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Focus on Your Bank's Brand, Not the Industry's

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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.

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Comments (4)
Very nice thoughts. The banking industry challenge is articulated in your comments and also was made on MSNBC by the CEO of one of the 5 largest banks in the US. He stated that they had to rebuild "TRUST" one customer at a time. And then he privately says to shareholders, our payday lending at over 100% ROA for is good. Of course they do it on the backs of the neediest of their "customers". It is even worse at the 5th largest bank where they are making about 1000% ROE with their payday loan program.

So any of the smaller banks will have a hard time building trust in the shadows cast by apparent financial gangsters at the helm of two major banks. Perhaps someone has a nicer word to describe them? Anyone at those two banks want to defend themselves?

The good news for you, Lida, is that you have decades of work ahead of you as you try to help mid-size and small size banks do what you espouse. Good luck!
Posted by frankarauscher | Friday, October 12 2012 at 2:32PM ET
Most of today's bank retail customers believe they must have bank accounts. They're not going to go through an ultra-laborious, time consuming and uncertain "challenge deposit" process with PayPal in order to reduce transactions with banks. Furthermore use of PayPal requires a bank account! We've also made switching banks--as opposed to buying a "prepaid card" (checking account) at Walmart--difficult, slow and uncertain. 30-40 years ago, most customers already did not "like" or "trust" banks. Too bad. Let's leave promoter score to Bain and "reputation" to J.D. Power. Our challenge is that we're not delivering enough value and pricing strongly enough to make many of our customers profitable.
Posted by andrewkahr | Friday, October 12 2012 at 6:33PM ET
Thank you for your comments. Building trust is at the core of any business, industry or individual person's brand. It is where we can set the promises to our constituents, meet expectations and is our most competitive advantage, if adhered to.

The process of building and maintaining trust and relationship with stakeholders and core constituents IS time consuming and sometimes expensive. However, the cost of failing your customers is exponentially more costly.

Lida Citroen
www.LIDA360.com
Posted by Lida Citroen | Monday, October 15 2012 at 12:43PM ET
Speaking of 'branding'...It's always great when that brand aligns with the delivered goods. CapStar Bank talks about 'listening'...They do and the experience has been like no other bank I've ever worked with.

Check out there branding here: http://www.youtube.com/capstarbankvideos
Posted by jkbaer | Tuesday, October 16 2012 at 12:00PM ET
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