Building and Restoring Reputation in the Finance Industry

FinanceThe 2008 economic crisis destroyed public faith in the UK banking sector. I’m going to talk about how firms can build and restore the reputation of the UK’s finance industry.

Reputational damage of the economic crisis

The economic crisis inflicted serious damage on the reputation of the UK finance industry. A YouGov article which quotes the words of “one of the most senior global players” in the sector explains why.

They said that “banks lost control of their businesses and had to go cap in hand to ordinary folk to continue to run them.” They also commented that “banks are pretty poor on customer service, and in some cases have systematically exploited the relationships they have with customers.”

Trust in finance hits all-time low

A 2012 study conducted by StrategyOne, a research firm on behalf PR company Edelman, proves that public trust in the banking system fell to an all-time low after the economic crash. The survey of 30,000 consumers in 25 countries proved that only 47% of consumers trusted the banking sector, and only 45% trusted the financial services industry.

Meanwhile, the same poll showed that only 30% of consumers in the UK held confidence in banks’ ability to “do the right thing.” The years following the financial crisis have seen UK public trust in the finance sector linger at historically low levels. The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that only 39% of people in the UK currently trust the financial services industry.

Finance industry’s online reputation

This is in part because of the rise of the digital age. The years since the economic crash have seen Google become the most popular search engine, to the point where it now has over a billion users. The Brandwatch Financial Services Report 2014 illustrates why this matters to the reputation of the finance sector.

It points out that data from the Thomson-Reuters Index shows that it’s not hard to find controversial stories about financial brands online. Google sees these press stories as “trusted sources of information,” and they rise up the rankings for a search for the financial company in question on Google, impacting its reputation online.

Power of social media

The report also explains that the reason that unwanted content about the financial industry spreads online is because it’s shared on social media platforms. A report from Populus/Open Road found that 55% of “opinion formers,” people who have the power to influence public trust in the finance industry, get all of their news from Twitter, meaning if they see unflattering stories about the finance industry on Twitter, they’ll make sure everybody else sees them online.

Furthermore, a Global Trends article illustrates how bank customers are using social media. When asked “which of the following describes the ways you have used social media as a bank customer,” 18% said they did so to “express frustrations with personal bank experiences,” whilst 15% said they did so “to see how others feel about the bank.” In contrast, only 12% said that they use social media to “recommend the bank to others.”

Bank of America and Twitter

A perfect example of how social media can damage a financial institution’s reputation was given in 2013 by Digiday. They told the story of activist Mark Hamilton, who was chased away from a Bank of America branch by police after drawing an anti-foreclosure message on the pavement outside. He took to Twitter to air his frustrations.

This prompted a volley of tweets criticising the Bank of America, and the financial institution only made things worse when it tried to respond. It sent stock tweets about helping the activists with their account issues whilst they were trying to damage its reputation on Twitter. The incident was so bad, Digiday branded it one of ‘The Five Worst Brand Twitter Screwups of 2013.’

Steps to rebuilding trust

The Bank of America’s tale shows that it’s vital that the finance industry takes steps to rebuild consumer trust both online and offline. I have worked with individuals and companies in the finance industry in the past, and I’d suggest you take the following measures to cultivate a positive reputation for your company online:

  • Improve customer service: This is the bedrock measure you need to rebuild the reputation of your sector online. If you don’t improve customer service, then consumers will continue to air their grievances concerning your company and your industry on social media sites, blogs and forums.
  • Social media strategy: An engaging social media strategy can allow your business to build up an audience of potential customers, whilst showing them the positive elements of the financial services that your firm provides.
  • Co-ordinated marketing strategy: If nobody talks, then it’s very easy for one person to make a mistake which can damage your firm’s reputation online. Your marketing team and customer service team need to work together, so they have the knowledge they need to respond to complaints and problems online the same way they do offline. This also allows you to show consumers how you’re fixing the problems that have driven public trust in the banking sector to an all-time low.
  • Monitor online conversations: If your company is hit with a controversial story online and ignores it, it’ll blow up and damage your firm’s reputation. If you monitor what’s said about your company online by watching your social media channels, setting up Google alerts and monitoring financial services forums, you’ll be able to respond quickly to limit reputational damage.

Online reputation management

It’s clear that the UK finance industry needs to rebuild its reputation to restore public trust. Online reputation management is a key part of this, because consumers are increasingly turning to online channels to form their opinions of the financial industry.

For more information on reputation management please contact me on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8689 or email in confidence.


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