The Changing Face of the Banking World

August 26, 2016

Morgan Stanley The Steady Riser

It’s 2008; I’m living in Canary Wharf, London’s version of Wall Street. One morning, on my way to work, I walked past Lehman Brothers. On the streets I saw men standing, boxes in hand, people turning, staring. What had they done? It must be bad; we’d never seen the bankers look helpless before. The usual image of the financiers spilling out of the bars as the sun begins to set over the imposing buildings; beers in hand, raucous laughter and bravado seeping into every spare patch of pavement, was gone. Perhaps it was a trade that went wrong or a harassment case that bit back. I kept walking and by the time I reached the Tube, my curious thoughts had dissipated. ‘It’s likely nothing’ I thought… Little did I know that the world had changed forever.

The crisis

The financial crisis hit causing recessions in countries the world over. However, after the initial shock and falter and the record-breaking bailouts, the dust settled and order resumed. Unfortunately, the bankers were skating on a much thinner sheet of ice than before. And the finance world knew it. Something had to change. The banks had to figure out how to regain the trust of the public.

Changing perceptions

Today, I call Manhattan home. Having spent many years working in London’s finance capital, I feel I at least have some insight into what life must have been like on Wall Street pre-2008. The same brash confidence of top dollar earners; the ability to hold more liquor than one should be able; the late nights; early mornings; calls at 3 am because somewhere in the world someone wanted to make some money. But here in the US much like in London, due to legislation, government initiatives, advertising campaigns and more, the mood is now different. The ‘Big Banks’ have changed public perception, and they’re getting stronger each day.

Time Magazine tells us, “The financial crisis and its aftermath have dramatically changed investor perceptions, particularly with respect to the soundness of our financial system. In response, big financial firms are changing, but few firms have changed more than Morgan Stanley.”

Measuring impact

Morgan Stanley, like most financial institutions, got negative press following the 2008 Crash, and it’s taken many initiatives to slowly improve perceptions of their brand. And there’s no better way to measure that improvement than by looking at the strength of their corporate brand, or as we call it – “BrandPower.”

BrandPower, as identified in Tenet Partners’ annual Top 100 Most Powerful Brands Report, is a measure of brand strength through two key metrics, familiarity and favorability. The index measures factors such as the perception of an organization’s management, the perceived investment potential of their business, and the familiarity of their brand to the general public.

Like other financial institutions featured in this year’s Top 100, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Capital One, which have all seen an increase in their BrandPower this year, Morgan Stanley is on the rise. Their multi-faceted approach to changing perceptions has resulted is a consistent upturn in the power of their brand.

Moving the brand needle

Since 2011, Morgan Stanley’s BrandPower has jumped up 37 places to the 58th most powerful brand in America according to Tenet Partners’ data. This hasn’t happened overnight. The bank had to concentrate its efforts on giving the public a view into the real people and real activities of their institution.

An alternative path

Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, who unlike most previous heads of the bank, does not have a background in investment banking, has worked to change the bank’s brand. It has changed its course not, as Time Magazine tells us, completely away from its investment banking roots, but more towards a brokerage model advising clients which stocks and shares to buy and sell, as opposed to investment banking. The difference in approach has made wide impacts on the perception of Morgan Stanley, contributing to it being seen as more of a trusted advisor than a grasping moneymaker.

Marketing to new perceptions

To support their new path, according to Advertising Age, Lisa Manganello, Head of integrated brand marketing at Morgan Stanley says “their marketing efforts have focused on highlighting the firm’s “real human” benefits.” And Skyword reiterates with, “a new content-heavy campaign tells the story of Morgan Stanley’s brand in a different way—by presenting the company as a driver of positive human change around the world.”

Not only have Morgan Stanley’s marketing efforts been revamped, but to support their changing business model, their internal performance management process is also getting a makeover.

Changing the face of performance

Morgan Stanley is changing its employee performance management style, dispelling of the traditional annual appraisal process and adopting a fresher approach.

As Larry Oakner, Senior Partner in Employee Engagement at Tenet Partners says, “how [employees] demonstrate their brand through their behaviour has a huge impact on the successful integration of the brand into the organization.”

An article in the New York Times about Morgan Stanley’s new approach states, “The aim is to give more direct feedback and better steer staff members toward areas of improvement.” Employees will be evaluated on their overall contributions to the firm, not only the money they bring in.

On the rise

Elevating the power of a brand is a multi-layered initiative that encompasses all business activities, and Morgan Stanley is a bank that shows it knows how to do it. It’s been a long road for them since the 2008 financial crisis, and, like any organization, they’ve had their ups and downs. But with their varied efforts and a BrandPower ranking that’s consistently rising, it seems that their battle-tested CEO, James Gorman, is doing something right to reinvent the image for their institution.

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