Brand Communication / Brand Strategy

The not-so-close bank

In its anniversary year, the Zürcher Kantonalbank is struggling to deliver on its brand promise.

When I was head of sponsorship at the Tages-Anzeiger 20 years ago, I was looking for a strong partner in the cultural sector and found one at the ZKB in the person of Nikodemus Herger, who was head of sponsorship at the time. Together we looked for new and exciting projects that met a need in the community and added cultural value. Two of them, the Lunch Cinema and the Jazznojazz Festival, still exist today. Working with the ZKB and its communications professionals, I found them to be very close to the people and their needs. The close bank, in other words. The ZKB is currently fighting for the right to donate the gondolas across the lake to the city. A gift is an exaggeration, as the 40 to 60 million construction costs are to be recouped through ticket prices. Some citizens did not like the idea of a “Europapark on the lake” at all, and successfully appealed to the construction court. Having lost, the bank is now appealing to the administrative court of the canton of Zurich. This was a well-considered step, according to the ZKB’s anniversary page, because according to an opinion poll, “two thirds of the population are neutral to very positive about the idea”.

Conversely, one third of the population thinks the idea is not so good or very bad. The ZKB is fighting back, with CEO Martin Scholl telling the NZZ that the project will go ahead even if the legal disputes mean that the railway can only be built a few years later than in the anniversary year. Scholl: “We can’t be stopped”. Has the ZKB also thought carefully about how its actions will benefit its brand? The Cantonal Bank, the close bank that cannot be stopped by a third of the population?

Change of scene and another leap into the past: A few years ago, I was standing at the counter of the Sprüngli confectionery, next to an elderly lady from Germany. She asks the cashier: “Can I pay in euros, or do you only take “Fränkli”?” Did she just say “Fränkli”? I couldn’t help myself and explained to the lady: “Excuse me if I interrupt you for a moment. It is true that you have noticed that we Swiss reduce just about everything – from “Hüüsli”, “Semmeli” and “Töffli” to the “Luxemburgerli” in front of you. We must be the world champions of the diminutive. But the one thing we never, never, never, never make smaller is our Swiss franc. That is an unwritten law. We have no “Fränkli”. I am telling you this so that you do not make yourself unpopular in our country. The lady thanked me politely for the information. A few days ago, I read with interest that the Zürcher Kantonalbank had launched a new app that was supposed to make more of the third pillar. The app even has its own name. Hold on to your hats – it’s called “frankly”. Frankly, if you ask me, that’s not such a good idea.

“The close bank” is an attractive customer promise that has positively charged the brand for years. ZKB would do well to take a closer look at what constitutes proximity. And then not to jeopardise its brand promise so lightly – especially in its anniversary year.

— Ralph Hermann / 22.2.2020