scrutiny. No longer answerable only to shareholders or directors, bank leaders now have to consider how their institutions are being viewed in Washington and in communities across America.
So how can bankers burnish their image at a time like this? Here are three ideas:
1) Recognize your public responsibilities. It’s not a traditional free-market approach, but banks aren’t traditional free-market entities these days. President Obama is right that banks have benefitted from extraordinary public-sector assistance and should be making a bigger than normal effort to help communities and individuals recover from a harsh economy. Even more importantly, the public agrees with him. Banks have to go beyond talking about “efficient allocation of capital” as a public good and start talking about customer-oriented actions – loans, foreclosure modifications, etc. – that redound to the public’s benefit.
2) Make your institution more human. When describing your institution’s public-spirited attitude, stop being mechanical and start being relatable. The tendency among corporations is to talk in numbers – we’ve increased lending X%; we’ve modified Z home loans. But numbers are cold. People are warm.
Include in your message some salient details about the loans you’re making (while maintaining privacy, of course). What do the businesses do? What communities are they in? How many employees do they have (and by extension, how many jobs are you helping to save)? Which homeowners are getting help? In which neighborhoods? What makes their situation compelling? Are they veterans or schoolteachers or widows or first-timers? Show the humanity.
Presidential speeches are good models. Every president highlights how his policies are affecting actual people. Bankers should do the same.
3) Make sure customer service is up to snuff. While executive messages make up a top-line communications strategy, consider good customer interactions to be a grassroots strategy. These days, banks need to maintain strong relations with their customers and wow potential new customers by going above and beyond in customer service. Explore all avenues, including new social media such as Twitter and Facebook, to interact with customers and solve problems. Some of these efforts may even result in good stories or anecdotes to include in speeches or op-eds.
Also, tend the Internet garden well. The Internet magnifies impressions gleaned from individual events. It’s important to stay on top of Internet attitude toward your company and respond quickly to any negative storyline developing. Blogs like the Consumer Reports-owned Consumerist are quick to skewer companies (especially credit card issuers) that mistreat customers, but they’re also willing to put a spotlight on companies that do right by customers. Attention like this can be invaluable when it comes to buffing up your brand.
The onus is on banks to stop acting like staid, monolithic institutions (run by fat cats) and start looking like community and national partners – companies people can trust and rely on to go beyond the ledger and take a more active interest in improving people’s lives. Banks that can do this best will boost their reputation in the country and their stature in Washington. And their employees will hold their heads higher in the new year.