Though the recession is waning, tough times are still in store for financial services brands. With the pressures of the global economy affecting business in Russia, VTB Capital has had to focus on a strategic communications programme to ensure its reputation would be maintained and its brand could flourish. Olga Podoinitsyna describes the bank’s approach to brand and explores what the future has in store for financial services.
It seems as though the financial sector can’t catch a break. Reputational issues have engulfed some of the most trusted banking institutions in the world. It is difficult to overstate how much damage has been done to the reputation – and profitability – of these banks. Warren Buffet’s old adage about it taking 20 years to build a reputation and five years to destroy it looks to have been prescient when it came to the big banks.
As a Russian investment bank, we are acutely aware of these challenges. We aim to be the partner of choice for global banking, but we can only achieve this if we’re seen as trustworthy and credible by our clients. For me, it all comes down to our brand and reputation. Marketers are often told that your brand is your promise, and your reputation is what people say about you when you leave the room.
To put it in banking terms: your brand should always be thought of as an asset, never a liability. Your brand has the ability to not only support other parts of the business, but to attract business itself. But it is vital that a brand, like any good machine, is constantly maintained and upgraded. We should know – our company was forged in the middle of the 2008 global financial crisis. We had to act fast to build a sustainable brand from scratch.
A major challenge for us was successfully distinguishing our brand from our competitors. This came down to two crucial elements: integrity and engagement. We focused on our unique Russian heritage and the investment opportunities we could create in Russian markets. People won’t be surprised to hear that we have a Russian flag flying from the roof of our London headquarters. We are proud to be a Russian business with a global footprint.
This has paid off – despite recent events that have brought Russian businesses into a new focus, we can see that Russia remains a key target market for international investors. Accord to the 2014 EY Survey 80% of Western companies in Russia are not planning to cut their staff. All this forms part of Russia’s image and part of our business brand, with a direct impact on trust, relationships and future opportunities.
The next phase of a brand’s development is making an impact through engagement. In our view, the best way to do this is through facilitating direct dialogue between decision makers. We have held top-tier events at the World Economic Forum, as well as our own RUSSIA CALLING! events, which bring together investors and policymakers from key financial markets. Now in its sixth year, RUSSIA CALLING! has become a fixture on the financial calendar and has promoted our brand to a global audience. In Davos, we introduced an innovative event format using voting on key economic questions and live results displayed on a screen. This new approach to audience engagement delivered a more interactive, effective event which will help to consolidate our brand.
Although a lot of banks have rebuilt trust and credibility, the current market outlook reminds us that there is a long way to go. Media scrutiny remains tight, and some banks will find it difficult to explain their brand to future audiences. It is not enough anymore to simply say that you exist to pay returns to your shareholders. There must be a purpose to your business, and a mission statement to your customers and clients. Otherwise, your brand won’t exist. Our brand is all about engagement, with customers, clients and the wider community. It is a constant effort to make your voice heard, but we have found that engagement is the only way to build trust and brand equity. When times are tough, it really is the only thing that people will remember.