Making Employees Effective Messengers During M&A

By Pamela Reich

In the lifecycle of a bank merger, from the public announcement to the legal close and ultimate integration, much attention is focused on external communications, to the public, to your shareholders, to customers of both the acquired and acquiring institutions.

You will want to control the messages, identify the benefits, and convey the information necessary to achieve a smooth transition. Your customer communications plan will define strategies and content for different audiences, with different tactics, in different channels, at different times, all carefully orchestrated to optimize the customer experience.

It is also critical to develop a comprehensive internal communications plan. Well-informed employees, at both the acquired and acquiring banks, represent an essential ingredient in the success of the integration. Whether on the front line with direct customer contact or in vital staff functions, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of all employees throughout the merger process. Here are some guidelines to help you best prepare your employees to be your champions.

Start early

Even before the merger is announced, a press release and investor presentation are prepared for distribution on announcement day. These materials outline the key advantages to all stakeholders. Be sure they are circulated to all employees as soon as possible that day.

Be ready to distribute a memo from executive management to employees of the acquired bank when the merger is announced. These individuals will be concerned about how they will be affected, and even if individual decisions have not yet been made about their future in the combined company, it’s important that employees hear directly from their leadership. This approach shows respect to the staff and sets a positive tone that will go a long way toward building confidence about what is to come.

Once high-level staffing decisions have been made, and individual release/retain/offer determinations are finalized, communicate them early on. Uncertainty about the future of one’s job will undoubtedly be reflected in their customer interactions and productivity.

Build an internal communications plan

Identify the key internal audiences, and the updates that need to be shared. This includes all employees of both the acquired and the acquiring bank. The plan should include general FAQs about the merger, highlighting key advantages of the expanded company and “managing the story” that will be told about it. Update these FAQs as more becomes known about timing and overall customer and staff impacts at close and conversion.

Employee communications should always reinforce the good news about the strength of the combined institution and new opportunities available for customers as well as those that will impact employees’ professional development. And lastly, identify all customer-facing employees of both the acquired and acquiring organizations (including call centers). Depending on the integration plan, be sure those in the various lines of business are well-armed with the relevant details of the conversion so they can assist their customers.

Utilize omnichannel marketing

Utilize all available communication channels to reach employees. How do the banks currently communicate to employees? Is there an intranet? A newsletter? Consider a special, internal, merger-related microsite where you can post relevant updates. Use emails to engage employees throughout the process. Employee meetings and town halls are another effective way to keep staff connected and informed.

Establish an ongoing stream of communications. Plan regular updates and set expectations early. Refresh your microsite as detailed information becomes known, and as various events occur. Tie employee updates to customer communications, sharing copies of merger materials and customer communications in advance of their distribution. A key call-to-action for customers is to speak with their bankers about questions, and so it’s essential that bankers are well-prepared to assist.

Arm employees with relevant content and tools

Speak to employees of both institutions in one voice. Always explain the benefits of the merger for customers, employees and the bank. If employees are informed about the transaction, they will convey a confident attitude toward customers. Conversely, those feeling uncertainty or lacking information are less likely to provide reassurance and support to customers.

Develop sales and training tools for customer-facing employees to ensure customers receive the most current and accurate information. These include talking points for call centers and branch staff, FAQs posted to microsite, product change guides and phone scripts to use with high-value clients. And always make sure all communications are refreshed frequently to convey new information.

Leverage employee engagement for optimal CX

Employee advocates are your best champions. Mergers create opportunities, but they also represent change, which can be unsettling if not communicated transparently and effectively. Keep your staff informed, engaged and upbeat. Your employees are the key to ensuring a positive customer experience. They are critically important to a successful merger transaction.

Pamela Reich is director of communications strategy at MKP communications inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communications.