Pick up a business newspaper, collect all the banking news; strike out the bank’s name, reshuffle and then try figuring out which news belongs to which bank. The exercise will not be an easy one.
Public Relations for Banks seem all about portraying a pretty picture – financial inclusion, deposit & credit growth and quarterly performances. Over and above these routine communications angles, we, PR folks, work hard to generate visibility for our banker clients through their quotes on almost everything about Money, credit policies, current account deficit, budget, criticising RBI policies, praising RBI governor – these topics are used and abused to showcase the banking community’s intellectual prowess. This is common for all banks, just their size varies.
While imitation may be a flattery, in their current communications efforts, it is impossible to figure out which Bank is imitating whom and who’s flattering whom. Considering, on a conservative basis, five leading public sectors banks (out of 20 odd), five much talked about private banks (out of 23 odd) and a couple of large foreign banks (out of 43 odd) which are convinced by their respective PR agencies that their CEOs are industry “Thought Leaders”, we already have one dozen thought leaders in banking space. Can’t help but wonder if the RBI governor considers himself a thought leader or a thought follower?
Where does that leave relatively small old private sector banks which could be generating superior returns, few efficiently managed cooperative banks with national ambition and 25 banking aspirants who are awaiting RBI’s proclamation with bated breath? How do they capture mind share and business share of the banking business pie; which at least in the sky looks enormous? How do they make themselves heard to millions of customers and hope to differentiate themselves?
At the time of submitting their applications, most banking aspirants made similar noise about their reasons for wanting to become a bank. It is one thing to be seen on the right side of financial inclusion in public speeches and quite another to be able to deliver on that, and definitely quite another to meet investor expectations about profitability and return on assets while trying to do so.
Every bank in general and the new banking aspirants in particular, need a communications roadmap with specific messages that resonate with their relevant – existing and potential – stakeholders. The last few entrants among private sector banks did that effectively. They stuck to their own story, playing hard on their strengths whilst effectively camouflaging their weaknesses. In their respective communications, while one played on the strength of its existing business model and growth engines, the other relied heavily and mostly on management bandwidth; the CEO’s experience and a promise to work his charm on corporate contacts.
Sure, India is an underbanked country. True, rural India needs access to banks and other saving instruments. But then what is also undeniable is that the biggest lure to get a banking licence is to get an access to cheap funds in the form of deposits and improve revenue by cross selling to the same depositors. So if that is the business objective, aren’t banks better off keeping their communication sharp and focused on convincing customers to bank with them? It will certainly help if banks’ public relations programs are driven by consumer insights, expectations and better financial health for everyone. After all neither us or our parents and even for that matter our grandparents opened their bank accounts in the neighbourhood bank because the CMD of that bank could predict interest rate movements more accurately than other bankers.
(The author is the Group Business Director, Financial Communications at Avian Media)