For anyone who still doubts the financial services sector needs anything more than a post-slump facelift, our latest Search for Answers report [request a copy: firstname.lastname@example.org] lays out the depth of distrust and cynicism now felt by the British consumers towards the sector. People overwhelmingly blame the banks for the recession, far more than they blame politicians or other high profile players. And this is having an ‘inverse halo’ effect on the broader financial sector.
It is worth considering that, even before the credit crunch dragged the UK into recession, trust in traditional institutions and ‘authority’ was in steady decline, a long-run social trend fuelled by greater affluence, independence and empowering technological advances. The economic crisis has simply quickened the public disconnection from the financial sector, compounded by images of bankers banking bonuses while ordinary families lose livelihoods.
So the idea that it will merely take a few more months (and the maintenance of a low profile in the meantime) to restore public faith in your company, sector or the industry as a whole, ignores both the long-term, cultural source of this decline and the critical impact of the recent crisis on confidence. A return to the status quo is out of the question, since consumers have already moved on, and continue to do so at pace.
Glasnost and guidance
There are as many opportunities as challenges in the fact that potential customers are now far more tuned in to financial issues than 12 months ago. On the whole they are consulting more sources, both traditional and informal, and researching their options more thoroughly.
Our research leaves no doubt that people are prepared to reach out once again to the financial world, even with fingers so recently burned. But to do so, they first need to see organisations reach out to them, and not simply to take in more of their money. True, product and pricing will always be a determining factor in consumer choice, but customers now expect to see companies understanding and helping, as well as promoting and selling.
The two resounding consumer demands are for transparency and for guidance, and as communicators we are critically engaged with both. For many firms, this requires a shift not just in emphasis, but also in nature of communications. A company’s website becomes ever more important, both as a means of building deeper connection with customers and as a ‘base’ from which to reach out through traditional and social media, and directly, to draw in a broader audience to your brand.
Across the developed economies, we have entered the age of the ‘trustomer’, where consumers – emboldened by the collective knowledge, influence and community offered by the internet – are demanding open, constructive and mutually respectful relationships with their service providers.
Having (generally) held on to a more distanced model while other sectors evolved to this trend, financial services will now be forced to play catch-up. There is market advantage in responding to these demands quicker and more convincingly than competitors, as some are already discovering.