RBS' creation of CMO role signals intention to move beyond ambitious rhetoric

The Royal Bank of Scotland’s decision to poach Barclays brand chief and president of the World Federation of Advertisers David Wheldon signals it is ready to make good on its 2014 pledge to become “the most trusted bank” by 2020.

The RBS brand was undoubtedly tarnished by the financial crisis, which saw the taxpayer forced to plough £46bn into a plan to save the bank that was "too important to close". By the bank's chief executive's Ross McEwan own admission it is still climbing out of that pit, having suffered seventh consectutive years of losses .

The past 12 months have seen little evidence of how RBS will achieve this with limited brand building activity undertaken. Demonstration of its new direction extends as far as an end to “teaser deals”, simplification of the “confusing” language it used in materials and a push for tablets and free WiFi to be introduced to its redesigned braches.

Despite the lack of what appears to be brand direction, there is a plan. McEwan hinted at what was to come a little over a year ago when he admitted it was vital the bank regained the public’s trust: “We are the least trusted company in the least trusted segment in business.

“Our ambition is to be a bank for UK customers, the best bank for UK customers.”

He later claimed “tangible progress” with its initial changes had been made, stating the Net Promotor Scores for its personal banking business rose to -13 at the end of 2014, up from -16 in 2013, while its business banking division rose from -23 from -38.

Bringing in Wheldon, the man who orchestrated the transformation of Barclays over the past three years, signals RBS’ intention to move beyond ambitious rhetoric. The challenge Wheldon faces is in taking the conversation about trust and putting it into action. The creation of a board level position by RBS suggest a more extreme overhaul of its branding, communication and services is yet to come.

“There is a difference between saying [you want to be a trusted brand] and then making the changes that are actually going to get people to that point,” says Jim Prior, chief executive of branding and strategy agency The Partners.

Prior believes only radical changes will offer the results RBS desperately needs: "Sponsoring Andy Murray at the tennis [RBS ended its ties with Murray last year, but remains the main sponsor of the Six Nations rugby tournament] is not the answer. It has to be a much more fundamental review."

Wheldon’s CMO position ishould prove to be a broader role to look at the whole customer experience and not purely focus on advertising and marketing in the traditional sense of the word.

He can call on three years’ marketing experience in banking, eight years at Vodafone and four years at Coca Cola. At Vodafone he is credited with turning it into one of the most valued brands in the world; indeed before he joined it barely made the top 100 in a list, when he left it was fifth.

Brandwatch evangelist Azeem Azhar says it goes to show that today’s challenge for banks is to focus on customer experience.

"It's about how you are able to understand customers and communicate with them empathetically, not just through traditional comms channels, but also through products and user experience. Appointing someone who only has a couple of years’ experience in financial services is a testament to how important that is.”

Wheldon's experience in the mobile sector will also be welcomed at a time when more banking than ever is being done via a smartphone or tablet. Figures released today by BuzzCity show a 60 per cent increase of people using their mobile devices to bank online in 2014, compared to a year earlier.

Last June, RBS said it would invest over £1bn to make it easier for customers to bank online and claimed a first in the UK earlier this year to allow users to log on to its mobile application using 'Touch ID'.

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