The importance of branding in financial services

David O’Hearns, founder and MD at Dawn, a creative agency on a mission to rid the world of bad design and poor communication.

There’s no getting around it, the financial services industry is typically perceived as pretty boring. The fine print and legalities and the stereotyped grey men giving grey advice. It may be an unfair reputation, but it’s one that everyone is familiar with. And it’s part of the reason why the bulk of financial services businesses blend together. Even when an attractive logo or catchy slogan manages to take hold, the jargon and the tone of voice remain, giving an impassive, near-clinical edge to proceedings. And many businesses within the industry never manage to break free of that mould. Which is where branding should come in.

What can financial services businesses do to improve their branding?

Branding isn’t a one-hit solution. If you want to change the way that your customers see you, you have to take a holistic approach. That means addressing a whole range of aspects of your business.

Language and tone

One of the reasons why financial services can seem so distant from consumers is the formal, complex, and frequently jargon-heavy language. The tone of voice is stiff and unwelcoming because that’s always gone with the serious territory. But it’s deeply off-putting and can make financial brands seem inaccessible. Creating content that is available in a wide range of formats, and using more relaxed, friendly language across all communications, can change the tone of the business, and make the brand more appealing and relatable to customers.

David O’Hearns


Financial services firms have grown around their reputation for solidity. They are secure, with a strong, trustworthy foundation. And that has always been reflected in their no-nonsense visuals. From time to time, we’ve seen banks try to add a little fun to their image, with the likes of the Natwest piggy banks. But that has always been top dressing, it never cuts into the core of the brand. The reason for this is that brands with an established visual presence, don’t want to rock that through unnecessary change. But change is vital if remaining the same is deterring customers, and change needn’t happen all at once. It’s really simple to make reasonably big, impactful changes over time, which we’ve seen with the likes of Barclays and the evolution of its colour palettes.


Traditionally, financial organisations have worked on their own terms. Business hours have been a rigid 9.30-4, Monday-Friday.  And that no longer works for customers. They need to be able to access their money and financial services where and when they want to. By creating services that answer the needs of the customer rather than expecting customers to bend to the brand’s routines, financial organisations can change customer perceptions.


To provide a service that builds on customer relationships and supports customer retention, there have to be softer touches and a willingness to break down the barriers between the business and the customer – whether it’s building transparency into the business, or supporting customer education and helping people to understand their finances. There’s also ample opportunity to add extra touches to show customers appreciation for their loyalty. Maybe that’s a £100 deposit into junior accounts on the holder’s 18th birthday, or a gift card to celebrate five or ten years of customer loyalty. How you value and treat customers plays a massive role in how your brand is seen. 


The values of a business matter to customers. And with social media making it harder to bury bad news, it’s increasingly important to get your business’s values on point. You can’t just reference ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ – you have to embody it. If you pay lip service to diversity, ethnicity, and inclusion (DE&I) or say that you support the trans community, you have to demonstrate that and carry it through in everything you do. For example, Monzo says they support this, and reflect that by having additional options on their application system. It’s about understanding your audience and creating, delivering, and demonstrating the culture and values that matter to them.

What are the branding challenges faced by financial services providers?

The main issue faced by financial services companies when it comes to branding is change. The fear that a change of logo or colour palette may make the brand less identifiable. Or that changing the style of presentation may alienate older, longer-term customers who have fixed expectations of the business. But change doesn’t need to happen overnight. It’s possible to be sensitive to and accommodate the needs of all customer types, by making incremental changes that can have a significant impact.

Right now in financial services, there’s a rift between the old guard and the new wave, in terms of both the services they offer and the way they present themselves. And while we have two distinct customer groups, that’s working OK. But as the new is becoming the norm, it’s not a sustainable model for the established financial giants, and if efforts aren’t made to bring branding forward, there’s likely to be a few upsets in the future.


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