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The Key to Sustainable Success: Delivering an Authentic Brand

August 20, 2020
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Financial institutions navigated significant change in a short time to continue serving consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As markets begin opening in varying degrees, financial leaders are thinking about how to sustainably move forward in this new environment. Millennial and Gen Z research suggests the most trusted and authentic brands will survive.

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Authenticity, by definition, requires financial institutions to be real, up front and honest about the background of the business and why you started it in the first place. Your brand’s core values and beliefs are what draw people toward your institution. To deliver an authentic brand, financial institutions should establish trust in all three critical pillars to a brand: employees, customers or members, and markets.

Employees

Mike Robbins, author of “Bring Your Whole Self to Work,” suggests that being authentic is the first step in becoming more engaged at work. COVID-19 influenced a significant shift to remote work. Many employees felt the uncomfortable convergence of their work and personal lives, forcing a more authentic, or whole, self to be seen by colleagues. Financial institutions that have been supportive of this disruption and continue to demonstrate empathy toward employees are able to maintain or grow trust and engagement with staff. At the peak of the shelter-in-place period, 47 percent of credit unions had at least 50 percent of their employees working remotely.

Some argue that Robbins’ idea of being able to bring your whole self to work is achievable only when the company culture embraces diversity and inclusion. Diversity encompasses race, gender, ethnic groups, age, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, military service, and mental and physical conditions, as well as other distinct differences between people. Leaders must appreciate all employees no matter how they identify themselves. How you perceive your employees is important to them and is what makes them more engaged, or emotionally connected, to your organization.

Organizations that commit to recruiting a diverse workforce have a larger pool of applicants to choose from, which provides more qualified candidates and reduces the time to fill positions. When you have a diverse group of employees, your organization gains perspectives informed by many cultural experiences that inspire organizations with creative, new ideas. Having a diverse workforce also enhances the company’s brand.

To embrace diversity and inclusion, effective leaders avoid making assumptions about employees. They look at each employee as an individual and share successes and challenges with the individual rather than acting on the employee’s background or preferences. Ultimately, leaders should encourage employees to recognize that one’s own experience, background and culture are not the only experiences that add value to an organization.

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Customers or Members

Consumers do business with financial institutions because they trust them with their money. Many institutions reacted swiftly to provide financial support to customers or members affected by unemployment within the first 12 weeks of the pandemic. These actions were a direct reflection of many financial institutions’ core values. When organizations deliver products and services that align with their mission and values, they demonstrate authenticity.   

Having an authentic brand helps sustain consumer engagement with your organization. Financial institutions need to make sure their business values stay consistent through every strategy, product and service delivery. This is especially true as many organizations navigate increasing earnings pressure resulting from COVID-19.

New consumer research by Raddon indicates that a higher percentage of consumers think their long-term financial behaviors will change as a result of COVID-19. Half of respondents will change spending patterns permanently, while four in 10 indicate they will save more. Leaders should continue to manage the financial stability of the financial institution in order to maintain the trust accountholders have placed in it, as well as attract new consumers to achieve sustainable growth.

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Markets

The marketplace has experienced significant transformation in the wake of COVID-19. Even more momentous is the wave of global outrage, sparked by the death of George Floyd, who suffered indefensible treatment. People of all races continue to protest discrimination, racism, violence and oppression of all kinds, shining a light on racial inequalities present in every corner of the world. In order to build trust in our markets, financial institutions must be led by their values to create a diverse, respectful and inclusive community.

Some financial institutions have responded by offering grants to support minority causes, but so much more needs to be done to bridge the gap of income inequality and financial insecurity. According to the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, the family median net worth among white families in the U.S. is nearly $171,000, compared to just $17,600 for Black families. Financial institutions can put their core values to work by developing and scaling products and advisory services designed to build wealth and encourage savings. Organizations can increase their investments in Black-owned businesses, neighborhoods and companies leading in racial inclusion. Financial executives should play a role in shaping and changing local behaviors and policies to help drive immediate action.

The more you show authenticity as part of your business, the more people will trust you and participate in your organization. It is one thing to say what you value; it is more meaningful to demonstrate your values. Actions certainly speak louder than words.

As many financial institutions look to develop a strategy to attract Gen Z, it is important to note that this generation wants to engage with organizations that demonstrate that they care about the world and the communities they serve. In fact, when Raddon surveyed Gen Z in 2019, well before the current outrage of racial inequality, 66 percent were concerned with racial and ethnic conflicts.

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For financial institutions to continue to grow, they should first establish a relationship of trust with employees, customers or members, and the communities they serve. Without it, there is no foundation to create an authentic brand that encourages people to choose your institution over competitors. The best way to accomplish this is to be consistent in your mission and values. From employee recruitment and development to every product, service channel and community development strategy, every action should align and reflect your mission and values. Only then will you deliver an authentic brand.