April 7, 2020
How can financial service brands support customers in the crisis?
by Brendán Murphy
Senior Partner Brendán Murphy spoke with Oliver Wyman’s FS Americas COVID Response team on how financial institutions should engage with customers and position their brands amidst the crisis. Below are some of the most pressing questions they are seeing, and Brendan’s responses.
What messages should companies be trying to send to customers during a crisis?
Living through this in New York, and connecting to family, colleagues, and clients in China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Dublin during this crisis, you quickly realize that messages of support are appreciated, but actions make more meaningful connections.
Over the last two weeks, you would have likely received a lot of emails from companies alerting you of actions they’re taking in response to the virus. These typically took one of two forms:
- The concerned citizen. A check-in to let you know that they’re sanitizing and distancing.
- The parallel universe. Business as usual with no recognition of the global human crisis. Or self-centered attempts at humor with companies splitting their logos in two to speak to social distancing. While some of these were well meaning, and some humorously entertaining, most fail to recognize the scale of this moment and the mindset of the receiver.
Crisis is a time for big meaningful gestures. We need look no further than Dan Glaser, CEO of Marsh & McLennan Companies, who communicated that no one at MMC will lose their job during this crisis. Dan and his management team understand that in times of crisis, empathy and action can be your strongest weapons, building loyalty and culture.
How can financial institutions connect with their customers during this crisis?
In this moment we need leaders who can communicate directly and act meaningfully. Dr. Fauci and Governor Cuomo are great role models. Both are honest, pragmatic, vulnerable …human.
But we see very little communication from many of the financial and service brands that have the greatest impact on our quality of life. As Dr. Fauci and Governor Cumo have shown, this is not a time to sit on the sidelines. This is a time to define a vision, and to marshal and deploy your forces for the greater good.
As an institution, you have to recognize the role you play in society – whether that’s providing capital, loans to small business, or processing student loans and mortgages. And, above all, to be cognizant of the fact that many clients and customers are now in crisis mode. They may have lost their jobs, they may not be able to meet payroll, they may not be able to make an insurance payment. Witness Geico who paused cancellation due to non-payment and policy expiration through April 30, 2020.
You can’t help but look back to the financial crisis of 2007 when banks and insurance companies were the biggest beneficiaries of government support and public money. The government did not sit on the sidelines. They acted swiftly and generously. And now that humanity is in crisis, this is an opportunity for the financial industry to step up and give back in order to earn the trust that they lost in 2007.
In times of crisis, empathy and action can be your strongest weapons, building loyalty and culture.
Are there concrete actions financial services firms should take?
Yes, there are any number of creative customer-led opportunities that can help you meaningfully connect with customer and clients… and many don’t require a financial outlay.
- Lean into your purpose. These are not words on paper. They are a call to action. DuPont has ramped up its production of Tyvek suits to help protect the medical community. How can our/your purpose solve for an immediate tangible need? What can we do to help a client or industry in crisis?
- Act with empathy. Looking to my home country, Ireland, we had stores dedicate the first hour of the day to older customers. What can we do to support our most vulnerable customers and industries? Can financial services firms offer dedicated time slots to help people who have lost their jobs, or to help small businesses?
- Model behavior. Rotunden market in Hellerup, Denmark discouraged hoarding by offering 1 bottle of hand sanitizer for 40 DKK and 1000 DKK for each additional bottle. The Four Seasons Hotel in New York has donated rooms to local medical staff. And many local schools are donating their protective gear from science classes to local hospitals. What can we do or give to model a culture and society that our children would be proud of?
- Repurpose to solve a customer need. Zara is shifting its production line to make face masks and hospital gowns. RTE, the Irish state TV channel, is turning over its morning schedule to educational programming for homebound kids (and their parents). Could we and our financial institutions repurpose employees to solve a more pressing and useful need? Can we redirect the budget we had allocated for a trade show or event to help a local non-profit?