Pronoun badges backfire for embarrassed banks
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
4 July 2022
Pride month means only one thing: the chance for corporations to embarrass themselves with the latest right-on social media stunt. This year it was the turn of Halifax, which took to Twitter last week to declare that ‘Pronouns matter’ alongside an image of its new-style staff name badge, featuring the words ‘she/her/hers’ underneath. Other banks quickly piled in, with HSBC heralding this ‘positive step forward for equality and inclusion’ as ‘it’s vital that everyone can be themselves in the workplace.’
— Halifax (@HalifaxBank) June 28, 2022
Unfortunately though, it seems that these citadels of capital forgot to ask one crucial stakeholder group in all of this: the customer. Halifax account-holders – many of whom are no-nonsense Yorkshire types – don’t take too kindly to being lectured by banks, those paragons of virtue. Since Halifax’s statement, the bank is facing a reported ‘mass exodus’ of customers, with some cutting up their credit cards. Others are lodging complaints about Halifax’s social media manager who, when customers accused the bank of ‘virtue-signalling’, told them: ‘If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account.’
Many are now, er, doing exactly that. The Daily Mail reports that more than 150 social media users said they would boycott the former building society. One account holder claimed to have already pulled out investments and savings worth £450,000 while many more said they are closing ISAs. To add insult to injury was the criticism of the bank’s former employee Howard Brown, who became a household name as the face of Halifax for over a decade. He branded the bank’s attitude towards customers as ‘disgraceful’, saying:
That’s not the Halifax I knew, that’s not the customer service I knew. If this had happened when I was working there, we’d all have been shocked and disappointed. It’s a service industry – you should leave politics to the politicians. They’ve got this one wrong.
As for HSBC, they suffered a different form of embarrassment. After the Asian banking giant began trending on Twitter, a number of accounts began highlighting the bank’s money-laundering failures and pointing out its role in abetting the Chinese government’s crackdown on Hong Kong. HSBC not only publicly backed the draconian National Security Law but also froze the bank accounts of prominent pro-democracy activists in exile at the behest of Beijing.
Ironically, HSBC’s involvement in the pronouns campaign therefore led to various Twitter users being made aware of the bank’s own stance on China – hardly a sphere where the bank’s liberal ‘principles’ have been much in evidence. Its chief executive, Noel Quinn, gave a lamentable performance before MPs last year, in which he could only bleat that ‘I can’t cherry-pick which laws to follow.’
True, though cherry-picking is exactly what Quinn’s social media team seem to be doing when it comes to promoting certain messages to certain audiences. Mr S suspects that the pronoun badges won’t be seen much in China, for instance, where same-sex couples are unable to marry or adopt, and where there’s been a push back in recent years on depictions of homosexuals and ‘effeminate men‘ on television.
Hardly a record that fills you with Pride.