Annual reports are one of financial marketers’ toughest creative tasks.
Once a year, you have the opportunity to promote your brand in a big way. But that opportunity can be constrained by budget, the need for approvals from top brass, and the often abstract nature of financial services. Sometimes, the issue is the fine line between images that are visual clichés and those that really connect with bank shareholders, credit union members and the many others whose first impression of your institution hangs on how good a job you did.
Add in the need to stay between regulatory lines and coming up with a really good annual report challenges marketers’ visual sense and wordsmithing talents.
Impossible Act to Follow:
The JPMorgan Chase annual report includes a long analytical letter — a short book, really — over the signature of Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon that analysts, journalists, shareholders and other financial players eagerly await every year. But few institutions possess the resources such reports require, not to mention lacking the draw of being the nation’s largest bank.
As a result of all that, traditional financial institutions’ annual reports often turn out terribly uncreative — conservative at best, dull at worst.
But not all banks and credit unions take this course. Some marketing teams seem able to encourage the C-suite to let them spruce things up.
It doesn’t always take a lot — some institutions add in the human element, such as photos of smiling customers outside of a branch. Others use unusual colors, such as oranges and greens. One even styled their report to look like an old-fashioned newspaper page.
The Financial Brand combed institutions’ websites, both nationally and internationally, to find annual reports that raise the bar that financial marketers can learn from.
Note that all of the examples can be blown up by clicking on the images. Also note that the red bank and credit union names contain links to the full versions of each annual report cited.
The Innovative Winners
These first four stood out as clear champions compared to the stacks of arguably ineffective annual reports in banking.
Integris Credit Union’s annual report is the only example in this gallery that one can almost feel in their hands. While you can’t physically pick up the report here, it’s easy to see that Integris went for a different kind of paper stock to make its brand stand out — which it does, even off the computer screen.
It’s not ostentatious nor flashy, but visually satisfying through tone and texture. The color of the paper complements the cover image. The credit union’s handful of branch locations are creatively lined up, next to the report’s tagline: “From here. All in. For you.”
This appears above the three statistics Integris found most essential: the number of members, employees and how much it invests in the community. Even the simplicity of the next page, with the credit union’s vision and mission, conveys confidence in the credit union’s values.
Tinkoff Bank’s 2016 example here is, by far, one of the best examples of an efficient and effective annual report that any financial institution can learn from. It relies on bursting pages of color to arrest readers’ attention and direct them to various parts of the report.
Take, for instance, the bank’s second page. Whereas anyone reading knows they’re looking at the annual report of Tinkoff Bank, it is the large, bright white “Tinkoff” that immediately draws people’s eyes.
And, built into the layout, inside the name of the bank is the key characteristic management wants people to walk away with: “The ecosystem built around customer needs through a unique, online, branchless platform.”
Word clouds, first devised in the early 2000s, remain a popular way to highlight words used most frequently.
This is a style Fremont Federal Credit Union utilized on the front cover of their annual report. The words “you,” “your,” “life,” “better” and “we” are the biggest words on the page, indicating those are the concepts FFCU prioritizes for its members.
The Financial Brand reviewed several of Triumph Bank’s annual reports through the years before deciding to spotlight the bank’s 2019 edition. That year’s report exemplifies why creating a visually appealing annual report doesn’t always require a lot of unusual colors or fancy graphics to draw the reader’s eye.
In this example, Triumph Bank wants its customers to understand that the bank is integrating fintech capabilities into its banking strategies, as indicated by its theme for the year: “The Power of &.”
And, although they integrate clip art throughout the report, they’re also not afraid of white space. When done thoughtfully, little details like this will go a long way.
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Work That Branding!
Financial institutions have to care about their branding more than ever. New competitors like fintechs, big techs and neobanks using bold graphics leave pedestrian efforts in the dust. Yet, now it’s increasingly imperative that traditional institutions identify their values and their mission while also ensuring the style of their message reflects that. These banks and credit unions integrate such branding right into their annual reports.
