Financial services firms need to better communicate their willingness to help prevent financial disasters, says Chris Tuite, head of consumer finance at MRM.
Firstly, and most importantly I hope this finds you and yours well and that continues into 2021 and beyond. You don’t need me to tell you it was a tough, topsy turvy 2020 and the start of 2021 isn’t shaping up to be a picnic either.
Benjamin Disraeli once concluded ‘there is no education like adversity’ and we have definitely been learning during our lockdowns. For the lucky ones it was a new language, how to bake banana bread or exactly who Joe Wicks is and how much energy he has.
For others it was more serious than that. The stark realities of epidemiology, the fragility of good health or how precarious our financial situation can become in the aftermath of an economic shock. All have all been painful lessons that too many have had to grapple with and learn from quickly.
It’s the third of those that has been most interesting to observe in a professional capacity. As the pandemic has continued I and my colleagues have been advising clients on how best to respond to a whole host of communications challenges that have been presented by COVID-19. But as Mr Disraeli told us, the response to this adversity gave the industry the opportunity to learn from mistakes of the past too.
The awful image of Financial Services (FS) presented in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007 (rightly) lived long in the public conscience and the subsequent ‘banker bashing’ has made the ability for FS brands to make genuine connections with consumers that much tougher.
Did 2020 offer a chance for a reset? Did FS brands succeed in forging deeper more long-lasting connections with their customers and a wider audience by being clear, empathetic and efficient in their comms at a time of national emergency?
Well, yes and no.
Much of the comms pushed out over the course of 2020 around forbearance, stimulus initiatives and general good financial practice has landed well. The industry has been responsible and reactive and on the whole provided information when and where its needed. There have been notable drives by FS to respond to urgent challenges too as seen by the rapid roll out of schemes like the Bounce Back Loans Scheme (BBLS).
However, as the inaugural Money Matters Index from our client Mouthy Money has shown, too many people still don’t feel they can and should, turn to financial services providers at a time of crisis. We compiled a 2020 survey of over 600 Mouthy Money readers, and it revealed that 59.4% of respondents would rather speak to family members, Citizen’s Advice or wouldn’t talk to anyone at all if they encountered financial difficulties.
That is clearly an issue for providers as much as it is for those people. Early detection of financial impairment is hugely important in mitigating its impact and while lots of good work has been done, it’s just a start and we need to go further.
Of course, it is natural for people to turn to those closest to them in times of hardship. But FS need a canary in the coalmine too, in order to detect and prevent disasters happening in the first instance. That starts with openness and approachability communicated well to customers.
FS brands need to inspire the confidence in consumers that they are open to conversation, that they can speak in a language people understand and, most importantly of all, they truly empathise with the situation people find themselves in.
That’s the next challenge for FS brands. Now you have people’s attention how are you going to hold it and draw positive associations with your brand and the wider industry? Well as far as we are concerned following these six principles in 2021 will help you to achieve that.
- Understand what genuinely drives and motivates you and your audiences. Don’t say you understand and then act differently because you will get found out. People aren’t stupid. If you don’t know what drives and motivates your audiences, find out.
- Focus on people and not the product. Put people at the heart of what you do. Too often it’s the wrong way round.
- Tell stories people can relate to and give them information they can use through the right channels.
- Be authentic by using a visual, emotional and linguistic tone that actually does speak to individuals and rings true to them and your brand. Honesty works better and people respect it in the long-run.
- Be brave, consistent, creative and empathetic in how you communicate
- Be demanding of yourselves and adopt high editorial standards in what you produce. Focus on quality not quantity if you want to cut through.
If FS brands truly adopt these principles, they just might find that trust in them will grow and that can only be a good thing in building lasting relationships with consumers based on more than just inertia and convenience.