Cost of living: comms for both sides of the coin

by Anna Fozzard

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The rising cost of living is impacting everyone, and we’re all in it together. Except that we aren’t. While PwC reports that 86% of UK adults are concerned about day-to-day living costs, a lot of research shows it’s those on the lowest incomes who are impacted the most. According to the Resolution Foundation calculations, the richest 10% of households have faced a relative inflation rate that’s 1.5% lower than the poorest 10%.

For financial services firms, marketing during a cost-of-living crisis can feel like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, messages along the lines of “we’re here for you, no matter what” can ring false to the British audience, especially when that message comes from a financial giant. On the other hand, promotional messages to more affluent customers are vital to buoy business, but they can feel insensitive. Even the word ‘wealth’ sounds dirty in this economic climate.

With the nation’s income gap now in sharper focus, we’re shining the spotlight onto comms that matter a lot right now – those from financial services firms. We look at what’s working, what’s not, and what can we all learn.

Something feels… off

When people’s money is at stake, favouring wit over wisdom can feel like bad taste. One business recently fell into this trap with headlines including “The 2023 remortgage lottery” and “Investing in gold – should you hold the shiny stuff”. We love a snappy headline, but making light of something serious sets the wrong tone.

A fintech brand made a similar error with this statement on its website: “Make day-to-day spending a breeze”. When people aren’t finding spending easy, this light-hearted statement feels out of touch.

A jar too far

Speaking specifically to one audience and then to another led to an uncomfortable jarring on an FS company’s website. We saw, “Dream big. Make it happen. Live it up.” next to “Spend less. Save more. Relax more.” recently. Supporting every customer is something to celebrate, but the juxtaposition of the two financial goals sounds stark and insincere here.

How about this one from a fintech: “Supercharge your investments for less”. There’s nothing to complain about there. But when it is followed by the compliance statement, “Not regulated. Value can go down. Tax may be payable.”, it suddenly feels disingenuous.

When the nuance lands right

The beauty of language is that it gives you so many different ways to say the same thing. So even when a firm wants to say it can make purchasing easy, there’s a way to do it that doesn’t feel throwaway.

Take this example from Starling Bank: “But we want to make banking better – which means offering a better kind of overdraft. One that’s easy to manage and fair on fees. Manage your money and keep tabs on your overdraft, all from our award-winning app.” The tone feels relaxed, it has pace to keep the language peppy and engaging. Yet the message remains focused on what the overdraft can offer, without making presumptions about people’s spending habits.

Barclays has also set the right tone with its messaging around wealth planning. It went for “Put the future in focus”, which uses alliteration to command attention and puts the emphasis on preparing for the future, rather than affluence. For context, Barclays follows up with “No matter what the future brings, we can offer you foresight in a world in flux.” A considered reference to the current economic environment – we like it.

Lessons from the word front

No matter how the economy is looking, these are our tried-and-tested guidelines when talking money.

Take note from compliance

If ears prick up in the compliance team, it’s a sign that something has gone a step too far. Is a product or service really ‘affordable’ for everyone? Is saving or budgeting ‘easy’ for everyone? Writing with the compliance team in mind challenges you to consider the nuance of every word and avoid a jarring caveat.

Never assume

Statements like ‘we’re all in this together’ cast assumptions about people’s personal situations. Whether affected or not, people’s own priorities differ. It’s too basic to say everyone has debt worries or everyone’s worried about food. One person might be worried about being able to study at university or move home, while another might be concerned about their retirement plans.

All of the examples that land well, however, apply to anyone. They talk about future plans, clarity, security and options, but without presuming what each of these means to individuals.

Make it personal

When writing for so many audiences, personalising content is a challenge. One step is to segment audiences, so you can design messages around the relevant concerns and needs. In the language itself, using pronouns like ‘you’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘them’ and ‘their’ helps to bring a personal touch.

Be website wary

Everyone can read public website content. So, even if the target audience for a page is high-net-worth individuals, those with financial difficulties can easily stumble across messages that sound frivolous and insensitive.


Whether it’s an investment performance report or a blog on savings tips, financial services comms need to be handled with care. We can help you map out the right messages and tone for your audience, no matter how broad. See what we’ve helped clients achieve through financial services content.

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