Campaign: HSBC introduces home finance to UK Muslims - Corporate PR

Campaign: HSBC Islamic Home Finance

Client: HSBC

PR team: In-house

Timescale: April 2003-ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

Under Islamic Shariah law, it is forbidden to pay or receive interest, leaving the UK's 1.8 million Muslims unable to take out a conventional mortgage or a high street current account. HSBC came up with a scheme to solve the problem: the bank would buy the house outright and the customer would pay 'rent' to gradually buy the house in monthly instalments. The bank also launched a current account that did not charge or credit interest. Objectives

To generate awareness of the home finance scheme and current account with British Muslims. To generate enquiries from potential customers.

Strategy and Plan

HSBC wanted to present itself to the press as a solution-provider for Muslims torn between their religious convictions and their desire to become current account holders and home-owners. To achieve this, it was important for the bank to demonstrate that it was in alliance with the Muslim community, so the in-house team persuaded the Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCGB) to endorse the campaign on press releases and in interviews with the media.

Using the fact that HSBC was the UK's first high street bank to launch an Islamic home finance scheme as a news hook, the team was able to interest national correspondents and Asian newspapers, as well as the financial trade press. Broadcast interviews were set up with HSBC head of Islamic finance Noaman Hasan, and case studies were released with examples of how similar HSBC schemes had worked in the Middle East and the US.

One of the biggest hurdles facing the HSBC team was providing the press with images, as strict Muslims are reluctant to be photographed, perceiving it as a form of idolatry. To overcome this problem, the team took photos of a HSBC spokesperson speaking to Muslims, and only pictures that did not directly show the faces of the Muslims were selected for general release.

The team also anticipated that the idea of an interest-free mortgage equivalent might be difficult for some journalists to grasp, so it put together guides on how the product complied with Islamic law.

The initial launch was followed by promotional activity in regions across the UK, which is ongoing. Local HSBC managers invited the local Muslim community to hear presentations about the scheme, and the PR team sent press releases publicising these events to the regional press.

Measurement and Evaluation

Every national newspaper covered the story, including The Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times; trade press coverage included Financial Advisor Magazine and Mortgage Strategy. Broadcast coverage was achieved on the BBC and Sky, as well as a host of regional radio stations.

Eight regional newspapers ran the story, including the Manchester Evening News and the Birmingham Post. Muslim outlets such as Eastern Eye and Zee TV also picked it up.

Results

Sales figures are still coming in, but to date the campaign has generated over 10,000 enquiries for the Islamic home finance and current account schemes. In the month of the launch, HSBC's independent PressWatch ranking for mortgages climbed from 44th to fifth in the UK. PressWatch said HSBC had the most improved press coverage of any mortgage provider in 2003.

'The news hook about HSBC as the first British high street bank (to offer an Islamic finance scheme) was effective,' says The Times personal finance reporter Alex Hawkes. 'The HSBC team was professional and its guide on how the scheme worked was useful.'

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