Trust’s key to win battle for hearts and minds

These days consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the companies behind the products they purchase and their buying decisions are influenced by their perceptions of the firms involved.

Classic examples of this are the recent campaign for free range chicken by top TV chefs and the popularity of Fairtrade products.

In much the same way, the financial services industry is under more scrutiny thanks to the Northern Rock debacle and the questions it raised about mortgage funding.

The Financial Services Authority is considering plans to build a new framework to govern the liquidity and solvency of banks and other financial institutions.

But the concern is that although legislation may help the industry, it is unlikely to win the battle for hearts and minds of borrowers who may need more convincing.

The problem is that the liquidity crisis is not only hitting consumers’ finances but the psychology of banking as a whole.

Recent research from a life and pensions company revealed that two-thirds of Britons are planning to tighten their belts and delay financial decisions such as remortgaging because of the liquidity crisis. This means that while mutuals suffered more than most last year, with gross mortgage lending virtually flat at £52.1bn and net lending down 21% to £12.6bn, this year other lenders will suffer.

As a lender, the challenge we face is to ensure that consumers have faith in us as an institution and are clear about our strong securitisation status.

Lenders that cannot back up their claims will fall by the wayside over the next 12 months as they compete for retail finance in a more costly funding environment.

Only trusted banks will be used by clients. This was made evident in the second half of last year when we saw a surge in mortgage lending as borrowers moved away from what they perceived to be risky brands to ones they felt they could trust in the long term.

So over the next year, just as consumers will check to see if their food is organic or free range, they will also look for similar reassurances from their financial services providers. Background and breeding will be vital.

Brokers should also be mindful of this and ensure customers are placed with brands that will still be around when they remortgage.