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Mich Bergesen
Global Director, Financial Sector Branding,
based in Landor New York

Trends in financial services

November 18, 2013

Five years into the tepid recovery from the financial crisis, the biggest banks are bigger than ever, benefiting from continued intervention by the Federal Reserve and other central banks. However, their longer-term challenge is how to adapt to the dramatic shift to simpler roles as facilitators of staple financial transactions.

How will financial brands thrive in this new normal? Retail banks continue their long road to rebuilding consumer relationships, striving to deliver value through technology, more transparent product offers, and attentive service. Investment banks have similarly moved toward lower-margin corporate banking that calls for more authentic day-to-day connection with clients.

This search for authenticity is the dominant theme for 2014.

Aligning messaging and delivery

Striving to overcome lingering distrust, financial firms are flying their flags prominently on Main Street, presenting staple services in more constructive ways. Brand research shows that while trust is table stakes in other sectors, it remains a strong differentiator in financial services. Expect to see more consumer advocacy-flavored campaigns such as Wells Fargo’s Together we’ll go far, Schwab’s Talk to Chuck, and Chief Life Officer from Lincoln Financial.

Tougher regulators and memories of past overpromises encourage a modest profile, so don’t expect to see elitist Live richly or disingenuous You and us messages. The lexicon of formerly positive phrases that have become taboos continues to grow, particularly in the areas of trading and investment. Financial innovation, high-frequency trading, and information edge have joined pejoratives from the mortgage meltdown that include structured products, CDOs, and Ninja loans

Smart brands will choose their words carefully, avoiding superlatives or performance promises they cannot deliver. Confident brands can stand out by making sensibly bold claims they are able to back up.

Streamlining B2B and B2C experiences 

Financial firms are starting to treat individual and corporate clients similarly, giving brands an opportunity to tell an integrated story across channels and modes. Look for consistent interfaces and authentic experiences that encompass every audience and interaction. The professional expertise typical of corporate platforms will become standard in consumer accounts, and the highly interactive experiences typical of consumer platforms will become standard for corporate clients. 

Building more visible investment brands

The brightest spot in financial services will continue to be wealth and asset management. Margins are high and business is strong, but this is a category where brands have traditionally been rather understated. Competition is increasing and the space is becoming crowded, yet only a few are making clear, bold claims such as BlackRock’s Investing for a new world and Pimco’s Your global investment authority. The remaining array of funds use similar language to describe themselves. As firms continue expanding their asset classes and fund types, and new legislation eases restrictions on branded investor communication, expect to see stronger, more sophisticated messaging conveying each firm’s distinctive value proposition.




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