Guest blog: Kinder Banking: How a building society made the world a kinder place

Guest blog by Nigel Taylor, Head of Marketing, Cumberland Building Society. This article first appeared in Society Matters magazine.

Guest blog by Nigel Taylor, Head of Marketing, Cumberland Building Society. This article first appeared in Society Matters magazine.

A wave of kindness swept across Cumbria and south-west Scotland last year.

Not just a social media surge. But a real life, practical, roll up your sleeves, go to those in need and put in some effort to help, sort of wave. Hundreds of local people pitched in, donating an amazing 2,000 hours of their time to volunteer with more than 25 local charities and good causes.

The volunteers ranged from school children to grannies, local business leaders, a college principal and numerous ordinary shoppers who made a pledge to help their community often on the spur of the moment.

But how did this tide of generosity come about? It was all thanks to Kinder Shops, a pioneering idea launched by Carlisle based The Cumberland as part of the launch of its new brand purpose - Kinder Banking. 

The Kinder Shops were the world’s first shops where customers could pay with ‘kindness’ – by volunteering to work for a local charity. 

Eager shoppers snapped up gifts, hampers, homeware, garden furniture, toys and barbeques without a penny changing hands. Instead of a price tag each item at a Kinder Shop bears a label stating how many hours volunteering is needed to ‘pay’ for it. 

The Cumberland ran five of the one-day popup shops across its region last year and they were a runaway success.

An initial ambitious target to generate 1,000 volunteer hours for charity was smashed, with the Kinder Shops generating a total of 2,000 hours. 

Many of those who volunteered had never done so before and some enjoyed it so much they carried on volunteering after ‘paying’ for their Kinder Shop goods.

The feedback was enthusiastic with many expressing their delight. 

Twelve-year-old Kian Johnston who dropped in to the Christmas Kinder Shop in Dumfries with his school friends, found the perfect Christmas present for his mum. 

“I got her this giant cushion because her recliner is broken and my dad always gets the corner of the sofa so this will give her something to support her,” he said.

Matthew Carroll, 12, and Aaron Kirk, 11, also found gifts for their mums.

“I got my mum a pair of fluffy slippers. I think it’s great to come to a shop like this and get your presents for free by helping others,” said Aaron. 

The boys paid for their gifts by volunteering at the food bank run by the Queen of the South Community Trust. Dan Armstrong, Queen of the South’s community and development manager, said: “The boys have been brilliant. They came down to help us get all the shelves stocked up with donations. The Kinder Shop has been a nice way to show them that looking out for others is valued.”

These unique shops were just one part of The Cumberland’s new brand strategy.

The aim was to focus attention on the building society’s new brand positioning of Kinder Banking and its redefined purpose of ‘creating banking experiences that are kinder to people and planet.’

So, rather than selling mortgages, savings and banking products, the idea was to get people talking and thinking about kindness.

The shops were specifically designed – including through the goods on offer and the styling - to reach out to the building society’s target audiences and connect those people with their local communities.

The Kinder Shops received coverage from local and national media including print, online, TV and radio. One TikTok post was viewed 154,000 times and Kinder Shop customers became advocates, sharing news of their purchases and volunteering experiences across social media.

The Kinder Banking strategy began in 2021 with extensive research across colleagues, customers, non- customers and including people outside The Cumberland’s branch footprint.

The aim was to understand people’s opinions and habits as well as their honest views of The Cumberland. It showed that there was a clear preference for its audiences to want to do business with firms that have a social purpose, and a perception that The Cumberland is a kind and people-focused business. This helped it become much clearer about its purpose – summed up in the new brand positioning.

A key aim of the process was to strengthen the culture within the business as it prepares for a period of investment and change to meet customers changing requirements. The rebrand makes it crystal clear what The Cumberland is here to do.

Before any customer-facing messaging began, there was a colleague engagement programme with roadshow events, and a new internal magazine, Our Kind of People, was launched. Staff were invited to attend the Kinder Shops and get involved with the idea of Kinder Banking.

A key message shown by independent research to resonate with The Cumberland audience, contrasted the building society with the sometimes uncaring image associated with Corporate high street banks.

So, the new campaign threw a spotlight on real Cumberland colleagues and customers and their own stories of kindness. The campaign has featured their work on a range of issues from mental health to caring for ancient woodland to running a dog rescue charity.

One way chosen to reinforce the commitment to being ‘kinder to the planet’ was a partnership with Cumbria Wildlife Trust which will see around £25,000 donated to help red squirrel conservation activities around the region. The campaign used the ‘Mortgages for Squirrels’ messaging across all media, marking a return to TV advertising with a humorous ad following a red squirrel on moving day. I described the Kinder Banking project as one of the most effective activations of a purpose that I have been involved in.

It has been inspiring to work in a business that really does what it says it’s going to do. We genuinely have something unique at The Cumberland, and this project has been an innovative and meaningful way of communicating our purpose.

Find out more: Visit www.cumberland.co.uk