Banking Brands Built for Success

In this episode, Sean and Gina look at two influential industry reports and how they provide a snapshot of our current moment in banking. First, they discuss the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual report that provides insights into the influence of trust across our institutions and industries. While this year’s report continues to show an undercurrent of mistrust among consumers, business maintains its position as the most trusted sector in society, giving bank brands a real opportunity to deepen relationships. Next, they bring on Adrenaline’s Chief Brand Officer Juliet D’Ambrosio to discuss The Financial Industry Pulse Report, which highlights the importance of brand for building trusting relationships, something really relevant in light of recent bank failures. Using current examples of brands meeting the moment, this lively conversation highlights the essential role of brand as a business strategy for success.


Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers and leaders, featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I am Sean Keathley, CEO of Adrenaline.

Gina Bleedorn: And I’m Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline.

Sean Keathley: Gina, I wanted to start the conversation today with something that comes out every year about this time of year, and that is the Edelman Trust Barometer. Could you speak to the findings there and your thoughts on that information?

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah, the Trust Barometer interestingly came out before the recent events that have unfolded with the bank failures and so it has all the more merit. One of the things that stood out to me the most is distrust is the default. And that’s kind of scary that the majority of people start out thinking intentions are not good. The most trusted institution is business, by a few percentage points ahead of NGOs and government and media.

One thing that was especially interesting to me, as far as media is concerned, search engines are only at 59% above media at 57%, and owned media at 43%, social at 37%. And the fact that people have lost faith in search engines even is a sign of where we are. So fears we’re already on the rise. People worried about uncertainty about the future, from jobs to climate change, and then the bank failures happen. And so I think we’re seeing fear on top of an undercurrent of fear that already existed, that has exacerbated perceptions around what bank failures mean for the banking industry at large.

Sean Keathley: That’s well said, Gina. And I think that maybe talks a little bit why the markets and the overall economy and the average person was really spooked with what happened with Silicon Valley, because of what you’ve described leading up to those events. But if you think about the typical community, regional or national bank, they just do not have the business profile of the banks that got in trouble. And so I think that’s why we heard from so many bankers, from all size bank. Jill Castillo at a very small community bank in Oklahoma. We heard from Brad Tidwell, he was on CNN with a growing VeraBank in Texas. Another really respected bank was the CEO of Frost Bank. Jamie Dimon is always talking, especially this time of year, with his annual report coming out.

And I think what you’ve heard consistently with people that really understand what’s going on is that banking is strong. The typical bank is community-oriented, even the large banks. Jamie Dimon talked about is new community branches. And so I think everyone is really becoming what we’ve been talking about on Believe in Banking, an important part of the economy. But I say with all those trust numbers you talk about, there’s a moment for banks to step up and really take a stronger position because they are so key to individuals, small businesses, and our overall country as well.

Gina Bleedorn: Despite some of the potentially overblown hype and panic about the economy, about where in some ways the banking industry is headed or not, we are happy to see new research showing consumer sentiment is quite positive about the banking industry, specifically. Their confidence in banking is not shaken.

So to talk a little more about that, we’d love to have Juliet D’Ambrosio, she is our Chief Brand Officer at Adrenaline, talk a little bit about what we are seeing in the industry at large.

Juliet D’Ambrosio: I’d love to, and I think you’re both spot-on. One, Sean, that idea of the trust in banking as an institution’s that support overall health and prosperity of people, of businesses, has remained strong. And also, Gina, the difference between maybe some of the media reporting around Silicon Valley Bank’s failure and the impacts of that, and how that has actually impacted people on the street, on main street.

And what we’re finding is interesting. Ipsos just conducted a survey March 20th, so we’re talking 10 days really after the news broke about Silicon Valley Bank, that Americans are not worried. That US consumer confidence remains stable, despite that Silicon Valley Bank failure. And really interestingly, that Americans’ banking behaviors are largely unchanged. They are not withdrawing large amounts of cash, they are not questioning their institutions. And in fact, we’re seeing the opposite phenomenon happen, where now 65% of millennials now report being more interested in local financial institutions, ones that have sound practices, that are invested in their community. And we also see it at work with credit unions, with 69% of US consumers who now report trusting credit unions after the Silicon Valley Bank failure.

So there is some enduring support that’s driven by trust, but there is also growing interest and momentum around where consumers place their trust and their confidence. And we’re seeing that happen more and more in their local community financial institutions. 