“Strength in numbers” and “busy as a bee” exemplify the ideal represented by the honeybee. The small insect serves as a living example of hard work performed in cooperation with hive-mates. That incredible teamwork and hardworking mentality are two key themes F&M Bank drew on in their 2018 annual report.
But instead of using the beehive motif as just a background or a single piece of clip art, F&M takes the hexagonal structure of a beehive’s cells and utilizes it to point out little details in the annual report. For instance, on the third page, all the blocks highlight the bank’s branch locations.
Then, again on the fourth page, not reproduced here, the bank integrates their website and social media traffic improvements, banking on the fact that the eyes of anyone flipping through the report will be drawn to those facts.
Sometimes, if a financial institution can simple innovate how they display their primary logo, that’s all it takes to maximize the impact of a visually appealing annual report. It doesn’t always take metamorphic changes to engage readers.
In the case of their 2015 report, Nigeria-based Diamond Bank focused on “banking to the underbanked,” a theme which didn’t need to get featured on the cover. Instead, Diamond found an effective — but incredibly simple — way to get their message across with a photo of a woman on a mobile phone and small vector images to display the stats on their underbanked services.
Great Southern Bank’s take on an old-fashioned chalkboard exemplifies how financial institutions can easily spice up a conventional annual report with a theme that doesn’t show up in the everyday world of smartboards, whiteboards and LED screens.
Looking to the open spread on the right side, investors or any stakeholder can easily figure out what they’re looking at. On the plus side, regardless of how basic it appears, Great Southern’s approach can easily be fixed to fit the personality and style of conservative banking players who want to up their annual report game without throwing out the familiar look and feel.
Go to any financial institution and, when you walk in, their 8.5″x11″ annual report will likely be displayed in a rack, propped up nicely next to a barrage of other reports and local brochures. Canvas Credit Union’s, however, is not meant for such a display.
Instead, Canvas CU set up their 2019 report in its traditional landscape style, which indicates it can be laid out on its own on a counter or table. A reader, upon opening, can not only see in data points how Canvas functions in its Colorado communities, but picture the credit union’s primary branch in the middle of town, down the street from the Canvas stadium arena, home of the Colorado State Rams. A picture is a thousand words, right?
The inside pages of Republic Bank’s 2020 annual report are excellent examples of how financial institutions can make the multitude of statistics in financial reports a little bit more visually interesting.
In particular, the charts break away from black-and-white straight-lined tables, and instead give each year a different shade — with the newest and most relevant years in bolder ones, so readers (almost without looking at the labels) know what years they’re looking at. Anything that is of less consequence fades off into the white of the page.
Peoples State Bank has a clear motif to their branding — there are leaves and shrubs in the background of all its annual report pages, but they’re also hiding all around the bank’s website.
What stood out in the bank’s annual report is the bookmark style way they pulled out their key facts and figures. Just as other financial institutions maximize on the minimality of white space, Peoples’ left spread page is a prime example of how to get comfortable with using the style of your bank’s motif — however elementary — as filler behind facts or data you want to stand out.
Bold In Color & Style
There’s certainly something to be said about works of art that break away from the constrictions of simple colors and relatable fonts. It’s especially true for these annual reports.
Equity Bank is a great example of an annual report which ties in all the elements financial institutions traditionally want to include in their reports: photos of their branches, highlights of the institution’s year (such as Equity Bank’s CEO named an entrepreneur of the year finalist), and featured stats from their annual report.
What Equity does especially well, however, is to set up all of these elements intriguingly on the page. The cover page, for example, pulls on the tagline puzzle-piece theme for this report — “Every Piece Counts” — which then blends fluidly throughout the rest of the report.
In the opening spread, Equity puts a twist on the standard photos of branches and more, building instead a chronological gallery of their different “pieces,” some of which come together to make up the Equity puzzle on the cover.
Sometimes financial institutions don’t know what to do with color — they know they should be using it to create stunning reports but overdoing it could be a graphic disaster. Burke & Herbert’s 2018 annual report shows how to use color differently yet effectively. The design throws together blues, yellows and pinks, adding layers of text on the front cover. That experimental technique makes this report stand out.
