It is hard to imagine a bank that has suffered such a dramatic fall from grace as the Co-operative Bank. Financial mismanagement resulting in a £1.9 billion black hole in its finances, corporate governance issues and a discredited chairman, caught in a Sunday tabloid sting operation, all served to bring the bank, once esteemed for its ethical credentials, to its knees.
Agency Lansons was appointed to help Co-operative Bank articulate its turnaround plan, under new chief executive Niall Booker, rebuild confidence in its senior management and reassure all key stakeholders that positive steps were being taken to address its myriad issues.
The multi-pronged approach focused on addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, such as employees, customers, shareholders, regulators and politicians. This involved explaining in detail the Co-operative Bank’s new turnaround strategy, focusing on retail and small and medium-sized business, and its plan to legally embed Values and Ethics in its constitution, highlighting the experience of its new management team and the practical steps being taken to divest bad assets.
The 15 man Lansons team, which was experienced in dealing with all stakeholder groups, established in-house secondments in the Co-operative Bank’s London and Manchester offices.
While they worked closely with all stakeholders, the team was also keen to ensure that there were no media reports suggesting the Bank’s survival was doubtful.
Responses to all set-piece issues were planned in advance while briefing papers, messages and Q&A sheets, including social media responses, on every major story were produced for all employees.
Three key news outlets were identified as crucial: the BBC, Financial Times and The Guardian.
The BBC was viewed as the organisation that could ‘break the bank’, and shortly before Kamal Ahmed joined as business editor, he met Booker as part of a concerted effort to establish a close and open relationship. When the Bank’s ‘Values and Ethics’ advertising launched, its Values and Ethics chair Laura Cartensen was interviewed on Wake up to Money, Today and BBC Breakfast.
The Guardian was viewed as key for the bank’s ethical customers while the Financial Times was sought out for its links to government shareholders.
In more than 1,000 pieces of national media coverage over the period, fewer than ten suggested the Bank could fail and there was no customer panic. While fewer than four per cent of retail banking customers closed their accounts in 2014, there was evidence in the second half that account openings were starting to rise, albeit marginally.
And when the Bank announced its new Ethical Policy, focused on ethical banking, products and services, business and workplace and culture, it was downloaded more than 10,500 times within two weeks, leading to an dramatic upturn in sentiment on Twitter.
‘After a torrid time, the team have worked hard to try to address reputational issues,’ said the judges. ‘This was a very comprehensive strategy that achieved excellent results.’