This is the first in a series of three articles looking at the issue of trust in financial services. The basis of the article comes from a report into FS brand body language by Brand Edge, published in March 2014 in association with Whitecap Consulting.

“Trust” is both an important driver of brand and product choice in financial services and a value that’s taken an unprecedented battering in the sector.

If you take the view that financial wellbeing is vital for emotional wellbeing, the value of trust in your FS provider is so important because it intrinsically links emotional choices with financial common sense.

Therefore, it is critical that all financial services brands communicate trust and Brand Edge’s research explores how trust is being communicated not just in message but in terms of relevant Brand Body Language i.e. using semiotics (non-verbal communication).

So trust is an easy thing to feel, but more difficult to understand and influence. However, trust in financial services brands certainly feels very low and it’s easy to spot negative stories in the press on a regular basis. Of course, a customer pleased or ambivalent to his / her banking services doesn’t make the news in the same way, but perception is 99 per cent reality in this market and that is the battle facing leading FS brands as they look to consolidate existing market share and win new customers.

Financial Services Magazine summed up the challenge and the threat well in 2013:

“In reality, while we haven’t seen people pulling their money en mass from banks or more switching from one brand to another, it feels as though the standing of financial services brands is at a low point”

Brand trust crisis

What feels most in crisis is not functional trust (despite the various cash machine debacles, we generally trust financial service brands to deliver core commodity functions reliably), but Brand TRUST – at a category level we are finding it increasingly difficult to believe that financial services providers are anything other than self serving.

The inherent danger here is that should alternatives spring up where trust is easier to find for consumers, customer loyalty, for so long the antidote to potential revenue loss, is under threat. If it’s easy to leave and there is a real incentive for doing so, established brands could see their market share erode.

Legislation is already preparing the road for this, with switching accounts recently made simpler and payments technology set to be opened up to a wider market, the ground for competition is strong.

This crisis of brand trust means improvement has to operate at a Brand level with functional trust as a support.

The psychology behind brand trust

In life, consumers are seeking absolute confidence (trust), but rarely experience it. In the face of its absence they rely on knowledge and instinct to make a decision. This is the TRUST instinct. 

The TRUST instinct is a complex neuro reaction that poses questions like:

  • How will I feel if I do that?
  • When we apply it to brands it looks like this…
  • How have we experienced the brand in the past?
  • What do our social groups say about it?
  • How does the brand communicate?
  • How does it look?

All of these help us (to consciously and unconsciously) intuit how a brand will make us feel. Brands, therefore, need to move from big functional claims about product quality and invite consumers to make personal, intuitive decisions. Brands need to create opportunities for more and better positive experiences with the brand.

Brands need to understand the peer networks consumers operate in, and make sure the discussion about the brand in those spaces is positive – very often just having a communication channel available makes a huge difference. Brands like Tesco have made social media a big customer service value-add because its customers choose Twitter to communicate and Tesco has successfully integrated its brand look and feel through Twitter.

Differentiation when everyone talks about trust

Sports coaches often refer to ‘winning the right to play’ which means the team has put in the necessary hard work to allow a winning opportunity to arise. The same is true of trust in FS. If a brand fails to project a positive and optimised trust feel, customers will not engage in discussions about products anyway, so all the work put in to create the right products and services fails because the customer does not emotionally connect with the brand.

If a competitor gets the trust part right, they have the first chance to win a customer looking to place their financial services business.

With all the talk about brand, it’s easy to think that brand is all about marketing. As this blog has pointed out, it is how people feel that is important and that is formed by the entire customer experience. Every touch point has to make customers feel the same way, so press coverage, word of mouth and marketing might be the first interaction, but how the brand behaves after that in customer service (in traditional and new spaces), the value created by the brand in branch or online, and the sense of delivering what has promised will be critically important to maintaining a trust with the customer.

For senior leaders, the challenge is not just to understand trust, but to embed it deeply in the organisation in a meaningful way, which means it will not be easily broken.


Brand Edge’s report, published in March 2014 in association with Whitecap Consulting, is based on a semiotic study of brand communication / body language within the FS industry. Read the other articles in the series here.

To discuss the full report further please contact us.