Can a Bank’s Brand Image be a Trap?


Bank-Brand-TrapResearch will tell you that a bank brand attribute as a trusted institution is worth millions of dollars and the envy of so many other types of financial institutions (see recent article from The Financial Brand.)

The problem is breadth.  Banks are seen too narrowly, as the place to go for deposits and loans; a place to go to transact.  That’s fine if a bank is comfortable with a small share of their customer’s wallet (2 of 10) and are willing to watch other financial institutions earn more and more money by selling other products to their customers; products and services that can help people with other needs as they save for college tuition bills, save for retirement, and move into retirement and old age.

Is a bank’s brand image cast in stone?  For the most part, the answer is “yes”.  Think of this for a minute.  You walk into your dentist’s office.  This is the dentist that you have been seeing for several years.  He suddenly says, “Take off your shoes and I’ll take a look at your feet, I’m also a podiatrist.”  What do you think?  “Oh no you’re not, you’re my dentist.”  It doesn’t matter if a degree in podiatry hangs on the wall – you are in your dentist’s office and he is your dentist.  An image cast in stone.  If he really wanted to practice podiatry, he would be better off if you had no preconceived image of him as a dentist.

Banks are in the same trap.  They want to take care of more of the needs of their customers but they are tapped by their image – a trusted place to go for deposits and loans.

Breaking out of the image trap

Let’s start with what doesn’t work – just calling yourself something new, thinking that people will see you differently.  “We’re more than a bank; we’re a financial services company.”  Same branches, same people, same customer experience – what’s different?

But image can be changed.  I remember the time when the primary reason you went to the drug store was to buy medicine. On a recent trip to Florida, I saw a Walgreen pharmacy selling bicycles.  Image is changed by what you do, beyond just what you say.  Change the bank customer experience beyond rates, rates, and rates.

You can do something that establishes your bank’s credibility beyond your narrow image.  Give your customers something they desperately want – easy to understand information and guidance from someone they trust.  Your customers feel they have been turned upside down over the past few years.  They want help making financial decisions with the issues they face as they go through life.  Give them the information they need, when they need it, and their image of you will change.  They will see you as a resource for answers and be ready to do business.