You Can’t Bank on Goodwill in a Crisis

8/23/2017
— Michelle Ryan 

With the spotlight on the banking sector, it was timely to hear Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) CEO, Anna Bligh, speak recently at the 2017 Mumbrella Finance Marketing Summit.

In her keynote speech, ‘Changing the way Australians feel about banks’, Bligh talked about the power shift in the banking sector which has left consumers in the driver’s seat. She also spoke about the millions of dollars being invested by Aussie banks as a result of this shift – into technology, mobile and online banking, and other services that will deliver the 24/7 convenience and access that we have become accustomed to.

Yet it was her related comments around trust in the banking sector that were particularly interesting – comments that were delivered in the same week that Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Ian Narev, was questioned over allegations the bank had breached money laundering laws (but ahead of the announcement he would be retiring next year) and also the week he had announced the bank’s $9.88 billion profit (the eighth consecutive record profit).

Bligh acknowledged that Aussies don’t hold the banking sector as a whole in high regard. This may not be surprising. We are more trusting however of our own personal banks – as long as they deliver what we expect in terms of access, convenience, and reliable technology. ABA commissioned research shows that over half of respondents (53%) trust their own bank, while this drops to only a third (31%) when questioned on their trust of the banking industry.

If this is true, our own banks will keep our trust by delivering a secure and convenient service, with relevant and modern products. But what of the industry at large? How will they earn and maintain our trust?

Bligh had three key suggestions for the industry that can be applied to any business or industry facing a trust – or reputation – crisis:

1. You can’t comms your way out of the issue of trust

Communication is critical in any reputation management or rebuild strategy. Yet as Bligh rightly pointed out, communication doesn’t provide a silver bullet to addressing issues around trust. All the key messages in the world won’t get you anywhere if people don’t actually believe you are committed to making changes for the better.

2. Do the hard yards on changes then do a better job communicating those changes

This is really step one. If a business or industry is facing a reputation issue – and the banking sector is not alone here – identifying what needs to change at an operational, cultural or procedural level to change the public’s perceptions should be the first consideration. This is about showing, not just telling. Once you identify and commit to making real changes – which is not an easy task, granted – you then have something meaningful to communicate.

3. Strong leadership is key but changes needs to be embedded through to the frontline

They say generals are made in war not peace. When facing criticism or an organisational issue or crisis, strong leadership will drive reputation. Changes made at the top need to then infiltrate throughout the whole business. Those in your business dealing with clients or customers need to be on the same page otherwise no one will believe the words from leaders (see point number one again).

Trust is certainly an important asset for every business. The question is, whether businesses are being proactive enough to earn and maintain that trust.

Time will tell for the banking industry.

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Head of Corporate
WE Buchan, Sydney