Unsurprisingly, they trust them more than the banks at the moment. But beware, says Jeremy Braune, for trust is easily lost

The supermarkets have a unique opportunity to make significant inroads into the retail banking sector, according to Brandspeak's 2010 survey but it's a double-edged sword.

This opportunity has arisen in part because of consumers' perception that, particularly in the aftermath of the credit crunch, banks have failed to address their requirement for the re-establishment of trust in the sector and its brands.

Financial consumers are equally clear that a new banking philosophy based on fairness is key to addressing the trust issue. Fairness through customer service delivery certainly, but primarily fairness through product that is simple, transparent and demonstrably good value. Ideally, too, product that provides tangible, additional reward for loyalty, spend and good account management.

Brandspeak's survey reveals the extent of the supermarkets' latent advantage, with a massive 87% of Sainsbury's and 82% of Tesco's customers regarding the parent brands as fundamentally fair.

They have achieved this image through years of aggressive pricing, simple and transparent offers and a loyalty card reward programme that delivers highly tailored benefits.

Yet although the opportunities may be significant, so are the dangers. Consumer expectations of any supermarket financial service would be very high and there is a very real possibility these expectations will not be met for example, if it places insufficient emphasis on meeting consumer demand for fairness and too much on attempting to achieve differentiation through channel and service delivery.

Actually, while the channel and service route may seem easier, it is unlikely to enable the supermarkets to either make their advantage tell or make fairness sufficiently tangible and rewarding.

Ultimately if a supermarket bank fails to deliver the trust and fairness craved by consumers then they run the risk of being seen as me-toos in a sector without any heroes. The subsequent danger is that any negativity then rebounds on the parent brand. Therefore, perhaps one of the big decisions for any new supermarket bank will be how closely it aligns itself with the parent brand.

Jeremy Braune is MD of Brandspeak.