OPINION: Banks should show joined-up PR thinking

Going through my breakfast routine of sorting junk mail as I listened to the news, I was recently struck by an incongruous disparity of communication.

There is something surreal about binning direct mail encouraging higher borrowing, while listening to the latest dire prognosis on Britain's out-of-control consumer debt and predictions of further rate rises, punctuated by gushing ads for loan services.

This sense of disconnection reached new heights this week, with reports that the Royal Bank of Scotland is expected to announce annual pre-tax profits of £6bn - or £300 for each of its 20 million customers.

Not surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats have taken the opportunity to point out that record profits at the 'Big Four' - Lloyds TSB, Barclays, HSBC and RBS - uncannily mirror last year's level of spiralling household debt. The Consumers' Association has publicly slammed the high street banks for cashing in on rising debt and not 'taking their social responsibility seriously'.

Which is ironic given that all four of the major high street banks profess to take corporate social responsibility very seriously, so much so that they are all members of Business in the Community, the business-run charity promoting social responsibility.

Barclays - headed by Matt 'Ratner' Barrett (who admits to not allowing his children to use his own products) - is probably the most vocal of the four. But RBS has made a virtue out of NatWest being the 'local' bank and has even published a community and environment report that talks about its commitment to encouraging regeneration, and reducing financial exclusion by extending access to financial services.

Certainly, all the banks seem to have been involved in a bewildering range of community initiatives, from Barclays staff in Wales painting a school yellow to help 'lift the budget gloom', to RBS funding a scheme to teach cash-rich, 16 year-olds who are unable to fill out a cheque or recognise the difference between a credit and debit card, the fundamentals of personal finance. In the irony stakes, this is a little like a tobacco firm paying for health education among its growing customer base in the developing world.

Of course, in the real world no one expects tobacco firms to simply halt production, and for banks to give free hand-outs or, for that matter, stop sending junk mail. But at the very least, banks could stop insulting the intelligence of their customers, by taking a more joined-up approach to their reputation management. And when it comes to their direct mail and advertising, they could at least pretend to recognise that they are operating - very profitably thank you very much - against a backdrop of mounting government concern about the debt levels that they are facilitating.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in