Joseph Barratt
Jul 26, 2023

How the fintech industry should approach communications in a recession

Some sectors and companies focus on quick wins over the longer-term foundational building as they face difficulty raising funding, pressures on profitability, and a general sense of gloom and doom. But fintech appears to be bucking the trend, says Mutant's Joseph Barratt.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

It used to be that public relations was the first to suffer budget cuts in a recession. Not so much anymore. Amongst the significant shifts – we’re seeing some sectors and companies focus on quick wins over the longer-term foundational building as they face difficulty raising funding, pressures on profitability and a general sense of gloom and doom. But the value of PR is more apparent than ever.   

Within this, fintech has emerged as a real standout. Part of this is likely because Asian fintechs are somewhat bucking macroeconomic difficulties. Investment in the region hit a record high of $50.5 billion in 2022, and the outlook remains bright, with incomes continuing to rise and adoption of digital technology expanding. Equally, perhaps businesses have learnt something from past economic downturns – rather than cutting spending, they’re staying the course in the hopes of reaping more significant rewards in the long-term.   

Whether you’re a big, established player or an upstart, communications will continue to play a disproportionate role in long-term brand building. After all, a brand that gets remembered gets used.   

The state of fintech communications

Despite companies continuing to invest in PR and communications, clients are still presenting budget challenges. Many want to do more with less, while others are bogged down by long contractual lead times, sometimes by as much as six months.

In these situations, we urge brands to move away from significant, splashy events and product announcements and focus on storytelling via social media, beefy thought leadership pieces, and ongoing media relations.    

Media relations are proving especially important when tackling another critical challenge – Southeast Asia’s shrinking mainstream media pool and a financial media that skews its coverage toward more traditional industries.  

Despite being a hub of business and economic activity, Singapore, for example, is now dominated by two publishing houses – Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp. This makes it challenging to land coverage, but with fewer correspondents and a lack of actual “beat” reporters, understanding of emerging fintech business models and crypto remains woefully low.  

Our advice to counter both issues is the same – double down on your owned media channels, whether through short-form content on social media or long-form content on your website and app.  

For example, HitPay – the payment gateway solution for SMEs in Singapore –  is excellent at B2B outreach. Although the company scaled fast, it remains accessible through a direct, personalised, multi-platform approach that feels genuine.  

Indeed, scaling owned content efforts couldn’t come at a better time, with one industry study citing business as the “only global institution to be both competent and ethical”. In other words, people trust businesses more than they do other sources.  

Finally, don’t scrimp on crisis communications. No business wants to be in a sticky situation – but planning for it is critical to coping. This is as true for upstarts navigating evolving regulations as it is for established banking and financial institutions facing market, credit and operational exposures.  

The elephant in the room

As I write this, PR agencies and communication professionals are grappling with rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, with 65% of comms leaders predicting its transformative impact on the PR industry, one recent study found. Yet, industry leaders are not acting quickly enough to capitalise on the opportunities (58%) or manage the risks (59%) posed by AI.   

These findings track. At industry events, communications professionals on the client and agency side get how fundamentally disruptive AI can be – but there’s little consensus on the way forward. It is worth noting that AI as a tool in marketing and comms is even more sensitive in the fintech industry.  

Finance ministries and other regional statutory boards have strict rules about what can be said to who and when. So while AI in comms might be a valuable tool for analytics and idea generation, nothing has been released to date that suggests it can do the bulk of the heavy lifting in campaigns.   

What is more apparent is that layering compelling ideas and subject matter expertise with a unique tone and voice keeps readers interested, especially in highly-regulated industries.    

The communications landscape is changing rapidly, and the stakes are high – but so are opportunities for those willing to take them.   

Joseph Barratt is the chief executive officer at Mutant Communications

Campaign Asia

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