The Market crash of 2008 seems like a distant memory to many in financial services companies, but it put a huge dent in the public’s trust of the industry. A mistrust that in a large part has remained to this day. Adding to this is the economic fallout of the Pandemic that has reinforced the notion the many financial institutions put profit before people.
So how do companies begin to address the issue of building trust with current, and potentially new, customers? These are five fundamental values that can help companies get there:
The days of financial companies telling clients how they will handle their money or investments and trying to justify their expertise by inundating clients with financial jargon, complex charts and tiny disclaimer copy are disappearing fast. To garner trust, they must clearly communicate the types of services they can provide, what the costs to the client will be and how they will best serve the interests of their clients and customers. Communication of information to clients should be simple, digestible and straightforward, so the clients can make clear and educated decisions on how to reach their investment goals. One company that is leading the way when it comes to transparency is Public.com. Their website is simple and easy to navigate, they do a great job of simplifying complex financial jargon and they are totally transparent when it comes to disclosing how they make their money.
You can’t advertise your way into a customer’s heart. Companies have to be able to compel customers to engage by building products and services that are relevant to their needs. They can start with their current customers, learning from them about what products and services they already provide that are most beneficial to customers. They can also see what’s missing in their offerings. Companies can then begin to build a framework for the relevance of certain products and services in the mind of existing and potential customers and then can start to market those strengths to the appropriate audience. The ultimate goal is to be able to provide a solution to a customer’s need, seamlessly.
Financial services companies need to do some self-reflection. Are they still the company they think they are and is their mission still the same? How can they expect to build trust with customers if they can’t define who they are and what their goals are? A clearly defined company voice, message and goals are key to authenticity and customer trust. Once defined, this voice must be consistent and carried through all aspects of communication within the company. From the copy and imagery on its website, to its social media interactions, to its marketing and advertising. Betterment does a really good job of this. One of the first things you see when you visit their website is a quote from their founder Jon Stein – “We started Betterment in 2010, in the wake of a financial crisis, to be a place built to help people do what’s right with their money so they can live better.” That’s authentic, that’s their voice, that’s their goal. Everything on the site then flows from that sentiment.
This can mean many things. On a very basic level, companies need to assure customers that they will be accountable for keeping their information safe and secure. If they have a fiduciary responsibility to the client, that they fulfill that obligation fully. If they are giving investment advice, then that advice should be accurate and from experts. But accountability can also mean living up to their hype. For example, if companies say no fees on trades, there should be absolutely no fees. If they say they support environmental issues, they should not be donating to candidates who don’t share those views. If they post on social media about the gender pay gap, they better be sure it doesn’t exist in their company or the companies they invest in.
This is the last point because it relates to all the points that came before it. Responsibility is an obligation to the customer to be accountable, to be authentic, to be relevant and to be transparent in order to win or retain the trust of that customer. It’s also a responsibility to try to share the values of the customer. If customers care about their role as citizens of the world, then banks, insurance companies and investment advisors should too. The gap between what’s good and what’s profitable is shrinking. Allison Herren Lee the acting head of the S.E.C. has spoken about this extensively. “Acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line are complementary” she said and “Human capital, human rights, climate change — these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues.” If the S.E.C. cares about these issues, then companies in the financial services industry need to start caring too.
All these values are not only good for building trust with customers, but they’re also good for a company’s bottom line and good for the world as a whole. Restoring trust in the Financial Services industry is essential. And it involves more than asking customers for their trust – it requires companies to incorporate these values into their workplace culture and this will in turn translate into stronger trust from customers.