TSB Bank CEO Paul Pester believes in the personal PR touch

The boss of the UK's oldest new bank tells John Owens he plans to woo customers with the personal touch.

Paul Pester: personal approach  (Credit: Julian Dodd)
Paul Pester: personal approach (Credit: Julian Dodd)

More than a few Lloyds customers would have been puzzled why their accounts were being shuffled to TSB and even more hazy about who was now running the bank. That is, until they got a call from the CEO himself.

Paul Pester chuckles to himself as he recounts people’s "enormous shock" when he responds personally to emails from customers, a characteristic move for the man leading Britain’s old-new bank.

These calls do not quite square with the faceless banking executive of modern perception, which is entirely the point.

Nearly five million Lloyds TSB customers discovered they were being shifted to the newly separated bank this autumn. And the first those customers would have known of it was through a letter penned by Pester, who feels a "smooth and straightforward" transition was achieved despite the bank’s website crashing on launch day.

"The letter needed to come from me and not from the bank as a corporate identity," says the man who believes "absolutely" that the CEO must play the role of spokesman.

He adds: "If I was a customer I’d want a message from a real person."

The separation of TSB from the wider Lloyds Banking Group was forced by the European Commission after Lloyds Banking Group was bailed out by the UK Government to the value of £20.5bn in 2008.

And in the two-and-a-half years he had to prepare for TSB’s launch, Pester’s personal PR touch can be seen in the way he handled his own staff.

He points to a two-way internal comms culture he aimed to develop, typified by a bi-weekly conference call in which all levels of the bank get involved, as well as an online forum where staff can discuss ideas and issues: "I don’t like cascading down information. I want to contribute to the comms flow but we need it coming from the frontline staff, and I need them telling me what they’re hearing from customers."

At the heart of TSB’s message lies a balancing act.

Pester says the bank must both draw on its history – it was originally launched more than two centuries ago – and present itself as a fresh alternative within the current market. Focusing comms on TSB as a local bank that "helps hardworking people help themselves", he is convinced, is the way to do this.

"That thread has run through TSB and you could argue it was played down in the run-up to the banking crisis but we’re reigniting those values."

And at the core of this message, Pester repeatedly returns to one key point – the money customers save will only be invested in the UK for people like themselves: "We don’t do investment banking, we don’t do overseas speculation, we don’t do derivatives trading; the money will be used to fuel local growth."

So how to convey this new model to an audience scarred by financial scandals and casino banking? Integration is key, he asserts, not just across the PR disciplines but more broadly across marcoms. Or, in his words: "It is vital to have that one consistent set of beliefs and one story."

The notion is hardly a novel one, but Pester points to the recent hire of Virgin Management’s Nigel Gilbert for the role of brand, customer and comms director as indicative of his efforts to drive cross-disciplinary messaging.

A true test will come next year when TSB is floated in an IPO expected to be worth £1.5bn, but for the CEO charming the markets is simply a question of nuance: "The only difference is that we will explain how it leads to a good economic model for the investor. It will still be about pioneering a return to local banking."

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