Nationwide: Reaping the rewards of demonstrating empathy

Recent research conducted by Ipsos across numerous categories brought to light the importance of Expectations, Context, and Empathy in driving brand choice.

The author(s)
  • Emmanuel Probst Global lead, Brand thought leadership, Ipsos
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More specifically, shaping expectations refers to what people feel and know about the brand and category. Understanding context means understanding what is happening in people’s lives, and the world around them. Acting with empathy is about understanding what’s important to people and how brands can add to their lives.

The weight of each of these three dimensions vary depending on the industry and the market the brand operates in. In the banking category in the UK, Ipsos research reveals that 17% of overall brand choice is about being perceived as having empathy for customers.

Therefore, empathy can serve as a competitive advantage in a crowded industry made of 15 banks where the top five banks control over 50% of the current account market1. Nationwide stands out with 150 points on the Ipsos empathy indicator, ahead of the market leaders.

Empathy has always been part of Nationwide’s brand positioning. In 2018, Nationwide brought empathy to life through it’s ‘Voices’ campaign: “a story of everyday people, helping everyday people.” Over the last few months, Nationwide has doubled down on its efforts to demonstrate empathy.

In June 2023, Nationwide showcased its commitment to members over profit, whereby it gave eligible members a share of its 2022/2023 profit. This ‘Fairer Share’ campaign was supported with the taglines: “We have something important we’d like to share. Our profits,” along with “When we profit, so do our members” and “we share our profits with our members, but we don’t like to shout about it.”

Most recently, the building society embarked on its biggest rebrand in 30 years, challenging competing banks while pledging to put its customers first. As rival banks close branches, Nationwide promises to keep branches open in all cities or towns in which it is based, until at least 2026. Indeed, research conducted by Nationwide revealed that 63% of people value their local branch, citing face-to-face service as the main reason (40%)2. By keeping its branches open, Nationwide demonstrates tangible empathy. 

As part of a regulatory requirement, Ipsos runs an independent biannual survey for the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) asking 1,000 customers of each of the 16 largest personal current account providers in Great Britain and approximately 500 customers of each of the 11 largest in Northern Ireland. Participants are asked if they would recommend their provider to friends and family . Results show that almost three quarters of customers would recommend Nationwide overall and its branch services, earning Nationwide fourth place in both rankings4.

To promote its initiative, Nationwide enlisted actor Dominic West to star in a new campaign; ‘A good way to bank’. In the ad, West impersonates the condescending bank manager of a fictional competitor bank who acts with complete disregard for his customers by planning to close branches. West’s character is then baffled by seeing his ex-wife walking into the Nationwide branch across the road while a voice over proclaims “unlike the big banks we [Nationwide] are not closing our branches.”

How can other banks and financial institutions up their empathy game?

Ipsos data reveals there is a real opportunity for the financial services sector to further communicate and demonstrate empathy, and some key scenarios in which empathy is vital to the customer experience.

Being mindful of generational attitudes

Age can influence the level of empathy a customer needs or expects as part of their service. For example, Gen Z find empathy particularly important having come to age amidst the stress and tumult of the pandemic and the current inflationary environment. This context causes Gen Z to prioritise their overall mental health and seek a sense of meaningful connection with others.

As a demographic that is now taking steps to become financially stable, by starting savings accounts and/or tracking expenses5, it is important for financial service providers to appeal to Gen Z’s needs. The good news is that younger generations (including Gen Z and Millennials) trust banks and financial services providers more than older generations, and more so than many other sectors.



Demonstrating empathy through digital services

Returning to the CMA data, we see that digital-only banks outcompete all the traditional brands in overall service quality (as well as online and mobile banking experiences), and a well-designed experience can build positive brand associations7, so what can traditional banks learn about improving the online user experience?

Great service quality in a digital FS world is characterised by several key attributes, such as transparency, security and trust, responsive customer support, efficiency, and speed8. However, service quality is further elevated when human and digital element work seamlessly together. For instance:

  • The human touch: Digital services (such as financial advice, product recommendations, or not having to repeat your issue/query when being transferred between departments) are more powerful when coupled with ‘human touches’, such as personal follow-ups or emails naming staff from a local branch rather than ‘the bank’.
  • Tailored services: Put the consumer in control by offering multiple communication channels for customer support, (including online chat, phone, email, and social media) and pre-empt moments when consumers will want and/or need access to ‘human’ support, such as when making big life decisions.
  • Putting things right: Providing quick and effective customer support when there are issues helps to bolster loyalty. Small things such as acknowledging when things have gone wrong, taking accountability and/or offering small gifts or gestures of good-will are deemed positive behaviours which foster loyalty and trust. 

In the financial services digital world, great service quality combines security, accessibility, transparency, and efficiency with personalisation and a commitment to customer support. Continuous improvement, regulatory compliance, and the availability of digital tools to help customers manage their finances are also crucial aspects of delivering exceptional service. In combining digital and in-person services, banks have the opportunity to dial up empathy in the moment’s consumers need it. 



  1. ©Ipsos 2023, Financial Research Survey (FRS), for 3 months ending 30 September 2023. Results based on a sample of around 23,707 adults (aged 16+). The survey contacts around 51,000 adults (aged 16+) a year in total across Great Britain. Interviews were face to face, over the phone and online, taking into account (and weighted to) the overall profile of the adult population.
  3. Find out more at:
  4. Personal banking service quality – Great Britain | Ipsos
  5. Inflation Essentials tracker, December 2022, The pandemic made Gen Z grow up. Here’s how brands can help them thrive | Ipsos
  6. Gen Z: Key takeaways, data, and strategic insights | Ipsos
  7. Bridging the Brand Experience Gap | Ipsos’ CX Forces framework
  8. Digital Banking: Is your app hitting the right notes with your customers? | Ipsos
The author(s)
  • Emmanuel Probst Global lead, Brand thought leadership, Ipsos

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