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Financial services industry 'changing its image'

23/07/13

Wealth management and financial services firms have typically skimped on marketing, with the idea presumably being that their prestige or reputation gives them enough clout in the right circles that they don't need to advertise their services.

However, image-building and branding could become an important part of developing these businesses, especially given the panning many of them have been given by the media in recent years.

Jim Prior, chief executive of The Partners - a major media consultancy that has worked with heavy hitters such as Nike, Ford and UBS - told the Financial Times that the financial services sector must be more engaging if it is to expand.

"Successful businesses need successful brands and what is behind them is a strong sense of self. But financial services brand names do not carry a lot of weight and offer little or no proposition," he added.

One major problem facing big banks such as HSBC, Credit Suisse and Citi is that they treat their services as integrated, meaning that if there are problems like fraud or poor trading in the investment bank it can 'contaminate' the brand as a whole.

For example, UBS clients withdrew billions from the organisation after the financial crisis of 2008, underlining the need for strong marketing from the industry.

Alex Hoctor-Duncan, head of European retail business at BlackRock, told the newspaper things have changed within his company as executives are now focusing on relationship building rather than turning a short-term profit.

"I told [my team] to concentrate on the long-term conversation with clients, not on which products you can shift today," he explained.

A comparison can be drawn with the legal industry. Like the staid financial services sector, magic circle firms have tended to avoid marketing, safe in the knowledge that their expertise and history make them obvious options.

But as the market opens up and commercial companies offer cheaper legal services, law companies are reconsidering how they connect with customers. It appears likely financial services will need to do the same.

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