Disruption of traditional and long-established practices, the rise of digital currencies and an increasing demand for accountability – the financial services sector is undergoing rapid change.
With these changes comes new responsibilities for comms teams – how should the finance PR sector fulfil its increasing obligation to the public and its stakeholders?
In our webinar ‘The responsibility of PR in financial services,’ FS comms specialist Natalie Orringe, Habito VP Marketing Romney Taylor and Missive Account Director Erin Lovett discussed this new landscape of accessibility and accountability. Here’s how successful financial services brands and agencies are building trust and education into their comms.
Generalists are out-of-touch
In an ideal world, a sophisticated understanding of the possible risks of financial services would come alongside their increased accessibility to consumers. We are not in an ideal world. Communicating risk falls to the sector’s PR and comms pros, and we need to be ready with the knowledge required.
‘The pace of change has accelerated,’ said Erin. ‘Even during my career, training used to be very skewed to PR skills as opposed to industry knowledge – that’s not the case anymore. We’ve got to be able to explain sophisticated processes, like open banking and crypto transactions.’
‘We can’t be generalists in the financial PR sector anymore,’ added Natalie.
Agencies have a responsibility to their clients’ customers
The responsibility of communicating risk is great even when working on behalf of a client – perhaps even more so. Gut feel on this can be as important as knowledge of a potential client’s services – are possible risks to consumers ones you’re comfortable aligning with and communicating? If you wouldn’t recommend a service or product to your friends and family, think before signing them on as a client, advised Erin.
‘It’s just about being careful. You have to do due diligence and then make sure consumers fully understand the risks of that service, as well as the positives.’
Beware of ‘woke washing’
If your organisation, or client, has nothing of substance to add to an issue, think before releasing statements or planning campaigns around what’s happening in the wider world. Romney, whose organisation Habito has B Corp status, used brand responses to the war in Ukraine as an example:
‘A lot of businesses have responded in ways that are relevant, and not. When the Government came out with the Homes for Ukraine initiative – it was then that we spoke out on what’s going on. We shared how the scheme would impact renters and owners, whether you’d need to notify your lender if planning to open your home.
‘Woke washing would have been changing our logo to blue and yellow on LinkedIn in response to the war in Ukraine – we didn’t jump into that until we had something to say.’
Which finance brands are doing it right?
When it comes to blending education, awareness and approachability into campaigns, Erin mentioned the work of a financial services company you may have seen advertising on YouTube:
‘One brand doing really well with their comms is PensionBee,’ said Erin. ‘The ultimate goals haven’t changed in their sector – pensioners haven’t changed, nothing is new – but their technology is making managing pensions easier for customers. They’ve made this more accessible.’
How can brands and agencies fulfil their responsibilities to consumers?
Just as finance impacts almost every area of modern life, PR for financial services has to tie into wider world issues. No communication can happen in a vacuum – comms must speak to the realities potential clients are living with.
‘Be immediate and authentic and responsible,’ advised Natalie.
‘ESG is a big topic framing how comms is changing – what this means for financial services is a need for hyper-transparency. Organisations have to distil their brand narrative across various challenges.
‘Ethics have been merged into software and technology for a long time, but this increased blurring is really exciting. However, it comes with a heavy burden. PR can be operationalised into the wider business.’
With no firm regulations across modern financial options like crypto, PR and comms teams have to be their own regulators and fully accept their responsibility to the public:
‘It’s a really interesting role to be in,’ said Erin. ‘This has parallels with ESG because there are no formal global standards. The line for me is, what can we justify and prove? At Missive, we’re very careful with who we work with – that personal gut feeling is really useful.’
For more on the accessibility of financial services, download our white paper Communicating the new immediacy of finance.