Banks and financial institutions like insurance companies and brokerage firms have always hewed to conservative positioning in the past, with the belief that people want a bank that comes off like a reserved, avuncular, bow-tied gent (as opposed to a loose-lipped, open-collared, fresh-faced young turk). Yet the last two years have shown that many of our financial institutions that flashed us marble pillars and gold leaf were in fact fast-dealing alchemists who were anything but conservative and diligent in their actions.
So where does this leave banks and other financial firms in trying to restore both their collective image and their individual identities? First, you’ll probably see a positioning land-grab for attributes like “stable,” “prudent,” “principled” and “safe.” The problem with each of these attributes is twofold: 1) nobody will believe it if it’s only lip service with nothing to back it up, and 2) these things have all been said before by everyone else. All of which makes for poor positioning and lots of firms that all look and sound the same. Just like before everything went in the tank.
What will the smart financial firms do to differentiate themselves from the pack? For starters, they will clear the “integrity” hurdle, which they can do in two ways. 1) By compensating their management in a sensible manner (Seth Godin just wrote a fantastic blog entry about how the obscene salaries of megabank CEOs are an expensive and ineffective method by which these companies have tried to differentiate themselves). 2) By providing as complete transparency as possible so their customers and investors can clearly and easily see what is on their books (this should be done voluntarily and in excess of whatever new government regulations are adopted).
Then they will muster up the willpower that many banks and financial firms lack and move beyond bland attributes like “stable” and “safe” and “responsive” and “friendly,” embracing specific, ownable attributes. Like “fast commercial loans for deserving businesses.” Or “the bank for farmers.” Or “Denver’s neighborhood bank.” Or “the 401(k) specialist for institutions.”
Now is a time when people need and want to know what their bank and financial firm stands for. Let them know before they walk away forever.