Lauren Greatorex

The banks have something worth shouting about

Posted on 5th January 2012 by Lauren Greatorex

2011 had its fair share of headline grabbing events; phone hacking, natural disasters and political unrest to name just a few but, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past twelve months, you cannot have avoided the headlines screaming of sustained economic turmoil.

In an effort to boost the UK economy, government schemes like Project Merlin and the Business Finance Taskforce set out to improve relationships and increase lending to SMEs, often described as the engine of UK growth.

Yet, despite such good intentions, the banks and SMEs have failed to hit it off with the British Bankers Association (BBA) recently announcing that lending volumes continued to fall in Q3 2011. As a result, the government is beginning to realise that the ‘build it and they will come’ strategy just isn’t going to cut it.

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PRoactive approach

Encouragingly, the UK’s biggest banks are meeting soon to discuss the PR requirements of the collective Business Finance Taskforce and appear to be coming around to the idea that proactive communications, targeted at SMEs, could help salvage the situation.

So far, it seems that the Business Finance Taskforce hasn’t gone far enough in proactively promoting the range of funding available to SMEs. Initially, it laid out principles to provide information and promote understanding but these were vague and not directly focused at engaging SMEs or communicating the message far and wide.

A focused, targeted, well-strategised PR campaign could be what’s needed for banks to restore their battered reputations – or at least start to make amends.

Taking the lead

In an interesting and positive move, several banks in the taskforce (including Santander) appear to have taken the lead and shifted their focus from government SME lending schemes to focus on their own offerings and tailored PR campaigns.

This effort could be beneficial to both banks and SMEs. It offers the banks an opportunity to sell their product while hopefully boosting lending figures by giving SMEs an understanding of the types of finance available.

In light of this, it’s encouraging to see banks hiring PR companies for awareness campaigns and taking the initiative to reach out to SMEs. From an SME perspective, it shows a genuine concern about boosting lending and makes SMEs aware that they are open for business.

More generally, it’s great to see banks acknowledging the impact that effective PR has on their reputation.

We’ve outlined some top tips on how banks can better engage with SMEs:

1. Shout louder

SMEs can’t know what the banks are offering unless they tell them. Banks should shout about their offerings, rather than whispering to the converted.

2. Make it count

Use data and statistics based on surveys to get to the issues that keep business owners and directors awake at night. This will provide an insight into the SME mindset and engage a wider audience in the process.

3. Make them think

Robust, research-based thought leadership never fails to engage and interest audiences. Make sure the research is targeted and create press releases and marketing materials based on facts, rather than just opinion.

4. Cut the jargon

Give clear, concise, sound information. Try not to be too self-serving and instead offer information of genuine value to the SME audience. Keep it simple with a consistent tone of voice to ensure it is effective.

5. Go direct

Retail banking is rapidly gearing up for direct customer interaction via avenues such as social media, mobile apps and online banking tools. Business banking has yet to fully seize upon this opportunity. Banks should connect with SMEs through useful content and bespoke platforms, as well as engaging SMEs in areas they already visit online.

6. Meet and greet

This is one area where the government already has it right. Banks should take their offerings to the SME’s front door by arranging roundtables and advice-based events. This will enable the banks to better understand SMEs’ needs and discuss bespoke arrangements to help their businesses.

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