It’s important that banks and credit unions find unique ways to show off their customer viewpoints. Others can pull a page from Burke & Herbert’s style, incorporating that blue filter over a simple image with quotes laid on top. Even that second page helps to spice up the written content the bank needed to position on the page.
Renowned poets and artists both know the value of white space — but smart white space. Tech Credit Union also seems to get it.
The credit union’s 2019 annual report show an unusual design for financial institution annual reports. While it plays on the strategies that many other financial institutions do, it also introduces techniques not commonly found in other reports. For instance, look at that section below “About Tech CU” where the credit union lists all its banking services.
Little details like that — creatively laid out on the page instead of being listed in bullet points before launching into the about section of a report — give readers a sweeping glance at all they can do with your financial institution, without their eyes wandering from the page.
There’s plenty of white space, too, used effectively.
One can’t really help falling in love with Utah First Credit Union’s 2020 annual statement. While other financial institutions fell back on the “Covid Year” theme with photos of masks and people on their devices, banking online, others like Utah First aimed for camaraderie — people coming together.
Other banks and credit unions may also place their trust in cooler colors (blues and dark greens and purples) — altogether safer and considerably more conservative hues. What’s interesting is Utah First utilized its novel color scheme — which a person can find congruent through the credit union’s branding strategy — to make the visuals seem emotionally genuine.
It’s challenging to assemble all the characteristics in Workers Credit Union’s 2020 report in a clean, effective manner. Yet it works here. There are four images (one that’s nearly half the page), five different data points reflected with vector images and plenty of written copy to fill in the blanks. And it’s not the least bit messy.
While some institutions may prefer to have less information and less content in the first few pages of their reports, there are some banks and credit unions itching to sneak it all in. For institutions preferring the latter, Workers Credit Union makes a good model to follow.
Most annual reports consist of dozens or even hundreds of packed financial statements in tiny type. A little bit of color and appropriate use of graphics can do a world of good in focusing readers on key points.
And you only need a few to create an optically pleasing design. Heartland Bank uses a limited palette, and their choices are muted — no blaring bright pinks or oranges. Yet they effectively break out their most relevant figures, add charts in the same color scheme, give it a snappy title and — voila!
Every financial institution wants to show off their community contributions, but in the classiest fashion. Bank Newport carries it off well in their 2020 annual report. Simplicity can be key in these situations — looking at Bank Newport’s style, they don’t show off with inauthentic and messy visuals.
On the left page of the spread, they build off the blue theme which is true to their ocean-style branding. While they have a third of the page dedicated to descriptions of what they’re doing in the community, they also break open the rest of the page with a few simple vector visuals that pop — showing off what Bank Newport is proud of (without going overboard).
Intriguingly enough, Bank Newport also set up their annual report in an HTML version as well (see linked here), where readers can scroll through the statement like pages.
Simple, But Effective
Simplicity does matter and not every financial institution needs to be full of expression or go where no annual report has gone before. Here are the annual reports which The Financial Brand team believed to be chief examples of where simplicity can truly be key.
Images hidden as a layer behind text can be a quick and easy way to upgrade the style of an annual report. For instance, in Macquarie Group’s table of contents, this technique dynamically sets the stage for the rest of the booklet.
And, once again, the trust in effective white space cannot be understated. In Macquarie’s case specifically, it lends a hand to how the rest of the annual report plays out, which integrates plenty of images which complement the sections of the report they correspond with.
True to the core of this category, Northeast’s 2020 annual report banks on the efficacy of airy designs as the content is built throughout the yearly statement on the cloud and sky watermark that begins on the cover page.
What’s neat is this theme appears, along with the city line of skyscrapers, to be a part of the bank’s rebranding efforts on its website, which uses the same designs as the report. Although the bank’s website in 2019 was a rudimentary version of its 2021 version — examined via the Wayback Machine, an internet archival tool — it is souped up to be reflect on its 2020 annual statement.
