In the financial services industry, trust and reputation have traditionally been at the heart of successful brand-customer relationships. But with last decade’s financial crisis still fresh in many people's minds, and the rapid pace at which digital technology is changing, building and maintaining customers’ trust is becoming harder than ever.
Many long-standing financial brands are discovering that one unexpectedly critical part of "righting the ship” is workforce strategy.
"When the economy tanked back around 2008, banks certainly lost a lot of credibility with consumers," recalls Jennifer McNorton, leader of financial-services recruiting at Aquent. "They're definitely aware of the perception, and many are taking some pretty sizable steps to change that, including hiring talent from outside the financial services industry to help them evolve their brands.”
New workforce strategies don’t just help repair the trust deficit financial-services brands are faced with. They also enable companies to keep up with the pace of digital transformation and growing customer-experience (CX) expectations in today's mobile-first environment.
Every year Edelman, one of the world’s leading public relations firms, issues an annual “Trust Barometer” report, measuring the amount of faith and confidence consumers have in various industries, brands, and organizations. In recent years, it’s not something that the financial services sector has fared very well on.
"If you look at the Trust Barometer, financial services are something like 50 percent behind technology," explains Jon Terry, primary financial services workforce consultant at PwC. "They've recovered somewhat since the financial crisis, but [trust levels are] basically just as low as they were 10 years ago."
Terry, who consults with many of the largest financial-services brands, notes that while banks do have the ability to use workforce strategies to help repair their reputations, doing so requires a shift in internal culture. "A problem of many financial institutions is nurturing innovation within the culture,” he explains. “They have to be more focused on blue-sky thinking and enhancing the employer-value proposition to bring in the right kinds of branding and technology experts.”
From McNorton's perspective, one of the most important roles that financial brands should consider focusing on to improve their reputation are content strategists. These individuals can make an enormous difference in closing the public perception gap and developing a consistent brand voice and message.
"In today's digital environment, customers may never even set foot in a bank branch. That makes it even more critical to think about how customers are reading and following content. Whether it's blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, content strategists that can enhance engagement will be critical to improving the reputation of financial brands moving forward,” she advises.
From customer-facing mobile apps to Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence, the financial-services industry is undergoing a massive digital sea change. Only recently have big banks and legacy institutions begun to feel a real sense of urgency for keeping pace with startup competitors, as well as ever-increasing customer expectations.
One of the biggest workforce trends that Terry sees in this area is that digital automation will eliminate bits and pieces of various jobs, rather than making entire jobs obsolete altogether. That means companies will need to seek out multi-talented, flexible staff.
"We're going to see a lot of value being placed on people with a combination of skills, that are able to fill hybrid roles working with different technologies," Terry predicts. "Banks need to begin shifting their internal culture to valuing those kinds of individuals with adaptability and innovation skills.” That would likely require upskilling and reskilling employees to make a more dynamic workforce that can keep up with rapid transformation, he adds.
One such role that McNorton is seeing firms adopt more and more is that of user-experience (UX) researcher. These individuals combine knowledge of user design and market research to make data-driven improvements to the digital customer experience. "Financial institutions should be extremely focused on UX researchers right now," McNorton advises. "They’re like an updated version of market researchers, focused on prototyping and A/B testing. It's a role that really ties in to changing the external perception of the brand, as well as digital customer engagement.”
Financial brands and institutions face complex pressures in customer experience; everyone is racing to “delight” their customers and turn them into brand advocates. On the one hand, consumers are now accustomed to easy-to-use, seamlessly designed apps in almost every other area of their lives, and expect the same of their banking apps.
At the same time, many financial technology (fintech) startups have entered the market. Those digital-first start-ups tend to focus on one specific area of the consumer's financial life (investing, budgeting, etc.), and they are often successful in hiring all the right technology people to create a top-notch digital customer experience.
The result is that big banks and legacy institutions are being compelled to re-evaluate their talent and workforce strategies as it relates to customer experience. Winning new customers, and growing business from existing ones, is becoming increasingly difficult without the right people to forge a compelling, competitive digital experience.
"One thing that’s going around the financial industry right now is the concept of expanding the customer's wallet," McNorton explains. "Let's say you have a Citibank checking account. They also want you to have a Citi credit card, mortgage, etc. So, brands that do a better job engaging people via customer experience have a better opportunity of expanding customers' wallets within the brand.”
Terry observes that financial brands that want to bring their digital services up to tech-industry standards need to hire customer experience technologists focused on their most profitable customer segments. "Financial institutions have in-house customer experience professionals that are proficient at serving at least one key demographic," he says.
Combining existing in-house talent with strategic new hires to serve new demographics, and committing to continual training, will create the conditions to allow CX to grow your business on a consistent basis, Terry explains.
In that vein, McNorton is seeing visual and UX designers as two of the most critical roles to financial-services brands. While visual designers focus more on aesthetics, and UX designers focus more on technology and usability, they both work in tandem, with UX researchers to create competitive customer experiences.
At the end of the day, though, the main thing that financial institutions need to focus on with their workforce strategy is keeping up with the pace of change, says Terry. "Most importantly, focus your workforce strategy on building a narrative that reduces anxiety and increases trust around your brand.” That, Terry says, combined with a commitment to continual upskilling of the people you hire, will go a long way towards erasing customers’ trust deficit and replacing it with a new level of comfort and confidence.