As adults, we learn not to blindly trust others. We are conditioned to ask good questions, cast an inquisitive eye, evaluate data and rely on gut only as a last resort. We have learned to be skeptical, if not a bit untrusting, to an offer that sounds too good to be true.
Consumer skepticism today is based on experience. The perception of repeated violations and abuses leads directly to distrust. We are not born suspicious of banks or the banking industry. Building and earning trust is a sacred process. Like a finely crafted soufflé, it can't be rushed and it should not be overworked.
I believe the banking industry and their customers can restore trust. Not easily and not quickly. But, with a consistent commitment to authenticity and integrity across all outreach, trust and loyalty can be reintroduced at the heart of the banking industry.
For instance, advertising and public relations alone do not convey trust. They are simply communications channels that offer insights into the beliefs and values of the institution. The true "proof" of those values is in the actions displayed at all levels of the customer experience. When an institution professes "customer-first" values, are phone calls answered by a human quickly? Is someone greeting customers in bricks-and-mortar locations to help ease the banking transaction? Do documents reflect transparency of fees, contracts and expectations? Is the institution forthcoming in reporting earnings and personnel challenges? Advertising and PR introduce the conversation, but these actions build trust.
Similarly, the consumer has to rebuild trust with their institutions. It is incumbent upon the consumer to develop a working relationship – built on their values – with their institutions to ensure loyalty and long-term value that goes both directions. It is not wholly the institutions' responsibility to provide the tools, resources and opportunity at the consumers' discretion.
It is important to understand that you can't brand or manage the reputation of that which you do not control. Individual institutions within the banking industry cannot instill faith, trust, confidence, love and security into the industry brand, but they can inspire the same feelings towards their company, specifically. We can brand what we control. As a consumer, I can take responsibility to build trust for my personal brand and reputation. I can control my own behaviors, actions, values and beliefs and direct the perception others will have of me in my marketplace, holding myself accountable to live up to the expectations I set. I cannot control the brand of an institution or the industry.
Brands are based on promises. Promises are founded on values and beliefs. Bank A professes: "We promise to treat every customer like family," loan documents state, "I promise to pay." Promises are everywhere.
Rebuilding a brand is not as simple as sending a directive to the marketing department, creating a new logo, funding a few charities and taking out a Superbowl ad. Rebuilding trust in a marketplace is "about the actions," as I stated in an earlier American Banker article, "there are some really big, bold steps that need to happen" in order for consumers, independent banks, national institutions and the government to rebuild its image and reinstitute a position of trust in the marketplace.
I believe it is possible for the big bank brands to reinvigorate their reputations, and, in doing so, for the industry as a whole to elevate the trust level with consumers. Industry groups, associations and leaders, such as the American Bankers Association, can tackle the issue of setting expectations against which the industry can deliver. Individual institutions can look closely at the values they promote to the market through advertising, PR and other channels and live up to those values at every step.
Proudly declaring the values and expectations others can hold an institution, industry or consumer accountable for is the first step. Proclaim the beliefs you would fight for – the essence of what differentiates your bank from others. Why you? Then, carefully ensure that every action – from your marketing to your interactions and behaviors – matches those values. Trust is a cherished value, to be taken very seriously. It takes time to build, and rebuild.
Lida Citroën is an international branding and reputation management strategist, speaker and author based in Colorado.