After the U.S. downgrade spooked the stock market this week, asset management and brokerage firms rushed to reassure their customers.
The soothing emails and conference calls stopped short of most banks' retail or credit card customers.
By Tuesday, none of the top 16 retail banks or top ten credit card lenders had proactively communicated with most of their customers about the impact of the downgrade on their accounts, according to the research firm Corporate Insight.
That makes sense to a certain degree - banks' wealth management customers typically have money invested directly in the stock market, while deposit, savings and credit card accounts were less directly affected by the downgrade or its immediate aftermath.
But retail bankers missed an opportunity to communicate with their customers and reassure them about the impact -- or lack thereof -- of the scary headlines, several analysts said Thursday.
"The stock market isn't going to dramatically affect the yield on my savings account, but people look to their banks for their money," said Michael Ellison, president of Corporate Insight, which tracks how financial companies communicate with their customers. "This really goes to striking at the heart of it and trying to reduce fear in the consumer."
Ali Raza, executive vice president of consulting firm Speer & Associates Inc., agreed that retail banks' lack of widely-distributed messages about the downgrade was "a potential missed opportunity."
"Customers do have a lot of questions. … It doesn't take a lot for banks to put something on their web site or send out a text message to consumers," he said. "From a pure communications standpoint, it's just such a competitive market today." Banks, he said, should seize "any opportunity to reach out proactively to consumers."
Some financial companies kept quiet on the retail front, but emailed their brokerage customers or posted messages about the downgrade on their public web sites for asset management clients.
Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch, for example, posted a lengthy video of a panel discussion between wealth-management head Sallie Krawcheck and other executives.
(See a slideshow of how some asset managers and brokerages reached out to their customers this week.)
JPMorgan Chase & Co. spokeswoman Kristin Lemkau said the bank held conference calls with a head strategist for its funds and sent out fact sheets to customers. The outreach efforts included wealth-management customers within JPMorgan Chase's retail banking operations.
When asked about the bank's other efforts to reassure customers, she referred to Chief Executive Jamie Dimon's much-publicized bus tour of bank branches this week, and to his appearance on CNBC on Wednesday.
Lemkau and representatives for Bank of America and Citigroup Inc. also said on Thursday that the banks had trained their tellers and customer service representatives to answer customer questions about the effects of the downgrade and the stock markets.
They and some analysts suggested that there might be a downside to communicating too broadly with customers about a crisis that does not directly affect their accounts.
"It was important to strike the right balance between not unnecessarily invoking fear broadly, but then also communicating and working with any clients directly to reassure them," Citigroup spokesman Sean Kevelighan said via email.
And Steve Ledford, a partner with Novantas, said his consulting firm has observed little worry over the downgrade among retail bank customers.
"Why would a bank go out and try to make statements if it's not to allay any concern?" he said. "Think about all of the messages that a bank needs to get across to their customers. You can see why they would want to stick more with the messages that apply more to their value proposition."
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