Originally posted by David Poole and Kristen Singer on LinkedIn.

Which bank will be the first to enable customers to control their pronoun used?

I collaborated with Kristen Singer to explore this question and write this article. Kristen is New York co-chair for our employee diversity program Publicis Groupe Égalité. She has worked on various financial services accounts and agreed that if banks foster a culture of acceptance internally this’ll radiate outwards. I also talked to the LGBTQ diversity lead at one our banking clients who agreed to pursue this idea within the bank.

Mastercard True Name lets the customer pick their name, a small change that is huge for many LGBTQ customers

Here’s the background: Mastercard has made a start and posted a video of Transgender and Non-Binary customers explaining how it feels to hand over a credit card with a name that does not reflect how they identify. Every day the Transgender community is denied the most basic right of having their chosen name used on the simplest of documentation including identification cards, medical forms, etc, so the reaction to seeing their ‘true name’ on their new card is really moving (watch the video) #acceptancematters.

In the rideshare category, Lyft added pronouns to the app settings allowing drivers and riders sensitive to pronouns to properly represent their identities and avoid the painful (and awkward) mistake of misgendering before they even get into a car.

Every year in June, most banks “rainbow-wash” their brands with rainbow logos and nods to LGBTQ Pride, but in July the rainbows are shelved for next year like a holiday campaign. Pride marketing in 2019 was evident even in middle America without any meaningful signs of backlash. However, despite the good intention, this shallow attempt can actually have a negative response as the LGBTQ community feels they’re only capitalizing on queer consumers, particularly given the high proportion of affluent LGBTQ clients. To get beyond the superficial, the commitment needs to be year-long and address the systemic obstacles to acceptance.

The place to start is inside the bank culture. At Publicis Sapient our email signature files now have a pronoun option. Adoption has been light, but for those using the feature it takes some of the burden off the individual to communicate their preference while demonstrating company support.

There’s been an uptick in inclusion and diversity initiatives as companies are now being held accountable publicly. The Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index rates bank cultures on this sort of measure. For example, Fifth Third Bank faired best in the latest report (see CEI website). Fifth Third’s tagline “The Curious Bank” seems increasingly apt. Yet actions speak louder than indexes and ad campaigns. The first bank to add an app setting like Lyft that will work across touchpoints could have a real impact and help make this table-stakes.

Of course, there is money in diversity, but there is business value in doing it right. If employees are proud of their company and feel accepted, the quality of the work increases and attrition drops. If LGBTQ customers see themselves supported and represented they will actively choose those brands over others. In the race to be customer-centric, this feels like territory where first movers can really stand out, and see outsized impact.

LGBTQ bank customers could have a different life journey, and there’s an opportunity to map the different life events and timelines and design for it, similar to the way ElleVest was oriented around unique aspects of the female investor journey. Banks could accommodate non-legal marital status, design more flexible joint accounts, or advice for partners. Incidentally GayVest is not yet taken, though you’ll be competing with couture in natural search.

Banks tend to be conservative, and last to adopt changes. There will be a backlash among some customers, and logistical challenges to making it work across channels and customer databases. It may even be frustrating to have a partial fix where the pronoun works on app, while not in letters received by mail. Despite this, let’s start now.

I have two teenage kids, and have watched as several of their schoolmates have changed pronouns. On one hand, this has become increasingly mainstream, at least in our community. On the other hand, calling a kid I’ve seen grow up by a new pronoun has been hard to remember to do, and sometimes awkward. I consider myself progressive, but this feels entirely new and it takes practice. However, respecting that change and making space for these kids has brought us closer – a similar outcome available to banks if they build the same practices.

My takeaway for banks is to direct diversity dollars into capabilities that make a difference to the day to day customer experience every day. On a superficial level, campaigns like Mastercard True Name offer great publicity. The first bank that does it in a particular market will create buzz. The second and third, not so much. So, consider pronouns as just one of many potential small, but meaningful tweaks to the customer experience that will foster acceptance. None of us have all the answers, yet it feels like a rich area to explore where small bets can really make a major impact on some, and a halo effect to all. How can you effect change in your organization?