May 19, 2012
These are worrying times for people across Europe as the euro lurches towards another crisis, with leaders talking openly about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro and reports of customers starting to withdraw deposits from banks in Greece and Bankia in Spain.
It's easy to feel powerless in the face of such powerful forces, but fundamentally the repeated euro crises are about two things: debt and confidence. Lots of individuals, small companies, banks and governments across Europe have a large amount of debt, and lenders — depositors, investors and other banks — aren't completely confident that all of them will be able to pay it back. It's critical to avoid a vicious spiral of declining confidence that will harm Europe's economic prospects and the livelihoods of its peoples.
What can bank eBusiness executives do about it? Remember that you control two of your bank's critical communication channels: the website and email. Use them to reassure customers. How?
- Help customers understand what the crisis is about. Banks aren't just about products. Your purpose is to help customers manage their money. Help your customers understand the causes of the crisis and the reality of the hard choices facing Europe. Nobody likes realizing that they are poorer than they thought they were. Without getting political, help customers understand the situation and what it means to them.
- Spell out why your firm is safe. My bank emailed me on Thursday to remind me that it's covered by the British government's Financial Services Compenstation Scheme, covering up to £85,000. Put a similar message on your home page and onto the secure site, where online banking customers are most likely to see it.
- Get the right messages onto your home page. People are worried. Your website home page needs to address those fears in a calm and rational way. During the financial crisis of 2008, Westpac’s home page listed six reasons why customers could save there with confidence, and promoted a section specifically for customers concerned about the financial crisis. Wells Fargo put a message from it's chief executive on the home page.
From a brief search this morning most European banks are publicly ignoring current events. A few banks mention passing the European Central Bank's stress tests on their website, such as National Bank of Greece. One or two provide advice on help with mortgage repayments, such as Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland. Bankinter has a new link for 'Transferencias desde otras entidades' (transfers from other banks), but even that doesn't explain why customers might want to do that or trust Bankinter. Most banks' websites make no mention of anything related to financial strength or the state of Europe's economies. Even Bankia is saying nothing. Almost absurdly, many banks highlight detailed information about the Payment Services Directive, as if that's top of mind for customers.
Perhaps I'm wrong and silence is the best policy. But I think it's always a mistake to underestimate your customers. What good practices have you seen? How do you think eBusiness executives should handle this?
Postscript. As if to confirm my impression that banks ought to be reassuring their customers, the headline article in the Money section in Saturday's Guardian newspaper in the UK was 'The Eurozone Crisis: Five Ways It Affects You'. This is Money, part of Associated Newspapers, has an article about whether deposits in Santander UK are safe (they are).