Three Things Banks Need To Do To Improve Their Reputation With Consumers

While there are a lot of things that banks need to do to get back on track profitability-wise, there are three “things” banks need to improve in order to (re-?)gain their credibility with consumers:

  • Transparency. If the CEO of your company goes on TV (say, Jim Cramer’s show) and tells the world the future of your firm looks bright, and then two days later, other banks are picking at you like vultures on roadkill, then your firm is not transparent. Consumers (not to mention investors) are sick and tired of this crap. Come clean about your financial situation. And come clean about your product quality. And your fees. Be transparent. We know the difference.
  • Tangibility. The Financial Brand blog recently highlighted the branding efforts of one bank, who’s running a series of ads showing someone (as Jeffry Pilcher writes) “wrestling — literally — with some aspect of their financial life: a wallet, purse, or checkbook. The only blurb of copy — the headline — says ‘Take control of your finances.” Pardon my french, but what the hell does that mean? Exactly what, Mr. or Ms. Banker, are you proposing to DO to actually help us “take control”? Aspirational messages are nice, but at some point (uh, sooner rather than later), banks need to be a lot more tangible about delivering on this stuff.
  • Competency. Pretty soon, I’m going to get a call from my account manager at my bank, asking me to talk with an adviser from the investment firm that they recently acquired. (This could be any number of banks). My response is going to be “you want me to talk to an adviser from a firm that did such a *great* job managing its own money that it nearly went out of business before you guys scooped them up for 10% of the value they were worth a year earlier?” (This could be any number of investment firms). A bank branch rep I spoke to recently couldn’t even answer basic questions about the changes in FDIC coverage. My point: To improve their reputations, banks (and other FIs) are going to have to re-prove their basic competency regarding financial matters.

The reason I refer to these things as “things” is that I don’t know what else to call them. Measures? Perceptions?

Problem is, I don’t think any bank tracks these “things” today, so how will they really know if they’re improving on them?

Maybe the brand index methodologies out there will tell them. Not likely.

Fixing these “things” isn’t going to come from external measurement. It will happen because the management team will take control of the situation, make fixing their reputation a priority, and do something about it.

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8 thoughts on “Three Things Banks Need To Do To Improve Their Reputation With Consumers

  1. I agree . . . there are many things that the banking system needs to fix. Better training of their tellers would be another thing I would add to your list.

    Shawn Mosch
    Co-Founder of

  2. I think we’d all like to see our financial institutions focus more attention on being more transparent, offering real tangible value, and demonstrating a certain level of competence – especially as they look to gain/regain credibility with skeptical consumers.

    Instead, we’ve been bombarded by advertisements promoting institutions as safe, sound, solid, secure, etc. And while the ads may promote an important message, the ads alone won’t work to improve any of these points.

    While I can see how tracking progress and improving these three ‘things’ would work to position an institution as more credible, it’s easier and faster to create and place an ad in the local paper. And let’s face it, while many of us would like to see more institutions doing the former, we’ll continue to see executives & marketers take the easy route with the latter.

    In my mind, this certainly presents an opportunity for the few institutions who see the value in doing things differently – focusing on these three ‘things’ may be a good start for many.

  3. Echoing Brady, the enormous disconnect between the reality and the marketing of most major financial institutions is creating a real distrust and lack of faith by customers.

    One of the problems of many banks face is because of their “deliver everything to everyone” strategy: pursuing the “financial supermarket” strategy has left too many financial institutions in positions where they are unable to understand their own situation (making true transparency difficult), being unable to differentiate their services to discrete customer segments (making tangibility too hard for any individual customer or customer segment), and making it too hard to tie together different business silos and product lines (making competence incredibly hard).

    Too many banks have too many internal problems to fix before they can really help fix their customers’ problems.

  4. Ron, I am no banking expert. But I am an avid student of marketing.

    After reading your excellent blog and the responses above from your perceptive readers, it occurred to me that a different approach is the only way to fix this trust problem.

    I don’t know what it is, but I do have an idea.

    Taylor says banks first have to fix themselves before they can help customers with their problems. An excellent point.

    The one major disconnect I see is this ongoing movement to get bigger and bigger. This may appear to solve the leverage and other financial problems banks face from a business perspective. But it is counterintuitive to customer demands for better and more capable service.

    In a word, “big” is bad and “small” means personable and more manageable.

    So local banks and credit unions have a real and perceived advantage in the consumers’ eyes. They should leverage this strength while big banks are suffering from a credibility crisis.

    I realize this applies primarily to individual and small business consumers. The Fortune 1000 companies may require a different approach.

    For most of us, a bank is a necessary evil. So getting back to serving one customer, one at a time should be a winning strategy.

  5. Thanks for your comments Brady, Taylor, and Ted.

    Although I tried to cloak my comments in politically correct, business-like blog-speak, the reality is that this post was motivated by very personal reasons.

    With at least two of the FIs that I am a customer of, I am currently dealing with a level of incompetence that has got me wanting to scream.

    And I hate hate hate (no really, I hate it) being lied to. And while, yes Brady, it is easier to just run an ad, those ads don’t have to be a bunch of BS.

    For chrissakes FIs, don’t tell us you’re “safe and sound” when you’re 72 hours away from getting down on your knees to beg Congress for money.

    You know, it might be nice if some of the ad agencies that create these ads would provide a little honest advice and guidance here to their clients.

  6. Tedd Grigg has got it right. There is a vast difference between the health, and marketing message, of big banks versus the community banks/credit unions.

    In many cases, the smaller banks and credit unions are very healthy and have deposits streaming in due to their safety. The safety marketing message is probably the right one for them right now…

    Followed up by outreach to all the customers to find out how best to help in difficult times. Am I right in guessing that the FIs you are irritated at are not the local bank and credit union?

    Linda Keith CPA
    Founder of

  7. Hi,
    i think it is much easier. Treat the people like real human beings with real human needs. It´s all said in the cluetrain manifesto.

    By the way: I like this post


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