Lansons Conversations

Can corporate citizenship rebuild trust in Banks?

Cynics may suggest that corporate “citizenship” is the latest fluffy fad. That this philanthropy is the last resort of the scoundrels and villains of the Banking industry desperate to rehabilitate their shattered reputations. They may argue that this is simply the Banking version of “greenwashing” – a ploy to repent for past failings through high profile good deeds.

I had the good fortune to chair a panel event for the Financial Services Forum last week on rebuilding trust. The industry was well represented with senior communicators from Nationwide, Santander, Deutsche Bank, RBS, NS&I and many other august organisations.

It was a wide-ranging debate taking in issues from executive remuneration to the future of the high street branch. One of the biggest themes emerging however was the rise of corporate citizenship and other worthy attempts to connect with local communities. One attendee queried how genuine these attempts were beyond a marketing exercise.

I think this sentiment is understandable but fails to recognise the real commitment that exists within the industry to reconnect with their communities and customers. From TSB to Handelsbanken, Co-op Bank to NatWest – most Banks are investing in their community outreach and CSR programmes. All see the value in building bridges with local communities as well as instilling a sense of pride in their employees Initiatives like ‘Living on your side’ at Nationwide and the ‘Breakthrough’ project at Santander have had material impacts in terms of engaging their employees with this new agenda of putting customers first.

Why does that matter? And do customers really care? Well, engaged employees are more likely to provide great customer service, they’re more likely to do the right thing for customers. They’re less likely to act in a way which adversely impacts customers – creating conduct risk (as well as huge fines from the regulator).

This is about Banks role-modelling the right behaviour in their employees. This would suggest that there is real business driver behind all of this. And while these citizenship initiatives can help restore battered corporate reputations, far more importantly they can also act as a catalyst to avoid further reputational risk. Banks which understand the importance of this will not only reconnect with their customers, they will create competitive advantage. Of course doing the right thing should not just be about protecting reputations. It should be at the core of the values of the business. However in the long road to recovering trust in the Financial Services industry I think we should be supportive of these citizenship initiatives. And leave our cynicism at the door. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this post or wider issues relating to employee engagement you can contact Scott McKenzie at or on 020 7294 3611.