In Reputation We Trust

Malta has maintained its trajectory as one of the world’s financial centres of excellence. Reputation and integrity remain core to ensure brand Malta is synonymous with trust.

Marketing for financial services is not your typical cup of tea. It needs a different approach than for example consumer packaged goods and services as it is a highly competitive industry which is strictly regulated and quite conservative in how it operates.

Financial products and services are perishable intangibles where the consumer makes contact with a non-existent sensory experience. Therefore in most cases branding takes centre stage to strengthen and project the financial provider’s credentials. Reputation and trust are essential to maintain a sustainable flow of transactions between provider and user.

But what are the main features of a successful financial brand? Trust and reputation are vague statements which are more the sum of the whole. It takes much more than moving advertising and sweet talk to secure the user’s trust. On the other hand reputation cannot be bought. It is a culmination of consistent endeavours that ripple positively from one user to another.

Recent research by the Leo Burnett Group identified five drivers which make a successful brand. Even though the research was based on a wide selection of mainstream FMCG products, still there are considerable similarities in the marketing efforts of the big players of the financial services industry.

The first driver is AFFINITY. This is measured by the level of the user’s trust in the brand. How positive is the emotional connection with the brand? What is the user’s level of sympathy and loyalty to the brand provider?

Brands build affinity through a positive user experience. The better and genuine the experience is, the higher the user’s affinity towards the brand. Strong affinity is a key indicator of positive consumer trust in the brand. Trust leads to brand loyalty and commitment by consumers.

An example in Malta is HSBC who last summer jeopardised the trust of its customers by charging a monthly fee for online banking to small business users. This summer HSBC launched free mobile banking for their customers as a positive move to strengthen the affinity and trust of its current and potential new clients.

A second driver is VISIBILITY. How knowledgeable are potential users of the brand? What is the level of awareness in the brand and what it represents? Is the brand really visible in the right places at the right time to the right customers?

Visibility is about the brand being everywhere both in physical location and mental recall. The brand needs to stand out to ensure the users’ cognitive is triggered to the brand once the need arrives. Top of mind, tip of tongue.

A local example is when Banif Bank introduced itself to the Maltese market. HSBC and Bank of Valletta were and remain the top two local banks in Malta with APS Bank as a third consideration. With constant visibility through a strong campaign based on ‘the power of believing’, Banif Bank stepped out of the shadows and consolidated its positions as a formidable banking option for consumers.

Our third driver is DIFFERENTIATION. What is different about the brand and its customer proposition when compared to its competitors? What is the personality of the brand? Which segment of the market is the brand positioning for? Are there new channels to be considered where consumers discover and consume the brand?

Differentiation is seriously becoming the key challenge for financial services brands. Considering that financial services are regulated, it is quite difficult to differentiate the product itself. Therefore the brand must seek to differentiate itself by developing a unique personality while maintaining the best service quality and constantly improving convenience.

Financial services brands create a unique personality to strengthen the relationship with the consumer. The objective of the personality is to create a brand that consumers find attractive. A brand that matters. A brand which is engaging, imaginative, and even can be fun.

Extreme examples of brand personality creation are Aleksandr Orlov the Meerkat and Churchill the Bulldog who have become British icons of car and home insurance. Both characters create a humorous brand personality which attract and appeals to the interest of the target market. In the case of Malta many providers choose to use symbology from the Knight of Malta as it represents cavalry, fortitude and hospitality.

Another way to differentiate the brand is by being accessible and convenient by developing alternative channels of contact. Online financial providers are dramatically on the rise. More than a third of American consumers do their banking through their mobile phone. Global brands such as PayPal and Google Wallet have revolutionised payments and money transfers. Digital is certainly the way forward.

The fourth driver is INTEGRITY. What is the perceived level of honesty and transparency associated with the brand? How sound is the integrity of the brand? Can integrity be compromised by unforeseen circumstances? Is the brand personality in sync with the company culture and attitude of its people?

Obviously integrity is a critical driver. Brand integrity comes by walking the talk. Not only by saying the right things, but also by doing the right things. This is where user trust and confidence develops. No brand wants to stumble from hero to zero.

We are fortunate that Malta has the needed integrity as a centre of financial services. Malta didn’t suffer bailouts like our Mediterranean neighbours Greece and Cyprus. Malta has not been associated with dodgy investments similar to ones offered in Argentina.

The fifth and last driver is LONGEVITY. Is the brand made to last? What is the brand’s trajectory? How durable is the brand proposition? Can the brand endure the test of time? Is the brand backed by a solid and consistent vision?

Since the determination of the Knights of Malta through the Great Siege to the audacity of Malta as a British colony during World War I and II, Malta has accrued years of commitment and resilience.  Brand Malta now continues to project its longevity as a committed member of the European Union and adopter of the Euro currency.

Serving at the axis of the Mediterranean and with further interest and networking with investors from Asia, America and Africa, brand Malta continues to strengthen its competence as a global financial services hub in the Mediterranean region. May reputation and integrity remain key to the strategic advantage of the financial industry in Malta.