Sean Keathley: Well, Juliet, it makes me feel in hindsight we had it right during the heart of COVID to start a Believe in Banking podcast. It just continues to shine through as the strategy that can survive just about anything. Hard times, politically divided times, challenges on the geopolitical stage, you just name it, the banks can play a role.

And I go back to say that the Silvergate and the Silicon Valley, these types of challenges, Signature in New York, it is not systemic. This is not 2008 where there was a systemic crisis. And so I think that the banks are bringing strong balance sheets into tough times and that is going to get us through tough times. And there is a moment here for every single bank in every community to realize they are one of the more trusted sources, and we know money is personal and it’s emotional. And so I think there’s a moment for banking right now.

Gina Bleedorn: Juliet, many of our clients, during this last six weeks, have come to us saying, “What should we do?” Especially when things first went down. What have our clients come to us asking and what have we done for them to help in certain cases position or communicate, either who they are in general or things that we are doing for them in certain ways. What’s some of the real-time happenings on the ground with community bank and credit union clients reacting to what is happening?

Juliet D’Ambrosio: Yeah, I’d love to talk about that generally. And then I also want Sean to weigh in very specifically with a client that is near and dear to all of us, VeraBank in Texas. But generally what we are seeing is that our clients are looking at this post SVB failure moment as a way to do exactly what Sean was saying, remind people why they should believe in banking generally and why they should believe in their bank.

And so what that has looked like is consistent, timely and authentic communications. Communicating directly with customers, and then also looking at ways to communicate to the market. We’re working with many of our clients now, community financial institutions, who see this moment as really an opportunity to begin to acquire new customers to make the case for local community banking. It is different from what you are going to get from a big bank, both in personalization, relationship-driven, but also in the magic T word again, in that level of trust that you can place in these institutions.

One that we’re working with has been around for 170 years. They’ve seen two world wars, they’ve seen countless recessions, and they’re still there. They are still there, serving their customers and always will be. So, this has become a moment of, in some ways, newfound confidence and a moment to attract new customers and actually move into a growth mindset.

Sean, I think one of the most high profile examples of this came from VeraBank. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about how we got involved and what Vera Bank did that really set the tone for the industry.

Sean Keathley: I would love to, and go back just a little bit to set the story up. We met the team in 2016 as Brad Tidwell, the CEO, had joined the bank after working for Jamie Dimon at Bank One and Chase, and he moved back home. It’s an East Texas town where he grew up, where his children grew up. And there was an opportunity and an opening, and he wanted to just come home and finish his career serving the community that made him the person he was.

We were working with them as they were growing and adding branches and being community-focused. And then he came to us about three years ago and said, “My name, Citizens National Bank, is a problem.” He said, “There are 200 Citizens banks in our footprint and there is confusion everywhere. And I just don’t think our team gets the credit for the kind of people we are, the kind of bankers we are, and we need to work on a new brand.”

And so in doing so, our strategy team was basically looking for a name that was ownable and unique, that’s hard to find these days, but represented who they were. And that’s where we came up with VeraBank. And Vera, I studied Latin in high school, is the Latin word for “truth.” And it really does just describe who these folks are. They are incredible human beings, good people. They are from these towns they work in. If they expand in a market they hire people from that market.

And so, when this happened, immediately on a Friday, Brad hit the airwaves and he sent a impassioned message to every single one of his account holders and he included his personal cell phone. And he basically just said, “Our bank is safe. We have prepared for challenging times, and we’re going to be here tomorrow. The makeup of our bank is nothing like the banks that are seeing some of the challenges. And if you’re still nervous about that, just call me.”

And that was pretty amazing because it got national news. He was on CNN, he’s been interviewed by everyone. But what is most endearing to me is he was just being himself. That was not some superhuman moment from Brad or he didn’t pretend, it’s just how he runs his bank. And so I do think that’s what you’re speaking to, Juliet, that many of our clients have come to us and said, “What do we do?” And we often just tell them, “You’re already doing amazing things. You just tell your story better.”

Gina Bleedorn:  Actually, it’s those exact themes about brand alignment with values and who you are as a business and your reputation and you as people, the leadership of the bank as people, when we talk about brand, that’s what we mean. We think that most people generally understand that, but maybe don’t fully understand how deep brand is, could, or should be.

