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Gauging Authenticity: How to Tell if Financial Brands Back Up Their Core Beliefs There are many old phrases that address authenticity and whether or not results back up guarantees. "Put your money where your mouth is" immediately comes to mind. While this saying...

By Deanna Ritchie

This story originally appeared on Due

There are many old phrases that address authenticity and whether or not results back up guarantees. "Put your money where your mouth is" immediately comes to mind. While this saying might seem trite and old-fashioned, there's some truth in needing to see actions backing up words, especially when it comes to beliefs of financial brands.

It's no different for businesses. When a company creates a mission statement or profession of values, we as consumers want to know if those assertions are true. This is particularly true with financial brands since they can have a huge impact on their customers' wealth and retirement prospects.

So before you engage with a financial brand, either for your personal or business finances, do your research. Make sure that what they claim is accurately represented in their products and other activities as a company.

1. Look at nonprofit funding and affiliation

While the process can entail a great deal of research, you can also examine which nonprofits a financial brand has aligned itself with.

For example, Experian has marketed itself as a champion for average consumers increasing their financial literacy and success. Rather than claiming that their products fulfill that mission statement, they have taken steps on financial literacy that don't directly benefit them. Jump$tart Coalition is one nonprofit that Experian has both promoted and seen officers serve on its board of directors.

"Our approach can't be one-and-done. There must be a continuous effort. As an industry, we need to come together and create education programs that resonate with young children and adults during life's teachable moments—whether that's saving for college or buying a home. Financial education and financial literacy need to begin at a young age; there needs to be a stronger investment in our youth. And organizations, such as the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy has been leading the charge – Pushing for more financial education in schools, creating standards for personal finance knowledge, hosting a library of financial education resources," said Rod Griffin, Experian's Senior Director of Education.

Sometimes a company professes certain values and beliefs but doesn't expend any money or time toward those endeavors. Alternatively, they might directly go against their supposed mission. It could be an instance where a financial company claims to value giving affordable financial mentoring and advisory services to individuals of all income levels. But in practice, customers in lower income brackets might experience vastly inferior levels of service compared to their higher-earning counterparts.

2. Assess the purpose of rebranding

Rebranding is something increasingly common for companies across all industries for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a more valuable or memorable business name has been acquired or has suddenly become available. Sometimes the product line is expanding, specializing, or taking a drastic shift in focus. Other times, the core beliefs of the business have been revised to convey a new mission statement and path into future operations.

There is nothing wrong with rebranding as long as it comes from a place of stability and logic. When it comes to backing up core beliefs, however, a close look at a company's rebranding efforts are in order.

Rebranding Frequency

Firstly, how often has the company gone through rebranding? If it happens frequently, that is a huge red flag. Not only does it paint a picture of general mismanagement, but it also suggests the business's professed core beliefs might be weak. If a business changes its mission statement or focus often, its core beliefs might merely be attempts to hop onto the latest trend.

If a shift in core beliefs is intentional and sincere, the rebranding process should have a sense of purpose behind it. Also, there will often be some change or growth that has driven the need for the company to present itself in a new way. When rebranding is the result of "what we're doing isn't working, so we're going to try something else," core beliefs are likely an afterthought.

In the case of Clear Digital, growth and expansion out of a niche industry necessitated rebranding. And in this business's case, it was especially purposeful since their service is assisting other companies with rebranding procedures.

"What started as a niche web design agency has now evolved into a full-service Silicon Valley digital agency providing solutions for the world's most recognizable B2B brands," said Valod Amirkhanian, co-founder and Director of Technology at Clear Digital. "We pride ourselves as leaders in providing creative solutions for innovative clients. Our new name represents that vision more clearly."

3. Compare established reputation vs. current practices

There are instances where companies create reputations that overshadow any advancements or changes that occur after that reputation is established. It can be a matter of an industry shift, process change, or specialization within their field.

For example, decades ago, Quicken was a major bookkeeping software competitor to QuickBooks. These days, Quicken software is still around. However, its usage has declined, and Quicken as a brand tends to be known for something completely different–mortgage lending. But someone who is operating based on decades-old information may not be aware of the shift.

But evolution in businesses isn't exclusive to product lines and specialization. So if a company is known for certain core beliefs, it may be possible that they are no longer practicing what they preach. And if they have a long-standing reputation that shields what they're actually doing, they might not see a need to.

Here's a theoretical example. What if a financial company was founded by designing a platform helping individuals create a well-rounded investment portfolio resilient against market volatility? If this financial brand believes their product should protect people's retirement against economic fluctuations, their service lines should support these core beliefs.

And maybe their reputation was established early on as doing just that. But maybe after a few years, they started making more money off of financial methods that are riskier. Maybe in order to appease some of their industry partners, they start recommending portfolios less diversified and more prone to extreme vacillation. In such a case, you need to look beyond their founding reputation and compare it to how they actually operate.

4. Check reliable reviews

Reliable reviews are hard to find these days. Any financial company with good funding is likely trying to get as many favorable mentions and reviews online as possible. Also, those same companies could be using search engine optimization strategies to bury unfavorable reviews far down on search results.

So where can you go to get an unbiased review of a financial brand and its beliefs? If review websites or online blogs are untrustworthy, who will talk to you truthfully about their experience?

The first place to reach out is amongst your circle of peers. If you're a business owner, you've hopefully built a quality system of relationships with your field and in adjacent fields. Or even if you have friends and family members who have used various financial providers, reach out.

You might be concerned about bothering others and wasting their time by asking for their opinions. But here's something to remember: in general, people love having opinions. And the thing about having opinions is that it's especially satisfying to share them. That goes double when it comes to recommending against a product or provider who failed to live up to their standards.

Additional ways to research financial brands

In the case that your direct circle of peers or acquaintances doesn't have any useful information, you can always pose the question within forums. And don't worry, you don't necessarily have to go down the Reddit rabbit hole to get a response.

Most industries have professional organizations that you can apply to be a member of. In the world of CPAs, one professional organization is AICPA. Membership in AICPA, like many other organizations, includes the ability to access member forums. There, a CPA can ask about a financial brand and others' experiences with it to find out more about its core beliefs.

Using a specialized forum such as this serves two purposes. First, it's a member-only forum, and therefore companies would be hard-pressed to manipulate results and responses. Second, anyone who answers is in a similar field and would therefore have similar expectations and needs from the brand.

If a CPA is trying to determine which tax preparation software company to use, AICPA members would have a plethora of information. Maybe the brand they're looking at claims to be committed to providing seamless software patches throughout the season. On a forum of a large-member organization, there will certainly be numerous people who have first-hand experience with any finance software. It should be fairly easy to get a consensus on whether or not the brand is fulfilling its professed beliefs and prioritizations.

Beyond face value

Brands may express a certain set of values and beliefs. However, it's not a given that they back them up with action. But when it comes to feeling confident in where you spend your money and the expectations you have in return, it's important. So do your research, use critical thinking, and make sure the financial brands you're investigating has beliefs that are truly aligned with your values and needs.

The post Gauging Authenticity: How to Tell if Financial Brands Back Up Their Core Beliefs appeared first on Due.

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