Springer to Steer Standard Bank’s Evolution

Standard Bank has made an important move in its brand evolution with the appointment of Diana Springer as the group head of brand and marketing, who starts this week.

The institution has been ranked the most valuable banking brand in South Africa and Africa for the second year in a row in Brand Finance’s annual ranking of the world’s Top 500 Banking Brands. The bank also increased its brand value by more than 10% in the past year to reach more than $1.74bn.

In 2019, Standard Bank began a journey that it said would fundamentally redefine its business, based on the insight that “Africa is our home, we drive her growth”.

Springer’s remit is to continue steering this course, and she has a tough journey ahead. The digital age has ushered in an era where personalisation has become the norm rather than the exception, changing the way brands interact with their customers. And while this transformation has offered increased accessibility and convenience to customers, it’s challenging for banking brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The shift towards digital interaction has made it difficult to provide the personal touchpoints that were once integral to their customer relationship. Customers today demand tailored experiences and services, expecting banks to understand and cater to their particular needs.

However, the digital platforms through which these services are delivered often depersonalise the experience, turning banking transactions into mere commodity exchanges. Achieving a balance between personalisation and the efficiency of digital solutions is difficult.

In an interview with the FM, Springer says banking brands need to go beyond providing efficient digital solutions. They need to create engaging and meaningful digital experiences that resonate with their customers on a personal level, creating a distinctive brand identity.

Springer’s experience will help close the gap. She has worked in pivotal marketing roles, including chief data & intelligence officer for the local M&C Saatchi Group and head of customer relations management strategy at Ogilvy SA.

Work has already started, she says, on the brand evolution: “We’re working on a project to help us truly understand the power of this brand. What we’re seeking to do is to make sure we can unlock that, to drive maximum competitive advantage.”

According to Springer, one of the key strategies to unlock this potential lies in developing the brand’s distinctiveness rather than focusing on how the brand can stand apart from competitors. “What makes us distinctive is trust: being really reliable and dependable in brand leadership.”

She is also candid about the challenges ahead, acknowledging the multifaceted ecosystem that Standard Bank operates in. “Like all big companies, we have complex environments, and the onus should be on the brand to simplify and clarify its narrative for its audience despite what happens internally. I think it’s about telling powerful stories that people can truly resonate with because they can then connect with their personal growth.”

Reflecting on her time working on the Microsoft brand, Springer says: “What I learnt there was navigating that complexity and trying to find simplicity in that chaos.”

Springer underscores the importance of cultivating core brand qualities such as social responsibility, transparency and authenticity. “I truly do believe that Standard Bank is a business that does good business. But these qualities must be more than just theoretical concepts and should reflect tangibly in the brand’s operations and philosophies.”

Not everyone would agree with this positive sentiment. In June climate activists disrupted Standard Bank’s annual meeting, calling on the bank to stop investing in fossil fuels and withdraw support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project. The company later denied it was investing in the venture.

Springer’s admiration for other brands, such as Checkers, provides insight into her vision for Standard Bank. She believes Checkers has done an excellent job of reframing its value proposition, broadening its audience while staying meaningful. It’s a strategy she respects, and one assumes she intends to implement at Standard Bank.

Notably, Springer is well versed in the ways of younger audiences, thanks to teenage daughters. “They keep me grounded,” she says, and they help her understand platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat. “I’m determined to be in their world.”

As Standard Bank evolves in an increasingly complex operating environment, brand experts have told the FM that in a developing economy such as South Africa, a successful banking brand is one that recognises and caters to the dynamics and challenges of the local market.

With large sections of the population being unbanked or underbanked, inclusivity will be the cornerstone of a successful banking brand. Digital innovation will also be crucial to success, as will a commitment to the social and economic development of the country.

This goes beyond corporate social responsibility initiatives and includes providing financial services that support small businesses and local entrepreneurs, investing in sectors that drive job creation, and demonstrating ethical business practices.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.