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Marketing Banking Public Relations

Can bank brands ever really buy customers’ trust?

By Ally Waring | Senior Strategist



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March 13, 2019 | 6 min read

If every week, another bank brand is threatened by a data leak or cyber security breach, then what does your average marketing manager do in order to regain the trust of hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions of enraged customers?

Woman with a line-drawn apple and arrow on her head.

When brands truly care, they can build trust, loyalty and engagement.

Indulge me in a little metaphor, to bring this to life…

In war and combat, soldiers trust each other implicitly and Patrick J. Sweeney, a U.S. Army colonel and social psychologist, studied how trust is formed among real life soldiers in combat. He concluded that trust has three core elements: competency, character and care.

I believe these three characteristics can help bank brands to form, retain and buy back customer trust and beyond, in order to grow their businesses.


The role of a bank is to collect, hold and grow your money. Stability. Longevity. And a proven track record of getting the job done. That is a competent bank.

When a bank is incompetent – particularly with admin or system-based issues - customers get frustrated, angry and ultimately lose trust in the bank. Yes, technology is an important part of getting this right, but banks need to enhance their basic competencies from the bottom up: looking at infrastructure, culture, systems, processes, teams, and figure out how to make it seamless.

So seamless in fact, that a customer never even notices it. Because the minute you notice it, you’ve been snagged by an obstacle – an incompetency - in the process. There can be no sticking point if the customer is going appreciate true competency. For this first stage of trust to really sing for a bank brand, it can’t just be operationally ‘good’. Competency has to radiate from the inside-out.


If customers are going to trust a bank they need to understand how it behaves - what’s the brand’s response when something goes wrong? How do they reward loyal customers? And what can they expect from their bank in times of need?

Again, pontificating about this simply isn’t enough. ‘We’re on your side’ as Lloyd’s tell us, but if they don’t deliver on that promise they will only break the trust that might have been already formed.

This is where a brand’s values come into play, as a demonstration of character. And it must come from the inside-out. By setting the standards for their organisation, bank brands can set the principles by which they handle customer complaints, the process for when something goes wrong, or the way they celebrate a customer’s long-time relationship with them.


The final step is the most important: a sense of genuine empathy for the welfare of customers.

This doesn’t mean going above and beyond for a select few, but doing the right thing for all customers - especially when things get tough. When times are hard, a bank shouldn’t crumble and throw their customers to the curb but stand with them in the face of their challenge. Economic crises. Market downspins. Or, dare I say it, data breaches.

This is the truest test of a bank brand’s mettle. What matters to them more: saving as much money as is commercially possible? Or putting their customers first?

I look to fintechs here, because it is these new bank brands that are showing up the traditional financial institutions when it comes to building trust. They may not have the heritage, stability or longevity that a high street branch might, but they’re fantastic at putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to their customers.

For instance, just consider Monzo that made its name by co-creating the brand with customers. When Monzo originally launched the digital banking app, it was called ‘Mondo’, but the company was forced to change their name because of a trademark dispute. But rather than going right back to the drawing board, Monzo reached out to its existing users and asked them to suggest names instead, that began with the letter “M”.

Savings app, Chip, recently launched its ‘Chipmunks’ platform to allow customers to feed into the 2.0 revamp of its savings feature. And digital bank Tandem helps customers avoid ‘unnecessary’ fees by spotting the best times in the month to save, borrow or switch finances around, thereby only making money when things go well for their customers too.

Across these three fintechs and beyond, customers’ opinions, fears and desires are all met. When something goes wrong, a tweet, chatbot or comment in a forum, can solve their problems immediately. Golden tickets give a customer power to jump queues and share the magic with nearest and dearest.

When brands truly care they can enhance the relationship with their customers. They can build trust, loyalty and engagement. And they can show customers that their money, time and energy will be spent wisely.

In the face of crises, there is something those bank brand managers can do to buy back trust: demonstrate competence, develop character and most importantly, care. With fintechs leading the charge on the latter and customers getting bored of untrustworthy banks, traditional providers could take a leaf from their books.

Because if (or when) something goes wrong, for the future sake of their business, bank brands can no longer think just about saving money – but need to prioritise their customers’ trust too.

Ally Waring is a senior strategist at Rapp UK

Marketing Banking Public Relations

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