How to build a financial services business that stands out

Don't be the same as everyone else. Find what makes you distinctive with our upfront advice on building a memorable financial services brand.

We kicked off the first episode of the upfront podcast by asking, ‘Do financial services have to be so predictable?’ Now, we know what you’re thinking. Financial brands being predictable, that’s a good thing, right? Don’t we all want our financial services providers to be stable, reliable and not likely to do anything too crazy?

Predictability brings comfort, provides reassurance and builds trust.

It helps communicate stability and reduce anxiety. All positive characteristics for those in charge of taking care of our finances, surely?

Well, yes and no. Predictability is great, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of what makes your business different - your competitive advantage. A lack of distinction makes it hard for people to choose between one financial brand and another because they all look and sound the same, and it’s stopping people from being as engaged in financial services as they should be.

And that can’t be a good thing. For anyone.

Slow and steady might win the race for a certain type of consumer; others want more (we’re looking at you millennials and Gen-Z). They want to work with - and for - brands that align with their values and connect with them. Without that connection, there’s no understanding, no interest and no loyalty.

It means brand alignment has become a strategic priority and a key challenge for financial services leaders, something we explored on the upfront podcast with brand and communications experts Julia Streets and Michael Gough.

We got some fascinating insights from that episode. Listen in full here and read our summary of the key takeaways to help your financial services business stand out.

Stop & think

If you’re the owner of a smaller financial services business, you’ll know it’s not always easy to find the space to stop and think about the company you’re building. Prioritising client and user needs ahead of your own is often a better way to channel energy. Brands get tweaked and evolve gradually over time and it’s not until you hear a podcast talking about how predictable financial businesses have become that you realise they could be talking about you. However, you must dedicate time to work out where you fit in the market and what you’re bringing that no one else is. Podcast guest Michael Gough shared a simple exercise which is a great starting point to test how distinctive you are. Spoiler alert: heard-it-all-before rhetoric about trust, reliability and service won’t make you distinctive, which brings us to our next point.

Find a connection

Financial services businesses have understandably had to invest a lot in building up confidence, reputation and trust over the years. Unfortunately, the trust message has been so relied on by everyone that it’s become pretty much meaningless. It’s time to change tack.

For millennials and Gen-Z, it’s not just what you say but what you do. They want brands with purpose, a sense of community and authentic experiences. So to resonate with an increasingly sceptical, values-conscious market, you’ve got to dig deep and get creative. Ditch assumptions and work out what matters to them, understand what’s going on in their lives and make a connection.

Go back to your roots

You might think that challenger brands with their sexy apps and converted-loft offices have it easy, but they have to work harder on their credibility. Older, more established financial institutions might be more vanilla, but they have heritage, which means a lot, especially in unpredictable times. Just 17% of British consumers think Challenger brands are reliable and trustworthy. And when it comes to choice, 11% of Brits say they would prefer a fintech bank, while 47% would favour a traditional institution. So if you’ve got heritage, use it. Re-express it in a way that connects with today’s audience. Go back to why you exist and ask yourself, ‘How can we make ourselves memorable?’

Create uncommon value

Forester VP Dipanjan Chatterjee once said, ‘uncommon value is the holy grail of differentiation, so elusive in financial services’. It might sound fancy, but it’s actually quite simple. Just show your customers you’re there for them and connect with them on an emotional level. Or in other words, build a good relationship.

The rest of the time, being a great brand is about relevance, or being there when the customer wants to engage by delivering a hyper-personalised and relevant value proposition - all easily done with the right financial technology.

Once you’ve found the right balance of relationship and relevance, you become trusted. It’s just what you are and do. It goes without saying and that’s a great place to be.

Be an enlightened leader

Financial Services Communications Consultant Julia Streets told the upfront podcast that making a connection with younger and more diverse communities and positioning themselves as places where people want to work is one of the industry’s biggest challenges and will separate the ‘enlightened leaders’ from the ‘dinosauric leaders’.

Wondering which camp you fall into? Enlightened leaders understand what communities need and can reach out to them and find and harness talent. They’re open-minded, up for taking some risks and able to innovate. The industry needs more leaders like this. Enlightened leaders will inspire future generations and leave a lasting legacy, whereas the dinosaurs… well, we all know what happened to them.

The last word

There’s absolutely no value in being the same as everyone else, but why would you want to be? Financial services are quite unlike any other industry, dig deep, and you’ll find rich, interesting histories, personalities and characters. Businesses must embrace that and their differences. They must find a way to bring out their heritage but not get stuck in the past. Financial services need to show they can be as diverse, colourful and as unique as the communities they serve.

Do financial services have to be so predictable?
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Listen to the ‘Out of the blue’ episode for more advice on building a memorable and relevant financial services brand with purpose.