RBC CEO writes to clients: Is this good or bad communication?

When I signed in to my online banking account this morning, a new message was waiting for me in my Inbox. It was from Gord Nixon, the RBC’s President and CEO.

Now, I have to confess, Mr. Nixon doesn’t write to me very often. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever written to me before. So, he and his communications department must have had a very special reason to write to me now. Or at least I’d expect so.

But when I read his message, I wasn’t sure why he was writing. I’ve pasted the full text of the message below.

What’s the real point here?

What do you think the bank is trying to achieve? And why now?

Do they really want to reassure me? Or is this part of a communications strategy related to the current efforts of the Federal Minister of Finance to persuade the banks to loosen their lending policies.

Was enough information provided to make it a good communication? Or does it require more conextual information than the average reader is likely to possess.

Bottom line: Is this a press release masquerading as a letter? And in the era of plain spoken social media, does it make the grade as effective communication with me, the bank’s customer.

Here’s the full text of the message. What do you think of it?

To : JOSEPH THORNLEY
From : RBC Royal Bank
Subject : A Message from Gord Nixon to our Canadian clients
Date : 7 Jan 2009 16:00:00

Dear Valued Client

The world s economic challenges are a concern to every family, business and government. I would like to share with you some facts and observations about recent events in Canada, and how we at RBC can help you create confidence in your financial future.

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have the soundest banking system in the world, and have avoided many of the problems experienced in other countries. As our economy is not invulnerable to world events, RBC and the other Canadian banks are working closely with the federal government to find ways to improve liquidity in the Canadian financial markets — opportunities that make sense, add value, and don’t introduce more risk to the system.

RBC has not changed our lending policies and practices and we are open for business. We continue to have steady, significant growth in our new mortgage financing, small business and consumer lending across all parts of Canada. These increases are based on sound and consistent lending practices that have been tested and found to work well in good times and bad, for decades.

We believe that our job is to help you create confidence in the future through good advice and access to financing. We know from speaking with millions of Canadians every day that saving money and investing for the future is a priority. RBC has thousands of committed people in our branches and contact centres across Canada with advice on how to best do that based on each individual’s circumstances and goals. We’re addressing that need — for example, today almost half of RBC customers in Canada receive a rebate on their banking transactions or get free banking. You can talk to us at any time to find out about this and other ways to save money and achieve your goals.

RBC is a strong and stable bank, dedicated to helping you achieve your goals throughout all economic cycles. We will continue to manage our bank well to preserve your confidence in us.

Thank you for choosing RBC.

Yours truly,

Gord Nixon
President and CEO

  • It’s hard to know where to start dissecting this ‘communication’.

    I should preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of banks that charge you for the privilege of managing ones hard earned money. ING Direct doesn’t nor does President’s Choice so there’s food for thought.

    The fact that you’ve posted this letter for comment leads me to think that you too are inwardly irritated by the bank’s presumption that as a mere customer you will mistake this cunning sales pitch for geniuine financial advice and fatherly concern. To me it’s nothing more than poorly veiled scaremongering.

    Buy this if you don’t want to die.

    Some people (usually those in greatest need) might fall for it and take that trip to see an RBC adviser (the company has spent enough money on TV advertising to the same end) who will terrify his/her way into your finances and then charge you a handling fee followed by monthly admin fees. Thank you very much. Come again. Just don’t expect to hear from them until the next financial crisis when they need to make the numbers balance.

    If they really cared they’d automatically lower the APR on credit cards without the song and dance currently required and they wouldn’t expect thanks – just your continued loyalty.

    Am I being too harsh?

  • This is clearly a sales pitch, but RBC somehow still thinks sugar coating it with pleasant words and wishes will hide this fact.

    Studying public relations and communications over the past two years, what I’ve learned is that people aren’t stupid and can read between the lines. Honesty is something that has been drilled through our heads in school, and being completely straight up with people is key in the communications world.

    A letter simply asking for more of your business and cutting out the fluff would have sufficed.

    Personally I like people who get to the point, and I think that’s what communications is all about.

  • Kalene Morgan

    I see this letter as another form of advertising.

    I wonder if RBC is having difficulty reaching its customers through traditional advertising channels and is trying a new approach.

  • I believe this is called Direct Mail.

  • Any letter that begins with “Dear Valued Client” is destined for the trash. If they actually had an interest in communicating with you, rather than at you, they could at least put your name on it. Unfortunately, the only time the banks seem to care to communicate directly is on bills or new credit card pitches. This letter may as well have been on a billboard.

  • I received the e-mail too (and the message is also on RBC’s homepage). I’m not entirely cynical about it. My own (very part-time) employer, (full disclosure) Vancity/Citizens Bank, put a similar message on their homepage months ago.
    In a time of bad news upon bad news in the financial world, I think financial institutions are simply attempting (some better than others) to mitigate fears, and fear-based financial behaviors, by saying “We’re OK; you money is safe with us”.
    This particular note could have done better by eliminating the second and third paragraphs which are so clearly self-serving, although of course the whole point of reassuring us is to elicit further financial activity.
    The unusual step of putting the notes in our inbox is probably due to the heat the banks are taking/will take re: interest rates and they want to make sure every person possible receives *their* message.
    Too bad they’ve never done this in less tense circumstances.

  • Natasha Nanji

    As a Humber PR student who has spent a great deal of time studying press releases over the past few months, this letter, at least in my opinion, seems to be just that- a release and hardly a means of effective communication.

    It’s almost textbook: a decently salient lead, some promotion of key messages in the face of hard times and a boiler plate reminding you why you should choose RBC. All that seems to be missing is a quote from Gord Nixon, but seeing as how he “wrote” the letter, I suppose the point is moot.

    I agree with Kalene, it’s nothing but blatant advertising. Whether or not it’s effective will likely depend on the recipient. Personally, I would hope my junk mail filter would place that message where it belongs.