Building trust in the midst of the banking crisis in Ghana

Building a strong reputation that stimulates trust is good for every brand. It could take several years of hard work and consistency to build and establish trust in a brand or an Institution. Unfortunately, it could take just a few seconds to lose the trust that has been built over years. The lost of trust in an entity and its rippling effect on corporate reputation, can greatly impact an organization’s bottom-line and return on investment.

Loss of trust is when people who matter to an entity, feel they are no longer safe. When the very foundation upon which a relationship is built is threatened. When people believe they can no longer hold you to your words and may want to terminate any form of association.

The issue of trust will always be with humanity, as long we build, maintain and manage relationships.

Ghana has made great progress in its drive towards financial Inclusion. Between 2014 and 2017, the total number of adults with Bank accounts increased by 22%. Mobile Money account holders increased by a whopping, 199% within the same period according to the Global Findex Report, 2017. Financial Inclusion has become attractive, thanks to regulation and technological advancements. In line with global payment trends, many Ghanaians are opting for electronic payments and appreciating the benefits of being banked.

This progress, however, may be threatened with the current happenings in the banking sector. I may not have the full picture of the effect the recent banking crisis will have on the sector, but the impact of the panic withdrawals cannot be overlooked. In countries where there has been a similar banking crisis, public trust in the sector had dwindled. According to a 2009 report by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in mid-September 2008, had an enormous impact on the financial markets and the global economy by undermining trust among banks and trust in the overall stability of the financial system. The story may not be different for Ghana if authorities do not manage this crisis.

Two local banks are now defunct, five consolidated, with a lot of uncertainty among the general banking public, about the fate of the remaining banks. Media discussions on banks who have not met or met the minimum requirement; coupled with unsubstantiated fact and the gap in communication are impacting trust in the sector.

As a Public Relations Professional, I strongly believe some level of trust in institutions, play a vital role in the stability and maintenance of the Institution. When there is a breakdown in trust, systems are threatened with turbulence. This is evident in the recent panic withdrawals. Many Ghanaian are on the verge of losing confidence in the financial sector; and if not managed well, this lack of confidence could become a recipe for national disaster. Considering the effect of the dominance of cash in any economy; the last we may want to do is inadvertently increase the amount of cash outside the banking sector.

The bank of Ghana and its partners in the financial sector need to bring the general public, up to speed with its plans. The silence, speculations, misunderstanding of what the issues are, insecurity and panic will crack down the system if appropriate communication strategies are not implemented.

Organizations’ are usually expected to have crisis communication plans even before a crisis. One that will guide the organization in managing the situation; and mitigating the impact of the crisis on the people who matter to the organization. Where a crisis communication plan is not available, organizations are still expected to communicate with the best interest of their stakeholders in mind. I suppose the collapse of the banks, the consolidation, and the increase in the minimum capital were all activities the Bank of Ghana planned or anticipated. Similarly, comprehensive communication strategies should have been put in place.

To salvage the current situation;

Businesses and Individuals should be educated in simple terms, the BoG’s regulatory direction. The differing views among the general public are hindering proper understanding of issues. In crisis communication, mutual understanding is everything.

Strategic communication, that has the objective of reassuring people of safety and security, is needed to safeguard the reputation of the Financial Sector. This demands collaborative effort. The Ghana Association of bankers, Ghalsac, SEC and all other parties should collaborate to embark on an intensive financial education campaign. A campaign that will enlighten people and allay fears. One that will put an end to the speculations and give people the proper assurance of safety. While affording them the opportunity to clear all doubt regarding their savings or investments.

Again, Financial Institutions (FI) need effective communication tools and procedures that are not only aimed at responding to issues when they arise; or getting customers to stop panic withdrawals. FI’s need to be proactive in engaging their customers.  This is not the time to keep employees in the dark. Internal communications should be properly coordinated. Employees more than ever should be made to perform their brand ambassadorial duties. Communication should be factual and devoid of lies or lingoes. Remember, reputation is on the line. You do not want to be seen as an organization that has no interest in the concerns of customers. Not at a time when customers are “trusting none.”

Let’s not forget, Ghana’s drive to increase financial inclusion has not really been accompanied by intensive financial literacy campaigns. And so even though the call for financial inclusion seems to be catching on, there are still many people who do not understand the fundamentals of banking. If the banked, who are typically considered “financial literates”, are rushing to banking halls to withdraw their savings, then, there is a problem! It only means that the banking industry needs to do more education. If people are falling for Ponzi schemes, amidst warning from regulators; the trust in the system is wobbly.

Nobody likes to be kept in the dark; especially on issues, they have little or no knowledge on. Transparency may not be a better pill now, but, it is key to salvaging a piece of the “trust” pie. Effective Communication is a powerful tool. Let’s use it. Reassurance of the Bank of Ghana’s commitment to protecting funds is very critical. A clear understanding of what the regulator is doing to ensure sanity in the system is also crucial. Let’s drop the financial jargons and reach out to the masses via all the available tools: Traditional and Digital media channels, ground activations, etc.  A united front at this time will do the industry a lot of good.

“The Single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” when it has not. 

The Author is an Accredited PR Practitioner and a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (UK). She is a firm believable of Strategic Communications and its ability to transform organizations. You can send your comments to asantewaaankomah@gmail.com