The Communicators’ Assembly Point – 1: BFSI Communications

COVID 19 has hit the country, at a time when the economy had slowed down and businesses also had to incorporate a lot of changes. NITI Aayog described the current stress in the financial sector as “unprecedented in the last 70 years”. Emphasising this was Arwa Husain, Director – Financial Services, Adfactors PR – “Now, it is unprecedented times – many jobs have been wiped off, government financials are stretched, BSFI sector is at a crossroad,” as she launched the Webinar on “The Communicators’ Assembly Point”

How can the BFSI sector engage, interact and how can it be a guiding sector to take us ahead of the curve? 

Since the lockout, what changes have the banking and finance sectors gone through? The experiences have been intense and varied. As life is reflected in work, so does our work reflect life, explained Shilpa Desai, General Manager – Head of Marketing, Cross Sell & Corporate Social Responsibility, Fullerton India. And COVID has ushered in times when the need to be connected is acute and as financers, it’s become relevant and the degree of compassion, empathy has been the biggest learning. Ritesh Mehta, AVP, Corporate Communications, State Bank of India has experienced the opening up of the communication channels. “We have been more empathetic in our communications with our customers as well as our employees. The kind of communication channels that have opened up with customers have never been experienced in the past few decades,” he shared. 

During these tough times, the distress has got heightened and generally one looks for more information in crisis, revealed Dimple Kapur, Vice President & Group Head – Corporate Communications, Piramal Group. So the secret mantra she proposed were the Cs of Communication, which are indeed, very critical – How Compassionate is your communication? Are you communicating Continually? How well are you Connecting with your audience? 

Most significantly, the road ahead puts the customer at the forefront. Compared to the past, today’s banking customer expects more, demands faster access, and expects better results. Banks and financial institutions need to compete with these expectations. To the common man on the road, after politics and religion, it is money that is top-of-mind. So you need to be sensitive and aware what the customer needs. The eco system has changed (most of it is beyond you) but you need to understand people’s discomfort, was Shilpa’s word of advice. 

Communication is key

During any crisis, communication is key and more so during this time. And, what was giving him sleepless nights was the safety of employees and customers for anything happening to them has a bearing on everything we do, said Ritesh as he cautioned –“Any wrong communication can damage the whole reputation of the brand and its employees”. Are you communicating accurately and transparently? In times of crisis, you need more information. You need to be compassionate and empathetic, suggested Dimple. 

Even as far as the medium of communication goes, it is unveiling a shift. Normally brands use traditional media for messaging but, how is this getting impacted in COVID times? There’s no doubt communication platforms will go through a transformation during crisis, according to Dimple. While all social platforms have seen a rise in audiences but it is important to understand what message we are trying to share before we decide on the medium. There are no two ways, digital will be integral, she added and went on to say that reputation is defined by perception and if perception is defined by communication, it has to be important. Each one of us needs to go on a crash course in digital. What is the story or narrative that you are driving? And how are you driving impact? 

Sharing his point of view on the shift from print to digital, Ritesh was clear that while digital is here to stay, TV and print will not fade away so easily, as there is still a large rural audience that relies on TV and also print; plus he felt “digital gives us an opportunity to play with content as well”. For Shilpa, the scene was this: “TV continues to be a laidback medium, digital is a hyper-active medium. It all depends on what, where and when audience wants to know.” It was shorter and convenient formats of information dispersion that is now preferred by most consumers. 

Segmenting the market is also important when it comes to communication. The reach is predominant and relevant today, and the ability to measure impact is potent to define and we have to change the gears to suit the needs of today and tomorrow. Ritesh saw target-based messaging as far as corporate communications goes, and segment-based communication is important for brands after COVID. “At the bank, we are doing more segment-based communication, after COVID,” he admitted.  

Future-gazing on strategic priorities

Gazing into the future, what were the top strategic priorities for financial communications for the next three months? The options were clear-cut for Ritesh  – the focus should be on employee engagement, customer communication and getting digital savvy. The banking industry, like many other industries today, is facing unprecedented change as it moves toward digitalisation.  The way we look at business growth, protecting our portfolio and values the brand stands for – we have to reinforce the strength of the brand, opined Shilpa. Marketers need to work closely with the leadership to understand how the business has changed, how the portfolio has changed, and how they can best help the business and communicate accordingly. This is the time when your brand gets tested. CSR activities implementation is difficult during times like these, however, respect and assurance has to be there for the brand and business.  

Given the situation, business continuity, business resilience and business growth is very important. Speed, authenticity and accuracy are three keys during these times, said Dimple and added, “We have to be more focused on reassuring the stakeholders and employee morale engagement”. 

COVID has changed the way we live and work

COVID 19 has changed the global landscape. Maintaining customer loyalty and trust during times of uncertainty is of prime importance. In times of uncertainty and ambiguity, it is extremely critical to maintain trust between your stakeholders and customers, Dimple insisted. 

During such crisis times a direct communication from the brand to a consumer leads to more reassurance and trust, and how do you retain trust? The only answer is “Communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Ritesh. 

Impact on consultant-client relationship? 

COVID is definitely, a game-changer. Rewriting the rules of the game in almost every sphere of life and business. 

Stepping into a significant point of the discussion, Madan Bahal, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Adfactors PR posed the question – How will the consultancy-client relationship change post COVID? “We are trying to engage with all stakeholders and we will work more cohesively with our PR firm,” replied Dimple and they would pursue how to drive the narrative in a holistic manner. The relationship doesn’t change added Ritesh and what is important now is “how can we leverage our digital platform for PR activity in the times to come”. 

All signals, during the discussion pointed to the fact that the importance of PR consultancies will only increase.“You are our eyes and ears. We tend to be inward-looking and we are sluggish, but you have a sense of how the wind is blowing. Every dimension will change. It is a new paradigm that we will move into,” said Shilpa, as she signed off.

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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