This week, 10 of the nation's banks were granted permission to repay TARP money back to the government. In total the companies, which include JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, American Express, and Morgan Stanley, will return $68.3 billion.
As The New York Times reported, the Treasury did not identify the banks, but the “institutions quickly acknowledged the decision in a barrage of press releases on Tuesday morning.” That rush to get the word out is understandable. The past year has not been kind to the financial services industry. So, for those companies able to repay TARP funds now, the underlying message is that they have regained some sense of financial health. It also serves as a way to separate them from those banks that have not been allowed, or able, to return funds just yet. Both messages are a first step in repairing what for some have become tarnished reputations.
Even as these banks prepare to pay back their loans, there are those critics that believe it is a bad move, that these companies are not yet ready to repay the funds and that it can set them up for further disaster down the road. Certainly communications will play an important role in the weeks and months to come as these companies try to allay any fears of Wall Street analysts, the government, and consumers.
While these external audiences are certainly important, they are not the ones that need the most reassurance. Employees of these companies have been through an extremely difficult time over the past few months. Enduring layoffs, unfavorable media coverage, and the uncertainty of working for a TARP recipient will take its toll on employee morale. A friend of mine works for a TARP recipient and often talks about the somber mood throughout the company and the sheer uncertainty of not knowing if the next work day will be her last- not exactly what I'd call a brand ambassador.
For those companies who have been able to emerge from TARP-recipient status and are ready to get back on track, having a strong internal communications program is essential. Employees should be armed with appropriate messages about the company's financial health, future plans, and any significant management or structural changes. After all, one of the ways to rebuild reputation is from the inside out.
Finances aside, employees are a company's most important asset. Those companies that invest in communicating a strong and consistent message internally will be the ones that will ultimately come through with their business—and reputation-- intact.