Employee comms start financial reputation rebuild

Employee engagement is crucial to restoring the financial services industry's reputation, said speakers at a panel discussion hosted by Makovsky & Company on Tuesday in New York.

Employee engagement is crucial to restoring the financial services industry's reputation, said speakers at a panel discussion hosted by Makovsky & Company on Tuesday in New York.

The panel, titled “Rebuilding the Financial Services Industry's Reputation” and moderated by Wall Street Journal senior deputy managing editor Jonathan Krim, included communications executives from Credit Suisse, investment management firm Legg Mason, Cigna, Capital One, and rating agency Fitch Ratings.

The financial crisis of 2008 and Occupy Wall Street protests affected employee attitudes and caused Credit Suisse to communicate more internally, said Victoria Harmon, MD of talent and communications at the company. Employees questioned whether the bank was “a place [they] should be working” and how to talk to clients in light of the crisis, Harmon added.

Now during crises, Credit Suisse often prepares ready-made talking points for employees to use internally and with the press, she explained.

Cigna CCO Maggie FitzPatrick also said employee communications was critical during reputational challenges.

“Mobilizing our internal employee base was the most important thing we did,” she emphasized. “Shoring up our employee base as ambassadors of the brand was step number one.”

While numerous obstacles remain to restoring the industry's reputation, the panelists stressed the importance of transparency with consumers and stakeholders.

“We do better when we engage rather than putting our heads in the sand,” FitzPatrick said. “Our customers want dialogue. When we engage more, our reputation moves up considerably.”

Credit Suisse has taken a more open approach to communications during crises, Harmon said.

“Internally, we're always marketing ourselves,” she noted. “Communications shouldn't stop because of a hiccup or bad story in the paper.”

Still, some CEOs within the financial services industry remained resistant to taking a public stand on certain issues, Harmon added.

“Because there are still some issues to work out, standing up and saying, ‘You're wrong,' can come back to haunt you,” she suggested. “We need a leader to stand up and say [the industry] has made mistakes and this is what we need to do, but we're not there yet.”

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