Banks must 'rebuild public trust'

Dunfermline has become the latest building society to fall into governmental control.

Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have told banks they have to 'rebuild public trust'. The warning came in a week when another financial institution went into crisis leaving comms professionals facing a Herculean task.

The Chancellor's speech at the Financial Services Authority on 27 March called on banks to show the public they had 'learned lessons', while the PM demanded banks adopt 'family values' in a speech on 31 March at St Paul's Cathedral ahead of the G20 summit.

But public faith in financial institutions took yet another hit this week after the Treasury pushed through the breaking up and selling off of the Dunfermline Building Society to Nationwide.

Nationwide, represented by Brunswick, has a compelling business case for the move - taking on its less risky assets while the deal is subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £1.6bn. Trimedia client Dunfermline was less happy with chairman Jim Fauld, labelling the decision 'a scandal'.

Trimedia is providing issues and crisis management advice to the firm in addition to its longstanding product and consumer support.

Trimedia MD Graham Isdale said: 'Nationwide is committed to protecting the company and investing in the brand. I would hope we will continue to act for and represent Dunfermline as part of the Nationwide family.'

Governmental input into the banking and financial services sector is so significant that only two UK high street banks (Barclays and HSBC) remain out of state control. Agency bosses said this situation could confuse core industry messages.

'When politicians get involved in the running of a bank it changes the entire picture,' said Stewart Prosser of Prosser Associates. 'State-run institutions have a difficult line to walk to serve the needs of the Government, private shareholders and their customers.'

Andrew Fairburn, director at Regester Larkin, said banks must win back trust by building the right corporate culture, setting out a blueprint for the future and committing to openness and honesty. This is the tricky task facing Finsbury, which recently began working for RBS, and M: Communications, which was confirmed this week as the Lloyds Banking Group's retained financial agency account.

Fairburn said: 'Saying sorry is necessary in order to earn a licence to be heard, but... banks need to explain what went wrong and what lessons have been learned'.

HOW I SEE IT - Mark Knight, Director, Broadgate

The banking sector faces its greatest ever challenge as it seeks to restore trust and improve its battered image. Not an easy task when banks have to tighten the screws on corporate customers, due to heavy losses incurred on loans to rich Russians and America.

Restoring this broken trust is not achieved through advertising and sponsorship programmes. It is about providing a transparent service which benefits the customer. Clearing cheques in real time and halting bank charges for going 50 pence overdrawn will go a long way to convince customers that the banks are listening and not paying lip service.

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