Walking ‘In Someone Else’s Shoes’

By Karen Kroll  

Domestic violence is a serious and complicated challenge facing society today. What is perhaps less known is that the harm done to victims extends well beyond the physical 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 90 percent of victims of domestic violence also experience financial or economic abuseAn abuser may, for instance, prohibit the victim from establishing his or her own credit record, or intentionally damage an existing credit recordThese acts can sabotage victims’ efforts to leave.  

Through its “In Someone Else’s Shoes” campaign, Santander Bank is helping to bring awareness to this vulnerable population and address the challenges they face. In particular, the bank is helping victims to overcome two daunting obstacles that can often prevent them from leaving an abusive situation: learning about finances and establishing their own credit history.  

Showing respect 

At the core of Santander’s initiative is one simple principle: respect.  

The bank learned from its own research that many people feel they’re not respected when they enter a financial institution. “Consumers don’t feel like banks in general think of them as people, individuals,” says Maria Veltre, U.S. head of digital, innovation and payments strategy with the bankInstead, she says, consumers think they are viewed as numbers. 

That finding has been a catalyst behind Santanders mission to treat everyone that walks through the door with respect. We’re grounded in this concept that we need to have respect for people and their money, no matter how much they have,” Veltre says.  

Easy enough to say, but just how does a financial institution show respect? Sure, being helpful and polite to everyone who contacts the bank is a start. “But, how do we start showing our brand in a way that demonstrates our belief?” Veltre asks.  

That was the question that kick-started a campaign. As the name suggests, the idea behind “In Someone Else’s Shoes” is to “shine a light on groups or individuals or situations where we believe they’re deserving of more respect,” Veltre says.  

At the campaign’s launch in 2018 and for about a year thereafter, the focus was on the working homeless, which account for about one-quarter of all homeless, Veltre notes. “That’s a statistic people don’t really know.” Among other initiatives, Santander worked with a local organization in Boston to help homeless citizens get into permanent housing.  

 Raising awareness 

Then, in October 2019, the bank began to use the “In Someone Else’s Shoes” campaign to focus on domestic violence, helping to draw attention to the often impossible choices victims face.  

As part of the campaign, the bank helped build a house in the middle of the Oculus, a new train and subway station in New York City located near the 9/11 memorialThe house contains elements familiar to victims of domestic violence, including bullet holes in the walls, a door without a lock and the indentation of a fist in a refrigerator door. Through headsets, visitors can hear a victim saying, “I don’t know what made me think to duck, but that would’ve been my head.” 

“We were blown away by the number of people who asked about the house and wanted to engage,” says Ruth Glenn, president and chief executive officer with the NCADV, one of the groups working with Santander.  

To reach an even broader audience, Santander created a video that discusses domestic violence and the difficulties abuse victims face when attempting to leave an unsafe situation. As of mid-January, the site had garnered about 16 million completed video views.  

Along with building awareness around the issue of domestic abuseSantander, working with partner organizations like the NCADV, has provided financial education, including an online financial literacy programThis education helps victims understand the steps that can help them address their financial challenges. 

Santander also partnered with the National Network to End Domestic Violence for another crucial part of the campaign: a microloan programThrough this program, victims receive a $100 loan that they repay $10 at a time. Taking this simple action can improve an individual’s credit score by about 40 pointsVeltre says. “Credit building and credit repair are such fundamental barriers to people gaining independence,” she adds. 

 A goodwill effort  

None of these initiatives include a call to action or ask viewers to, for instance, open a checking account or negotiate a mortgage loan with Santander. Indeed, the campaign takes some risks, given the sensitive nature of the issue of domestic violence. “In most circles, there are still big secrets around domestic violence,” Glenn says. Victims often are seen as unsympathetic, with conventional wisdom holding that if they really wanted out, they’d simply leave.  

So, why would a bank develop programs that aren’t designed to capture sales and could even prompt controversy? “This is about making an impact and living our brand and doing so in a way that’s very authentic for us,” Veltre says.  

Karen M. Kroll is a business and financial services writer and content marketer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Email: [email protected].