Archive for the ‘Financial services’ Category

Leading the ethical charge in financial services

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by Duncan Minty

There are many steps that a firm working in financial services can take to build up a culture that respects ethical behaviours, but there’s only one that acts as the keystone holding all the others in place. That keystone is the ‘tone from the top’: in other words, how the firm’s leadership sets, supports and acts upon, the right behaviours that will embed an ethical culture across their firm.

Many of those ‘tone from the top’ decisions will be made in boardrooms, where priorities are set, performances monitored and challenges assessed. Yet it will undoubtedly fail as the keystone of a firm’s ethical culture unless such decisions are brought to the attention of audiences such as employees, suppliers and business partners. Executives need to not only make the right decision, but be seen to make the right decision.

There can however be a temptation to reinforce the positive nature of ‘doing the right thing’ with lots of positive messages about how the firm’s leadership is doing to deliver it. Resist that temptation, for ethical decisions are often tricky and sometimes messy. By all means make sure your staff know of your commitment to paying suppliers on time, but equally, make sure they know when you’ve dismissed a key member of staff for inappropriate behaviour, or when you’re right behind an account executive who lost a key client through a refusal to pay a bribe.

Being open with staff in this way has two benefits: it shows them that your commitment to ethics is strong enough to cope with both the rough and the smooth, and it encourages them to be open with you in return. An ethical culture will flourish when it is more something to be aired and discussed, and less something that they just get told about.

So where should you start with tone from the top? It may seem rather paradoxical, but listening is strongly recommended. What are your employees saying about ethics at the moment? What sort of feedback are they getting from customers? Every firm has a prevailing culture and finding out how ethics currently sits within it gives you the starting point, and the challenges, that should shape your own particular ‘tone from the top’.

All this should keep your firm’s communications team busy, however, before they roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, agree some ground rules with them. Building an ethical culture takes time and is not always an easy path. Consistency in how you communicate both the ups and downs along that path is important, for it helps sustain the credibility of your tone from the top.

About Duncan Minty

Duncan is an independent consultant in business ethics, with a particular interest in financial services.

Financial services fairness not just a PR stunt

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 by Jon Clements

Where would you place financial services in your list of “industries I both love and trust”? Let’s be clear: such a glowing reputation has been desperately elusive for the sector in recent years.

Yet the rather unsnappily-titled Retail Distribution Review (RDR) – now entering the lexicon because UK financial advisers will behave differently with their customers in terms of advice and the way they charge from the start of next year – has been designed to protect (and help transform the financial sector’s wretched reputation with) the public.

But studying to comply with the RDR – as FT columnist and former broker, Merryn Somerset Web – is doing, can have the perhaps unintended side-effect of revealing more unsavoury facts about financial services.

In her most recent column she describes her course of study as “a depressing experience…charting the dismal record of greed, fear, corruption, incompetence and ignorance that is much of our financial industry.” Strong words from  someone who continues to make her living in the arena.

And yet among the array of pernicious financial products on the market including derivatives and a tax avoidance product called a single premium life assurance bond, Somerset Webb has seen something which…say it quietly…offers “hope”: a new fund called the Battle Against Cancer Investment Trust (Bacit) doesn’t come with charges, offers an annual  charitable contribution of one per cent plus a fund manager “stumping up for a percentage of the expenses”.

A cynic, or maybe a realist, would – as the writer acknowledges – “dismiss the whole thing as PR”. But she’s not so quick to do so, suggesting this new financial fund has something different at its heart than fleecing investors.

And so, even in places not normally associated with philanthropic behaviour, there may be surprises. But rather than being merely a sop to CSR, such moves can make commercial sense too. Analysts are increasingly looking at investment targets influenced by sound Environment, Social and Governance factors.

Rebuilding the reputation of a company is difficult enough, never mind that of an entire industry sector. Examples such as the Bacit provide a hopeful hint that the will exists in the sector to balance the unbridled making of money with doing the right thing. Demonstrating commitment to a higher purpose than profit alone is what the best corporate reputations are made of.




About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Financial services’ reputation crossroads

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 by Jon Clements

Goodbye Financial Services Authority; hello Financial Conduct Authority – but how much does this really mean for reputation improvement in financial services?

It’s a hot topic this week, as the FT reports the promise of the FCA to be “tougher…bolder” and to “intervene earlier”, unlike its infamously “light tough” predecessor, which failed to prevent the financial crisis in the UK banking system.

