Branding & Banking: Getting Your Fair Share

August 6, 2018  |  Kevin Steltz

Financial Services

Things are looking pretty good right now if you’re a bank. The market has been bullish for the past nine years, regulatory pressures seem to be easing, interest rates are expected to rise over the next five years, and banking industry shareholder returns have outperformed the S&P 500 by just over 30 percent this past year. If you’re really optimistic, you’ll notice U.S. bank market-to-book multiples are higher now than at any point since 2007. But, before we start popping champagne, banks must consider how they’re going to get their fair share of the market opportunity before the market corrects itself again.

If banks – especially regional banks – are going to reward the markets for their favorable valuations, they have to find new ways of creating historically impressive results. This means looking at the business in a whole new way. Specifically, demonstrating the confidence to look outside current capabilities, skills and comfort zones for ways to drive unprecedented returns on equity and revenue growth. It also means breaking down the boundaries between business units in order to promote integrative service bundles that meet the unique needs of the modern customer in distinctive ways. The banks that are unwilling to do this – or that simply lack the resources to do this – may need to consider inorganic growth through acquisition instead.

This may seem harsh. But, as the expectations of the category are disrupted and reinvented by digitalization, fintechs and increased competitive pressure, banks will need to rely on a highly adaptive and flexible business model that can change with market conditions, fluidly guide operational innovation and breathe new life into rattled and burned-out cultures.

Capitalizing on the opportunity
To set yourself up for record-setting growth, you’ll need to strip away the conventional wisdom and forego typical best practices. Instead, find new inspiration from companies outside of financial services who are capitalizing on disruption and consider the following three things:

Be Audacious. Ask yourself, would your mission statement inspire you to do business with yourself? Does it challenge the organization to stretch, grow and achieve bold ambitions? Somewhere along the line – and it happens to virtually every company – the organization gets caught up in the day-to-day business realities and forgets why it got into business in the first place. Now, instead of the inspiring focus on helping people live the greatest life possible, the company’s sole focus gives way to outdated measures of success. Considering the low risk tolerance in banking and incredibly stiff regulations over the past 10 years, it’s not surprising banks have become laggards in innovation, technology and digitalization.

But, here’s the truth: in all aspects of business and life, you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward. Growing or dying. And after studying some of the world’s best-performing companies, one thing is consistently attributed to growth: bold and aggressive motives. Are the motives behind your mission pushing the organization to grow while the market is good? Or, are they holding it back? Timid motives lead to meager performance. Worse yet, organizational mediocrity. To be great and to achieve sustainable growth, banks must stand for something compelling. IBM exists to build a smarter planet. Google exists to immediately satisfy every curiosity. Dove exists to celebrate every woman’s unique beauty. SpaceX exists to reinvent space travel with the ultimate goal of inhabiting Mars. The list goes on. If you want to leave a legacy of success and impact behind, spend the time to rediscover your company’s bold mission, make sure it’s centered on your core values and use it as your primary navigational tool when making important decisions.

Ditch the Best Practices. Don’t get me wrong – observing, and even modeling, the best strategies and behaviors of your competitors are important. But, if you’re adopting and applying them religiously, they’re only making your bank and your value proposition look like everyone else’s. As one famous business coach said, “If you do what everyone else does, and you do it better than everybody else, you get a tiny competitive advantage. But if you do something no one else is doing in your space and focus on offering overwhelming value, you get a gigantic advantage.”

You can begin to apply this by creating a better balance between the application of proven strategies and the development of new best practices that disrupt convention. The best way to achieve the latter of those two things is by pursuing a deep understanding of your ideal customers – not just their financial preferences, but their life’s guiding principles as well. What motivates them? What do they fear? What are their beliefs, convictions, needs and desires? If you do this and you are relentless about finding ways to add more value to their life than anyone else in the world, extraordinary things will happen.

Innovation will permeate from every part of the organization creating new and differentiating “best practices.” Talent retention and acquisition will increase because of employees’ ability to contribute and feel significant. Customers will want deeper relationships with you. Marketing spend can be brought down, while organic growth accelerates.

Envision the Way You Operate with Fresh Eyes. Does your current operating model have points of friction preventing dynamic growth or efficiency? Are your existing strategic initiatives leading to new opportunities, or are they impeding corporate evolution? Are your frontline employees empowered to provide distinctive value to the audiences most critical to your future success? Conventional operating model strategies within banking are siloed, constrictive and consistently stifling growth, yet most institutions avoid making changes here. Yes, there are compliance and regulations to contend with, but think about it: no strategy or tactical push will allow you to fully capitalize on the current market opportunity if your operating model is set up to resist transformative growth. The successful financial institutions of the future will creatively adapt their operating structure and blow up the boundaries preventing their business units from working together to provide greater value.

The world of banking is fairly healthy at the moment, disruption is everywhere and customer expectations are changing faster than ever. Amidst this chaos, many banks are cautiously sitting back, “waiting to see how it all plays out.” This conservative strategy could become a dangerous one when the market self-corrects and puts pressure back on banks. But, out of chaos comes opportunity. And for those with the confidence to capitalize on change and look outside their current comfort zones, unprecedented growth awaits.


BVK’s approach concentrates on shifting growth strategies from a reliance on overlapping marketing claims to core values that create an unassailable long-term competitive advantage. Embodied in this approach is an emphasis on insights, innovation and impact that can form a basis for market differentiation and profitable business growth. For more information on this approach, download an executive summary at

Kevin Steltz – VP, Managing Director, leads brand strategy planning and operational alignment for BVK clients in the financial services sector. Contact Kevin at [email protected].


is a VP, Group Account Director & Planning at BVK

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