Bank Evangelism: What’s Your Story?

By Kate Young

As a bank marketer, you know you’re essential in promoting your bank and all it has to offer. But do you ever think about your de facto role as a voice for the entire industry?

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

The daunting news is that, like it or not, every single message an individual bank sends out into the world becomes part of the larger narrative about banking as a public service, as a business, and as a career.

The bad news is that saying nothing at all speaks volumes.

It’s no secret that the banking sector has taken a beating in recent years.

From the financial crisis to the ensuing political fallout and regulatory onslaught—on through newer challenges—America’s banks have kept a low profile. Those that survived have quietly continued to do what banks do: Provide a safe place for customers to keep their money. Aggregate capital. Fund the businesses, farms, and communities that we all depend on.

Meanwhile, the sector has struggled with its public image. In a recent interview, American Bankers Association CEO Rob Nichols pointed out that before the financial crisis, surveys showed that the careers most desired by college students included, among other things, medicine, law, finance, and banking. Ten years later, banking does not appear on the list.

In an industry that hinges on good relationships, great ideas, and the highest standard of ethical behavior, banks have to ask themselves: How will we continue to attract, reward, and retain the best and brightest in our work force?

It’s no longer enough to quietly keep on keeping on. Banks can’t afford to sit back and be defined by those who see the world in terms of politically-charged soundbites.

The good news is…there’s so much good news in banking.

And marketing is in a great position to spread the word.

Do your customers understand that there’s no safer place to keep their money? Not a penny of FDIC-insured bank deposits has ever been lost.

Do your prospective job applicants realize that banking is at the heart of the critical infrastructure that keeps our nation going? It’s what makes healthcare, communications, technology, transportation, housing—even energy and food production systems possible. Without banks, life in America would be unrecognizable.

And fintech? Right. Fintech isn’t so much a threat as a promise. Banks are the original fintechs, and those that continue to adapt and evolve will only get better and better at what they do.

What about your own employees? Do they know that over two million people are employed by U.S. banks? These are jobs that revolve around the goal of deploying the capital needed to turn bright ideas into reality.

What if each one of those two million bank employees went out into the community and shared the stories of what they do?

It’s time to tell the real story. Your story.  

It doesn’t take a splashy campaign to position America’s banks as a leader in innovation, a community builder, or an employer of choice.

All it takes is for the people within the banks to take pride in what they do—and to share the good news. The stories don’t have to be big. They just have to hit home. Here are a few tips:

  1. Bring it local, and keep it relatable. Rob Nichols reminds us that when bankers talk candidly about what they’re doing in the community (honoring client privacy of course), the public service component of banking shines through.
  2. Keep the message genuine. Sean Carney, public relations account director at Brownstein Group stresses the importance of authenticity. “Be careful to not be overly bombastic or effusive in self-praise of bank efforts, and always keep the attention on the community itself,” he said. “Even the best intentions may backfire if the public senses an ulterior promotional angle.”
  3. Set the right tone. Debra Jasper, founder and CEO of Mindset Digital reminds us that “casual does not mean careless. But it does mean informal and approachable.”
  4. Be relevant. Remember that consumers are bombarded with information every day. They’ll pay attention only to what’s important to them. Carney suggests that when you talk about your work in the community, align your communications with community stakeholders that already have an engaged audience. Anything else? “Let’s be really honest with ourselves,” Carney said. “No one likes a picture of five guys in suits holding an oversized check.”
  5. Don’t be afraid to take a counterintuitive approach. Carney suggests that you limit the clever hashtags and calls-to-action. You’ll want to set expectations with bank leadership, so that they understand the goal here is to “focus on increasing market share in hearts and minds” rather than dollars and cents.
  6. Take advantage of the tools at your disposal. ABA offers a suite of free communications resources called Bankers Speak Up. These resources are available to all bankers—not just ABA members—and they’re designed to redirect the conversation about the banking industry at the grassroots level.

Hear other bankers’ stories. And share your own.

At ABA Bank, we believe in the power of storytelling. That’s why we’re adding a new feature to our site: A Banker’s Story.

What do you like best about your job? What keeps you up at night? What keeps you going every day? How did you get into banking? When you’re old and retired, what will you remember most about it? Tell us about your community—it’s hopes, fears, and aspirations. Tell us about your life.

Send your stories here. They don’t need to be long—200-300 words is perfect. And include a photo. We’ll let you know when they go up.

Kate Young is the content editor of Email: [email protected].