As language strategists, we’re always listening to messages in the market. And ever since the banking failures, which started with the collapse of SVB, uncertainty among investors abounds. Right now, only 10% of Americans have confidence in the nation’s banks and other financial institutions, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And most Americans think we need more regulation.
Whether or not we’re in an actual full financial crisis, we are in a financial communications crisis. Many of our clients in financial services, tech, and banking are trying to figure out what to say, what not to say, or even if they should communicate at all. Different institutions are reacting and responding in different ways. Some have been defensive. Many have tried to explain why it happened. Others have remained silent.
In the wake of this financial turmoil, we know one thing to be true: people are looking for reassurance. Concern is mounting and many are afraid that we may be on the brink of another 2008 crisis. So we need to hear from the financial institutions where we have accounts. And we deserve to hear from them. Silence only creates more fear and uncertainty, leaving room for speculation and greater concern. Fear thrives in uncertainty and in silence.
In a previous piece, we shared “5 Tips for Communicating through a Financial Crisis,” from our experience working during the ’08 crisis and on scores of crisis communication projects since. Let’s turn now to the issue of who should be talking about the current situation.
This is an opportunity for all financial institutions to tell a story. If you’re a company that touches someone’s money in any way, you should have something to say about this, because your customers want to know if this could happen to their money. If you’re a company that touches a bank that is at risk, we want to hear from you. We want to hear from anyone who has anything to do with our money right now. If you’re touching it, managing it, if our money is passing through your walls, we want to know that it’s okay.
With that in mind, here are five of the key institutions people need to hear from right now.
The big banks are not necessarily or directly impacted by what’s happened. In fact, many are sitting pretty right now. They have billions of dollars flowing through their vaults. They’ve been acting responsibly and doing things right. They’re passing their stress test, but that doesn’t excuse them from having a role to play in communicating about the collapses.
We’ve seen the big banks take action with the bailout, as JP Morgan and others stepped up to provide additional money and liquidity for First Republic. They should also be taking the biggest stand. We should hear from JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo and beyond telling us why they’re confident in this financial system – and reassuring that even though some banks have gone under, this is not a banking crisis. And that it’s not going to turn into a crisis.
The current environment surrounding the bank collapse could get much worse if it isn’t managed well right now. The biggest institutions can help control the narrative. They’re investing millions, if not billions of dollars in technology and risk management. And they’re the ones that have built their brands on knowing the most and being able to spot opportunities. This is a moment when they need to step up and shore up, in terms of capital, but also in terms of language and getting an important message out there.
Regional Banks/Smaller Banks
The regionals are the banks impacted most negatively by the collapses. It’s where the perception of real risk is the strongest; where the people they serve may be at risk. People are legitimately concerned about these banks right now. So there’s a critical opportunity – or responsibility — for regional banks to jump in and be heard; to tell their story and address the key question people have: “Could this happen to my bank?”
Perception is reality. All it takes for the next financial institution to fail is for people to believe it’s failing. The regional banks shouldn’t shy away from the subject. They need to manage perceptions — and not just try to explain what happened. They need to focus on what it means to their customers and what they’re doing to protect them.
Adjacent Financial Industries
Spreading out from the banks like concentric rings, there’s a host of other ancillary financial industries: investment firms, Wall Street, and the whole broader financial audience. These have an important voice, as well.
Investors may be worried that a “limited crisis” like this could boil over into bigger problems for the stock market as a whole. In fact, more than half of Americans are MORE concerned about their investments today than they were right before the SVB collapse. People are concerned about the potential for a market crisis and worried about their own investment portfolio. This is an opportunity for Wall Street, investment firms, advisors, and others in the financial sector to talk about the bigger picture. Drawing upon their experience and expertise, they should be talking about wider economic issues. Is this a minor market calamity or something bigger? Is there a chance of a recession? How can investors prepare their portfolios to control risk and weather storms like this? Where’s the safest place for clients to put their money right now? What does FDIC insurance cover and how is the broader market holding up?
Silicon Valley/Tech Companies
In some ways, this is like a bookend to the golden era of Silicon Valley and tech companies. They now have their own personal financial crisis, on top of all the recent layoffs. And they need to talk about it.
There’s been a moving target on which industry is currently “the worst.” In 2008, financial services was the target. Then it was “big pharma.” Now we’re seeing a huge decline in trust in big tech. Each of these industries has had to combat an underlying narrative about the greed of big companies and that they put profits before people. Tech needs to be communicating to shift that perception. There’s clearly a need for a narrative here.
Finally, this is a potential opportunity for crypto to do a better job of telling its story. While only 8% of Americans believe in crypto, we have just borne witness to the perfect use case demonstration of the lauded benefits of crypto. It’s an opportunity for the sector to step up, speak up, and say, “This is what we’re made for. Now is the time.”
The idea behind Bitcoin is to have something that can hedge in these situations; something that doesn’t rely on or isn’t susceptible to movements and inflationary policy. Crypto companies can use this opportunity to reinforce that this is why they exist; to frame themselves as having a role as a valid and necessary part of the system. They can communicate that they understand how all this works, that they’re a viable option. That they’re here to be part of a broader financial system that functions and benefits people. That they’re not a silver bullet or a magic solution, but that they exist to be an option in times like this, as part of a diversified strategy. And that they can weather these types of crises.
Just because an institution might not be directly involved in the banking collapses, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t enter the conversation. People — their customers — are rightly concerned about what it all means for them. Trust is formed in moments of crisis. And this is a moment for all financial and tech companies to speak up, shape the narrative, and earn that trust.
If your company is in the financial or tech sector and you’re struggling to find the right words to use, or the right message to send, let’s talk. We can help you shape your language in the right way. Remember, it’s not what you say that matters. It’s what people hear.