This week Capitol One consented to paying $210 million for using “deceptive marketing practices” in its advertisements and marketing campaigns. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government watchdog that regulates the industry, is reportedly just getting started as it mounts an effort to hold credit card lenders accountable for misleading consumers into purchasing unnecessary protection and monitoring services. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is also fining Capitol One for nearly 10 years of illegal billing practices. This marks yet another PR blow to the financial industry, which right now is about as popular as food poisoning.
Trust is key to public relations, and the public simply doesn’t trust credit card companies and financial brands. Not only has the irresponsible and reckless leveraging of funds by financial brands eviscerated our economy, but the public perceives credit card companies as dubious, conniving and willing to do anything to squeeze a profit from its own customers. The public has had enough of “small print” paranoia where they feel credit card companies are hiding their schemes to bilk money from bank accounts and obfuscating confusing policies that are advantageous only to CEOs currently sailing in the Mediterranean.
What can credit card companies and financial brands do to improve PR? Transparency, of course. The only way to rebuild trust with the public is to openly and honestly disclose policies, goals and strategies. The public understands that companies are there to make a profit; they don’t, however, appreciate being duped into parting with their money. Undisclosed fees and invented charges infuriate the public, and it’s surprising that not one credit card brand has come forth a simple, candid and forthright contract to offer customers. Unfortunately, when it comes to PR capital, credit card companies are in deep debt.