In a still-volatile financial climate, building and maintaining strong brand is a vital part of every bank's operations. The Banker's Top 500 Banking Brands listing ranks the leading names.

Once counted among the most trusted and stable of brands, many banks have experienced enormous reputational damage in recent years. Public and investor opinion turned on the financial sector as the crisis got under way in earnest back in 2008, and as blame was apportioned, banking brands suffered.

Now, after a period of damage control, many formerly well regarded banks are attempting to rebuild their battered reputations. At the same time, those, often emerging market institutions, which made it through the crisis relatively unscathed are seizing the chance to consolidate and develop brand value.

In the upper echelons of The Banker's Top 500 Banking Brands these two groups are strongly apparent. US banks in particular have staged something of a resurgence since 2010. Bank of America has emerged as the most valuable banking brand globally, while Wells Fargo clinched second place, relegating 2010 winner HSBC to third in the process. US brands posted strong increases in brand value across the Top 500, supported by increased performance expectations and renewed efforts to engage with disenchanted consumers.

Elsewhere, the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) experienced strong growth in brand value. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) took eighth place, while China Construction Bank rounded out the top 10, indicating that so far, Chinese banks have been unaffected by fears that the country's economy is becoming overheated. Meanwhile, Brazil's strong economic growth helped to boost Banco Bradesco to sixth place in the ranking, and saw Itaú climb to 11th, from 25th last year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the banks which have suffered most tend to have connections to the countries which make up the debt-plagued eurozone periphery, although Spanish giant Santander still netted fourth place and improved on 2010's brand value. French banks also lost out, with many of the country's larger names experiencing a significant downwards slide.

Economic growth

Market capitalisation was one of the many factors taken into account when calculating the ranking. As a result, the resurgence of US banks in the Top 500 is in part backed by renewed optimism in the financial sector. This is also true for Brazil, where significant economic growth has allowed the country's banks to improve the standing of their respective brands. "The appreciation of the Bradesco brand value is a result of the way the value of Brazil itself has appreciated," says the bank's CEO, Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi. "We have the advantage of working on the Brazilian market, which has managed to consolidate itself as a benchmark for a global economy that is still recovering."

Mr Cappi adds that this economic expansion created new opportunities to develop the Bradesco brand across Brazil. "This [growth] prospect reinforced our need to position ourselves in the market through our concept of being present in 100% of Brazil's towns and cities. We want to be close to the client and the non-client anywhere in terms of geography and also through any kind of remote access, whether the internet, or [Apple's] iPad or iPhone."

A spokesperson for ICBC also stresses the importance of parallel brand and business development, commenting that the bank looks to "continuously enhance brand building, deepen the relations between the brand building and business development" and that "the coordination and co-operation of the brand building and business marketing departments [has] strengthened [ICBC's] ability to react to market conditions".

Brand building

Broader economic performance certainly counts for a lot, but it is but one of many ingredients that go into creating a strong brand, says Brand Finance CEO David Haigh, who notes that the top-ranked banks all possess a memorable visual identity, consistent and recognisable branding, as well as strong advertising slogans.

Another commonality among many of 2011's high-ranking banks is that they have seized the opportunity to consolidate and simplify their branding after mergers or acquisitions, Mr Haigh adds. "Consolidating banking brands saves money, makes life easier and increases brand value." Bank of America, for example, now incorporates Merrill Lynch, while Wells Fargo has absorbed Wachovia's operations. This trend further contributed to the increased success of US banks in the ranking, Mr Haigh says.

This applies in many countries. Itaú – the biggest winner in this year's ranking – merged with Unibanco back in 2008. Likewise, Santander, which is the most valuable brand in the retail banking sector and in Europe, completed its global rebranding operation in 2010 (incorporating various UK banks and Banco Real in Brazil) and has since made savings of 22% on its total marketing budget in two years., despite a number of high-profile international campaigns. "[In 2010] we still had some very valuable brands in the group such as Alliance and Leicester, but they have now changed to Santander," says María Sánchez del Corral, head of global branding, marketing and corporate advertising at Santander. "One strong brand is good in terms of efficiency." The approach appears to be paying off. In the UK, for example, just 20% of consumers were familiar with the bank three years ago, but this figure has now increased to 98%, the bank says.

Santander's 2010 international marketing strategy included the first year of the bank's sponsorship of the Ferrari team in motorsport's Formula One (the bank previously sponsored the McLaren team), a strategy which has already paid for itself and led to an increase in media coverage and brand awareness, Ms del Corral adds.

Touting transparency

Mr Haigh cautions however that while good advertising can draw attention to a brand, publicity must be backed up with performance. "The things that really drive performance are the deliverables which people remember, the attributes which define [the banks] as providers," he says.

