Financial Services: Brand Spotlight

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact human health around the world, its effect is also being felt in economic terms. With many people suddenly unemployed or unable to work, and normal spending habits disrupted, we are set for a new financial downturn. At a time like this, financial services companies have had to adapt quickly, not only to support their customers and ensure service delivery, but to demonstrate their purpose in helping society manage the crisis. 

Looking at the ‘Big Four’, each of them has developed a dedicated Covid-19 support hub, containing advice for businesses on business continuity, emerging insights on the crisis at large, and information on government supports. KPMG has called their guide “Embedding Resilience”, and aims to offer businesses their analysis of the business implications of the pandemic, including insights on how to manage your team while remote working, learnings from China and financial reporting on evolving tax situations and insurance concerns. Particularly useful is an FAQ portal that’s updated on an ongoing basis as the situation evolves.   

Similarly, on their website Deloitte is offering advice on ‘combating the crisis with resilience’, along with consolidated information for employers and employees on government relief. They are also running a webinar series on issues including taxes, managing your workforce, managing customer loyalty etc. as well as content on social media such as tips on working from home and insights on digital transformation – an ongoing theme for Deloitte, and especially prescient now. 

In terms of corporate social responsibility, both KPMG and Deloitte have offered their support. KPMG has joined a UNESCO Global Education Coalition to support children’s education, while Deloitte has created an online portal to encourage people to donate for Daffodil Day – as well as maintaining their links with Age Action, an organisation they have partnered with since 2016, and which has particular relevance in the age of coronavirus. 

PricewaterhouseCoopers also has a support hub for customers, as well as a webcast dealing with many of the pressing issues facing businesses, while Ernst & Young are running a webinar series and have set up a global labour and employment law tracker to assess the impact of Covid-19 on this particular area. These firms are taking a broad look at the economic impact of the crisis with regard to affected industries and various markets. Each of the Big Four is also foregrounding direct lines to key members of their team who are on hand to support businesses. 

Asset Management firms are also taking on the role of providing business insights to customers. Davy is publishing an informative series on their Markets and Insights page, for example, how to maintain perspective in times of market stress, the economic outlook for the future etc. They have also partnered with the Irish Times on the Inside Business podcast. BDO is following this trend by providing market insights to customers on their website and on social media, but many other asset management firms such as Setanta are mainly focusing on service updates. 

The Irish Funds Industry Association, the representative body for the international investment fund community in Ireland, is also quite active in terms of crisis management. They are now providing weekly email updates to members, direct lines to key members of their own team, and a directory of relevant information and updates from member firms such as A&L Goodbody, Matheson, Deloitte, Arthur Cox etc. They have also launched an emergency relief fund in association with their charity, basis.point to help vulnerable communities which have been impacted by Covid-19. 

When it comes to banking, every major bank has had to take measures to support business and personal customers. Bank of Ireland have introduced a number of supports, including payment breaks for mortgages and loans and a priority service in branches for over-65s and carers. These measures are outlined on a dedicated Covid-19 support hub to direct customers to the information they need quickly, augmented by videos to explain the changes that have been brought in. Featuring group CEO Francesca McDonagh, these videos have a welcome, personal touch. Bank of Ireland has also engaged with the crisis in terms of philanthropy as well. In partnership with The Community Foundation for Ireland, Bank of Ireland is donating €1 million in emergency funding to communities impacted by the pandemic.

As well as this, small changes in service can make a difference. Both Bank of Ireland and AIB have increased the cap on contactless spending to €50, enabling people to use the more hygienic ‘tap’ method over keying in pin numbers. Similar to Bank of Ireland, AIB has a Covid-19 support hub outlining their new support services. These include loan breaks and additional supports for elderly customers. Elderly customers can now nominate someone to perform transactions for them in the bank, and they can also access a dedicated helpline and dedicated branch hours. Other more general advice on how to make payments over the phone and how to spot fraud or financial abuse is also available. In terms of communications, AIB has set up an economic forecasting podcast.

Ulster Bank has taken a similar approach to BOI and AIB, also adding specific advice for older customers around issues such as scamming and a dedicated support line, this time for frontline workers. Overall, banks are introducing similar measures across the board, adjusting their services and taking the clear stance that in this scenario in particular, actions speak louder than words. 

Insurance firms are following suit by setting up advice forums on their websites, providing industry insights and adjusting their services to support customers. Aviva has extended its terms of service to offer additional aids to customers who are also HSE workers, for example, now offering a courtesy car if theirs breaks down. They have also engaged in other initiatives to show their support for healthcare workers, including lighting up the Aviva Stadium as part of the #Shineyourlight initiative, which encourages businesses and individuals to light up their windows as a mark of appreciation for frontline staff. 

Allianz has also altered some of its terms by extending cover for restaurants, supermarkets and shops to facilitate delivery services, and extending car cover for frontline workers, for example, if they need to borrow a car. In terms of communications, Allianz has released a ‘stay at home’ message given by Allianz ambassadors, the majority of whom are popular sportspeople, engaging in their chosen sport from home. 

AIG is also drawing on its sporting connections by running a #Showyourskill competition for girls in sports to win €1000 in association with ladies football. Other content, such as ‘date night ideas’ are perhaps less relevant and less successful for the brand. 

Irish Life is focusing more on providing information for customers, most of which can be found on their Covid-19 support hub. They are also running a podcast with Jenny McLoughlin, one of their chief economists, on the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as a blog on related topics such as working from home, managing mental health and using technology to stay connected. Among the insurance firms, Irish Life stands out for its philanthropic commitment, making a donation of €350,000 to Family Carers Ireland. 

Overall, the key actions for financial services companies include; helping clients to manage the crisis by introducing new measures, providing a reliable and consolidated source of information for businesses on areas such as business continuity and government relief, and actions related to corporate social responsibility. Financial services companies are leveraging their industry knowledge to provide businesses with much needed economic forecasting, and this is key to their offering right now. Banks have been the most active in terms of changing their terms of service, and this garners the most positive response in the general populace, while other financial institutions, such as insurance providers often may find their responses slip under the radar. Interestingly, employer brand and recruitment marketing has not been integrated into Covid-19 brand strategy, and for the most part shows no change in response to the pandemic. 

In short, financial services brands should focus on how they can adapt or relax their terms of service to support customers right now, and use their industry knowledge to advise customers during this time of uncertainty.