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Escaping The Data Breach Riptide

The recent Equifax data breach sent shockwaves across the financial world. Not only did it weaken the public’s trust in the consumer credit reporting agencies, it sent ripples across the entire financial sector – including banks. Because they work together so closely, it’s easy for financial institutions to get caught in the wake of any scandal involving credit agencies. If you work in banking, you already know what I’m talking about, as you’ve almost certainly been approached by friends and family experiencing anxiety over the chaos surrounding Equifax.

How can a bank clarify this situation? How can it separate itself from Equifax even though it will almost certainly find itself using the service again in the future? Proactive education is key. Only by providing honest, helpful information as quickly as possible can a bank assure its customers that it was not part of the breach. It’s not about blame, it’s simply about information.

While this may seem like public relations 101, I’m always surprised at how many bankers choose to ignore situations like this, hoping they resolve themselves. You need to ask yourself if that’s what you really want. Sure, the crisis may pass without any significant impact on your business, but do you feel safe relying on outside sources to inform and reassure your customers? Wouldn’t you rather that your customers saw you as their primary source of information about their finances? Here’s how you can make that happen:

(1) Address the issue on your website. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but a page with some information and some well-researched links can go a long ways toward covering the bases. The FTC has great information here, for example, as do the consumer credit reporting agencies themselves. Best of all, this page allows you to reassure customers that it was not your data that was breached.

(2) Address the issue on social media. This is a fast way to send people to your website to learn more. Don’t try to explain everything in a Facebook post or a Tweet, simply acknowledge that there has been an issue and that they should click on the link (to the web page explained above) to learn more. If you don’t already use social media, this is a good example of how it can be useful. Having a web page is essential, but nobody will know about it unless they go to your website (something that current customers normally don’t do on a regular basis). Using social media to tell them about that web page is fast and inexpensive.

(3) Embrace the role of the expert. This one might surprise you, but if every challenge is an opportunity in disguise, then why should a data breach at Equifax be any different? I’m not saying that you should rejoice in their misfortune. Just the opposite. I’m saying that you should work with your customers so that they understand the circumstances of the breach, the real-life ramifications of the hack and – most importantly – the most prudent ways to mitigate the possibility of harm to their credit. By doing a good job of providing valuable information, you can solidify your place in their mind as the first place to go for valuable information – at least regarding credit and finances. Isn’t that the Holy Grail of bank branding?

While you should never seem to take responsibility for a problem like the Equifax breach, I also don’t think you should shy away from it. Your customers count on you. Reassure them that your bank is proactive, knowledgeable and trustworthy. With the correct technique, you can harness the riptide surrounding the Equifax tsunami and turn it into a positive force for your bank’s brand.

Greg “Hal” Halliday is the president of Anchor Marketing, a branding and new media agency that specializes in successful differentiation and positioning. Anchor Marketing has spent nearly 20 years branding and marketing independent banks in Minnesota and North Dakota. Halliday is recognized as a Certified Financial Marketing Professional by the American Bankers Association. You can contact him via phone at 701-787-8230 or by email at halh@anchorwebsite.com.