Very seldom do financial institutions try multiple design approaches when they plan their annual reports. BayPort broke away from its competitors in its 2020 annual report, building both photographs and graphics into their pages.
For instance, on the credit union’s front cover page, there are two women — a customer and a branch teller — exchanging a happy green balloon. Then, the next page with the table of contents, shows a woman (not pictured here, use the red link above) sitting peacefully on a deck by a lake. And, just like Heartland Bank’s glance at the year, they also incorporate clip art into the piece, filling out the area next to the page showcasing the executive team.
All financial institutions take care of people, but credit unions specifically are always looking to show that they’re taking care of members. Hence, there’s always a lot of photos of smiling people. Chevron Credit Union found a way to integrate those photographs with greater creativity.
Take a look at the “belong” on the cover page. Although there’s a blue filter overlaying them, smiling faces pour out from behind the letters. This cover page technique adds pictures which would otherwise overwhelm the most meaningful ones, like the one on the inside page accompanying testimony on the inside page which accompanies an actual member family photo.
Remember those primitive photos of consumers or employees standing outside the branch, smiling and appearing ready for something? For First United Credit Union’s 2020 annual report, they incorporate that very image which — while standard — is effective. Financial institutions were deemed essential during the pandemic and, for many banks and credit unions, that responsibility is proudly sported on the covers of their 2020 annual reports. The pandemic’s impact will not be forgotten.
What makes First United’s yearly statement much more powerful is its follow-up to the front cover. Nine small vector images, accompanied with the report’s most important statistics, rest here. This gives the readers a snapshot of the rest of the report in a concise, appealing way.
The bulk of annual reports come as simple, templated versions of the annual reports that came before them: grayscale tables and fonts that, after only a few pages of reading, become a blur. While there are financial institutions (like the ones listed in this article) that spice up the primeval documents, it’s rare to find a report that tries to merge the two.
Community First’s 2020 annual report sought to break up the monotony of annual report data with a simple color, both to indicate the current year and in the headlines of the sections of the five-year history.
California Credit Union’s annual report at first glance seems basic, but upon getting a closer look, it’s easy to see this report is a representation of financial institution resiliency at its best. Even during periods of loss or fear, the images showing people come together will continue to catch the eye of consumers and investors alike for years to come.
Even diving into the report, the opening pages are indicative of a strong annual report, equipped with strong contrasts of blue and white and sections broken up to highlight how CCU weathered the pandemic with its members.
Annual Reports Made For the Internet
Before wrapping up, The Financial Brand highlights six additional annual reports which are made to be interactive. What makes these unique is their formatting — all five of these were pre-formatted as interactive versions of annual reports. Readers can easily click through the reports like flipping through a book (one even plays the sound effects) while others move and shift as you scroll through.
Avidia Bank’s interactive report is one of our favorites. In addition to its comfortable scroll and engaging graphics, every page seeks to not overwhelm readers, leading only with short paragraphs and fun visuals. And talk about a bright and fun color scheme.
Open up the Elements Financial online PDF and click through to see how visually appealing, outdoor photos can enhance your annual report and make it stand out far above the rest. Each set of pages have a clear purpose, accompanied by clear shots of people out in the wilderness (true to the credit union’s name), all touched off with a splash of color on each page to brighten it up and highlight what readers need to know.
For any financial marketer looking for not only an engaging — but classy annual report — look no farther than Cadence. Their theme — tans and blues — accompanies the sophisticated font to create a statement clearly made for a traditional financial institution.
LGFCU’s report isn’t just a report — it’s a whole webpage. While many interactive, online annual reports follow their predecessors in traditional PDF-style page format, Local Government Federal Credit Union started from scratch and incorporated everything you need to know about their 2020 fiscal year into a scrolling section built into their website.
Rivermark Community Credit Union utilized Adobe Acrobat to create a similar experience to LGFCU’s. While the text of the annual report is easy to scroll through for an interruption-less experience, the pictures which accompany the text roll out from underneath the photos below them.
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