Communicating money matters

The Prudential’s Sean Rach sets out the fundamentals of corporate financial communications

The financial services industry is sometimes presented as being ‘behind’ in using social media as a communications tool. Do you think this is fair and if so what should the industry do about it?

Our business has always been based on personal relationships. Social media provides for new opportunities for companies and individuals to establish and nurture relationships. By building on initial steps to listening and understanding the conversations in social media, we have begun to explore new mediums for customer assistance. Due to the regulated nature of our industry, many players have been taking a step by step approach to seeking how best to leverage social media.

The global financial crisis and subsequent events have done a lot of reputational damage to many financial institutions. What would be your roadmap to recovery in terms of corporate communications?

Protecting individuals and families from uncertainty is the essence of our business, and of the insurance sector as a whole. Although Prudential was not entirely immune from the financial crisis, we were relatively unscathed, particularly in terms of reputation. Prudential has a proven track record of sustained growth in the region pre- and post- financial crisis.

In terms of corporate communications, the economic uncertainty not only gave us more reason to highlight our financial stability and consistent business strategy, it also provided us with opportunities to reinforce awareness of the value that insurance can bring to families and societies.

Our communications effort hence continued to focus on our core values of listening to, and understanding the long-term financial needs of customers; and the provision of a broad portfolio of customer-centric products through a strong agency and bank distribution platform. At the same time, through our CSR platform we stepped up our financial literacy and insurance education across Asia in response to a growing demand for knowledge about sound financial management.

What are the watchwords for a corporate communications professional operating in the financial comms space?

Clarity, consistency and accuracy. Following the global financial crisis, integrity and professionalism are equally important attributes to re-establish a trustworthy reputation for the financial sector as a whole.

What are the critical issues which make financial communications distinct?

Financial communications place a heavier focus on creating favourable investor perceptions whilst complying with all regulatory requirements. The ultimate aim of financial communications is to encourage positive decisions by investors that will benefit shareholders.

While the key principles of all external communications – clarity, consistency, and accuracy – are the same, financial communications must also take into account financial disclosure regulations for their industries, and the sensitivity of certain information that could result in share price movements.

Untimely leaks of such sensitive information can be highly damaging to a company’s reputation as well as its financial standing, in some cases even resulting in illegal insider trading. Information-handling guidelines and non-disclosure agreements are therefore a key element of financial communications.

At the same time, as regulators are a key stakeholder in financial communications, it is important to maintain a close relationship with them at all times, engaging them from the early planning stages for critical communications programmes. Their support is essential for the effective implementation of financial communications.

Sean Rach is Regional Director of Brands and Corporate Affairs at the Prudential Corporation

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