Donata Peksa, Head of Global Brand Experience for HSBC, navigates the critical issues surrounding diversity, transparency and inclusion, exploring why they matter in the matrix world of today, and how companies can learn to approach CSR more effectively.
Diversity and Inclusion
As Europe’s largest bank by total assets (reaching 2.93 trillion USD in 2021), HSBC have a great responsibility in appealing to a huge, international customer base. With over 2,000 branches in 65 countries, their customers hail from all backgrounds and walks of life. Therefore, it is important for the HSBC brand to represent equality and inclusivity among peoples.
Although this presents more of a challenge in some markets than others, Donata assures that measures are being taken to improve stakeholder diversity through more conscious marketing communications, which aim to slowly but surely move the needle to a kinder future. Donata shares a few key examples in this podcast.
Transparency and CSR
HSBC have recently faced backlash over greenwashing claims by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), leading to resentment of the bank in the media. Such issues are unfortunately quite prevalent in today’s world, where many companies strive to embody sustainability, yet lack to be fully transparent about their practices, strategies and methods.
As a counterpoint, Donata states that HSBC are carefully aiming to increase the transparency and honesty of their communications too, so that customers can feel more at ease and trustful knowing their bank is taking the right steps towards positive environmental change. Because we are all human; we all have flaws and mistakes, and so do brands. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge them before progress can be made, especially in times of crisis.
To discover more and learn how socially responsible attitudes can transform customer experiences, check out our full episode with Donata – available on all your favourite channels. Now including YouTube!
This article summarises podcast episode 84 “On Diversity, Transparency and Inclusion” recorded by CX Insider. For more information, listen to the episode, or contact Donata on her LinkedIn profile.
Written by Marcell Debreceni
Full Episode Transcript
Marcell: What does inclusion really mean? How does one of the world’s biggest banks handle representation on a global scale? And why is the question of brand transparency a vital one? You’re listening to CX Insider, and today we find out. Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast with me or host Marcel. In this episode, we sat down with Donata Peksa, Head of Brand Experience at HSBC, to discuss the challenges that come with her role and explore how HSBC are approaching today’s biggest issues from diversity to climate change and economic crisis. Enjoy the conversation and if you do, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel for CX Insider’s best content or share the episode and leave a comment down below to keep the talks going. By the way, this podcast is brought to you by ACF Technologies, Global Leaders in Customer Experience Management Solutions. All right, Donata, thank you very much for coming on the podcast. It’s lovely to meet you. Would you like to tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Donata: Yeah, absolutely. So thank you very much for having me. Really, really great opportunity. And so my name is Donata Peksa and I look after global brand experience for HSBC. So I’m based in London, part of the Global team. I’ve been in London for about ten years, but I’m actually originally from Poland. I’ve worked in a number of different countries, lived in a number of different countries. So I’d like to think that I’m a pretty good fit for HSBC because HSBC is a very international brand and I want to think that I’ve got an internationalist mindset that is kind of in the DNA of the company. So my background is actually, funnily enough, in linguistics, economics and European studies. But then after uni I gravitated towards financial services. I think a lot of people do, but unintentionally. And so, you know, 16, 16 years later, I’m still in financial services, having done a number of different roles on the business side and then moved to marketing a few years ago. So head of brand experience is an all encompassing role. You might think it’s a very broad term in a nutshell is basically a concept that is quite related to customer experience and it basically denotes the kind of feelings, reactions and ideas that a consumer gets after being part of an interaction with a brand.
Donata: And that interaction influences a future purchase either negatively or positively. So brand experience is not fully controlled by the company or by the brand. There are many different factors that can influence that brand experience. There could be an article in the paper, there could be a negative experience on the app. There could potentially be someone saying or doing something controversial that will all impact positively or negatively the perception of the brand in the eyes of the consumer. So obviously, my task, my exercise, my kind of my job, my responsibility is to deliver intentionally the best possible experience to consumers, to either our existing customers or our prospective customers, to the employees, to the communities we serve. Because that positive brand experience equals new customers, new opportunities, acquisition of consideration, and obviously better growth for the company.
Marcell: And HSBC recently went through a brand strategy update. Right. Could you walk us through a bit about what that entails?