The FSA’s Margaret Cole, director of enforcement and financial crime, summed up the stark reality for financial serviceswith the analogy:  “If a supermarket sold rotten food to its customers, how long would it stay in business?”

And, just today, a Reputation in Financial Services conference is focusing on ways the sector can “rebuild the relationship of trust with the public”.

tweet from the conference, via Tony Langham of Lansons Communications – quoting Stephen Hammond MP – asserts that “regulation is a tool of international business performance and therefore reputation”. By that, you would assume that regulation was the panacea for the financial sector’s reputation sickness.

But, as reported by Insurance Age, Kay Blair, vice chair of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, has described the required shift in regulatory effectiveness to be a “quantum leap”. She said: “…the causes [of misconduct in financial services] are systemic, built in to business models, rather than random events. By addressing suspect business models and potentially toxic products, a more effective regulator will nip problems such as any future PPI in the bud well before consumer detriment escalates and certainly before consumers have lost millions of pounds.”

So, in between the hill the regulator needs to climb and the public’s trust in financial services floundering, what are firms in the sector to do?

As long as there is a disproportionate emphasis on brand building (think Meerkats), this is a manifestation of external image, which may not necessarily equate to establishing a sound reputation, which is the more compelling and enduring reason customers choose to do business with you or not. Building – or rebuilding – reputation begins at the core of what an organisation does, hence Kay Blair’s apposite reference to “business models” being fundamentally at fault.

Investing in corporate reputation may involve a business sticking its neck out and standing up for what’s right for its stakeholders. This is crucial as stakeholders – defined in another tweet from today’s reputation conference – are “anyone who can bugger up your company”.


About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Do banks need a shower in social media?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by Jon Clements

Week 2 of 2011 and already UK bankers are back on the ropes in reputation terms.

Barclays boss, Bob Diamond’s appearance in front of the Treasury Select Committe yesterday is described by the Mirror’s Ros Wynne Jones as a “despicable performance”; the Telegraph’s report on Diamond’s roughing up by MPs quotes Tory, Andrea Leadsom, who trounced the banker’s claim to high levels of customer satisfaction and support for SMEs saying “the evidence doesn’t stack up”.

Elsewhere in the banking firmament this week, RBS has been fined £2.8m for what the Sun calls “shocking customer service”. And late last year, the British Social Attitudes survey showed that the public’s trust in banks as well run and managed has plummeted from 90% of people in 1983 to 19% today – a lower trust level than for the media and trade unions.

So, what are the banks to do?

Niall Harbison at The Next Web reckons that using social media provides “A great opportunity for them [banks] to chip away at their negative reputations”, citing Citibank’s launch of a Twitter feed to field customer complaints and training 100 staff to handle this new customer engagement channel.

As Harbison recognises, a general banking embrace of social media may be slow in coming, as being open is “not in their DNA”. But can banks afford to ignore the social media movement if customers are demanding better customer service and resolution of complaints?

Closer to home, one bank that has taken social media seriously is First Direct. It’s social media strategy first came to PR Media Blog’s attention in November 2009 and since then it’s embarked on open dialogue with customers in its “Talking Point” online forum and maintains a regular Twitter presence – though it appears to be a more promotional than customer engagement tool. Then again, if that’s what the customer wants, so be it.

Just a thought, but maybe reinvesting a smidgen of a banker’s bonus in genuine customer interaction via social media may lay the seeds for a resurgence in public trust and satisfaction for the banks.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

First Direct gets a social life

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Jon Clements

While the banks, collectively, may be short of friends right now, one bank is stashing away praise for its foray into social media.

First Direct – pioneers of the UK’s first telephone bank – launched its “live” site  a month ago to resounding welcomes in online places such as here and here.

So, I think we can agree that a bank providing a forum for both good and bad comments from its customers is a bold move and one to be applauded.

But another interesting dimension to this is raised in First Direct CEO, Matt Colebrook’s customer message a month on from the launch.

While he describes the social media initiative (or is it a culture change?) as “a new voice for customers”, “the right thing to do” and “overwhelming” in the response it’s generated, he’s careful to qualify this with “Clearly we can’t be all things to all people” and “we won’t be able to offer everything that’s been suggested”.

