multicolored pawns in a circle

It’s no secret that Bank of America has suffered some reputation hits since the financial crisis – from high-profile lawsuits blaming the bank’s lending practices for the housing bust to public outcry over plans to charge new fees to checking account customers.

Most recently, the bank received the worst score of the four major commercial banks in a survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, sliding 3% to 66, its lowest score in a decade.

Bank of America has also undergone major structural changes – downsizing the bank’s operations, cutting back on staff, closing branches and exiting certain business.

Now, in a position to grow and in serious need of repairing its image with customers, the bank has announced a rebranding initiative aimed at building more personal connections between bankers and customers.

At the end of the day, the bank’s success really hinges on its employees: if they buy-in to the initiative, if and how they adopt the new story, whether they are able to build better relationships with customers. After all, employees are the face of the bank – their behavior shapes the majority of each and every customer experience. If those behaviors are not aligned with the new brand strategy, customers will have no reason to believe anything has really changed. A critical imperative for Bank of America’s rebranding, then, is to ensure employees are on board.

In late January, CEO Brian Moynihan sent a letter to its nearly 270,000 employees telling them they had to make it easier for customers to do business with the bank. The bank received a slew of media attention around this outreach, with most of the focus on the vehicle of communication – a letter, really? We must admit, we were surprised as well. Was a somewhat scolding letter sent to each employee’s home really the best approach to delivering such an important message?

To be effective, employee engagement must clearly articulate to each employee how important their role is in the banks success and provide them with the tools they need to live the brand. What should this new brand mean to employees? Why should they get behind it? What are the right brand behaviors from retail to the back office? The answers must be communicated in a way that is illuminating and inspiring, not polarizing or reprimanding. Only when employees feel a sense of shared purpose, a fundamental connection to the bank’s new vision, will Bank of America be able to deliver on its new brand promise.