It has been a week that began with Prime Minister, Boris Johnson addressing the nation with instruction that would have fit more comfortably in a dystopian drama.

It follows weeks of daily breaking news events that could have filled the pages of newspapers for months on their own.

The impact on business will be significant; as much has already been said enough without elaborating further.

So, how is the financial services sector being impacted, and how are marketing teams navigating this new territory?

The banks are the first in line

Alongside the going-down-in-history-worthy Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that will see the UK government picking up 80% of employee costs, up to £2,500 per month, Chancellor, Rishi Sunak also announced a raft of other measures in an attempt to see businesses through challenging times.

Among these was the Interruption Loan Scheme. The scheme will support loans of up to £5m with the UK government providing a guarantee for 80% of the loan and covering interest costs for the first six months of the loan.

This is where the banks come in. The British Business Bank advises that businesses can access the scheme via its more than forty accredited lenders, including high street banks and ‘challenger’ banks.

So for the marketing teams within said banks, the challenge is set; make the process as pain-free as possible and get out of the way. The mark of success won’t be praise heaped on brands (though it could also be), but success will be achieved via a lack of complaints and a high rate of business survival.

How are banks communicating online?

Of 17 prominent banks offering business banking services, 14 offered messages on their business banking landing pages offering advice, support and services related to Coronavirus.

All but one of the 17 made some mention of Coronavirus support on their business banking landing pages, with seven making use of an alert of some description to offer advice, whilst three had included new Coronavirus sections within their top-level website navigation.

Natwest and RBS, both a part of the RBS Group made use of all three online tactics: homepage alerts, homepage information and links in the main website navigation.

Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland both used website alert features to let their customers know that they are currently dealing with higher than usual call volumes; a digital management of expectations.

TSB stood alone in using an alert to advise customers of possible fraud activity attempting to take advantage of the inevitable confusion and, dare I say, panic surrounding the current pandemic.

A challenge for the challengers?

Of the 17 business banking websites reviewed, three can be classified as ‘challenger’ banks: Revolut, Monzo and Starling.

All three have emerged as darlings of the digital age, offering slick online apps and encouraging customers to interact with banks in ways that traditional banks have struggled to implement at speed.

Their Coronavirus support and information was conspicuous by its absence. The Revolut business banking homepage had (as of this morning) no mention of the pandemic or government support for businesses.

Both Monzo and Starling mention the pandemic and provide links to further information for customers, with the former linking to two news articles and the latter offering an easy-to-miss link at the end of the welcome blurb.

Should they do more? Arguably not. None are currently in a position to provide loan services compliant with the Business Interruption Scheme; Monzo offers to deliver support via a partner organisation, Starling notes that it’s currently awaiting the progress of its application with the British Business Bank, the organisation responsible for rolling out the scheme.

Having said this, the so-called challenger banks have excelled at one thing; being faster to adapt than traditional banks. With this in mind, it’s somewhat surprising to see that they aren’t rushing to offer something they can do – provide clear information to their existing and prospective customers with exceptional user experience.

It’s fair to say all banks reviewed, traditional and challenger, are using social channels to provide updates, alerts and instructions to customers.

A bumpy ride

Regardless of how well or badly the rollout process goes, the banks are currently on the front line of the business support packages on offer and will almost certainly face complaints.

Already, the BBC is reporting that banks have come ‘under fire’ for their Coronavirus loan tactics, with business owners reporting that banks have been asking for personal guarantees on loans.

Being responsible for putting wheels on the ground for the government’s loan scheme means banks will take little credit for the scheme, but will almost certainly take the blame where it doesn’t work as expected.

Traditional banks already suffer the attention of plenty of negative opinions, whilst the current challenge presents a further risk of picking up bad press, there’s also a significant opportunity for smart banks to step up efforts to roll out technology-led solutions, remove barriers to loan access and possibly gain some brand loyalty.

The banks are beginning to roll out pain-free help for customers with HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds all offering interest-free overdraft services without customers needing to take any action. These are the types of initiatives that at worst will go unnoticed by most customers (a good result in the current climate) and at best, will be remembered by customers as a critical intervention.

The most important thing is that we all face an incredibly unnerving time, let’s hope it’s remembered as a time when the banking brands clubbed together to make the rollout of extraordinary government measures clear and effective.


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