In the fast-moving and highly competitive world of finance, the top international and regional players must maintain a consistent and powerful brand image to attract new customers and retain existing ones. The effect of bad news will most certainly be diluted if an organisation enjoys a strong and positive image in the eyes of its customers and investors – and a presence in international media can always help to achieve this goal.
Recognition for good corporate citizenship is particularly important for businesses in the finance sector and any information that can help to assess this would certainly be of value to financial institutions.
Financial Images is an international image survey recently commissioned by magazines Time and Fortune, carried out by independent research agency Synovate. It explores the awareness, perceptions and attitudes of 2,300 affluent decision makers from Asia and Europe towards more than 100 leading banking and financial companies across five key sectors: retail banking, business services, credit cards, insurance, and investment banking. As well as collecting data on advertising awareness and brand familiarity, the survey evaluates companies in terms of 13 key image statements (see table opposite).
Results from the survey show that important factors when deciding which financial company to choose varied depending on whether the decision relates to personal or business finances. When making work-related decisions, being financially sound, having a good reputation and being well established, are the three most important qualities people look for in a financial services company. When making decisions about personal finance, however, emotional factors such as trustworthiness and being responsive to customers’ needs become more important.
The survey also shows that top international companies score highest across both Asia and Europe in terms of familiarity and image. In the banking sector, HSBC and Citibank perform strongly with high levels of familiarity in both regions. HSBC has maintained consistent levels of advertising spend in international print over the past five years* and, as a result, has seen familiarity grow from 25 per cent in Europe in 1998 to 47 per cent in 2002. Citibank, on the other hand, has more than halved its spend in pan-European print since 1998*, and its familiarity has dropped accordingly.
This correlation between familiarity and advertising awareness is confirmed with further analysis. In Asia, Citibank has maintained more consistent levels of ad spend in international print* and remains a dominant force in the region, achieving the highest levels of familiarity and top scores for all 13 image statements.
In Europe, Barclays Bank performs particularly strongly, achieving a familiarity score of 60 per cent. This is slightly down from 1998 (67 per cent) reflecting a reduction in its ad spend in international media*. In the UK however, Barclays maintains pole position with 90 per cent familiarity, a figure that has remained stable since 1998.
Strong image scores also reflect home market dominance for Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank among German consumers, and Credit Agricole, Credit Lyonnais, and BNP Paribas among the French.
Turning to the insurance sector in Asia, American International Group (AIG) subsidiary AIA is the most recognised brand and scores highest for all image statements. Significantly, Allianz achieved the highest score for “seen advertising”, which is undoubtedly a reflection of its substantial investment in international press (around three times higher than AIG in 2002*).
In Europe, where the insurance market appears to be more competitive, AIG is not quite as dominant, achieving a familiarity score of 18 per cent, compared with 61 per cent in Asia. AXA achieves the highest familiarity score in Europe (64 per cent), followed by Allianz in second place with 55 per cent. AXA also achieves highest scores for five out of 13 image statements including “is well established”, “has a strong presence in my country”, “offers a wide range of products and services” and “is an organisation you can trust”.
The credit card section of the survey measured card ownership and usage, in addition to familiarity and the perceived image of four multinational credit card companies. In both Asia and Europe, Visa International achieves the highest familiarity scores of 97 per cent and 93 per cent respectively. These scores correlate with highest levels of ownership (86 per cent in Asia and 72 per cent in Europe).
In Asia, Visa also achieves top scores for all image statements, with American Express in second position in seven out of the 13 statements measured, and Mastercard in second place for six statements, including: “has a strong presence in my country”, “is responsive to customers’ needs”, and “offers a wide range of products and services”.
In Europe, although just over a third of respondents hold an AmEx card, (compared with 72 per cent claiming to own a Visa card and 62 per cent owning a Mastercard) American Express scores most highly in eight out of 13 image statements including: “has a global image”, “has professional staff”, “communicates well with the public” and “is financially sound”.
This survey provides an indication of where these companies’ strengths and weaknesses lie in relation to their competitors. It is evident they must ensure high-level media presence to maintain awareness levels among consumers and that preserving a good reputation is everything.
* Figures from CMR International