Self-isolation, social distancing and lockdown have given us a taste of a different way of living and working.
For most people in the UK, this has been the biggest upheaval to daily life that we’ve ever lived through. But while the transition wasn’t easy, it now seems that we’re enjoying plenty of positives. According to a recent YouGov poll, 40% of people have felt a stronger sense of community since the Coronavirus outbreak began, 51% have noticed cleaner air, and 61% have been spending less money.
In fact, only 9% of Britons want to return to life as normal when the outbreak is over. The vast majority hope to see some degree of personal or social change, and the arrival of a new normal.
How financial brands can stay relevant in the new normal
As many businesses begin to resume their services, they should be cautious not to appear to be returning just as they were before, but instead to demonstrate that they’re evolving with their customer base.
To cater to an audience with a whole new set of values, brands will need to show how they can deliver the changes consumers hope to see in the 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. Lifestyle choices once considered radical, such as telecommuting, are proving to be a more cost-effective and sustainable way of working, with 52% of people enjoying the increased flexibility.
People no longer feel it’s necessary to travel to a physical space for a meeting when it can be done through their laptop or mobile at a time that suits them. Any essential service can be delivered through their digital devices: a personal trainer, a doctor’s appointment, or a meeting with a bank, IFA or asset manager.
Customer-centric digital services are soon going to be the norm. Financial brands that don’t embrace this connectivity will see their customers leave them for someone else that does.
It’s important to note that, when your first point of contact with a client is digital, 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 virtual communications is a skill financial brands will need to master.
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 and going paperless. They must reduce travel for their staff by allowing them to work from home, and cut the number of business trips by replacing them with video calls (intersecting with the demand for flexibility).
There is also a growing demand from investors for green investments, which don’t just provide a positive return, but do so without damage to the environment. Asset managers will need to work with companies and clients to create investment solutions that will build a more sustainable future for all.
Another lesson we’ve learned from COVID-19 is 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, inclusivity and togetherness might be valued more highly in this new normal.
So, in addition to meeting demand for environmental investments, asset management companies will need to improve their focus on the social and governance pillars of ESG. They can expect resistance from clients if they are working with companies not seen to be operating ethically, with an awareness of today’s biggest social issues, or those that lack diversity on their boards.
As with sustainability, there is also some intersection with flexibility. 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. Audience members can connect with each other, ask questions, collaborate, and share insight.
In many ways, the pandemic has taken us to a new level of transparency. We get glimpses into colleagues’ personal lives on video calls, and have become used to seeing TV shows, magazines and adverts that are created by stars and the public alike, in their own homes.
For the most part, consumers are enjoying these glimpses into reality more than the glossy finished product they were 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.
Authenticity is an additional layer that must be applied to all the other values we’ve identified. It will not be enough for brands to make gestures towards flexibility, sustainability and inclusivity; they must demonstrate that they are taking action in a meaningful way.
So, if asset managers adopt more flexible, virtual communications, it should be more than just an add-on to a current service. It should represent a true shift in the organisation’s ways of working to build more inclusive communities, and shape products and services based on this.
And with regards to the investment process, far greater transparency will be required. To avoid accusations of ‘greenwashing’ and superficial social impact, asset managers must be prepared to provide evidence that so-called ESG investments really do deliver both positive returns for the investor and a positive impact for society.
A new normal of purpose-led brands
In the face of difficulty, our society is learning to prioritise different values. This presents a challenge to brands, but one that will ultimately strengthen their relationship with consumers and their place in society.
Asset management companies face a learning curve in how they adapt to these new values, but those that help to create a more flexible, sustainable and inclusive future, authentically, will be rewarded.