New Best Practices in Crisis Management: Beyond the Arc’s Steven Ramirez

Crisis communication expert Steven Ramirez advises financial institutions on reassuring customers with empathy while maintaining trust and preparing internal teams to guide customers through inevitable turbulence.

For over 20 years, Steven Ramirez from Beyond the Arc, has been helping clients in financial services, fintech and technology develop data-driven strategies and communications to strengthen customer experience, marketing and operations. His work spans data science, strategic planning, optimizing customer and employee communications, media relations and social media strategy.

In conversation with Jim Marous of The Financial Brand and the Banking Transformed podcast, Ramirez offers tactical advice for reassuring customers while stressing that authentic communication should begin long before turmoil emerges.

Q: Many banks seemed unprepared when a series of crises hit in 2023. Why do you think that was?

Ramirez: In my view, they generally underestimated how worried consumers, investors, government officials and other stakeholders would react. Bad news now spreads instantly on social media, allowing real-time runs on banks.

You simply can’t improvise responses on the fly — disciplined preparation and readiness are key. Recent failures unfolded rapidly, exposing banks without an existing crisis framework in place. Marketing departments can’t react quickly enough, so having a communication strategy ready for immediate execution is essential. Otherwise, silence and scattershot messages only intensify public skepticism.

Social Media Complicates Crisis Management

Q: How has social media completely changed crisis communication?

Ramirez: It requires you to respond pretty much instantly, or else you’ll lose trust rapidly. You can’t accurately predict where diverse audiences will be digitally, so you’ve got to blanket every channel consistently with authentic messaging aligned with your brand identity and voice.

The days of leisurely wordsmithing statements are over. You need integrated coordination across all channels — don’t reinvent strategies and tones randomly for each outlet. Meet people where they already are digitally; don’t make them seek you out.

You now have to act instantaneously, or else you lose. Banks must have a communication strategy ready to launch immediately, not prepared ad-hoc after a crisis hits.

You really do have to blanket all channels consistently because you don’t know exactly where people will encounter information. Tailor content across platforms but retain brand alignment, empathy and relevance throughout.

Read more: Community Banks Are Missing Out on Social Media

The Foundations of Effective Crisis Response

Q: What foundational elements enable effective crisis response?

Ramirez: Have a clear crisis response plan, absolutely. Drill and refine protocols across stakeholders. But even more vital? Maintaining an ongoing communications platform focused on who you are and how you deliver value beyond transactions.

When crises hit, responses must align with that core identity and values. Consistent behavior establishing trustworthiness makes crisis communication feel authentic, not reactive. Purpose and values matter more than logistics and materials.

Continual communication builds reservoirs of goodwill and compassion to tap into during turmoil. Responding with humanity demonstrates priorities beyond short-term profits. Have an organizational ethos aligned to action, so responses resonate genuinely.

How to Turn Crises into Opportunities

Q: Can difficulties actually present engagement opportunities if handled transparently?

Ramirez: Research indicates customers appreciate firms that guide them through turbulent times with empathy, actually prompting greater loyalty. In my view, crises inevitably create openings to have candid conversations around evolving consumer needs within a changed context.

Don’t just rely on static pitches and talking points. Bring up current anxieties people have and outline how you can provide stability. Show precisely how your capabilities are relevant right now. Demonstrate genuine commitment beyond surface assurances.

In volatile moments, address acute needs around issues like cash flow or security. Don’t lazily recycle the same messaging — highlight how your services deliver actual value in that instant. Provide true utility and purpose, not spin.

More on crisis management and communications:

Deploy Employees as Communicators

Q: Why are employees so critical for communication during crises?

Ramirez: They interact directly with worried customers far more than any corporate marketing campaign. If employees aren’t convinced first that the institution has their back, they can’t possibly persuade anxious consumers. You’ve got to meet employee needs first and foremost.

Equip them with talking points tailored for their specific roles. They must genuinely feel executives have their interests at heart to become authentic brand ambassadors.

Internal culture initiatives should focus first on addressing human needs within the team before external optics. People can only extend real empathy when they feel cared for themselves.

Speak in Plain Language

Q: In your experience, where do banks commonly fall short with communication?

Ramirez: They often use complex financial language filled with industry jargon. That just completely alienates scared consumers looking for clarity and reassurance during turbulent times.

They also tend to focus conversations narrowly on incremental gains over direct competitors. But that completely ignores larger disruptive threats that are stealthily stealing away key customer segments right under their noses.

Failing to continually engage media, regulators and other stakeholders means they’ve got no reservoir of trust or goodwill when inevitable crises emerge. Sustained competitive intelligence, customer insights and cross-functional team alignment can help avoid these common pitfalls.

It starts with speaking using simple human language people can relate to, not industry jargon. They need to consider threats beyond just traditional competitors. And lack of authentic outreach sacrifices trust building until it’s too late when a crisis hits.

Gain an Outside-In Perspective

Q: How can banks gain an “outside-in” perspective to avoid communication blind spots?

Ramirez: Based on what I’ve seen, they need to seek out unbiased third-party partners like fintechs who aren’t beholden to the same internal biases. Their digital native expertise can provide valuable outside crisis readiness insights when you collaborate.

Banks should also listen closely to customers defecting to competitors to understand the frustrations that eroded trust in the first place.

Personally participate in your account opening and product demos from a skeptical consumer’s perspective.

Go beyond surveys and social media monitoring to hear candid customer voices directly. Map the full journey through the audience lens, not solely your organizational silo. Immerse senior leaders in routine customer interactions to stay grounded.

Dig deeper: What Makes for a ‘Sticky’ Credit Card Rewards Program?

Proactively Build Media Relationships and Trust

Q: Based on your experience, how can banks build trust with the media before crises emerge?

Ramirez: They need to engage regularly as a valuable resource on finance, technology and policy issues, not just show up when they need damage control. Establish executives as accessible subject matter experts who are willing to take on hard questions. Offer exclusive previews and insights showcasing thought leadership.

Banks need to cultivate press relationships continually and proactively. Position leaders as transparent, nuanced people, not robotic talking heads. Welcome healthy scrutiny and criticism. Earning goodwill through sustained outreach combats skepticism when inevitable crises hit.

Get executives directly involved in regular press interactions — don’t silo media relations solely to PR. Make ongoing media training an executive education priority. Closely monitor press coverage in real time to correct inaccurate narratives.

Create a Crisis-Ready Culture

Q: What specific tactics have you seen effectively create a crisis-ready culture?

Ramirez: I’ve observed that truly resilient institutions instill a sense of purpose beyond profits. They empower employees to confidently resolve emerging issues in real time without constantly seeking top-down approval.

They listen first with humility and compassion — across the organization daily, not just in times of turmoil. They also break down silos under one collaborative brand identity.

Require resilience training and emotional intelligence development for all customer-facing roles. Run through crisis scenarios. But also celebrate shared achievements during stability so preparation doesn’t feel ominous.

For a longer version of this conversation, listen to “Communication Strategies to Navigate a Banking Crisis”, an episode of the Banking Transformed podcast with Jim Marous, available here or wherever you get your podcasts. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Justin Estes is an award-winning writer, strategist, and financial marketing expert with expertise in banking, investments and fintech. His clients include the NYSE, Franklin Templeton, Credit Karma, Citi and, UBS, and his work has appeared in Forbes, Barrons and ThinkAdvisor as well as The Financial Brand.

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