Strategic communications: A 150 years old bank changes its ownership model

Länsi-Uudenmaan Säästöpankki is more than 150 years old, a respected financial institution that operates in Lohja, Vihti, Siuntio and Kirkkonummi regions. Within the Finnish Säästöpankki Group, it is middle-aged, as the first branch was founded in Turku as early as 1822.

The management of Säästöpankki banks is unique, because they traditionally do not have an owner. They have not been listed companies or cooperatives, like their competitors, but organizations supervised by their customers’ representatives (in Finnish ‘isännät’, but let’s now call them ‘masters’ in this text). The society as well as the banking industry are constantly developing and, as a result, many Säästöpankki banks have decided to reform their ownership structures. In Länsi-Uudenmaan Säästöpankki, it was seen that the limited company form enables agile decision-making, investments in digital services and the development of expert services according to the region’s needs.

In the winter of 2021–2022, Länsi-Uudenmaan Säästöpankki set itself the goal of renewing its ownership structure. In order to continue banking operations, a limited company would be established, and its owner and supervisor would be a local Säästöpankki foundation. The foundation would also take responsibility for the influencing and public relations that regional Säästöpankki banks are known for.

Mailand worked in the project as a partner of the bank’s management, the board of directors and the chairmen of the masters, so that the change could be completed in a controlled manner. In the project, there was a need to communicate to many target groups. The masters had to comprehensively understand the effects of the change so that they could decide on the implementation of the change process. It was important for staff and customers to understand how the change is reflected in the bank’s everyday operations. The communications strategy also took into account the local media, which always is interested in local business activity and how it affects the region.

The communications strategy was chosen to combine the bank’s locality, financial success and future. Mailand created key content that focused the story on selected messages. The story was applied in all phases of the project and to all target groups. The representatives of the administration, management and personnel who acted as the face of the change were photographed in the landscapes of their municipalities or in their hobbies, so that the message of change was easy to relate to.

The 59-member masters meeting made a unanimous decision on the change at the beginning of April. It was known that it would take about a month from the decision-making of the management to publish the change, so we also prepared for a quick announcement, in case the information somehow reached the media ahead of time. This did not happen, but the change in ownership was announced in accordance with the plan at the beginning of May 2022. The local main newspaper described the change calmly – “the bank develops its digital services and expert services, and continues its work with familiar values and principles”.

– Länsi-Uudenmaan Säästöpankki continues its work as a profitable bank and preferred by its customers in its region. Carefully managed communication supported the change process and the task of the decision-makers, says CEO Samu Rouhe a year later.