|Op-ed: Freddie Baveystock on financial services comms|
|Monday, 28 May 2012 00:31|
“Banks should look towards the new”
Communicating for a bank is the nightmare job right now. But Freddie Baveystock believes that there’s an opportunity in digital that financial institutions are not yet fully realising
What tough times these are for the big banks. Hounded by the press, downgraded by share analysts, weakened by bad debt, hampered by low interest rates, hit by PPI claims, reviled by occupiers, burdened with regulation... who’d want to be in their shoes?
Few readers will feel much sympathy with them. They brought it on themselves, I keep hearing, or they’ve lived some high old times and are now feeling the pinch along with the rest of us.
Putting overpaid investment bankers and unscrupulous dealers to one side, spare a thought for those responsible for communications at the banks. They’ve a heck of a challenge on their hands. Yet there are still opportunities out there for those willing to innovate and take a more adventurous approach.
For the big players, branch networks remain top of their priority list. This may not be a bad approach. Although transactional banking is becoming increasingly digital and mobile, retail and SME customers still want the reassurance of a bank they can visit when they need to. It’s a deeply ingrained habit.
Yet a vast number of bank branches fall a long way short of contemporary retail standards. Banks are having to rethink the way they have traditionally used their branch network as a sales channel. The rise of almost universal internet access means that customers have become far less accepting of being sold to directly by their banks, preferring to shop around using review sites and social media.
As such, traditional sales techniques need to be quietly phased out or modified and banks will need to work to add value and re-establish themselves as ‘authority figures’. The answer to these in-branch issues could be stealing a march on the competition by enhancing the bank’s digital offerings.
Logically banks should be looking towards the new. But with the exception of First Direct, UK banks are taking their time before committing to social and digital media. Arguably they have good reason to do so. The FSA has put in place stringent guidelines around financial marketing both on and offline that make it impossible for a bank to promote its products in the way that, say, Penguin Books can (to name a brand that is notably social these days).
Digital innovation will become more important in light of growing competition. Virgin has recently entered the fray, Tesco is poised to do so and, most worryingly, tech companies have a foot in the door. O2, Google, and Apple already have patents filed.
But this could be the perfect opportunity, and incentive, for banks to adjust their strategies and reinvent themselves using a range of digital tools. Future generations are unlikely to see the difference between a payments app and being a regulated lender: they’ll be attracted to whoever offers them the best consumer experience.
These factors should give rise to a concerted push on the part of the banks to modernise their brands and create dynamic comms. Banks have been on the defensive, bound by rationality and afraid to innovate. Yet it wasn’t always this way.
Before the crash, Lloyds TSB made the extraordinary leap from Nigel Havers and galloping horses to the richly detailed animation of its parallel world. And before that, we had more exotic delights like Adrian Edmondson headbutting a NatWest branch and Halifax’s Bollywood turn. The time has come again for banks to take a more adventurous approach. The only question is, who will seize this opportunity?
Freddie Baveystock is a consultant at brand and digital agency Rufus Leonard