And that’s fair enough. What social media gives customers is the chance to be heard and taken, perhaps, more seriously than before as their views are not kept behind closed doors or on a private phone call but in the visible, searchable online arena. But, for businesses, there will always be a limit, as Colebrook suggests, on what’s possible and customers have the choice to live within those limits, or not.

And maybe it’s this dilemma that causes social media anxiety for some organisations: “If we engage openly in an online forum with customers, will they criticise us or ask for things we can’t possibly provide, so disappointing them and harming our brand?”

Well, if they’re unhappy, they’ll talk about your brand whether you choose to engage with them or not. So, opting for the conversation provides an opportunity to turn the detractor around. And, to paraphrase Colebrook again, you won’t please all of the people all of the time. But if can demonstrate that you’ve listened and are taking the time to explain, publicly, what you can and can’t deliver, it places you ahead of the brand that says: “This is what we sell, are you havin’ it or what?”

So well done to First Direct and let other businesses take heart: social media shouldn’t be seen as the “lynch mob online”, but an ongoing discussion between company and customer that could even – gasp – be a win-win.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Co-op’s video hit a social lesson

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 by Jon Clements

Congratulations or, should I say, “thank you”, to Co-operative Financial Services for doing something simple that works so well in social media.

This video, delivered with endearing amateurism, was done to mark the company’s success in being chosen as Which’s “Financial Service Provider”.

What’s so effective about this, seemingly, throw-away piece of film?

1. Real people being themselves.

2. A thoroughly likeable and memorable way of delivering a simple message that would be difficult to do any other way.

3. It’s fun for a sector not renowed for having a sense of humour (or being allowed to have a sense of humour).

4. It’s daring for a financial services brand to be so frivolous, at a time when financial services are not top of anyone’s Christmas list.

5. It’s neither slick nor corporate, but invites but human interaction, which is the essence of social media after all.

For anyone with marketing or communications in their job title, in a sector whose usual messages might be considered “dry”, this is something to take note of.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

No Twitter Please, We’re Teenagers

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 by Chris Bull

Most people who read a newspaper will have picked up on the story of Mathew Robson, a 15-year-old intern at Morgan Stanley who wrote a report into teenage consumption of the media which broke surface a little over a week ago. At first glance this smacked of a well executed PR stunt after the story made a huge splash in the nationals and had significant penetration online.

However, upon reading the report in its entirety – rather than reading what other people have said about the report, which is where most conversations have derived from – it is actually surprisingly simplistic, logical, and to someone who was not a teenager all that long ago, far less than groundbreaking than you might imagine. Everything contained in the report, well, it just seemed rather self-evident.

For instance, one of the key points that the media picked up on is that teenagers don’t Twitter. Of course they don’t. You actually have to invest some time in Twitter to get anything out of it. It takes months, if not years, to actually build up enough followers for one to feel their tweets are actually reaching an audience which could be, in any way, defined as significant. And even once you do, there is little content other than the oh so boring medium of text.

Compare this to the Facebook experience where you can jump into a ready made group, lured by a diversity of visually stimulating and engaging content, such as pictures, applications and games. It’s all rather Scrabulous.

Many of the other observations are fairly straightforward, claiming, for example that most teenagers don’t read newspapers or watch the news…is this news? Were you interested in global geo-politics or the lack of transparency within the political system when you were 14? No, thought not. Funnily enough, kids aren’t now either.

Most kids have mobiles on pay-as-you-go because they can’t afford contracts…hold the front bleedin’ page…the FT did.

So ok, this isn’t a PR stunt, but it does demonstrate a few things. Firstly, that if you want a report into the habits of media consumption – or anything for that matter – to have penetration, keep it simply and write it in language that is not impenetrable to the man in the street. Secondly, if you want to know how teenagers consume the media or anything else, just ask them. Thirdly, a story really does not have to be groundbreaking to get blanket coverage; it just has to be insightful, informative and PR’d within an inch of its life.

The report in its entirety can be viewed here.

About Chris Bull

Account Exec for Staniforth PR, based in the TBWA\ Building in Whitfield Street, London. Areas of interest include politics, the car industry and sport.

Lawyer Uses Blogosphere To Start A Debate On The Prospects For Tech Start-Ups

Monday, February 16th, 2009 by Mark Hanson


A bit of indulgence from me here. One of my clients is a corporate lawyer, advising the tech community, both investors and companies looking for funding. His name is Richard Eaton and he works for Orrick.

