How can banks communicate authentically through the cost-of-living crisis?

Two women having a focused discussion working in front of a laptop and screen

Emily Rushgrove, Associate Director

Good communication is vital – but in times of crisis, its importance rises still further. That’s true now amid the cost-of-living crisis and many banks have already begun announcing measures to help their customers, be they retail or commercial.

Banks must make sure that they communicate with authenticity and demonstrate to consumers that they’re ready to help. Their words must map to their actions. Saying one thing but failing to act accordingly is a quick way to lose authenticity, damage trust and erode credibility.

The FCA  has also added its weight to this, reminding lenders to be ready to help customers struggling in ways that are sensitive and responsive to their circumstances. The industry is taking heed. What’s interesting to note is that those who need help may hesitate because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. Those emotions are making people wait longer, at a time when the rising costs and financial pressures mean few can afford to delay.

Given banks arguably have the clearest overview of a person’s or business’s finances, there are obvious reasons why they should be at the fore, supporting their customers through the cost-of-living crisis. They can see changes to current account or credit card spending, have insights in utilisation of overdrafts and requests for more credit, and many also have a view of mortgages as major lenders too.

So, with the pressure rising, what key things should the sector remember when discussing the cost-of-living crisis and support offered to ensure they are communicating authentically, sound credible and build trust?

  1. Keep it simple

If a consumer or business customer hears about something that may help them with their finances but when they look into it realise it’s not as good as it initially sounded, you’ve created a point of additional contention. While there may be necessary parameters around, for example, who is eligible for a package of support, don’t add loads of caveats. Be clear from the start about what the support package is and who it can help. That’s true for media announcements, website updates and marketing activity too.

  1. Don’t overstate your impact

It’s brilliant to see so many in the industry announcing support – such as dedicated freephone lines for those looking for advice on managing the cost of living – but be careful not to overstate your impact. Consumers and businesses are feeling the pinch every day. What you can do to help them is hugely welcome and will enable them to manage that pinch a little better but is unlikely to solve their cost-of-living crisis. Good communications should sound genuine and sincere, it’s not an opportunity to turn on the megaphone.

  1. Be in it for the long haul

In every industry, it’s tempting to offer short-term incentives or headline offers. At points, these are loved by consumers and can be great gateways to get people to engage with your brand. But in the current climate, it’s prudent to consider how long you’re prepared to sustain support. If you’re offering a cashback incentive but plan to row back on that in the coming months you risk damaging your reputation and counteracting any reputational gain. The crisis is set to worsen in the autumn and winter, so don’t announce something you aren’t prepared to stick to through that period at least.

  1. Look after your people as well as your customers

Financial services is arguably one of the industry’s leading on this already with many organisations announcing one-off cost-of-living payments or pay rises – and it’s so important more follow and the support is meaningful. Actions speak louder than words and if people see you looking after your colleagues your credibility as an organisation prepared to do what it can to address the cost-of-living crisis will grow.

  1. Be flexible

As the first half of this year has shown, when it comes to the cost of living it’s hard to predict where we might end up. The shocks we’ve seen to the energy market as a result of geopolitical tensions are just one example of this. Communications around cost-of-living should demonstrate that your organisation is listening, it’s learning and is prepared to act on the evolving situation. Done well, that will help demonstrate the authenticity of your desire to help.

We all know it’s tough right now, each of us is seeing our bills rise and pay packets fail to stretch as far. When we come to work and communicate as or on behalf of banks, we need to remember to ask ourselves ‘how would this feel to me as a consumer or a colleague?’. And by remembering the few guiding thoughts above, it’ll be possible to communicate with genuine authenticity, building trust and reputation.

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