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Mergers & acquisitions: Proper communication is key

December 19, 2012
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Building a strategic plan to properly handle communication throughout your institution during a merger is critical, says Lauren O’Connell, President of O’Connell Consulting Group. In this post, O’Connell discusses some things to keep in mind when creating your plan.

The telephone game and mergers

By Lauren O’Connell

When you were growing up, you probably played telephone. Maybe you were the one who started the game where you whisper a message to a friend, who then passes it through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors always accumulate from one person to the next, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. Some players may even deliberately alter the message to guarantee what’s communicated in the end is not the same as the one originally conceived.

Guess what – this game is played every day in banks looking to merge with other institutions. Only in this situation it’s not a game, and the end message or result is not amusing but potentially toxic.

Take a minute to think about it. There are always people in an organization who process information out loud or thrive on gossip and enjoy thinking the worst of a situation. So what starts out as “I wonder if I’ll keep my job” ends up “I heard we’ll all lose our jobs” as the final message. Think about how this misconstrued message impacts employee performance and interactions with customers. Ultimately the wrong message impacts the value of your institution if staff and customers leave, stop referring prospects or lose trust.

Don’t let this happen in your organization. Build and execute a strategic plan with the following in mind:

  1. When it’s time to bring the information public, define your stakeholders and prioritize when they should hear your news. Clearly, employees need to hear before customers and the market. Customers should also hear the news from you and not read about it in the paper. They need to know that you really do value their relationship!
  2. Most people can only remember 3 to 4 key messages so boil down your story to the 3 or so critical points you want your stakeholders to remember and use them consistently with all stakeholders and in all communications.
  3. Prepare your employees for the numerous questions that will come their way from other employees, their families, friends and the people they will see in their community who know where they work. Give them, in writing, a FAQ list so they have something to refer back to with confidence.
  4. Make sure you are ready for a call from a reporter and your employees know to whom they should direct the media calls. And if it’s not you, make sure you have tapped the appropriate resource who can execute the key messages and strategy you have prepared. Being hands-on throughout the process can pay-off.
  5. Don’t stop with one communication. Keep employees updated even if it’s to say nothing has changed. In the absence of information people will speculate, which can turn into a new game of telephone.

Ultimately, sharing this information builds trust which will help keep your critical employees from leaving and your customers from shopping for a new place to bank. Don’t let the telephone game and rumor mill destroy the value of what you’re buying or selling. There’s just too much at stake.


Learn more about the strategic future of merging in this free whitepaper: Bank Mergers & Aquisitions: Will M&A Continue?

Lauren O’Connell is a Denver, Colorado-based bank consultant who specializes in developing customized marketing and communications solutions for financial institutions to help them acquire new and profitable customers, retain and cross sell existing customers, and build effective product suites. She can be reached directly at [email protected]. You can also visit her firm’s website, O’Connell Consulting Group, and read her blog.

About the Author


Raleigh, N.C.-based Sageworks, a leading provider of lending, credit risk, and portfolio risk software that enables banks and credit unions to efficiently grow and improve the borrower experience, was founded in 1998. Using its platform, Sageworks analyzed over 11.5 million loans, aggregated the corresponding loan data, and created the largest

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