We will make a determination about an image within 15 milliseconds — and by way of comparison, the human eye blinks at about 300 milliseconds.” - Andy Janning

On a recent Banking on Digital Growth Podcast, James Robert Lay spoke with Andy Janning, who has been doing impressive work as a storyteller for financial brands now for almost 30 years. As a storyteller, photographer, videographer over the last 12 months, and really as a researcher and anthropologist, Andy is currently positioned in one of the most important sectors of the financial industry.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stories that financial brands are telling is heavily based upon the use of images. In his conversation with James Robert, Andy had volumes of wisdom to share about the impact of images and what they can do for a financial institution seeking digital growth.

The Human Element of Financial Services

About a decade ago, Andy was working for a credit union, heading their talent development efforts. He began to ponder on the human element of financial services and visual storytelling. Andy was creating Keynote presentations regarding talent development and storytelling and human development, and the element of photography and visual storytelling kept coming to the forefront. 

“We need to do a better job of visually representing who we are, not just this generic, idealized persona that nobody connects with,” Andy said.

He started asking himself just how many members and employees actually appear in photos in credit union websites?

This launched Andy into a self-proclaimed “crazy project” to pull together a group of people to examine every single image on every single website inside the credit union space to see how we are visually telling our story.

It didn't take long for him to come to the conclusion that, "we need to kill all the shiny, happy stock people on websites today." 

Credit unions need to be telling more individualized, personal stories with the images they use. And it's not only a credit union problem. 

It's also a community bank problem.

James Robert has been advocating for financial brands to simplify the digital communication strategies and focus instead on the stories they are telling. 


Digital growth consists of two different ideas working together. On one hand is  the digital experience. But on the other hand, is the human experience, which, as James Robert puts it, is made up of help and hope, but it's multiplied by empathy.

How do images, pictures, videos communicate empathy subconsciously? 

Andy explained, “If you look at the research, when you look at literally how people's eyes move through websites, and when they look at the visual information on there, we will make a determination about an image  within 15 milliseconds — and by way of comparison, the human eye blinks at about 300 milliseconds. So we'll look at an image that we will immediately decide, ‘Is it real? And is it relevant?’”

Andy Janning-2These eye-tracking studies show that if an image has no connection to what's being presented, people will ignore it. “But," Andy said, “if there's actual real faces of real people with a real connection to what the institution is presenting, then they'll key on it. They'll connect with it.”

Everybody uses stock images. So why this push from Andy to do something different? 

Andy mused that no one wants their work to be generic or forgettable, and that financial institutions also wouldn’t ask their employees to think or work in that way. So why should banks and credit unions rely on stock images that are not personal or relevant to their unique work?

“The critical question for me is do we, as banks and credit unions, love our members and our customers, or do we just love their stuff? … Are we really caring for them, or do we just care what they're going to give us?”

This might sound harsh, but the question remains — are financial institutions and credit unions investing in creating personal, meaningful content for their members and potential customers?

James Robert agreed with Andy’s position and discussed the work that Digital Growth Institute has been doing. In his qualitative and quantitative research on eye tracking and quarterly secret shopping, they ask customers questions like:

  • Do you feel like you can trust this organization?
  • How does everything you’re seeing make you feel?

The financial brands that are utilizing stock photography and stock images always raises a red flag. A consumer might not verbalize it, but you can hear it in tonality. You can hear it in the adjectives that they use.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is more important than ever before. Why? Because in a post-COVID-19 world, digital shopping for financial brands will continue to increase in strategic, prominence, and importance.

Andy shared, “We have this huge opportunity to be able to show that we are real, that we're not just this other commodity, that we do honestly care about who they are.” 

Field Research: A Look into Actual Financial Websites

Andy and his team looked at almost 1,400 credit union websites and around 52,000 images. Their key findings? It was hard to find any photos of real people involved with the banks and credit unions. Of all 52,000 images, only about 3.5% of the total number of photos were of real people. What else did they find?

  • 84% of credit unions had zero images of actual people
  • Only 12% of images were of real employees
  • 70% of photos were stock images
  • 91% of websites had at least one stock photo

The things that make these companies unique — the people — weren’t being featured. Instead, these credit unions were tens of thousands of impersonal, false images. Or as Andy put it: “Tens of thousands of excuses to ignore us.”

CFOs may wonder how investing in personal images, videos, and other content will help.

Andy shared his research on the difference it made for one company—a truck driving school.

This truck driving school changed just one image on one of their pages. They exchanged a stock image of someone driving a truck with a real image of a student standing in front of one of their trucks, emblazoned with the company’s logo and information.

The result? Changing just that one image increased their requests for information 161%, and their program registrations rose by 38%. 


Andy explained that there was a level of disconnect  between our appearances and our behavior. 

"We say that we're real. We say that we want to be personalized, but our imaging completely contradicts that. [Our customers] don't believe what they're saying. We become cliche.” 

Andy continued, “People can sense the disconnect between our words and our images. And they see that difference. They want no part of it.”

If we're using images of the people in our account holders, our members, our small businesses — we're positioning them as the heroes in the stories we tell, which makes it easier for us to take on the role of the helpful guide.

By staying authentic and sharing authentic images, credit unions and other financial institutions have the opportunity to position themselves as the guide. These images are real-life examples of the institution serving as the helpful guide.

Owning Your Organization

Andy shared another example of Dupaco Community Credit Union, an institution based in Iowa. They got rid of all their stock photos and used images of real members and embraced the power of visuals. The result?

Nearly 10% net member growth in one year. 

They changed their images, and their institution grew. 

Andy likens the experience to  walking into someone’s home and looking at the frames on their walls. Are there stock images in the frames, or will they be photos of the homeowner, their family, and their loved ones? Even one frame with one generic image will seem strange, disingenuous, and out of place. Homeowners take the time and effort to decorate their homes and add personal touches of who they are. Why shouldn’t organizations do the same with their websites?

Andy explained, “ If we're not honoring [our employees and customers]? You are saying that you are much more comfortable doing a five-second search for a stock photo, shiny happy people punching and entering things on the computer versus [sharing] the hard work that you're doing.”

“And if, as a financial institution, professionals are not willing to admit that, we should get out of this industry; we're doing it for the wrong reasons.”

COVID-19 and the Use of Authentic Images

In the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, we also have a financial health crisis—a crisis that James Robert described as “Our Super Bowl moment,” meaning the expectations and importance has never been higher.

Now is the time for banks and credit unions to act with precision; at the top of their game.

Andy Janning2

Andy shared that this is an opportunity to document and share important stories about what credit unions and their clients are doing in this moment. “I would jump at the chance to tell those kinds of stories," he said.

“And we as an industry … we owe it to those folks to be able to say, you busted your butt to try and work from home or trying to help your kid do their school from home while trying to be a good husband and wife and provider while also trying to provide a seamless level of care for our members and customers.”

“We as financial institutions have the profound opportunity to prove that we love people and we use money to do it. And not the other way around. How brave are we to be able to step into that space? That's the challenge.” 

This is an opportunity to present a true, authentic brand story — to honor the work of your employees, and more importantly, to honor the work of your customers in this unimaginable time.

One Step at a Time

To put your mind at ease, Andy shared that you don't have to throw out your entire stock portfolio, but start with one member.

One story on one element of your website.

One employee story.

Watch what happens to the engagement when you just throw that one little thing out there.

Are you ready to discover what these kinds of small changes can mean for your financial brand?