Donata: Yeah, absolutely. So it has been kind of a fairly long journey for HSBC, and the way we wanted to do it is kind of inside out. So initially we went through a company purpose update and we had refreshed it in 2021. It is now opening up a world of opportunity and it’s both kind of our company, principle company purpose, but it’s also our brand promise. So the two of them, for the first time in a very long time, are actually convergent and the same. So for both for our internal colleagues and people, but also for our consumers, it was a result of an extensive consultation with, again, both colleagues and customers around the globe because it had to be representative of our 60, 64 plus countries. And we have been kind of really happy with the way it has landed with our people. And the colleagues really felt like they contributed to it. They felt that it was part of the company’s DNA, it was part of the vision of the company. And obviously opening up a world of opportunity has always been the role of HSBC, because we are present in so many markets, we really kind of leverage those opportunities and we connected our customers to those to those opportunities. So I think it has you know, it had a completely transformative impact on the organization. But more personally and more selfishly, it has also really helped me with my job because now I really kind of have that single minded brand purpose that we’re we’re kind of trying to deliver. And I think that really helped inform our company story. Yeah. And what is it that we’re trying to convey? What is it that we’re trying to promise? And also, it really helped to have a target audience defined before the process even started, because we know what we’re saying, where we know who we’re saying it to.
Greg: That’s fascinating. I from what I’ve seen in the conversations I’ve had recently, employee experience has really risen. And it’s important in overall brand strategy for many companies. And I think probably today is like, yeah, it’s highest that I’ve ever seen in terms of people focusing on it. So if I could ask, is there any one initiative or thing that you’ve done at HSBC in particular with the employees that you’re either proud of or is going well or maybe not well, but whatever you want to share is anything that stands out?
Donata: So one of the recent pieces of work that we have developed within our team was to bring that brand promise to life through a brand narrative and a campaign. So we developed last year a brand narrative, a brand platform that was called Open Questions. We are very proud of that of that work because it was a very extensively tested with our customers around the globe. But it’s also quite an interesting creative narrative because open questions are generally thought provoking. People love to be answering questions, asked questions. It means that it’s a dialogue. It’s a two way conversation with people that are listening to us. And because we are in a world with increasing levels of uncertainty, questions are everywhere and not everyone has is able to answer those. But I think it’s about asking questions. That’s where the power of questions lie. So we’ve developed a really beautiful creative route and we launched it in our firstly in our airport. So it’s life in some of our major, major hubs such as Hong Kong, UK, Singapore or China. So you will see it in jet bridges if you travel. And it’s basically a super priming campaign, which means that it’s to really raise people’s awareness of HSBC, but it’s also to really attract their attention, to really grab their view whilst they were travelling. The questions are from across our four strategic pillars. So they’re about international connectivity, they are about legacy, about wealth, they’re about diversity and inclusion, they are about human connections, they’re about digitisation, but especially kind of technology trends such as the increasing power of AI. And they are also about sustainability inevitably, because that’s one of the strategic pillars. So again, sustainability transitioning to net zero.
Greg: I feel like HSBC always seemed to be really hitting the main points in the world at the time, because whenever I travel, when I go to the airport, you always see the tunnel as you’re boarding the plane. They’ve always got really good messaging. I’m always reading it, thinking that’s really, Oh, that one was really good. And then like, that’s like a human, like is always so accurate, I think, to the time. So that’s really that’s great. It does credit to you and your team and stuff.
Donata: That’s really great to hear.
Marcell: As the head of brand experience for such a massively global and mature brand, Donata faces an incredible array of challenges in maintaining the legacy behind it. How does she approach her role and is it plausible to uphold consistency across such a matrix world?
Donata: I consider myself a bit of a brand steward or custodian. You know, the brand has been around for over 155 years and still counting, and I will only be around for a very small part of that time. So I think my responsibility is to look after it, to protect it, to do the best I can, to tell the brand story in a powerful way that really engages our audience. My role is to make sure that there is this kind of emotional connection that we can create because, you know, banking as an industry, as a category is a fairly utilitarian service. Right? So obviously, we need to find that that way and that connection with our consumers, with our prospects, with our people that really strike that emotional cord, the ability to connect with the mindset of the brand, which is very kind of open minded, which is very kind of tolerant, very, very diverse. It’s a real opportunity. However, it obviously comes with hurdles and a lot of challenges. It’s a huge organization. It has, you know, almost over 200,000 employees. There are multiple lines of business. So as you can imagine, you know, it’s like an oil tanker. It’s really difficult to change the direction of travel. There are many layers of this organization and just the ability to work in a fairly matrix environment. And that kind of culture of consensus is really important. So I would say on one hand, honor and absolute kind of sense of accountability and responsibility on the other. On the other hand, there is obviously a huge organization and what comes with size and reach is all very visible and tangible.
