2017 was a year of bolstered and bruised reputations in finance
- Though the public likes to hate on financial brands, sometimes actions and internal politics can shape their reputations
- Issues affecting reputations in 2017 included the politicization of brand identities, questions around use of customer data, work culture and issues around sexual harassment
People love to hate on big banks. Just look at how much the break-up-the-banks rhetoric dominated the last presidential election.
Consumer confidence in financial institutions took a dive after the financial crisis and banks are still recovering. This year, some continued improving their images through positive advocacy, product innovation and community outreach. But some brands sank their reputations through their own oversight and mismanagement — data breaches, fraud, sexual harassment scandals.
Here are 2017’s biggest winners and losers.
JPMorgan Chase: This year JPMorgan Chase emerged as the do-good, do-the-right-thing entity that stands, at least externally, separate from its peers. Brands know well not to upset their customers or potential customers but Chase seems to understand that today, brands don’t have the luxury of appealing to everyone anymore. It’s rare for a financial institution but by clearly communicating and promoting the principles it stands for — with its various statements, tweets, initiatives and donations — Chase has effectively become the industry’s voice of conscience. Chase pledged $1 million to be split between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, for example. And the bank’s famously outspoken CEO Jamie Dimon sent a note to employees expressing his disagreement with Donald Trump’s response to the events — which struck a chord with the public.
Wells Fargo: Wells’ challenge has been to overcome the inconsistency between how the company markets itself and how it runs the business. None of its collection of scandals throughout 2017 could top the significance of the fake accounts scandal that surfaced the year before, but in many ways they each conveyed the same poor management and oversight. This August, Wells admitted it had “inadvertently” released a trove of confidential data about at least 50,000 of its wealthiest clients in an email exchange between lawyers. Just two days before that story broke, the company began pushing its latest consumer mobile banking product called “Control Tower,” with the message that customers should own and control their data and how it’s used. It all boils down to culture, said Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO of Crenshaw Communications. “What they have forgotten is internal culture extends to your partners, your vendors, your law firms, your PR firms, your digital marketing agencies.”
U.S. Bank: U.S. Bank continued along its path of brand transformation from an unknown major bank to a business that prides itself on its loyal customer base — thanks to chief administrative officer Kate Quinn. “There were multiple versions of vision statements floating around the company,” which had grown through acquisitions, Quinn told Tearsheet. “Though the spirit was there, it wasn’t unified.” The bank was named one of the world’s most ethical companies for the third consecutive year and was recognized for having the most loyal customers, compared to other U.S.
Equifax: Some are calling it “the company that screwed consumers the most in 2017.” As if the U.S. credit agency’s widescale data breach affecting more than 145 million people was handled wasn’t enough of an upset, its next steps enraged the public even more: waiting six weeks to disclosing the data breach; learning that executives sold stock days after finding out about the hack; and the free credit monitoring service it pushed to consumers following the breach that was only available if users waived their rights to sue the company (which Equifax later backtracked on). Empathy is important, said Buchanan PR’s Lauren Force. “Show that you genuinely care about the victims involved, and keep them at the focus of the crisis. This can make an incredible difference.”
Ellevest: Ellevest, the digital investment startup founded by former Wall Street heavy hitter Sallie Krawcheck, built its brand through social media outreach and content that speaks to its target market, including Instagram advice in the form of short “Ask Sallie” questions, answers and video clips, interspersed with quotes from iconic women. “You do it from a standing start at Ellevest, with one Twitter follower, and it’s hard to make a lot of impact there. But given that I’ve got a substantial following, beginning the conversation there and also bringing it to Ellevest made a lot of sense,” she told Tearsheet. The company, which recently picked up $34.6 million in fresh funding, added human advisers to its premium service. Its lead investors — Rethink Impact, a new U.S. venture capital impact fund with a gender lens, and PSP Growth and Salesforce Ventures — align closely with Ellevest’s vision.
SoFi: It’s been a tough year for SoFi, following the resignation of the company’s co-founder and former CEO, Mike Cagney, amid lawsuits from employees stemming from sexual harassment allegations and other workplace issues. The company’s internal issues also led to the cancellation of its industrial loan company banking license application, which it formally withdrew in October. In response to the turmoil, the company said it’s taking steps to address cultural issues through an internal review to define the corporate values and culture. It’s also using the same executive search firm Uber used to find a new CEO. “The lesson of SoFi is one that high-growth, sales-centric types of work environments can learn from,” said Chris Allieri, founder and principal of Mulberry & Astor. “This super competitive, bottomline driven, must-meet-numbers culture has compromised what adult employees should be doing [in the workplace].”