Addressing the trust deficit post-Royal Commission

February 2019

While much of the commentary on the potential fallout of Hayne’s report suggests that the banks have come out of this relatively unscathed, the reputational damage and impact on consumer sentiment is not to be underestimated.


More than ever, banks have an image problem. Research shows us that customers have lost faith that banks are acting in their best interests, with Deloitte’s recent Trust Index highlighting that just 1 in 5 Australian customers view banks as ethical, while just 1 in 4 believe that banks will keep their promises.

The onus is on the banks to win back customers’ trust. Establishing trust won’t happen overnight via a series of deftly-orchestrated press releases (or high-profile resignations). However, it can happen if banks commit to embedding a culture of trustworthiness.

Trust is something that needs to be earned over time. Whether a customer views your organisation as credible and trustworthy will be in response to the interactions they have, more than any corporate mission statement. It isn’t enough to simply provide frontline bankers and their leaders with a directive to take a ‘customer-centric approach’ or adhere to ‘ethical selling principles’. As we’ve seen, leaving such paramount values open to interpretation is what has led us to this situation.

Establishing a culture of trustworthiness relies on setting clear expectations of which behaviours are and aren’t acceptable for each and every role. For customer-facing teams, it requires clearly-defined conversation frameworks that give insight and clarity into exactly how to embody trust. Being open and authentic, reliable and predictable, acting in the customer’s best interests, are all noble intents that can indeed be enacted consistently and en masse once observable, assessable behaviours are defined, coached and acknowledged.

Consider the goal of wanting to show customers you’re acting in their best interests. Are you confident that you could observe and assess whether your bankers are bringing this concept to life in a conversation with customers? How would you measure whether this is happening, and then what would you coach to?

The power of micro-behaviours

Defining conversational micro-behaviours is the act of translating outputs to inputs, in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way. It takes us from conceptual to tactical. In doing so, we arm ourselves with specific, observable input metrics to drive our people’s performance.

You might want your bankers to ‘take ownership’ of interactions they have with their customers. To make this output statement observable, measurable, and therefore coachable, you would drill down to relevant micro-behaviours such as ‘delivers a strong statement of assistance’. Are your bankers letting customers know that ‘Absolutely, I can certainly help you with that today!’ Chances are they’re not, given GRIST’s Behavioural Analytics research shows just 20.2% of banking customers are delivered an assurance to indicate the banker is willing and able to help them.

Most conversation frameworks are high-level and leave it up to bankers and their leaders to take a stab in the dark as to the ‘right’ way of doing things. This lack of clarity has created a culture whereby bankers will often err on the side of caution – lest they overstep the ill-defined regulatory confines – and instead act in a very non-customer-centric way, falling short in helping customers solve their problems. Of course we’ve seen this lack of clarity interpreted in the reverse, with some bankers – primarily motivated by a desire to sell more – going too far with pushing products that simply aren’t relevant to the customer’s needs. Both scenarios are symptomatic of not having a set of clearly-defined expectations that can be observed, measured, and coached on.

The Royal Commission has no doubt been a confronting experience for the banking industry and its people. We hope that it’s taken as an opportunity to provide frontline bankers with the clarity they need to feel empowered to help their customers.

From the thousands of bankers we’ve had the privilege of working with, we know that the vast majority of them are driven by a desire to help people. They just need the right frameworks to be allowed to do this. If customers are consistently delivered high-quality interactions, the trust deficit will diminish, and the Royal Commission will become a defining moment for the right reasons.

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