Archive for July 1st, 2011

FPS’ Friday Fiver

2011 continues to be a year of historic events and hard news stories. This week’s strike by public sector workers was billed as the largest since 1926 and events in Greece continue to worry global financial markets.  In this week’s Fiver we review the events that caught our attention, some more serious than others. Thanks to Nick, Daisy, Jo and Ed for their contributions this week.

Sunflowers and euro banks

As I sat at my desk this Friday afternoon, trying to formulate something to say for today’s Fiver, my mind wandered towards the weekend. My inspiration for the post comes from what is quite possibly my (and Dave Chambers’) favourite sporting event of the year, The Tour de France.

 The Tour which starts tomorrow is a spectacle of drama, competition, tactics and colour as well as scandal. To my mind, it’s always hard to tell whether the sport of cycling or French tourism is the real winner from the three week event.

The Tour is also the one time of year where we are exposed to an array of European sponsors –  many of them financial services companies – that few of us will have heard of. So, in the coming weeks, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of names such as Rabobank, SaxoBank, Cofidis and LCL Banque plastered across men in lycra moving quickly through fields of sunflowers or the Haute Alpes.

 

Inspired by a break up 

At yesterday’s company meeting we heard about National Australia Bank one of this year’s winners from the Cannes Lions PR Awards and how they changed the public’s perception of them in a single day by publically breaking up with the other banks.  For year’s Australians had believed that their four biggest banks had been working together to fix fees and eliminate competition when in reality NAB had been working hard to abolish fees and lower interest rates in a bid to be viewed by customers as a fairer alternative.  This is the perfect example of a bank exposing its human face and becoming instantaneously more relatable for its customers.  The big bank break up generated $5 million of PR earned media in one day but most importantly it set NAB apart from the big bad banks and earned them tangible business returns with a 50% increase week on week in NAB credit card applications and a 20% increase week on week new transaction accounts being opened.

Demonstrating that you really know your customer’s should be an essential facet of any discerning banks PR plan, as Mr Nick Woods so eloquently told us at H&K’s recent Demystifying Digital Event.  His 5 minute Ignite on HSBC Bank International’s creative Digital Strategy was an example of how this insight enabled HBIB to become the ‘expert in expats.’  HBIB’s Expat Explorer Survey the world’s largest survey of expats examined not only the financial concerns of expats but everything from lifestyle to childcare.  They then took those insights and put them in a really great online tool so that instead of downloading an unwieldy PDF the global expat community had a great resource to play with and share.  This ‘human’ approach was then mirrored throughout all social media channels with a dedicated blog and twitter for expat issues not financial products.  And most importantly HBIB are continuing to deepen their understanding of their customer’s-  The 2011 Survey is now live and we are keen to get even more respondents in order to update the online tool with living data.  So if you are reading this and you are an expat or know of anyone who is please fill it in and pass it on!

 Caught between a rock and a hard place

 So it’s been a tough week for the UK economy with data from the PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) suggesting that the previously robust recovery in the industrial sector seems to be coming quickly off the rails.  With figures for June down to 51.3 from 52 in May driven by weak export orders and job growth, economists were left disappointed by the 21-month low.

 It seems ironic then that on the same day that figures seemingly suggesting the road to recovery has hit something of a speed-bump Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has nailed his colours firmly to the cross  and urged British businesses to hire local jobless youths rather than relying on labour from overseas. His argument is that controlling immigration is “critical” to avoid another generations of “dependency and hopelessness” and to be honest I don’t think there are many commentators who’d disagree.

 

However for me there are two things that need to be addressed. Firstly at a time when many businesses are fighting hard just to stay afloat, controlling workforce costs is a key priority. Until the green shoots of recovery take hold and actually demonstrate consistent growth it’s unlikely many employers will be looking to increase their payroll considerably by adopting an extensive hiring policy. Secondly, we can’t get away from the fact that foreign workers are cheaper and in many cases better qualified than young UK potential employees. It’s a problem with both technical and cultural elements but until we can build an education system that delivers skilled workers with a hard working ethos then both the Government and UK Plc will find itself caught in the uncomfortable position between a rock and a hard place.

This town town, is going like a ghost town. Trouble on the high street…

 This week has seen a string of fashion disasters as shoppers cut back drastically on ‘non-essentials’ which has subsequently led to the collapse of well know fashion retailers as well as home furnishing shops.

 

Even those that are still in business are closing outlets as the rise of internet shopping takes over and shopping down the local high street may someday be a distant memory – slightly dramatic perhaps.

 So what does the future hold for those that are still standing? It really is a battle ground out there and survival of the fittest is a term that springs to mind.  Adapting to a number of changing factors, such as the rise of the tech savvy shoppers and the baby boom may just be their saving grace but of course there is no one direct answer and  those that are only addressing issues now may be ‘late to the game’

A New Dawn?

 Earlier this week we attended Which?’s A New Dawn: Will financial Services reform deliver for consumers? Conference. A host of high profile speakers assessed and probed the potential issues new financial services regulation and the new bodies responsible for implementation: the Bank of England and Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), will come up against.

 All agreed that the overwhelming ambition of new regulation is competition – but competition that benefits the consumer. The thrust of conversation centred on what competition that would deliver for consumers would look like, though this was never really concluded. Mark Hoban, Financial Secretary to the Treasury’s speech was light on detail, heavy on rhetoric. Much of what was said had been heard before: in essence, consumers will be at the heart of the new regulatory structure, although how, is less clear.

 The panel discussions highlighted the tensions new regulatory structures will cause. Excellently, hosted by Moneybox’s Paul Lewis, the panel probed how competition will deliver outcomes for consumers, how to educate and empower consumers to make informed decisions, and where responsibility should lie – with financial services providers or consumers? The answer was probably both.

Clare Spottiswoode, Member of the Independent Commission of Banking (ICB), though not representing the ICB, took to the stage and called for a culture change in banks. She argued that banks cannot justify selling poor products by virtue of them meeting all of the ‘rules’. She argued they should develop products according to principles and that consumer interest should be at their heart. New entrants to the market should be encouraged, mobile bank account numbers were discussed and dismissed in turn, and the prospect of a community bank was discussed to support our ailing high street economies.

 It was an excellent event which posed far more questions than answers. This conversation will go on and on.