And in fact, Adrenaline recently published an Industry Pulse Report with data we gathered from attendees of The Financial Brand Forum, which is the biggest physical event in banking. And we asked a lot of questions about trust, about brand, about its impact with business. And some of the findings were pretty interesting, I’d love for Juliet to talk about them.

Juliet D’Ambrosio: They were really interesting, and it’s also interesting to look back. Financial Brand Forum was three, four months ago, not very long ago at all, but to look back through the lens of recent events and what we’ve been talking about with trust. One thing that we learned as a key finding that really stood out to our team is that 75% of the attendees at Financial Brand Forum believe that brand value critically impacts business value.

And so the idea that the industry at large has turned a corner in terms of thinking of brand as a nice-tohave, as lipstick, as dressing, as something that is really all tied up in a logo. But that brand itself, how it is lived, experienced inside an organization, and how critically it impacts external people, everyone from your members, your customers, to the community, to the world really at large, the idea that brand can have a direct impact on business performance, three quarters of the industry recognize that value.

And I think that we see that also in other ways throughout some of the key findings that we had when we asked about priorities. So what are your institution’s biggest priorities as they relate to brand? The number one goal that people were seeking to achieve is the idea of marketing more effectively. That was followed by bridging digital and human delivery, and finally, articulating a differentiated message.

And when we think about what differentiates one financial institution from another, it comes back to those ideas that we talked about that Sean painted the picture with with Brad Tidwell at VeraBank. Not changing who you are, not finding a message that you think might resonate with people and attaching yourself to that, but really taking who you are, what you value, what separates you, how you see your impact on the world. And telling it in a more relevant, elevated, accessible way, so that more people are able to believe in banking and the kind of banking, credit unioning, the kind of experience that you are offering.

Sean Keathley: Juliet, as I hear your main point there it just makes me think about all the futurist, branching’s going to be dead, technology will kill the branch, COVID is going to kill the branch. And then you come out of all that and you’re hearing that it is a combination of technology and human, it is not technology only. And if you agree that it is a combination, what it is about your human experience that’s unique. And that’s how I think we’ve come to the brand now being top three. And I think Gina did a great job of articulating what it is and what it isn’t.

It’s just so interesting to me as we’ve been doing this since March of ’20, the main blocking and tackling has never changed for us, but maybe now the consumer and the average bank or credit union is really starting to see it, that nothing has changed this. Banks are here to stay. They’re incredibly important to our economy and country. And if you can’t tell a story about what makes you valuable and unique, you are going to be behind the benchmark. So this is fascinating. What else did you see or hear that might be interesting for our listeners?

Juliet D’Ambrosio: Yeah. Well, I couldn’t have said that better myself, Sean. Couple call-outs that I’d like to make. When we ask what the institution’s biggest challenges are, the story that it tells us is that the industry is focused on growth, because the way that they answered that question is 42% said their institution’s biggest challenge and priority that they’re focused on is customer acquisition, customer new member acquisition. So they’re looking to acquire more customers. Also coming in at 42% is new market growth. So, the idea that this industry is not only here to stay, it is also growing.

And one thing that was really interesting is that, as we have looked at the impacts now we’re three years sort of post initial COVID fallout, is that we are in a heightened sense of what brand can do and what its meaning is for business performance. And 52% of all attendees at The Financial Brand Forum have not looked at their brand, and by that I mean their story, their experience, their strategy for reaching new customers, they haven’t looked at it since before COVID.

And so because there are differences in expectations from consumers, I think that this tells us that to support that growth that the industry is really focused on and driving after, the idea that looking at brand as a not the driver, but a key driver in helping to achieve that growth and achieve that business performance, is going to be on a lot of the industry’s minds and strategic priorities. And we are certainly seeing that at play.

Sean Keathley: Well, thank you, Juliet. That’s dead-on and so fascinating. And, Gina, maybe a closing question for you as you set up our next conversation we’re excited about. If you think about all of the boards and all of the businesses and financial services you’ve rebranded, what would you say is the number one theme that was the strategic reason they were in the predicament of needing to rebrand?

Gina Bleedorn: Well, no question it’s that they were all in some type of growth mode, and they all needed a new story and face forward in order to do that. A great example is what was American Bank Center, renamed and rebranded to Bravera, and their CEO, David Ehlis, will be on our next podcast. So very excited to help tell that story of brand as business strategy. And what going through that process was like and what it’s done for the bank, and especially what it’s doing even now in helping establish and keep trust amidst uncertainty.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking, a podcast series created to empower decision-makers, influencers, and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site,