Execs 'laying low' in crisis hurts banks' brand equity

The chief executives of the remaining titans of American banking made their way to Washington today to defend their government-sponsored bailouts to Congress.

The chief executives of the remaining titans of American banking made their way to Washington today to defend their government-sponsored bailouts to Congress. The eight CEOs told Congress that they understand why Americans are angry; Citigroup's Vikram Pandit acknowledged the public outrage over the infamous corporate jet, saying, “I get the new reality.” While they admitted to some missteps, the bankers also argued that their industry is making the right moves to recover.

In an environment where the public trusts financial institutions less and less, executives in the banking industry should capitalize on the unique opportunity to take a leadership position. People are tired of apologies, they want answers. Executives from Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs smartly made overtures to that end prior to their appearances on the Hill. The Financial Times published an Op-Ed by Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, in which he affirmed the company's commitment to regaining the public's trust, but also discussed specific reasons and solutions to the industry's failures. The piece showed Blankfein's willingness to think thoughtfully about the issues of the day, rather than offering platitudes. In full-page Sunday newspaper ads, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said the company would cancel all of this year's “major annual recognition events.” But instead of calling corporate events a bad thing, Stumpf praised the initiatives as a way to drive competition, and to recognize deserving “team members.” Both took a risk, but began a dialogue.

PRWeek repeatedly hears of companies in the financial services – including those doing well – that loathe being in the spotlight right now. There is a pervading theme of “let's keep our heads low while this blows over.” That thinking might keep a company safe, but it will not win it any brand equity.

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