The financial system as a whole seems to have come under increasing skepticism the research shows. Half of all Americans surveyed in the Harris poll say that they have lost either somewhat or a lot of trust in banks over the past several years, and they don't feel any better about Wall Street and the mortgage lenders. More than half of us (57% to be exact) have lost faith in those institutions as well. A rosy 9% of Americans say that they now trust banks more than they did several years ago.
It seems that bankers can look no further for the cause of this collapsing relationship, as people generally blame personal experiences for their changing attitudes. Customer service and the quality of banking products are runners up, showing a consistent theme driving the growing distrust. Interestingly the Baby Boomers and seniors (age 65 and older) reported being more heavily influenced by almost every factor that Harris measured regarding their relationship with banks. The only issue that Millennials count as more important is the experiences of family and friends, indicating perhaps the perspective of a generation still forming its own opinions about the financial sector.
Where are consumers turning instead? Increasingly they have come to trust businesses closer to home. Local options have done better at building a reputation among consumers, as "[s]urvey results suggest a financial institution's sphere of influence might inversely relate to Americans' trust in it." Among the institutions studied, credit unions and community banks were reliably ranked the most trustworthy. More than three in four of us rate them highly, and even national banks do better when they open local branches.
Fortunately for the banks, the trust of their customers seems to mean relatively little to the bottom line. Over this same time period that they lost the public confidence major banks have posted record breaking profits, with a collective net income over $40 billion in the second quarter of 2014 alone according to the Wall Street Journal.
Trust doesn't seem to have much impact on our choice of banks either. Whether we trust them or not, big banks retain the highest percentage of customers out of all financial institutions.
The he impact of these changing attitudes is difficult to gauge from an initial survey, particularly given the ambiguous nature of trust in consumer relationships. Harris intends to further study the consequences of these results in future research.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.