Banks need more Trust Bank deposits

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December 13, 2016
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December 13, 2016

Since the senate enquiry hearings in October, where bank CEOs admitted that they have lost customers’ trust, I have been following announcements by financial services institutions with some interest.

I mainly wanted to see what customer and community initiatives might be unveiled in the wake of the shortcomings banks had owned up to.

However, there seems to be a disconnect between what some bank directors think and say and what the banks say they are doing.

The good

Firstly, the good news. A week after the hearings, the CBA announced that it had updated its school financial literacy program to teach girls that a man is not a financial plan and boys that they can’t control females through finances.

The subject itself is worth applauding and it is an initiative that would get my unqualified support at any time, but I do wonder whether it a scheduled part of a wider program, or was the timing deliberate to help regain community trust?

In addition, the CEO of Westpac told the bank’s AGM last week that banks were introducing initiatives to close the “trust gap” between banks and customers, but we must wait and see what these might be as no details were given.

The “Trust Bank”

Whatever does happen, it does perhaps indicate that some bank executives are aware of the “Trust Bank” idea first developed by McDonalds.

Simply put, this concept is that organisations need to make deposits into a so-called Trust Bank, through community and customer support, before withdrawals on that trust can be made.

The bad

On the other hand, it seems not all bank executives and directors are on the same page.

When the chairman of the CBA was interviewed after the bank’s AGM last month, at which shareholders had recorded a first strike against the remuneration report, who got the blame?

The chairman compared what he called “bank bashing” with the Trump/Brexit examples, as an establishment issue that people don’t like and therefore react to.

He completely ignored the fact that for over a year, banks have been heavily criticised for mis-selling, deceiving customers and fee gouging. To simply dismiss community anger as a reaction against “the establishment” is, at best, naïve.

Isn’t it possible that a main reason shareholders voted against remuneration packages was because they thought executives did not deserve them, in light of the way customers had been treated?

So while some bank CEOs, directors and executives are making the right noises about changing the culture of their organisations, it seems that perhaps it hasn’t been fully embraced.

While initiatives like financial literacy programs are a great way for any bank or financial institution to add to their trust bank balance and gain favourable recognition in the community, they lose their impact if some parts of the organisation are not facing reality.

Even if the banks do develop a number of new community and customer initiatives, will it be enough for them after the wide condemnation of their business practices in recent times? I suggest that any Trust Bank operated by big four banks in Australia is now deeply overdrawn to the point of near bankruptcy.

Trust vs distrust

While bank CEOs may recognise they have lost the trust of their customers, perhaps their trust problem is even deeper. An article in a recent Institute of Public Relations research letter, “I trust you, I trust you not”, raised the concept of distrust, not just the loss of trust.

It can be argued that this is very much the problem for financial institutions in Australia at the moment – people have not only lost trust in them, they actively distrust them.

Which seems to be supported by the shareholder vote on the remuneration report at the CBA’s Annual General Meeting – it was the first time the bank has recorded a “first strike” vote, indicating a high level of shareholder dissatisfaction regardless of the Chairman’s subsequent comments.

Changing negative attitudes of distrust into positive trust is going to take a lot of work and different approaches by individual financial institutions, their associations and the industry at large.

Offering support in the community such as programs to improve financial literacy is one worthwhile approach, but many more such initiatives aimed at all stakeholders are needed.

Let’s hope we will see more in the New Year and that 2017 will be seen as a year when financial services not only stemmed the losses in their Trust Banks but topped up balances.