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Greg: On the note of challenges, you have a global brand, but you certainly localize it to market. How do you manage that? Because there’s an element, I guess, of your brand which is, yeah, we want to keep this consistent across every market, the 6065 markets. But then there’s also massive benefit and I guess almost need to like localize.
Donata: Yeah, absolutely. You’re 100% right. Obviously, when you are set in London and you are part of the global team, you need to be very mindful and very sensitive to those local nuances. So the way we operate is through very close partnerships with the markets that we work with. So. We develop a global narrative and global brand design system which is fairly flexible. So we kind of consider it to be an ecosystem or a sandbox within which our marketeers in the markets can play. And that global narrative is very closely linked to the company purpose, to our brand, purpose to our strategic pillars and to our values. But then each of the markets has their own business objectives. They have their own proof points or reasons to believe their own initiatives that support each of these pillars. And not all the four pillars are equally important four for each market. So what they then need to do and we help them in that process is to look at that global narrative, look at the global assets, look at their local strategy, and basically find an inflection of that global strategy, that narrative, the local narrative that really works for them, that really tells that story. So they will then have to go through similar kind of audience analysis. They will kind of list their own proof points and reasons to believe. And then through a process that we have done in numerous markets over a period of probably 3 to 6 months, we work out that local, local narrative, but it’s not a local brand strategy. It’s a global brand strategy that is localized to local needs. And that’s pretty much how that set up and arrangement works.
Greg: So that’s the that’s like the operating model, isn’t it, behind it where you have. Yeah. Okay. Fascinating.
Marcell: Yeah. And I suppose in different areas those pillars aren’t always going to apply. Like for example, with diversity and inclusion, different markets will have kind of different expectations or their own sort of cultures, you know, that obviously might conflict with what you have in your global brand strategy. So in terms of localizing the narrative, how do you keep the global strategy still at the heart without compromising it or trying to adapt too much to one place and then losing the brand focus at the same time?
Donata: It’s a very timely question, and we’ve had a number of conversations with our various markets about diversity and inclusion guidelines, which we’ve kind of launched as a team. They have been extensively tested with our kind of agency partners, but also some of the agencies that help us specifically with diversity and inclusion. I think what’s really important is to have those conversations and dialogues and to understand really well the lay of the land in each of the markets. So just to give you some examples, when we were launching the airport campaign, a lot of the creatives in the airport campaign are very diverse, so they include very diverse talent. Some of them have people with disabilities, some of them, you know, depict non-binary people. And so we had a number of conversations with the markets in order for them to be comfortable choosing the right suite of executions from a wide range of 175 executions. And obviously some markets were able to push it a bit further, such as Canada or U.K. or Australia and then some other markets like Singapore. We basically just had to make a bit of a statement, but not everything was acceptable in that in that market. And obviously we have to play by the by the local rules as well for in this particular instance, these executions have to be approved by the airport authority.
Donata: So where we’re trying to really work out a consensus is to push it a bit further than perhaps what is comfortable and typical and customary in the marketplace, but obviously be very respectful of the local nuances of the local culture and of the local sensitivity as well. And so far it has worked pretty well and we have received quite a lot of praise from certain markets where people were saying, I’m really happy to be an HSBC customer because it feels to me like you are pushing that envelope a bit further. And that is quite a unique thing. And whether it’s being a bit more vocal during Pride Month or whether it’s being a bit more vocal about accessibility and about kind of supporting people with disabilities, I think we are trying to do the best we can in terms of bringing those themes to the fore. But I will not pretend like it’s an easy conversation and I will not pretend like it’s always a successful one. So obviously we’re on a journey.
Greg: It’s difficult. These are very, very complex topics across the world, but they need to there’s so many areas of opportunity for us to move forward and I think it’s initiatives like that that does move the needle slowly in some places faster than others, but it certainly moves the needle. So it’s important to keep doing it.
Marcell: Nobody’s perfect. We get things right and we get things wrong. But acknowledging your missteps is the first stage of improvement. In that sense, Donata believes brands should be more like humans. HSBC’s drive to support environmentally progressive initiatives. They’ve recently faced negative. Of media coverage surrounding their campaigns. And though transparency is key to building long term customer trust and loyalty, this is both a controversial and complex issue. So let’s find out what Donata thinks about it all.
