Though it may have taken longer than other industries, Asia’s financial services companies are now putting digital communications at the centre of their PR strategies as they look to make a greater impact on the global economic stage.
Deborah Hayden, regional director for capital markets and M&A at Edelman APACMEA, told PRWeek Asia that financial services comms has been a significant growth area for the agency in the region, as institutions look to grow their presence globally.
"We have a lot of Asian institutions coming to us and saying: perhaps we’re not as well understood internationally as we should be, can you help us? How should we be relating with international markets?" she said.
"We’ve got a lot of tools and yes we want to help people tell stories, but it’s over time."
A significant part of the strategy, Hayden said, is making financial institutions less imposing, both to businesses and direct consumers.
"It’s using the right platform, but it’s also making it human," she said. "Financial institutions for the average person can be scary places, so it’s about humanising some of the stories.
"It’s taking the marketing materials and finding the success stories in how they’ve helped people. It’s targeting people through analytics. There’s no excuse these days, whichever market you’re in, to say ‘this is what we think people think’."
The need for better financial communications is compelling, Hayden said, given the significance these firms have to their own and other economies. In Hong Kong, 93 percent of GDP is financial services; 30 percent of Australia’s stock exchange is made up of its four largest banks.
Five of the 10 largest banks in the world by market capitalisation are Asian.
"It’s an important area, and we’re looking at the growth needs for financial services in Asia, as more economies grow and more people want to buy a car, or insurance, or put money away for their kids education. All of this requires communications."
Hayden, who has been based in Japan for the past 30 years, says several large Japanese companies are hiring senior PR figures from overseas to head up their internal teams.
The shift in mindset of Asian financials makes it an extremely interesting comms sector, she said.
"Lot of Asian companies are now looking to the capital markets to raise money, so we’re there to help them in becoming a public company, or finding out what kinds of things do analysts and investors want, and how to get traction with investors.
"So it’s almost a blank sheet of paper. We’re seeing B2B and B2C financials saying: ‘how can we adapt what you’ve done for, say, Samsung or Unilever, and make this make sense for us’."
Another significant driver, as in every other industry, is the need for financial service businesses to connect with millennials, especially for recruitment purposes.
"Even working for heavy-duty Asian financials, you have to do the social media and the digital, especially in recruitment because there’s a war for talent. The kids that they’re after could easily go into the next Alibaba or whatever else," Hayden said.
"So that might mean being a very buttoned-down financial services group, but having some gamification stuff on your mobile internet page."
That said, as much as these institutions are keen to modernise, Hayden said there is no value in completely overhauling their entire outlook.
"They are who they are. You don’t want people to do things that are not them; not part of their values. You can communicate your strengths in different ways," she said.
"You make them aware of all the tools they can use that fit within their own culture, but at the same time be prepared to help them try new things depending on who they want to talk to and what they want to talk about."
Hayden added that Asian financials are in a decent position to step up their PR efforts as they retain a high level of trust among consumers, unlike their counterparts in the West.
"For many countries in Asia, the banks are seen as the go-to places and the engines for growth and prosperity. They have also been relatively free of most of the scandals, so people look on it differently."
"Most financial institutions realise now that just going on their name, which they do in Asia, isn’t enough anymore. They have to do more and communications should be a very important part of that."