In the scene the film’s main character, George, has just got married, but en route for his honeymoon notices a crowd outside his family’s business, Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association (ie building society). Bad guy, local banker, Henry F. Potter, has engineered a crisis that has resulted in customers rushing to the association’s office to reclaim their cash deposits.
The lessons in persuasion come in the form of the strategies George uses. Firstly he denies there is a problem – only to be drowned out by sirens of police cars driving by. As denial has failed, he counters with logic, explaining to customers that their money isn’t actually kept at the bank as it is invested in the mortgages of their neighbours.
Customers complain that Potter has offered them 50% of their investment in return for their shares in the association, so they will go to him instead. Jumping over the counter – a symbolic gesture of aligning himself with the customers – George makes a personal appeal, showing he understands the customers’ personal circumstances.
With the support of his new bride, he then takes their $2,000 honeymoon cash and asks each customer how much money they need to tide them over. The first customer demands his full $242 – which George pays. But other customers recognise that George is making a personal sacrifice and ask for a few dollars.
After helping all of his customers, George realises he has saved the business – and still has $2 over to place in the safe:
“A toast to Papa Dollar and Mama Dollar,” he says. “You’d better have a family real quick.”
(BTW, I’ve typed all this from memory showing the quality of the Frank Capra movie).
The crisis facing Northern Rock has similarly seen thousands of customers demanding their cash from the bank. The message from financial experts to “not panic” has been ignored and billions have been paid back to those fearful for their savings.
However, I feel there is more to this than simply a need for better and clearer communications. George’s success came through a personal connection, existing trust and making a sacrifice himself.
We rarely have any personal connection with our bank – no longer is the bank manager a person of local standing or even known to the customers. We have little trust in banks as they treat customers with contempt and seek every opportunity to charge us for the pleasure of putting our hard earned money in their “care”. The message “don’t panic” is an insult to people who rationally fear they will be victims here.
And, of course, customers don’t feel those responsible for the crisis are making any sacrifice – although it is possible many employees, including CEO Adam Applegarth, will lose their jobs.
Crisis communication is about more than conveying rational arguments. Persuasion relies considerably on trust, which is earned through empathy and respect rather than demanded.
I wonder whether, by the time customers have finished with Northern Rock, its cash assets and share price will be worth as much as a single Mummy and Daddy Pound.