It’s an important week in the UK’s banking sector, with RBS and Lloyds set to unveil their annual results on Thursday and Friday respectively.
With both expected to announce substantial losses the state-owned banks still seem to have a huge mountain to climb in terms of proving the value of the tax-payers bail-out. The challenge is compounded by the fact that a significant portion of the losses are said to have resulted from compensation payments to customers due to mis-sold PPI. Add this to the ongoing debate around executive pay and bankers’ bonuses and you can see how the banking industry could be forgiven for thinking their customer’s might never trust them again.
So, from a reputational standpoint, banks do have a long way to go and if I were a betting woman, I would be putting money on the fact that the bank-bashing we have become accustomed to across the press won’t be coming to an end anytime soon. And, why would it? The media seem to believe they are doing a better job at putting the banks’ customers first than the banks themselves.
However, lots of banks have launched communications campaigns aimed at showing customers they are front and centre of what they do. Take NatWest’s customer charter: a PR and marketing exercise attempting to show that the customer does come first. The fact the likes of NatWest deemed it necessary to undertake such an exercise highlights just how weak bank-customer relations were and many have been critical of the fact that it is just another PR exercise without much substance.
Certainly, banks need to be extremely careful that the pledges and promises they make are realistic, which NatWest got a sharp reminder from the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) about this week following the Farley/Pudsey branch debacle. However, NatWest were not the first to fall foul of the industry watchdog and neither will they be the last.
So what are the banks to do? There is an argument to say they should stop trying too hard to prove to their customers that they care. Measures that catapult the customer back to top priority are vital but communications around these must be considered and non-gimmicky if consumers are to buy into the promises they make.