Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - September 12 , 2012

Who Speaks For Your Bank?

Running a bank these days, or even just working in one, means swimming against a tide of bad publicity much of the time. From LIBOR to JPMorgan to Bank of America's debit card fee scheme to you name it, the word "bank" hardly conjures up warm fuzzies in the hearts of the public, who are, of course, your actual and potential customers.

Sure, those are just a few banks, and very different from community banks. But as I wrote in an earlier issue, the person in the street doesn't waste time on those fine distinctions. To them, the news tells a clear story: banks have a natural tendency to take advantage of their customers and of the system, and cannot be trusted.

Yes, I understand the notion of "a few bad apples," but I also understand the concept of "he doth protest too much." And I am especially concerned, as you should be, about the perception that "someone else doth protest too much in my bank's behalf!"

After all, the news about banks is not just about what a few of them do. It is about regulatory and legal responses to these incidents, and then about the resulting pushback from the industry, and from individual banks. And when the industry or its members come across in the media as whining and combative, how does that help the reputation of your bank?

You might not even realize how much of this is going on. But pay attention, and you'll see coverage of individual institutions threatening lawsuits to block new legislation. You'll see mention of lobbying campaigns to Congress and to state governments. You will encounter press releases that do their darnedest to put a positive spin on the state of the industry. And some institutions will engage in advertising and press campaigns that push this "bad apple" excuse to the point where instead of accepting the message, the public's first thought might be, "thick as thieves."

You may need help to establish your brand as a trustworthy bank that cares for its customers and treats them fairly. But there's a difference between getting help and delegating your thinking and speaking to someone else.

You know your customers, and your local media, better than the national trade associations do, even than your state association does. Automatically passing along press releases from these associations, or pointing to letters to Congress and other campaigns, may just create the perception that you're hoping to excuse or defend the "bad apples" and "unfortunate events," or at least trying to sweep them under the rug.

You know your customers, your media, your community better than any marketing or advertising agency, and better than any legal advisors. When you're told "we need to issue a statement" or "we need to get ahead of this," that's probably good advice.

But that doesn't mean you simply accept the recommended statements you are given. Whether they come from marketing staff, an advertising agency, or a trade association, you need to carefully review press releases and other public statements and adapt them to fit your own situation.

You're just going to have to pay more attention to the details of what is being said in behalf of your bank, and by your bank.

Above all, don't overlook the role every bank employee has in representing the bank's position. If there is not an explicit program to educate bank employees about the messages that are specific to the individual bank, they can only repeat what they hear from their industry.

And that simply will not help.