"It's about expressing our commitments through all communication channels and delivering on those commitments in customers' experiences with us," says Dave King, senior vice-president of enterprise marketing with Wells Fargo. "If those things are in place consistently over the years, then you have a good chance to build a strong brand."

Bank of America has also continued with its conventional advertising campaigns, but that only constitutes a small part of its brand building and marketing tactics, says its global strategy and marketing officer Anne Finucane. "In the past, brands were built traditionally on what the quarterly numbers said plus an advertising budget and good PR," she says. "Now, we need to deal with the reality of an imperfect industry, which certainly has had its issues, but is working hard [to remedy them]. We as a company are demonstrating there are lessons learned… The idea of brand management is to recognise the reality, [and] to do whatever we can in terms of what matters most to consumers and contributing to public policy to embrace that which we think moves the world economy and domestic economies forward."

To achieve this, Bank of America has been active in engaging with various public policy initiatives, Ms Finucane says, including supporting the US Dodd-Frank Act's Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Bank of America also holds regular meetings with electoral officials and community advocates and has appointed a number of consumer policy executives.

Ms Finucane also credits Bank of America's early repayment of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, the appointment of a new CEO in the shape of Brian Moynihan, and its philanthropic efforts for improving public perception of the brand.

A more earnest, humble approach to publicity coupled with a tentative admission that the industry has made mistakes has become increasingly conspicuous over the past 12 months. Even Goldman Sachs, known for its often rather aloof stance on such issues, has introducing a 63-page, 39-step plan designed to address criticisms of its business practices and improve treatment of clients.

How much of a genuine impact these industry-wide efforts will have remains to be seen, but a change of attitude may well be needed to ensure continued success and safeguard brand reputation. Despite strong results, negative publicity in 2010 damaged Goldman's brand value to the extent that the bank slipped to 16th position globally, down from seventh in last year's ranking.


The methodology employed by Brand Finance in this Top 500 Banking Brands listing uses a discounted cash-flow technique to discount estimated future royalties at an appropriate discount rate, to arrive at a net present value of the trademark and associated intellectual property: the brand value.

The steps in this process are to:

1. Obtain brand-specific financial and revenue data.

The net revenue was then segmented into the following revenue streams: retail banking, commercial banking, wholesale banking, investment banking, bancassurance, asset management, mortgages, wealth management and credit cards.

2. Model the market to identify market demand and the position of individual banks in the context of all other market competitors

Three forecast periods were used:

- Estimated financial results for 2010 using Institutional Brokers Estimate System (IBES) consensus forecast.

- A five-year forecast period (2011 to 2015) based on three sources: IBES, historic growth and gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

- Perpetuity growth based on a combination of growth expectations (GDP and IBES).

3. Establish the royalty rate for each bank.

This is done by:

- Calculating brand strength – on a scale of zero to 100 – according to a number of attributes such as asset strength, emotional connection, market share and profitability.

- Determining the royalty rate for each of the revenue streams mentioned in step one.

- Calculating future royalty income stream.

4. Calculate the discount rate specific to each bank, taking account of its size, geographical presence, reputation, gearing and brand rating.

5. Discount future royalty stream (explicit forecast and perpetuity periods) to a net present value – ie. the brand value.

Royalty relief approach

Brand Finance uses a 'relief from royalty' methodology that determines the value of the brand in relation to the royalty rate that would be payable for its use, were it owned by a third party. The royalty rate is applied to future revenue to determine an earnings stream that is attributable to the brand. The brand earnings stream is then discounted back to a net present value. The 'relief from royalty' approach is used for two reasons: it is favoured by tax authorities and the courts because it calculates brand values by reference to documented third-party transactions; and it can be carried out based on publicly available financial information.

Brand ratings

These are calculated using Brand Finance's ßrandßeta® analysis which benchmarks the strength, risk and potential of a brand, relative to its competitors, on a scale ranging from AAA to D. It is conceptually similar to a credit rating. The data used to calculate the ratings comes from various sources including Bloomberg annual reports and Brand Finance research.

Brand ratings definitions:

AAA: Extremely strong

AA: Very strong

A: Strong

BBB-B: Average

CCC-C: Weak

DDD-D: Failing

Valuation date: All brand values in the report are for the year ending December 31, 2010.

Winners 2011
Losers 2011
Retail banking top 10
Commercial banking Top 10
Wholesale banking Top 10
Investment banking Top 10
Wealth management top 10
Credit cards and bancassurance top 10
Mortgages and asset management top 10
Total brand value by sector
Total brand value by region
Total brand value by country


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Top 500 Banking Brands