Employees Champion a Merger

New Zealand’s largest bank recruits its staff to pitch a new brand to multiple stakeholders.

By the numbers

  • Staff engagement went to a record high of 78%.
  • 94% of The National Bank staff reported feeling confident about talking to customers about the new technology system
  • More than 99% of The National Bank customers remained with the company after the merger
  • Media coverage in the two weeks after the brand change announcement was 56% positive, 27% neutral and 17% negative.

In 2003, ANZ Bank New Zealand acquired The National Bank, operating the two as separate entities and positioning the former as the “everyday” brand and the later as the “premium” brand. The banks functioned independently until 2012, when the whole organization went through a “simplification” program that reduced costly duplications across the business – in management teams, products, processes, technology systems and brands – and brought the company under one brand: ANZ.

Unifying management teams, products, processes and technology systems all made sense to customers and frontline staff. But The National Bank the much-loved brand was always going to be a challenge for those who had come to love its much cultivated and heavily invested in image.

As a result, ANZ Bank New Zealand’s corporate affairs team faced considerable pressure to make the transition as smooth as possible for stakeholders on all sides, including customers, staff, regulators, the news media and the public.

The challenges

The challenges faced by the corporate affairs team included:

  • A divided workforce. Following the acquisition of The National Bank, the banks became divided as frontline staff treated the “opposite” brand as competition rather than teammates.
  • Employee concerns about job security. The National Bank employees would understandably be concerned about retaining their jobs if their bank merged with the ANZ brand.
  • Pressure from competing banks. Other banks saw an opportunity to convince customers that service would slip and persuade staff that jobs would be lost.
  • A technological system change. ANZ also needed to convince the government and regulators that the technological system change would not compromise New Zealand’s banking and financial system.
  • Public skepticism. Previous bank mergers in New Zealand had seen branch closures, staff cuts and fee increases. A skeptical public and news media would be on the lookout for these.
  • The need to inform a wide array of stakeholders. With the two brands banking one in two New Zealanders and with multiple stakeholder relationships, including customer influencers like brokers and attorneys, information needed to be communicated efficiently, quickly and comprehensively to a wide variety of people to stop misinformation.

The bank’s communication strategy needed to show all stakeholders the logic of the brand change, reassure them that branches and the staff they were used to would still be there and excite them that the “new ANZ” would have more to offer.

The solution

Case-study-imageANZ’s approach was to treat the brand change as a campaign and, critically, to first pitch it to its own employees. Company managers were informed of the change, and once they agreed to it they were entrusted to inform and lead their teams in the transition.

The company decided that a personal communication strategy would be most effective when informing staff of the transition to a single brand. If staff understood and supported the change, they would help customers through the transition. It was such a big change, particularly for those who were working for The National Bank, that a conversation rather than an instructional kind of communication was critical to convincing frontline staff to speak with any authority or authenticity to customers. Nearly all employees were briefed face-to-face by managers, giving them an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

A winning campaign

This campaign won an IABC Gold Quill Award of Excellence for Brand Communication. For more than 40 years, IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program has evaluated the work of communication professionals around the globe, recognizing the best of the best in the profession.

The traditional corporate, top-down, instructional approach to communication was forsaken for a more personal and informal approach to communicating with staff, who were also given time to reflect on the merger before facing clients.

Announcement day was carefully planned and managed by the corporate affairs team, which coordinated internal and external briefings, including press conferences and thousands of calls and emails to stakeholders. The company then reinforced the change with a major advertising campaign that mirrored the communication of “inform, reassure and excite” about the merger. The corporate affairs followed up all the merger announcements with an internal and external campaign that demonstrated the successes of the merger.

The outcome

Following the transition to the ANZ brand, a company evaluation found that the decentralized approach to communicating with staff worked. Some 94 percent of The National Bank staff reported feeling confident about talking to customers about the system and brand change, and ANZ no longer had a divided workforce. In fact, staff engagement post the merger went to a record high and staff turnover remained at normal levels.

Case-study-Brighter future messageOut of about 1.7 million customers, only about 2,000 said they had left because of the brand change. Brand favorability went to a record high. The all-important market share numbers for home loans – where New Zealand banks make most of their profits – increased and ANZ Bank New Zealand had a record annual profit.

Pitching and selling a major company change is never easy, but understanding your audience will help bring focus to the challenge. Ultimately, you have to trust stakeholders with the truth about the change if you want them to accept it.

We learned that your staff, particularly those who are customer-facing, can carry the day if you enroll them and convince them of the merits of what you’re doing. That takes a huge mind shift for corporations, one that involves senior leaders letting go of information control and trusting staff. But the rewards are huge – staff will champion your change with customers and then be ambassadors for you in the communities in which they live.

Peter Parussini
Peter Parussini is head of corporate affairs for ANZ Bank New Zealand and is based in Auckland. Follow him on Twitter: @peter_parussini.

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