I read a meme on Facebook earlier today. It said: Get you someone who cares about you as much as South Africans care about the FNB logo.
I laughed but I knew exactly what the poster meant. South Africans have not desisted from overthinking this new logo, with many being salty around its design.
We South Africans have strong opinions and we have jokes. Oh, we have jokes for days. And we do not shy away from airing them – it’s kind of our new struggle song – slip up and we will, we will roast you!
As the finance journalist on our team, I attended the unveiling of the new logo at Bankcity, which felt a lot like a P Diddy’s All-White party, but severely splashed with shades of turquoise for obvious reasons. If it’s one thing FNB can do right, it’s throw a party.
But before I could even venture off to this gig, I was briefed on what to get: “Not too much PR stuff, get the news. We’re doing an article, not an advert,” my editor had said. I was 100% in understanding of that. We report on what our financial institutions are actually doing versus what they say they are doing. And FNB always has a lot to say about what they are doing.
I don’t know why though. It’s not like they need the free publicity. The bank is almost two centuries old. It holds just over a 30% market share in SA and boasts some of the most used products on the market. It also boasts the lion’s share of digital users on a banking app in the country.
It has had the same aqua colour and acacia tree logo for 35 years. Ask any South African who FNB is, and even a child knows the acronym belongs to a bank. Millennials grew up watching the Karate Kid feeling the maybe Mr Miyagi’s bonsai tree logo bore a bit too close a resemblance to FNB’s tree.
The “how can we help you?” slogan is etched into the core memory of Gen Xs who had to endure the tail end of analogue platforms before the days of streaming.
Everyone single South African at every level of society can mindlessly identify this bank by its branding.
So why the sudden overhaul of the logo? Was it even necessary?
I mean, rebranding costs no small change. Just two years ago, Absa rebranded after its rest of Africa leg separated from Barclays.
It introduced its new colour pallet of reds, pinks, purples and oranges to its 1276 branches across South Africa and that alone cost them around R12 billion – that includes coats of highly-tinted paint, new posters, signage, banners, and uniforms for its staff.
We can understand that that was a necessary rebrand. The bank needed to portray its African identity and heritage – and more so its divorce from its former UK counterpart.
While Absa customers also delivered snarky push-back on social media – some saying red represented danger and the colour pallet felt ominous, I quite enjoyed the hues of the African sunset the bank’s marketing team tried to capture, so much so that I got my nails done in the same colours that week to support the change. If anything, the change in branding alerted me to the fact that Absa was making a turn in the way it was doing business.
FNB will likely undergo a similar process and will probably need a similar budget. As is, they have already unveiled the new uniform its staff will wear, and as a South African with an opinion – I think the colour is a lot like that of Nedbank’s. But I was impressed that the options included maternity wear and a hijab.
But again, is this change and expense necessary?
I decided I would ask the CEO, Jacques Celliers, himself. So at the event, I asked his colleagues on his team if I could meet with him for 2 minutes. I just had one short question with regard to the Change Needs Help campaign… Why the change in the first place?
I met with a lady named Obakeng. She was quite typical of a bank employee – absolutely stunning, well-kept and with a strong personality.
She told me that she could take me up to meet Jacques in 20 minutes, but I just needed to give her some time to get him to stand still. As promised, she came to get me and rather slickly led me through the streets of Bankcity, weaving a way through the throng of revellers to the elevator that would take us to Jacques.
The crowd seemed to be growing stronger. As the lifts opened, we went in, but just then more and more people crammed into it too.
A windowless metal box closing in
Now here’s the thing. I am extremely claustrophobic. As a South African woman, I too am a statistic of a crime meted out against an individual. There was a moment when I had waited for my attacker to unlock the door and let me out to get help before I succumbed to my injuries, and that is the sort of anxiety that never seems to leave you.
Closed doors and enclosed spaces bring that anxiety to memory. So as the doors of the elevator began to close, I pushed myself out and apologised to Obakeng that I could not do the interview.
I felt terrible for this; like an irresponsible journalist who was not willing to do whatever it takes to get her story – especially since Obakeng worked things around and managed to get me a slot to do the interview. And I so badly wanted to ask that question burning inside of me.
But Obakeng did not need much of an explanation. She exited the lift with me. “It’s okay,” she soothed, “We’ll get the next one.”
Stop the rush
Again people crowded towards the lift, waiting to be taken to the floors they worked on. At this point, Obakeng – using her strong personality – held a hand across the doors as they glided opened. “Guys, I know you’ve been waiting. But please can you take the next one. This lady is claustrophobic and if we all cram in, we will cause her another panic attack. Please.” We all felt her assertiveness, as she was ready to fight anyone off who didn’t yield to my needs. They took a step back and let me through. As I braced myself, the doors closed and the lift took Obakeng and I to Jacques.
I was able to breathe again when the doors opened and we made our way to him.
“I just need 2 minutes,” I said to him.
“Go for it,” he said.
And so I asked: Tell me about the change in logo; why was there a need to change one of most recognised identities in the country?
“Because we are changing the way we bring about client experience,” he explained. He said that FNB was looking to be more advice-led than product-led. He clarified that they were moving away from traditional banking methods and more towards solution delivery.
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This is very PR speak for the fact that they were not offering a one-size-fits-all service philosophy as other banks were to their customers. It seems that the bank has come to understand that with what we as South Africans have been through – being robbed and traumatised by covid, bashed by inflation, and left wounded by global events out of our control – society has changed. Our needs have changed. And we need an institution that can take a step back, get off that moving metal box with us, and understand when we just can’t make it anymore. I think FNB is now going to find new ways with reimagined offerings and user experiences to lift us up to meet our goals. At least, this is what I hope.
The change in logo feels like it is there to mark the change in the bank’s philosophy – in the way it was about to service its clients, keeping these altering domestic and global economic factors in mind. All we had to do was sit back and take note.
Second biggest bank in the country
Which we are doing. Whether you are going loco over the logo or not – you’ve somehow taken note. Let’s be real for a moment – being the second biggest bank in the country (only preceded by that of Standard Bank), FNB doesn’t need to anyone’s approval of its logo. They’re obviously doing something right if such a large portion of the population are trusting them with their hard-earned money. What they do need, is for you to notice that there is a change so to expect different from them.
Like in the case of the Absa colour pallet – a few months down the line, we will forget the new design resembles a panty line or is giving off coffee shop vibes (as some tweeps have pointed out) and we will get used to it.
If anything, we will take back the lesson that times are changing and we need to adapt to the change too in order to survive. Sometimes that change needs a little help. And as FNB asks, how can we help you, We ask: Can FNB still even help us? I guess we’re about to see whether they will live up to the promised customer experience. Rest assured, we will always report on what our financial institution are actually doing versus what they say they are doing. My experience with them at Bankcity was a good one though as I could definitely feel the change on the winds. And I’m sure it won’t be long till other financial institutions follow suit.