Hear from our Executive Director of Financial Services, Brian Elkins, on how Financial Services brands can apply lessons learned from previous crises to meet today’s challenges and show up in times of uncertainty.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” -Edith Wharton

For me, this quote highlights the importance of humanity and leadership in a time of crisis. Leaders can either be the source of light, guiding their teams and communities through the darkness, or they can reflect the light of others, amplifying the voices and actions of those around them. In times of crisis, leaders who embody empathy, transparency, agility, and collaboration can inspire others to do the same, creating a culture of resilience and strength that can overcome even the greatest challenges. This is true for people and brands.

As I chatted with clients and partners about the news last week surrounding the various challenges facing the financial markets, a consistent theme emerged from leaders: how can we as a brand show up in a more human way this time around? What does leadership look like and how can my brand flex that muscle to help our customers and employees navigate the uncertainty around us? Ironically, the answer is in the question itself: Take a page from human leadership to activate your brand as source of light and clarity.

The financial industry is no stranger to crisis. From the 2008 financial crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, financial brands have faced significant challenges that have tested their resilience and ability to adapt. During times of crisis, brand can be a source of light as opposed to amplifying the chaos and discomfort many are experiencing.

Learn more: How financial institutions can adapt to a rapidly evolving landscape

Rather than pivoting to stale SOP manuals and textbook corporate crisis management playbooks, employing key tenets of human leadership qualities – empathy, transparency, agility, and collaboration – puts the emphasis and focus squarely on the very personal and professional impact felt, thus retaining trust and a sense of community that is required to emerge stronger in the long run. Through these qualities, brands can both be the candle (leading through example) and the mirror (leading through collaboration and connection).

There are many books and articles on the topic of leadership, but I think these four serve as guiding lights for those managing financial brands in the current environment.


Empathy is a critical factor in building trust and maintaining strong relationships with customers and stakeholders during a crisis. Financial brands should show compassion and understanding for their customers’ challenges and concerns. This includes communicating in a clear and empathetic way, establishing or ramping up channels for two-way interactions, providing support where possible, and being flexible in responding to customers’ needs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many financial brands have shown empathy by offering payment deferrals, waiving fees, and providing financial assistance to those in need. This type of practical support can make a significant difference in customers’ lives and build goodwill that can last long after the crisis has passed.


Transparency is crucial during a crisis, as customers and stakeholders need to know what is happening and how the brand is responding. Financial brands should provide timely updates and information about the crisis and its impact on their business even if they are minimal—staying silent in not an option and acknowledging the unknown or unknowable is far more human than canned responses or sticking your head in the sand. This includes being transparent about any changes to products or services, as well as any measures being taking to mitigate the crisis’s effects.

During the 2008 financial crisis, many financial brands were criticized for their lack of transparency and accountability. By being transparent about their actions and decisions, financial brands can rebuild trust with customers and stakeholders and demonstrate their commitment to responsible business practices.

Learn more: For financial services, things just got (more) personal


Agility is essential during a crisis, as brands need to be able to pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances. Financial brands should be prepared to adjust their business operations and strategies to meet the changing needs of their customers and employees. This may include developing new products or services, shifting to digital channels, or adapting their customer service models.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many financial brands have shown agility by accelerating their digital transformation efforts and implementing new technologies to meet customers’ needs across every dimension of experience. By being agile, financial brands can remain competitive and responsive to changing market conditions, even during times of crisis, all while creating valuable muscle memory for the future.


Collaboration is critical during a crisis, as no brand can address a crisis on its own. Financial brands should work with other industry stakeholders, regulators, and policymakers to not just develop solutions to the crisis but demonstrate a collective resolve to support customers and main street. This includes sharing information and best practices, participating in industry-wide initiatives, and working together to support customers and communities in need. Demonstrating through partnership that the focus is on those impacted and not competitive advantage is critical to maintaining or engendering good will.

Learn more: Human brands: Guiding principles


During the 2008 financial crisis, many financial brands were criticized for their lack of collaboration and communication with regulators and policymakers. By working together, financial brands can minimize the negative impact of the crisis on their industry and emerge stronger in the long run.

It is often said that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. We can take heart in that notion, because with experience we can apply lessons learned from the past and our brands can be both the candle and the mirror, leading in harmony to do what’s humanly possible.

We are dedicated to helping our clients and others navigate unknown areas with confidence and grit, showcasing their leadership empathy, transparency, agility, and collaboration. Want to talk about what is happening? Reach out to me directly here: belkins@monigle.com.

Brian Elkins
March 21, 2023 By Brian Elkins