5 Ways Your Bank Can Set its Brand on Fire


Banks are no strangers to a good ole fashioned crisis. In fact, every year, it seems like something catastrophic happens – from the Capital One data breach last year; to U.S. Bancorp’s $613 million settlement in 2018 after the U.S. Department of Justice alleged its efforts to fight money laundering insufficient, not to mention $453 million in forfeited funds; to Wells Fargo’s $185 million fine in 2016 for creating fake accounts. And these are just the ones that made national headlines.


Banks are constantly faced with snafus. According to the FBI, there are approximately 5,000 bank robberies reported to them each year. That’s over a dozen every single day! And we can’t forget how easily issues – big and small – are proliferated through social media. One bad teller experience can turn into a social media nightmare in just hours.


At any given moment, a crisis can occur, usually without warning. The biggest problem is that most organizations are not prepared (at all!). They act hastily to move past the crisis, which likely results in serious reputational damage.


Here are the most common missteps and how to avoid them.

       1. Issuing a premature response


When a crisis strikes, you want to get out in front, but not before you have all your facts straight. Offering wrong information will set your bank’s brand on fire. Customers, your community and employees will assume you’re incompetent or completely out of control – or worse – guilty if wrongdoing is involved.


Instead, be transparent. If you don’t have all the facts, say it. Acknowledge that something happened, explain that you are working to get all the information, and provide a quick (but reasonable) timeline for when you expect to have answers.

  1. Even worse – issuing a generic statement

Issuing a response too early can be damaging but issuing a statement that is viewed as cold or unapologetic can be worse. This is especially the case if people’s livelihoods were threatened. Remember, you’re dealing with people’s money.

While an apology is often deemed as an admission of guilt (your attorneys may advise against it), there are ways to indicate remorse and shared grief without legal repercussions and without setting your brand ablaze. Arguably the simplest way is to avoid a written statement and instead have an executive say it. Additionally, creating video is easier today than ever and it can be a hugely effective way to share your bank’s official statement without coming across as cold.

  1. Offering media exclusives

Who doesn’t love a media exclusive? An interview with your local station about an upcoming community event you’re sponsoring can greatly support increased brand awareness. With a crisis, however, a media exclusive can actually backfire.

Additionally, providing separate interviews with different media can be damaging. Give everyone the exact same facts at the exact same time, typically through a press conference or formal statement. This guarantees that the same stories run, which does two things.

One, it is better to have 20 of the exact same story circulating than to have a handful of completely different stories. This prevents speculation and any potential ideas that there may be other unknown facts to surface soon.

Second, it cuts down on any long-term chatter. People get bored reading the same story over and over, and reporters are not interested in reporting on the same thing unless there is new information.

  1. Failing to prepare for a press conference 

Media training is critical, but it’s never a one-and-done thing. Ongoing practice is essential to crisis preparedness, especially when you’re faced with a situation that pushes stress levels through the roof. Even if you create the very best strategy and statement, nerves can get the best of us. Unfortunately, the public may not be so forgiving, thus, damaging your bank’s brand.

Additionally, your spokesperson should be someone at the top of your institution, ideally, the CEO or president. Do not send your legal counsel to speak on your behalf, as this could be deemed as insincere or perceived as you just trying to avoid legal consequences. You also don’t want to send your PR person, as this could be perceived as you trying to salvage your brand rather than having a true concern for what happened.

  1. Overreacting

There is no worse way to handle a crisis than to wave your hands in the air yelling “we’re all doomed!” It is absolutely critical to stay calm and maintain a level head. But as humans, we often feel the need to respond quickly and immediately stomp out any fires.

Moreover, many marketing and PR professionals stick to the mantra, ““tell it all, tell it fast, tell the truth,” but this can actually cause more harm than good in some instances. Sometimes the best approach is to leave it alone and create a reactive strategy rather than proactive. Otherwise, you could be creating a crisis when one otherwise wouldn’t exist.

An example is if a complaint was made by a customer and then the bank sent out a statement to all customers, advising they were addressing it. If that complaint is isolated to one person, you could be lighting a fire. Instead, keep it contained and only react when and if necessary.

Regardless of the size, a crisis can be downright intimidating, often resulting in panic and lots of missteps. The result – torching your brand. Crisis preparedness and communication planning is critical and should be a part of your business operations, especially since the likeliness of you encountering one is high. Don’t get burned.

Mary York is Executive Vice President at William Mills Agency in Atlanta, Ga.