Donata: There is a huge expectation of brands and generally kind of public figures to be, to be frank, honest, genuine and transparent. And I think there’s there’s even more need of that and more appetite for it in the world that we live in and in the landscape that we live in, which is full of misinformation, full of fake news, very cluttered with different sources of information. And it’s very difficult, I think, for everyone to really assess which information is is is trustworthy and which isn’t. I think it also is a generational thing where the generation of millennials or Generation Z really trusts brands on the back of what they do rather than on the back of what they say. So if you make a statement and that statement is later proved wrong, or it’s or your actions don’t corroborate that statement, and obviously your the level of trust in your brand is completely diminished. So I think brands are also mindful of that and are putting in place and we are putting in place a whole number of guidelines and guidance for people who develop communications within HSBC. So I think presenting that two sided and balanced view where whenever you are, you know, you are praising yourself or you’re kind of complimenting yourself is very important. I think comprehension is another key element. So you cannot be issuing communications that are not clear to people. And by this I mean both marketing communications, but more importantly, customer communication. So if someone doesn’t understand what you are saying and they don’t understand the contract that you asked them to sign, well, that’s not right and that’s not fair.
Donata: So we have a lot of initiatives around accessible communications and making sure that the tone of voice that we use is very simple, very human, very customer centric. The content must be fully verified. So what you’re saying has to be backed up by relevant sources. It has to be backed up by case studies. You know, we must only say things that are factually correct and we have a very robust approval process in place to make that happen. That includes compliance, legal and control, etc. I think it has to be also kept relevant. So again, you wouldn’t be saying you wouldn’t be communicating to people information that doesn’t add value to them. So if it’s just for the sake of saying something, but it’s not benefit driven, it’s not benefit led, it’s not either informative or useful or interesting, then I would probably just not communicate at all. And I think that also applies not just to communications but to the imagery you use. So the imagery has to really be telling the story and you can’t be potentially misdirecting people or covering anything up with imagery as well. So yeah, these are kind of the layers, I suppose, of protocols that we have in place. But like you say, sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. And you know, humans and brands are generally imperfect.
Marcell: So it’s good to kind of reflect that as a brand so that people can relate to it more because, you know, everyone has their own flaws. And so seeing a brand really acknowledge that and move forward with that in mind, I think it’s great for building that customer trust. And also in an age of social media and everything, I think people are much more aware of that, a lot more knowledgeable about the companies they interact with. And so you really do have to be on your game about it and make sure that you are being mindful of these topics because it can easily come back through just like a simple comment on Twitter or anything, and it would just blow up. And then yeah, so it’s kind of becoming increasingly important, I think.
Greg: How do you handle that then? Like from a brand perspective, social media must be a blessing and a curse. Do you have an approach to that or do you see it as sort of that is just how people communicate social media? We have this happening at the moment where a lot of organisations or individuals are being sort of like, I don’t know, cancelled or whatever the term is. People are really going after them using social media. How do you face that challenge?
Donata: So I think we have a pretty clear kind of approach and attitude to community management and our social media. So on our, on the channels that we as a team kind of have in our responsibility and remit. If there is a specific comment from a customer or client that requires any follow up action. So, for example, you know, there is a complaint that they have or potentially they have delivered, they have been delivered a negative experience or a negative product or service experience, then we direct them to do the right team that will address that, that will help solve it when it’s just kind of comments. Rounds around HSBC as a brand or when comments are under our posts, we generally keep our engagement to a minimum. We don’t necessarily start conversations dialogue with our audiences on social media because, as you say, it probably is not going to end there. There are many different reasons and rationale for these comments, and they often come from various different places and it could be a never ending discussion. And sometimes there is no. They’re posted without a real need for a discussion. They are just posted because they can, but it’s obviously open so everyone can see them and one can see what the comments are. We are not hiding anything. We’re definitely not, you know, not removing them.
Greg: No, no. Yeah, People like to vent on social media.
Donata: Yeah. And they have you know, it’s their prerogative. Yeah.
Greg: I guess you work so hard to try and deliver the best customer experience, let’s say, to every customer, but with millions and millions of customers because we’re occasionally, you know, it doesn’t go to plan, but it sounds like you have the right core values in place that everyone knows this is how we handle this and this is the best way to do it.
Donata: And well, it’s a way to I think other brands will probably get into slightly more kind of engaged conversation with within their social media. And that’s a way as well. That’s a strategy.
Marcell: Some brands like go and insult the commenters back or like make it a whole joke out of it and thing. And then that’s what gets them even more exposure. And it’s, you know, that doesn’t work for everyone. Obviously, in a way, promoting diversity and inclusion should also mean that you’re considerate and accepting of others who view the world differently and those whose perspectives and philosophy differ from your own. This stance of inclusion resonates across multiple pillars of society, including customers with various economic situations too. In our time of inflation, How is HSBC’s tackling the cost of living crisis From a customer experience angle?
