The power of purpose for financial services brands.

What crucial asset are financial services brands neglecting? It has the power to boost or damage your reputation like nothing else. But despite its power, it’s often neglected.

Branding | 4 minutes read | David Atter

The power of purpose for financial services brands.
The power of purpose for financial services brands.

So what is this asset exactly? 


Your workforce.

Think of it this way. If you have 50,000 employees, that’s 50,000 potential spokespeople. What they think about your brand (or brands) will shape what they say about you. 

And this isn’t only true for client–facing employees. Everyone will talk about your organisation at some point. 

They could give a glowing endorsement. Or they could shoot you down.

A couple of stats to bring the point home:

A third of Marketing and HR leaders believe they have a well defined culture. Or to put it another way: two thirds think that they don’t have a well–defined culture.

And 40% of interviewees believe employees are the most credible source of information for a business. More than they trust PR departments, CEOs and founders.

Back to the 50,000 employees – if they think your brand delivers a bad experience, they’ll tell 10 people. That’s half a million messages weakening your reputation. 

And a good experience? They’ll tell 3 people. That’s 150,000 stories that are building your brand.

So to a large extent, much of your brand’s relevance stands or falls on what your employees say about you. As Jeff Bezos put it, “…your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” 

So what does all this mean for financial services brands? It means that your brand needs to be as compelling for your employees as it is for your clients.

But how do you achieve that? 

It all begins with your purpose.

Why purpose matters


Too often, companies direct their branding efforts outward. And neglect the brand experience for people inside. After all, everyone who works for the company knows what it does – right? 

In an ideal world, yes. 

But here’s another dose of reality.

Your employees may know less than you think about your brand history and purpose. They might not know what makes you distinct. Or what makes you relevant to your customers or clients.

Financial firms that have a rich history are often complex. And that clouds brand experience.

If your employees aren’t clear on the purpose of the company, how can they be advocates for it?

Purpose creates and drives satisfaction. Most employees join your company for more than a pay cheque. 

Two decades ago financial services was a sector that graduates were keen to join. That’s when the current leaders were starting their careers. They got prestige. Lots of money. They were the masters of the universe.

But now? 

People entering the workforce want something different. They want to know your purpose – why your brands matter to the world today.

Does your organisation fixate on a narrow set of short–term objectives? Or are you one of the good guys who thinks about people and the planet as well as profit? And if so, do all your employees know this?

A quick test. Look up the About Us statements of a few of your competitors’ websites. Add your own. Anonymise them – take out any reference to the name of each firm. Show the list to several colleagues. Can they all spot the company they work for? If not, it’s probably time to refocus your purpose.

Or, imagine this scenario. 

Your Product Director sneaks a hidden charge into your financial product because they’re under pressure to improve the next quarter’s profits. 

In time this will damage your brand’s reputation with customers.

But it will damage your brand reputation with employees much quicker.

That’s why its so important to define your purpose. And make it simple enough to apply. To all decisions, large or small, by every department in your company.

Simplifying well


Here’s an example of a firm who got this spot on.

Lloyds Banking Group was born out of the merger of many big famous brands. Scottish Widows. Lloyds Bank. Bank of Scotland. Halifax.

The 80,000 or so employees needed a rallying cry to get them behind the new Lloyds Banking Group brand. To get them to see it as their employer, rather than Halifax, for example.

There was too much complexity. There were nine corporate values and talk about increasing that number.

But Lloyds realised they needed to simplify well. They cut it to three values. 

The process of simplifying the brand experience engaged hundreds of employees. A new team brought together people from Marketing, Corporate Affairs, Operations and HR.

The end result?

Lloyds Banking Group is now back in profit. The government got a good return on the investment it made during the financial crisis. 

The branding experience for employees became a key part of the strategic review of the organisation. It embedded the idea of simplification into the culture. And that helped streamline the organisation.

Find your focus


At Sparks, we’ve worked with many financial firms. Often firms with rich histories. Firms that are growing fast and are, often, complex businesses. 

That’s our sweet spot. 

We help brands connect with a changing audience. To rediscover and focus on what matters now.

We aim for authentic and distinctive work.

We design brands. We create websites. We deliver marketing assets. All to engage customers and clients. 

We design resources, programmes and tools for employees. 

So employees are equipped to talk about your brand’s purpose when they talk to their friends or your clients about you. 

And what they say will be credible.

What makes you distinctive comes to the top of your culture.

That’s why it’s important to simplify well. 

When you unearth what makes you distinctive from your rich history, you make stories. 

Stories that build your brand. Stories that get told in your market and around your company. That’s culture. And creating the right culture is crucial for your brand.

As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.



David Atter has 7 years of financial services experience. During that time he was part of the successful Lloyds Banking Group strategic brand review described in this blog. He’s now Client Services Director of Sparks.