Once upon a time, banks were omnipotent in the world of finance, and they had a reputation for being a bit impersonal, a bit unapproachable and – to be honest – a bit scary. Many of the traditional retail banks had been subsumed by financial giants that merged investment banking, trading and consumer banking into a multi-armed beast.
This lack of identity was often reflected in their tone of voice, which had a tendency to veer towards opaque corporate speak. In fact, sometimes, deciphering a letter from the bank evoked a similar feeling to wading through a marshland of waist-high reeds. It wasn’t easy.
However, a series of events struck that changed the game. Firstly, the financial crisis hit the global economy with unforeseen impact, sending shockwaves that lasted for years. Recession hit, the economy contracted, businesses of all shapes and sizes were forced to close and unemployment spiralled.
The financial sector was widely blamed by the media and its reputation took a very public beating. Occupy Wall Street movements sprung up around the world and bank bashing reached frenzied heights. At the same time, the PPI scandal came to the fore, when millions of people realised they may have been miss-sold a product they didn’t need – which was the final nail in the coffin.
The financial sector recognised that it had to extricate itself from this mess and learn to gain the trust of customers again. Banks invested time and money in re-assessing their values, and those of their customers, and created a language to reflect this. A language that spoke directly to their customers – in a way that everyone could understand. Letters became clearer, telephone calls were more helpful and websites were rebranded. Retail banking returned to its roots.
However, this coincided with a shift in the financial landscape that tipped the scales further in the favour of consumers; entrepreneurship and the internet combined to produce a range of alternative financing options. Home trading and equity crowdfunding platforms put power back in the hands of the people. The financial sector had widened and consumers realised they didn’t need banks as much. Banks, however, definitely needed consumers. Regulatory bodies had imposed some pretty hefty fines following the fallout of the financial crisis and, with an increasingly levelled playing field, it became more important than ever for banks to start from scratch and rebuild their relationship with customers.
At the same time, websites like moneysavingexpert.com were de-mystifying the financial sector, explaining financial jargon in a way we could understand. This increased transparency started a trend. The financial sector recognised that, rather than feeling patronised, making things as simple as possible made consumers happy. Banks started to change their tone of voice to speak simply to customers and started to regain their trust and engagement.
Much like speaking to a friend, a simple “we’re sorry” if something goes wrong, or a clear explanation of how a change affects customers, is the foundation of a positive relationship. No boasts about being the best. Just simple, clear communications in everyday language – communications that are centred on the customers’ interests. That’s all it takes.
We provide language consultancy and copywriting services for a number of financial organisations, including Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, Coutts & Co., Aviva Investors and State Street. To talk about how we can help your business find its voice, get in touch on 0207 842 8240 or [email protected].