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Will financial services find reputational redemption in the face of Covid-19?

Will financial services find reputational redemption in the face of Covid-19?

Among many things, 2020 is shaping up to be a year when needing to communicate effectively in a crisis stopped being something that only ever happens to other people’s businesses or brands.

Legions of firms have got their first taste of communicating under sustained pressure. The uncertain outlook for coronavirus containment means many now face a prolonged period of careful message, perception and expectation management.

While businesses and the public yearn to return to something like “normality”, it could be a long road ahead. With varying shades of insecurity here to stay for the foreseeable future, how can brands stay on point and attuned to the opportunities and risks?

Heightened expectations

Words like “unprecedented” have become common currency to describe a pandemic which was nonetheless anticipated in some circles many years in advance. Analysis is growing by the day about the effectiveness of planning efforts, and the strengths and weaknesses of the response.

The original cause of the crisis was natural rather than man-made, but every part of the economy is impacted and involved in managing its effects. Financial services firms will be only too familiar with the recriminations and restructuring that can follow as the dust settles and perspective emerges after the initial shock of lifechanging events.

Pre-coronavirus, there was much talk of how the sector is still far from recovering its reputation after the Great Financial Crisis of 2007/8. The echoes of that experience and its aftermath continue to play out today: raising the stakes for business conduct and also offering a chance of redemption.

A resounding 90% of financial services communications practitioners who joined our webinar this week –  Effective communications in a crisisfelt Covid-19 provides a chance for brands to restore public trust and repair lingering reputational damage from the banking crash.

Yet an even greater majority (94%) felt the sector will be held to higher standards in how it responds, because of its starring role in the last crisis and the taxpayer funds it consumed to survive.

Looking back to get ahead

One month into lockdown, the UK government began this week by signalling a shift to Phase 2 of the national response. A key task will be to learn – fast – from the successes and shortcomings of Phase 1; the same applies for brands and their own contributions.

Breathing space can be hard to come by in diaries filled with video calls. But every communications team has something to gain from pausing to consider what the experience has shown them so far:

  • Do you know the full facts about the evolving situation? Do you know the extent of business impact at this stage? Can you learn anything from how your peers or competitors have responded?
  • What has changed since your last review, both internally and externally? How would you characterise morale, mood and culture within your organisation? Have you made enough use of scenario planning to cope with best and worst-case scenarios for the months ahead?
  • Is your stakeholder engagement and messaging effective? How do you know your communications are successful?
  • What is working well and what learnings can you capture for the future? How helpful have you found your crisis and business continuity plans? Are you looking after your people well enough?
  • What did success look like when you first set out your response to Covid-19? Are you on track, or do you need to adapt? What must you do to make sure your stakeholders will still be supporting you when the recovery starts?

To support the planning effort, we have developed a unique online benchmarking tool, CrisisCommsOptic, to help firms assess the strengths and weaknesses of their communications.

Registration is free of charge and the diagnostic takes less than 30 minutes to compare your approach to industry best practice for resourcing, monitoring, stakeholders, spokespeople, templates, training and reviews.

You can also catch up with the webinar for insights, case studies and best practice tips to guide your efforts and prioritise your focus for the next phase of the challenge ahead.

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