How can financial brands stay relevant in the new normal?

Self-isolation and social distancing have given us a taste of a different way of living and working, in stark contrast to the life we were used to.

As it’s becoming clear that these are not short-term tactics in the COVID-19 battle, and that we are likely to be living at a distance for some time to come, it’s interesting to evaluate the impact this is having on society, and in turn how brands need to respond to stay relevant.

Change happens slowly then all at once

For over 100 years we’ve worked 9 to 5, and in many cases far longer. It has become commonplace to endure hours packed on trains or clogged up roads travelling to and from work, and to attend meeting after meeting.

While the telecommuting movement has been growing slowly in recent years, it has largely been seen as radical or impractical. However, social distancing and self-isolation have compelled us to try a new approach, and all types of businesses are finding new ways to work in a digital world.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has always felt like it was on the horizon, but COVID-19 has sped up the process through that mother of all invention, necessity. What we once considered radical is proving to be a more cost-effective and sustainable way of working, that looks likely to continue even when no longer mandated.

A brighter future awaits

A recent Ipsos MORI survey showed that, despite the current threat posed by the coronavirus, over half of the population sees some positives coming out of the situation.

Source: Ipsos tracking survey conducted on the Global Advisor online platform. (1,000 adults aged 16-74).

People are connecting virtually with friends and family on a more frequent basis; we’re uniting for good causes; and there are undeniable benefits for the environment with this new way of living.

So, whilst the circumstances are unfortunate, these cultural and technological changes present an opportunity for brands to contribute to a brighter future for all.

How financial brands can stay relevant in the new normal

Brands are facing a challenging time and some adaptations will be essential. Not only are consumers reconsidering their brand loyalties in the light of how vital they are in the current circumstances, but their expectations of brands are rising based on a new set of needs.

Flexibility

In a world where you can have any product you need delivered to your door, a personal trainer through your laptop, or a doctor’s appointment on your mobile, customer-centric digital services are soon going to be the norm for all industries.

But what does this mean for the finance industry?

Whether it’s banks, IFAs or asset managers, people’s expectations around customer service have fundamentally changed. People no longer feel it’s necessary to travel to a physical space to have a meeting when it can be done through the laptop or mobile at a time which suits them and not the other way around.

Those financial brands that don’t embrace this digital connectivity will see their customers leave them for someone else that does.

It’s also important to note that, if your first point of contact with a client is digital rather than virtual, this digital experience has to convey all of the same brand values and qualities that a visit to your office would. Brand trust is more important now than ever. Establishing this trust through a virtual communication is a different art to creating it in person, but an equally valuable one.

Flexibility will not just reside in the products and services being offered, but also in a brand’s ability to respond quickly to changing consumer needs. Some brands have been seen to be taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than providing support, and this will have a long-lasting impact on brand trust. However, the few brands that responded quickly and positively have earned valuable brand visibility and trust that will last beyond the current situation.

Inclusivity

If there’s one thing that Covid-19 has shown us, it’s that we’re all in this together. People can still feel part of something without having to be in the same physical space, whether it’s clapping for carers or having a house party in separate houses.

Brands that help to build a sense of community and bring people together might be valued more highly in this new normal.

Asset management companies can increase their accessibility and their reach by turning their physical professional investor events into virtual events; live streaming to an online audience who can all feel part of the event by being able to connect with each other, ask questions, collaborate and share insight.

This has to be more than just an add-on to a current service but should represent a true shift in the organisation’s ways of working to create more inclusive communities, and shape products and services based on this.

Sustainability

One silver lining of the pandemic is the welcome relief it has given to the environment. People’s eyes have been opened to the waste of time and natural resources that they, and the companies they support, are guilty of causing.

Financial brands will need to show how they are working towards a more sustainable future and enable people to play their part too.

Brands that talk about being environmentally friendly, will have to do more than just recycle, they will have to show how they are reducing their carbon footprint through carbon offset programmes, going paperless and reducing travel for their staff by allowing them to work from home and reducing the amount of business trips by replacing them with video calls.

There is a growing demand from investors for investments that don’t just provide a positive return but also provide a better future for the world we live in. Asset managers will need to work with companies and clients to create investment solutions that will build a more sustainable future for all – leading us to our final point.

Transparency

In many different ways, the pandemic is taking us to a new level of transparency. We get glimpses into colleagues’ personal lives on video calls; TV shows and magazines are being produced by the stars themselves in their own homes, and brands are taking this same ‘DIY’ approach to advertising. For the most part, consumers are enjoying these glimpses into reality more than the glossy finished product they’re used to. In a business to business context there’s clearly still a need to project a professional image – but the lesson to learn here is one of authenticity.

Some brands are also being refreshingly honest about the challenges they’re facing, such as fulfilment. Online grocer Ocado recently issued a letter of apology explaining that they are unable to take new customers, due to a 10,000% increase in website traffic, and encouraging potential customers to instead ‘get in touch with your regular supermarket for your current grocery needs.’

This openness and honesty will be expected of brands in future, and this will affect industries in different ways.

For asset managers, this will mean greater transparency in their investment process, and the impact they are having on society. They can expect resistance from clients if they are working with companies not seen to be operating ethically, with due attention to green issues and with good governance. They will also need to avoid ‘greenwashing’ and instead provide evidence that so-called ESG investments really do deliver both positive returns for the investor and have a positive impact for society.

A new normal of purpose-led brands

Strength is created through pressure, and in the face of difficulty, our society is learning to prioritise different values, such as community, personal time and sustainability.

Brands face a learning curve in how they adapt to these values, but those that help to create a more inclusive, flexible, transparent and sustainable future for all will be rewarded.