He’s started a discussion on the Long Room, the FT’s discussion forum for City-types, re the prospects for tech companies seeking investment to start-up or continue in 2009.

The Long Room is a closed forum i.e. you have to be a member to contribute, so I thought I’d post here to offer an open forum for the new media community to view and/or comment.

RIP Good Times – VC is dead, long live VC

It seems that Sequoia’s words of warning last autumn are staring to be echoed over here:

But does it matter if some of the less successful companies go to the wall now?  We keep being told that failed companies are a badge of honour for entrepreneurs, so now is the time for many to earn their merit badges.  The technology, if it is good, and, crucially, if it is capable of making a profit, will not die, but lots of it will be recycled.  The entrepreneurs will start again. 

The fact is that there are three key elements to the success of any growth company: the technology, the management and the market – what is the point in having technology so bleeding edge cool that is incapable of making money, or is backed by management that would not have looked out of place running a bank?  But companies with good technology, that have good management that is capable of adapting to a changing world will survive: Google was born out of the crash.  Ten years later it is a mature company.  In this country, Autonomy continues to be one  of the most attractive stocks in the FTSE100, because it has the basics in spades. 

What does this mean for VC funding?  Well without doubt, the market for funding is extremely poor.  Poorer than any of us can remember.  Expect to see VCs pull in their horns, drip feed money to their best companies, merge their ok companies and cut loose the rest.  Yes there will be new funding, but on terms, and at the rates, that hark back to 2002.  In ten years time, the best run companies with the best money making technology will be bigger and stronger.  Will £1bn of government money help?  To secure people’s jobs, it might do.  To build great technology companies, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Listen with Twitter

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Who would’ve thought it? A micro-blogging site with no apparent use beyond the inane ramblings of an early-adopting minority getting the full analytical treatment in the Daily Telegraph.

Well, Twitter has certainly come of age in the UK; now the seventh most popular social networking site and an online destination more popular than holiday shop, Expedia and personal finance comparison website, Money Supermarket.

But those dismissing Twitter as nothing more than a virtual location for verbally incontinent gasbags and, more recently, popularity-craving celebrities, should think again.

It is also a powerful tool for the world’s consumers to make their voices heard – either evangelising or denigrating a company, product or brand – and finding camaraderie with other Twitterfolk in doing so. It’s old fashioned “word of mouth” working its magic; something that lives beyond the controlling tentacles of marketing and communications departments, yet something they’d like to harness.

Companies across the globe are getting it in the neck from people on Twitter, from a disgruntled United Airlines passenger “tweeting” in real time about a rude flight attendant to a car buying customer in Aberdeen, sounding off about bad customer service at the hands of Skoda.

And the problem is, as Rebecca Lieb at Econsultancy succinctly points out, companies quick to broadcast on social media are not necessarily “listening”.

Yesterday, Staniforth client, Norwich Union, was itself on the receiving end of Twitter ire. The difference is, someone was listening. When we picked up the disgruntled customer’s Twitter posts, he was clearly furious and frustrated at being unable to resolve his query with the insurance company. The fact he was also a journalist just added another potentially damaging dimension to the story.

But making contact with him via Twitter, getting a blow by blow account of his case, getting it passed through to the right people at the company who sorted it out within hours, turned a customer on the warpath to someone sharing the pipe of peace, and letting the wider world know about it – again via Twitter.

Leaving aside the details, this was simply the case of a person, with a problem, wanting to be heard and understood. As with any company whose customers are numbered in the millions, mistakes happen. The way the mistakes are handled distinguishes those who keep or lose their customers. And with social media, it’s being conducted out in the open, whether brands like it or not.

Update: The New York Times does a good introduction to Twitter

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Lessons from Wall Street

Thursday, September 18th, 2008 by Jon Clements


Amid global financial meltdown, there’s hope!

At least that’s what Albert Maruggi says in his latest blog posting. I like Maruggi’s boundless optimism (listen to his Marketing Edge podcast and you can actually hear it, in spades!) and wry take on the shame seeping out of Wall Street right now in his Twittering.

But he’s got a good point. The financial services industry could do far worse (and it has done) than taking on some of the principles of social media – openness and transparency.

But while corporate America is still, as Maruggi suggests, in the early adopter stage of using social media, where does that leave the rest of us? Maybe it’s time we started to lead the States instead of taking the lead from them.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''