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Opinion: Five lessons for aged care from the banking royal commission


As the banking industry licks its wounds following the recent royal commission, there are some sobering lessons for aged care providers facing their own probe, writes Gerry McCusker.

Australia’s four big banks all experienced significant blows in the form of fines, damaged customer loyalty and negative publicity as result of the recent royal commission into banking.

Gerry McCusker

Gerry McCusker

As revelations were splashed across media and social channels, customer dissatisfaction dropped to a six-year low of 78.3 per cent, according to Roy Morgan research.

Fewer customers are now willing to recommend or advocate for their bank (and let’s not get started on ancillary and insurance service providers).

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a similar commission into aged care, the aged care sector’s top four operators immediately shed $500 million in sharemarket value.

Here are five things aged care providers learn from the banking royal commission:

1. Modern crises are emotional

People-stories always trump corporate spin and legal edicts.

This will be magnified when the commission no doubt hears claims of neglect and abuse of our most vulnerable citizens. At the banking commission, stakeholder stories of heartless bankers, manipulative managers and duped customers provided proof of a ruthless ethos.

Providers musn’t forget they’re responding to people full of complex emotions and wrought feelings. Those who don’t know how to be authentically emotional in their response, relief and recovery efforts will sustain long-term brand damage. Unemotional communicators will struggle to convey the necessary empathy and contrition in responding to damaging aged care findings.

2. The crisis narrative will dominate

Modern crises are increasingly framed by the emotional responses of those most affected. Who can forget the angry, grieving relatives of MH370 passengers, the father of the Down Syndrome man pressured to buy life insurance, the farmers forced off family land by callous bank advisers?

Organisations have more tools than ever to acknowledge, inform and respond to damaging revelations, yet few publish promptly to express regret, take responsibility or initiate remedies.

3. Get the chopping block ready

Heads should roll if crisis revelations are detrimental to a significant cohort of stakeholders.

In the public eye, a chopped corporate cranium is the ultimate expression of responsibility by a brand or business – it can signal both accountability and change. A sacking can show stakeholders that the business will tolerate neither unprofessional behaviour nor lapsed judgement.

4. Bad news hangs around forever – or at least a very long time

Try this exercise – Google some of the brands slated by the banking royal commission.

The first organic page truffles up mostly corporate website and ASX-related results. Now, click your mouse on Google’s ‘news’ tab. Clearly, the bad news is readily accessible weeks and months later, showing that ‘old’ news stories can hang around long after the bad news first surfaced.

Long after aged care CEOs have blinked nervously into the cameras, the long tale of SEO finds will readily document the media’s perceptions of the crisis involving your brand. Will the reporting be fair and balanced? Will the aged care provider’s side of the story be found? Can aged care companies ensure their side is represented on Google’s first page?

5. Appearing before the commission is a media performance

Court prep and media training are often conducted separately; yet in the new media environment they’re inextricably linked.

Pausing to consider a response may be acceptable in a hearing, but as a media clip, the hesitant  person can look evasive or non-committal.

Legal advisors to aged care companies need to consider the court of public opinion, now more than ever. With live TV and social media feeds – and around-the-clock media updates – hearing utterances are headlines-in-waiting; legal Q&A prep must be twinned with media Q&A prep.

The recent royal commission has shown that many banks clearly valued pelf more than PR – and the public don’t like that one bit. How will aged care brands fare if it’s revealed that cost-cutting, rather than customer care, were priorities for aged care operators?

“Did the brand – or its execs – put profitability over responsibility?” may be one of the questions aimed at aged care providers. “Were residents neglected and abused in your facility?” another.

How will you respond to this? Will you be best prepared and ready to handle confronting allegations and images? Sitting in a commission chair is one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever experience.

Companies – perhaps you reading this – must prepare to be authentic, direct and sincere. Be prepared. The public demands nothing less.

Gerry McCusker is a crisis specialist and founder of The Drill Crisis Simulations at www.thedrill.com.au

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2 Responses to Opinion: Five lessons for aged care from the banking royal commission

  1. Jane Sherwin October 5, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

    Three more important lessons:

    1. Saying ‘mea culpa’ when necessary

    2. Being open to learning from the conclusions of the Inquiry. This is a different spirit from wondering how to massage current practices so that they look good yet are still largely ineffective in meeting the needs of vulnerable older people.

    3. Be prepared to be honest when answering questions like ‘“Did the brand – or its execs – put profitability over responsibility?” and “Were residents neglected and abused in your facility?” The evidence will out you if you are not honest and then you’ll look and (hopefully) feel worse.

    And a reflection: If aged care brands suffer, then surely that is a better thing in the name of older people and each of us into future?

  2. Barry October 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm #

    Rather than trying to develop a plan on how to present your organisation in a positive spin, here is a new concept

    Provide a good service, provide a really good service and a high level of care, there will then be no need for an apology, a cover up, to higher a PR firm or a sacrificial lamb.

    Remember every visitor to your facility is probably carrying a mobile phone with a camera and a sign on the door which says “No Photo’s of Filming on These Premises” is going to stop a news program from showing what was recorded in your facility.

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