Donata: The way we react to this landscape will vary slightly market by market, but for everyone, the crisis will manifest itself in a slightly different way, which is why there isn’t really a, you know, a one size fits all approach or answer to it. The best way to approach it is really to just communicate that there are ways and there are means and there are solutions, and you just need to encourage people through call to action to have that conversation. And then whatever your specific situation is, there are solutions for that. And then in other markets there might be slightly different problems. So I think it all needs to start with a very robust social listening and research exercise just to understand what are the top five pain points that people are struggling with as part of that cost of living crisis and then to really manage the proposition accordingly first and then to develop a campaign around it. But it has to be an orchestrated effort between brand marketing, product proposition team and obviously, and it has to be aligned with the strategy of the bank all together. The thing is, it has to be customised, right? It has to be personalised and that’s why it varies from one market to another.
Greg: That makes a lot of sense. I think definitely one thing I’ve picked up over the years with customer experiences, brand image and brand equity. It’s quite commonly built in the toughest of times. So when the chips are down for a customer, i.e. they face a challenge or they’re stuck in, they’re in a difficult situation, especially in a financial sense, that’s when your brand, if it then plays a positive role in a helping role, that’s when I think you create the most positive brand experience for the long term. That’s where you, you know, I don’t know what you think, but like, that’s how I sort of see it, because it’s good when you look at a brand, when the times are good, but when the times are not so good, that’s when you know.
Donata: Yeah, I think it’s it’s a very valid observation. Completely, completely agree with that. I would say it’s a little bit like with people, right. It’s usually in times of personal crisis or difficult periods and rough patches that you see who you are, who your real friend is. And if they were there in times of need, then you will remember them for a very long time and you will probably stick with them and respect that friendship. And I think it’s very similar to the situation of brands. I think there is also another element of it, which is about in times of uncertainty and crises, a lot of people kind of gravitate towards safe havens and, you know, and safe brands and safe pairs of hands. And I think that’s where typically there is kind of a flight to quality and safety.
Marcell: And it must be obviously more challenging as well because it’s such a massive global brand. The impacts of what you do could be bigger or smaller compared to smaller brands. So like the positives are bigger and the negative backlash might be bigger as well. And I think it all brings it back to that point of diversity and inclusion and transparency that we’ve been talking about that in. When it comes to like an economic crisis as well, you have to be considerate about all those things and about how different people might react to the services that you’re providing. Through your brand image and how they will perceive you as a result. And like Greg said, these hard times are what will shape that perception for years to come. Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed the podcast and if you did, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel for access to full length videos and YouTube shorts? You can also like share and comment on the episode to keep the conversation going. If you want to join our growing community of thought leaders, head over to LinkedIn and follow us at the inside of podcast to stay updated. Thanks again. I’ve been Marcell and I’ll see you in two weeks, but for now, enjoy our rapid fire questions. And by the way, this podcast has been brought to you by ACF Technologies, the Global Leaders in Customer Experience Management Solutions. So my first question is, if you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would that be?
Marcell: It’s a great answer. Yeah. Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Donata: I love beaches. I would say in terms of a location, a beach, in terms of a country, probably Spain.
Marcell: Okay. So Spanish Beach. What was the last TV show that you loved?
Donata: Probably You. All right. Okay. It’s a bit dark.
Greg: That’s a pretty good one.
Marcell: Which season is your favourite?
Donata: Probably the first. Yeah.
Marcell: Yeah. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Because it like, you feel like empathy for this psychopath, and it’s really like, it’s just.
Donata: It’s really disturbing. Yeah, it’s really disturbing because I don’t want to.
Marcell: Yeah. What is your favourite snack?
Donata: And Snickers.
Greg: I agree with you. I think that’s my favourite, too. Yeah. Yeah.
Marcell: Have you tried… Do you like peanut butter?
Donata: I love peanut butter.
Marcell: They have these, like, little ones that have peanut butter inside as well. And it’s so nice.
Donata: I think for peanut butter, I always go for Reese’s. Yeah, but yeah, I’ll try. I’ll try that one as well.
Marcell: And my final question, what career did you dream of having when you were younger?
Donata: I always wanted to be a singer, but given the fact that I have no voice at all, it just was very difficult, slash impossible.
Marcell: Okay, that’s fair enough.