This Month in Reputation: Banks, Beers, and Beds

  • In June, woes continued for the financial sector
  • Wayfair learned a tough lesson about corporate neutrality in a politically charged era
  • The Dominican Republic’s stock went down following a month of high-profile violence against tourists
  • Budweiser became the true King of Beers following an expensive ad campaign at last year’s World Cup

Banks miss out on reputational recovery; USAA remains supreme
It’s not been a particularly good decade for the banking industry’s reputation. In the last year, many other industries have clawed back some of their reputational capital, but the bankers have not, according to the recently released US Banking RepTrak study, a collaboration between the Reputation Institute and American Banker. 

"I think the leading theme here is that of a missed recovery," says Sven Klingemann, director of research at the Reputation Institute.

Only two out of 40 banks evaluated were rated excellent by consumers, a sharp decline from the previous year’s six. National banks lost ground to regional banks, and regional banks continued to lose ground to non-traditional banks. 

USAA again took the top spot as the bank with the best reputation; Citizens Bank, a Rhode Island-based regional bank, jumped 12 spots to rank third overall. Wells Fargo, which has weathered so many scandals in the past three years its employees might more accurately be called the Bad News Bankers, came in dead last. 

Embattled Wells Fargo struggles to find a new skipper
And speaking of Wells Fargo... it’s not only consumers who are turned off by the company's seemingly endless scandals. According to the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources (so please add the customary grain of salt), potential CEOs are also reluctant to jump aboard the flagging financial behemoth. 

And who could blame them? Since the initial scandal in 2016, Wells Fargo has struggled to dig itself out of scandal but has only made the hole bigger. Tim Sloan, who took over in October of 2016, resigned this past spring following a four-hour interrogation from Congress. 

Wells Fargo must also find a CEO acceptable to Berkshire Hathaway, the bank’s largest shareholder. Chairman Warren Buffet has said he prefers an “outsider” rather than another Wall Street regular. 

Rather than try to thread that needle, the report says the bank may simply make its interim CEO, general counsel Allen Parker, its permanent boss. 

A spate of tourist deaths has Dominican Republic calling in crisis management specialists
Sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water. A relaxing time with family and friends among welcoming locals. That’s how the Dominican Republic wants to be perceived by potential visitors. 

Unfortunately, a series of high-profile deaths and assaults, including the shooting of beloved former Red Sox David Ortiz (sending all of New England into a brief panic), has painted the DR as less an island paradise and more a place you’ll be lucky to get out with your life, much less your luggage. 

While none of the deaths or assaults are related, social media has changed the way this type of news travels. In the past, most people would hear of maybe one or two of the incidents, but now hear of all seven, creating a negative image in their mind. 

"With social media today, we are exposed and require an immediate response to the current public relations dynamic, a new reality worldwide," said André Van Der Horst, a tourism advisor to the Dominican Republic. “We are not used to this type of viral communicational outburst and are working with crisis management specialists to establish reaction protocols."

Government spokesperson Roberto Rodriguez has tried to stem the tide of negative Tweets and Facebook posts with the hashtag #BeFairWithDR. He says the DR of recent news reports is not the DR of reality. 

"Cheerful, welcoming and hospitable, our Dominican Republic, the economy that grows the most in America, with its beautiful beaches and mountains, its tasty gastronomy and hardworking people invites you to know and love it," he told CNN.

Wayfair finds itself in the middle of a national scandal - refuses to take a stand
In today’s highly polarized political environment, many companies believe the best way forward is to stay neutral. When every statement will be met with feverish outrage, why not stay out of the fray entirely? 

Unfortunately, it seems that may no longer be possible. This month, Wayfair, online purveyor of inexpensive home goods, found itself in hot water with its customers and its employees for fulfilling an order for a company that provides detention facilities for the US government at the border. 

Migrants, many of them young children, are held in these crowded facilities with limited access to basic hygiene or medical care. Several have died. 

Wayfair’s own employees, upon learning of the transaction, demanded that Wayfair cancel it. The company refused, citing a rationale that a few years ago would probably have been the appropriate response: We sell goods; when an order comes in, regardless of who it comes from, we fulfill it. 

But that kind of neutrality doesn’t work in 2019. Instead, Wayfair looks mealy-mouthed and indecisive. While many companies want to remain on the sidelines of today’s political melee, it’s an increasingly untenable position. 

Consumers want to know where companies stand on issues they care about. 

Budweiser best Bud Light to become the most valuable beer brand in the world
The King of Beers, indeed. Just in time for the height of summer, Budweiser has taken over its fellow AB InBev offering Bud Light to become the most valuable beer brand worldwide. 

It did so through its sponsorship of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which exposed more than 3 billion football fans the world overincluding in valuable emerging markets like South Africa, China, and Australiato the classic American brand. 

This will be more important in the future, as millennials in the US shy away from alcoholic beverages, meaning companies will need to tap foreign markets to make up for lost demand. 

China, in particular, will be important, as the country’s emerging middle-class gains more disposable income and a concomitant interest in good beer. For the first time, a Chinese beer brand, Snow, cracked the Top 10.

Melanie LoBue 
Senior Director of Global Marketing
Reputation Institute

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