How financial institutions can build trust in an era of relentless scams.
Some Venmo customers have gotten a rude awakening lately, in the form of scam messages directing them to fake versions of Venmo’s app.
These messages warn the recipient that their Venmo account will be charged unless they log on and decline it. Users who follow through are brought to a convincing fake of Venmo’s site—using Venmo’s color and fonts—where they’re asked to provide their bank account number and other sensitive info. From there, the scammers are off to the races.
A scheme like this gets to the heart of arguably the most important aspect of the customer-brand relationship: Trust. This is especially true in the financial sector, where consumers’ money, investments, retirement—essentially their livelihood—are on the line.
In a recent study of the financial sector we conducted with CITE research, we found that 49 percent of consumers said trust is the most important factor when choosing a financial institution. That message is being heard: Forty-six percent of financial services marketers said creating a trustworthy brand is their primary objective.
But in an industry where scams are commonplace and no brand is immune, trust is fragile. So, how can financial institutions build it, and built it to last?
Read the fine print
When a customer walks into a bank, she knows she’s in a bank. This may sound obvious, but banks generally take pains to exude authority and reliability in their physical spaces. Visual cues such as the size of the building, the sharply dressed tellers, or the color palette and quality of the furniture play into the trustworthy image the bank is trying to portray.
That’s a lot more difficult to accomplish on a website or mobile app, where an impressive facade or welcoming waiting area is replaced with color and text, and helpful staff is replaced with a login and do-it-yourself UX.
In order to build trust in a digital environment, each of these elements needs to work together, seamlessly and consistently, across every touchpoint. Forty-three percent of consumers in our study said a fragmented brand experience makes a financial institution seem less trustworthy. This is especially true on mobile devices, where more and more customers are conducting their financial business.
This consistency extends to every corner of the customer’s experience, from the logo on your homepage right down to the fine print. Yes, people read the fine print! Not only that, it’s a major source of trust. Fifty percent of consumers in our survey said they read all the fine print, while 65 percent said legible fine print makes a financial institution more trustworthy. Nearly a quarter of consumers have stopped a financial transaction because of illegible fine print.
Small details like this are the building blocks of trust. Customers pay attention. They notice when something doesn’t look or feel right. And, given the frequency and scale of modern phishing scams, financial institutions should hope their customers notice when something seems off.
Stand out from the crowd
Another cornerstone of trust is recognition. Eighty-four percent of consumers in our survey said brand recognition is important when working with a financial institution. There are more than 13,000 financial institutions operating in the U.S., according to the FDIC, so a distinct brand identity is essential to building a connection with your customers.
Differentiation is also an important weapon against scams. Thirty-seven percent of marketers in our survey said their biggest branding risk is creating a visual identity that is easy to replicate.
Think back to the physical bank, and how difficult it would be for someone to create a convincing carbon copy of a local bank branch. A well-conceived visual identity, deployed consistently, can work the same way, serving as a formidable defense against phishing schemes and other online fraud. The harder it is for someone to copy a company’s look and feel, the more likely they are to give up or create a poor facsimile that customers will sniff out.
The last line of defense
Fonts are one of the main drivers of a financial institution's brand identity, especially in a mobile setting. Forty-nine percent of consumers in our survey said they primarily conduct business with their financial institution via a mobile device. That number jumps to 58% for 25-35 year-olds. Fonts are everywhere in these environments, from the login screen to the home screen to the transactions, call-to-action text, and yes, the fine print. This means they do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to building trust with the customer:
Legibility: Customers read the fine print, so the fine print needs to be legible. Financial institutions can deliver this by using fonts that perform well at small sizes, both in print and on screens.
Universal performance: Speaking of which, it’s important to note that while more and more customers conduct their business online or on mobile phones, print is still an essential part of many financial transactions. A thoughtful type system will use fonts that work equally well in both settings, so all customer communications use consistent branding.
Security: Free fonts are tempting, but provide virtually no protection from phishing or spoofing scams. After all, if anyone can use them, anyone can use them, right? Free fonts are also ubiquitous, which dilutes your differentiation and diminishes customer trust. Financial institutions can build trust and protect their brand by using distinctive fonts or even custom designs created exclusively for them.
Taken together, these elements deliver the same sense of dependability customers expect in a physical branch. Strong legibility means your customers can read all the information they need to feel confident about their transactions. Consistent performance across print and digital touchpoints allows them to access that information in whatever way is most convenient for them. A distinct visual identity ties everything together and greets the customer with a secure, recognizable appearance every time she logs in.
Trust is indeed fragile in this era of online fraud. Venmo is only the latest example in a long line of scams exploiting companies’ digital properties. But frustrating as that may be, it only highlights the importance of thoughtful branding and the power of good design to build a strong relationship between customers and their financial institutions.