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Focus on building relationships and trust

The BrandZTM Regional Banks Top 10 increased 1 percent in brand value compared with a 2 percent decline in value experienced by the Global Banks Top 10.

The growth of regional banks resulted mostly from prominence in their home markets, as well as some international expansion, primarily in neighboring countries.

One other factor often differentiated the regional from the global banks: consumer trust. Some regional banks tend to be more trusted because during the global financial crisis they were less likely to be implicated in transgressive practices.

In addition, regional banks with strong consumer banking businesses may be more focused than most global banks on building relationships to serve a broad mix of customers, not only high-wealth individuals.

Four of the BrandZTM Regional Banks Top 10 are Chinese. Of the other six banks, two are based in each of these countries: the US, Canada and Australia.

Slower economy impacts China’s banks For some Chinese banks, the regional focus that had driven growth now inhibited it, as China’s economic expansion slowed. Related factors that impacted bank performance included poorly performing loans and market reforms that lifted the interest rate ceiling on certain products.

Banks responded with multiple strategies, such as expanding the focus on wealth management and developing greater online presence, often with mobile apps and partnerships with Internet brands.

Similar to western banks, the Chinese banks were slower to innovate than the Internet companies, which aggressively entered financial services in China. Internet leaders Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent had investment products offering higher returns than most banks.

Chinese banks also pursued new initiatives. Agricultural Bank of China, for example, continued to expand in major cities to serve younger clients with high net worth, using the expertise it gained from its core business in China’s rural communities.

US economy drives North American banks

The US banks enjoyed the benefit of a strengthening US economy. Wells Fargo, with over 8,700 banking outlets throughout the US, reported record profits. The bank primarily specializes in retail banking.

As a brand, Wells Fargo continued its positioning as a large community bank
that advances the commitment to service signified by its logo of a stagecoach, which recalls its formation in 1852, during the gold rush years in San Francisco. Its 2009 merger with Wachovia helped push Wells Fargo into the number one rank in the BrandZTM Regional Banks Top 10.

Based in Minneapolis, US Bank is a regional bank serving consumers and small businesses. It also provides commercial banking nationally and operates in some international businesses such as payment services. 

Building US networks

TD, a leading Canadian bank, operates more branches in the US than in Canada. TD grew in the states by combining with several US banks, including Commerce Bank in 2009.

TD built a network of around 1,300 locations along America’s east coast, from Maine to Florida. Calling itself “America’s Most Convenient Bank,” the TD bank is known for customer service, with long banking hours that include weekends.

Like TD, RBC is a Canadian-based bank. It derives almost two-thirds of its revenue from its Canadian operations, with the balance divided roughly equally between US and the rest of the world. As part of its effort to increase its US presence, RBC planned to buy Los Angeles-based City National, which operates branches in major US cities and
is known for its high-wealth management business.

Australia and Asia

Commonwealth Bank of Australia is the country’s largest bank. A robust home loan business driven by low interest
rates produced a record profit for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Both Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ enjoyed substantial growth as Australia’s economy expanded, driven by the development of natural resources.

Based in Melbourne, ANZ is the largest bank in New Zealand and one of the largest in Australia. It operates worldwide in over 30 countries and is especially well positioned in Asia following its acquisition several years ago of RBS operations in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. 


1. Re-establish trust.
This can happen through: a) massive cultural change; b) hiring non- banking people (including C-suite) who understand the hopes, dreams and fears of consumers, not just their financial affairs; c) rewarding staff on attitude over performance. 

2. Determine focus.
Banks need to decide where they want to make their profit going forward. Do they want to double down on the things they can be successful at, or do they want to be part of the broader financial conversation and provide services to consumers?

3. Create a clear vision.
Banks need to articulate a vision for the business, ensuring that leaders walk the talk and develop the internal behaviors aligned with the vision. They need to design everything – systems, products, processes, pricing, promises and communications – through a customer experience lens. Then banks need to simplify, simplify, simplify. 

Global and regional banks experience image decline 

The Brand Value of global banks declined 5 percent over the past 10 years, while the Brand Value of regional banks almost doubled, and the Top 100 brands overall grew 126 percent.

This divergence in the value growth of global and regional banks reflects the fact that regionals were less impacted by the worldwide financial crisis and buoyed by faster growing Asian markets, particularly China.

But neither the global nor regional banks did a good job of ingratiating themselves to consumers. The global banks declined in being trusted and increased in being seen as dishonest, arrogant and uncaring. Regional banks declined in their level of desirability, trust, and difference while being seen as more uncaring.

Consumer perception of banks did not turn sharply negative until the last few years, suggesting that during the economic downturn, consumers waited for banks to reform themselves, and when they saw little change, lost patience.

Consumers probably didn’t discriminate between global and regional bank brands but rather viewed them both as large financial institutions that did little to earn trust. This general perception subjected all brands to a category effect. 

Perceived dishonesty impacts Brand Value 

This chart illustrates the relationship between Brand Value and perceived dishonesty or trustworthiness. The midline of 100 is where dishonesty and trustworthiness are in balance. Scores above 100 signal dishonesty and below 100, trustworthiness. Since the global financial crisis, the consumer perception of global banks as dishonest has grown steadily. In contrast, consumers viewed regional banks as trustworthy. Between 2007 and 2015, the Brand Value of global banks declined 15 percent. In contrast, consumers viewed regional banks as reasonably trustworthy until 2013, and their Brand Value increased by 73 per cent. As they are increasingly rated as dishonest, from 2013 to today, however, regional bank brand value growth has slowed dramatically to 8 percent. The banking category as a whole is becoming more tainted.