Wednesday, April 8, 2009

66% of financial institutions fail to use their website's home page to tackle economic crisis.

“The majority of financial services companies - 66% - have been silent recently when it comes to communicating about the troublesome economy on their corporate Web site home pages” reports Weber Shandwick in an April 8th news release. The global public relations firm looked at a diverse segment of 55 U.S. and European/EMEA financial services companies including investment firms, commercial banks and financial data service firms. They tracked the organizations weekly since mid-October to determine their reactions as the economic news worsened. The study covered a five-month period.

“Since corporate home pages are a prime gateway to a company’s positioning, messaging and reputation, we examined them to determine how an industry under intense scrutiny rises to the challenge of building trust in tough times,” noted Barb Iverson, president of Weber Shandwick’s financial services industry practice group in the news release. “It is not enough for leading financial services companies to communicate only in good times.” She went on to urge financial services organizations to use their low cost, high impact home pages in communicating with customers and investors.

Surprisingly the European institutions studied communicated earlier on their home pages about the crisis than did their American counterparts. U.S. firms eventually caught up and surpassed their European peer sin home page communications.

Only 24% (in Feb. 2009) and 13% (in mid-Oct. 2008) linked to a message from a CEO/Chairman. Weber Shandwick reported that when these same execs were used on home pages, they helped “humanize the crisis and put a face on the company.”

Iverson noted in the release that “for many, the Web sites of these financial services companies are one of the first places that customers, investors and others go to in search of information and reassurance.”

Home page recommendations.
Incorporate the following into home page messages, recommends Weber Shandwick:
  • Explain unfamiliar financial terms and add hotline numbers, contact names & photos, as well as FAQs
  • Convey empathy in messages, as well as acknowledge customers’ confusion, concerns and loss of trust
  • Use social media tools such as podcasts, Webcasts, blogs and customer discussion forums in an attempt to make relationships more personal and interactive

The release featured additional stats and charts illustrating the agency’s findings.

The message for community banks.
While the sites studied were of Fortune 500 firms, smaller financial institutions can learn from the Weber Shandwick study. We know that all financial consumers, whether they are affiliated with a troubled institution or not, are concerned and fearful. The financial climate is not business as usual. And, smaller bank marketing departments are not immune to the fallout of the current economic situation. All financial institutions need to step up to the plate and to the challenge of relating to your customers. Your home page is the face of your institution. . . in good times and bad. And from our own observations working in financial communications, we’ve learned that the President’s Message is valuable real estate for your bank’s marketing. Mesh the two and you’ll forge a strong link with your consumer.

Related articles in Bank Marketing:
Ohio community banker talks “tough” on his website.

How do you combat negative headlines?

What can the “President’s Message” do for your marketing?

Fifth Third “dreams” of quelling consumers concerns.

Readers & employees respond to Wells Fargo “Las Vegas” blog post.

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