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American Banker's 2013 Survey of Bank Reputations

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It's probably not much of a consolation to bankers to know that the financial services industry, which has a poorer reputation than any other major sector of the U.S. economy, still seems to be held in higher esteem than Congress.

But the reprobates on Capitol Hill at least provide an instructive example of how, at the individual level, it is possible to rise above the very negative perceptions people may have about the institution to which you belong.

You know that old saying about how Americans hate Congress but love their congressman? There is a similar dynamic at work in the U.S. banking system. Five years after the financial crisis began, the industry remains deeply unpopular. The foreclosure debacle involving the largest mortgage servicers, the London Whale incident at JPMorgan Chase, the money-laundering probe into HSBC-all of this has only accentuated the public's mistrust of the banking sector. But ask consumers what they make of their own banks, and the results may pleasantly surprise you.

Nearly half of the 30 major brands studied in this year's American Banker/Reputation Institute Survey of Bank Reputations enjoy a strong reputation with customers. Led by San Francisco-based Union Bank, these institutions scored above 70 on our 100-point scale. (According to Reputation Institute, a reputation management consultancy, a score of 70 or better indicates reputational strength.) Another large slice of the banks in the survey performed moderately well with customers, leaving only three brands (HSBC, Wells Fargo and Bank of America) with scores below 60, which indicate a weak or vulnerable position.

Scores from noncustomers paint a far more unsettling picture, however.

Here, not one bank managed a score above 70. Only five mustered moderate scores, Charles Schwab and Huntington Bank among them, while 22 of the 30 were in the weak-to-vulnerable category. One bank, BofA, did even worse than that. Its score of 35.1 put it in the "poor" category, the lowest tier on Reputation Institute's reputational hierarchy.

Overall, brands in the survey averaged a score of 69.3 among customers and 55.5 among noncustomers. This nearly 14-point gap is far more significant than is typical of other industries—and wider than the gap of 7.3 points in last year's survey—and indicates that banks will be in reputation rebuilding mode for quite a while longer, according to Anthony Johndrow, a managing partner at Reputation Institute.

"These scores with noncustomers don't present much opportunity in the near term," Johndrow says.

Even among their own clients, banks "have a long way to go to shore up customer relationships before they can expect any favors from them." Those favors would include things like recommending a specific bank to friends and family members (or, these days, to anyone following them on social media), purchasing additional products and services that expand the customer relationship or simply giving a brand the benefit of the doubt in times of trouble.

The difference in scores from customers and noncustomers—separated for the first time since the inception of our survey—tells an interesting story about the state of individual bank reputations.

Citibank, for example, still tends to get lumped together with BofA when consumers think about the poster children for the crisis bailouts and the ongoing too-big-to-fail debate. Citi had a reputation score of 42.4 from noncustomers, barely putting it over the edge that separates weak or vulnerable brands from the brands with the poorest public images. But among customers, Citi had a score of 63.3, which is in the moderate category. The wide gap may indicate that direct interactions with the bank—which has been ramping up investments recently in its long-neglected U.S. branch operations—have neutralized some of the bad publicity Citi got in 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, Huntington Bank, which had one of the smallest gaps between scores from customers and noncustomers, appears to have made an impression on the public at large. The bank's highly publicized 24-hour grace period on overdrafts and its renewed commitment to free checking, announced just when rivals had started pulling back on such accounts, perhaps helped here.

As in past years, institutions with a heavy online component—from a direct bank like Ally Bank to more investment-oriented brands such as Charles Schwab and E*Trade—performed well among consumers.

These nontraditional banks averaged higher scores among customers and noncustomers versus the biggest banks and the regional players. And Schwab swept virtually every key category that figures into the overall impression that consumers form about the banks with which they do business, outscoring the 29 other banks on products, performance, innovation, citizenship and leadership. On two other key components of bank reputation, perceptions about governance and the workplace environment for employees, Schwab ranked second, trailing only Union Bank in these categories. Schwab was nearly as dominant in the rankings based on the survey responses of noncustomers, garnering the highest or second-highest score in each category except workplace and citizenship, where it failed to place in the top five.

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Breaking Down the Results on Reputation

A handful of banks dominate the Top 5 performers in survey questions about the key components of reputation. The annual American Banker/Reputation Institute Survey of Bank Reputations drills into customers' and noncustomers' feelings about each bank's record on governance, products, workplace environment, innovation, financial performance, corporate citizenship and leadership. (Image: Fotolia)

Comments (2)
I have had the "pleasure" of working the last decade with top management at a number of the larger banks in the role of a shareholder advocating for responsible banking and an end to customer abuse. Whenever "reputation risk" was mentioned, it was dismissed as being non-applicable to them. Yet a number of them acknowledged that customers were being abused with toxic and semi-toxic products but that their institution could not change for fear that they would be downgraded by financial research firm's equity analysts for lower than peer group performance. So this survey bears the factual news. At the same time, many of these banks will have their own "research" that says their customers love them; and, they will show that loaded research to their boards and dismiss this survey as non-applicable to them. Hello directors - Have you noticed how many policemen that management requests to protect them when they have their annual shareholder meetings? Answer - a lot! Or did they move the meeting far away from headquarters to try to hide? Banks play a major role in an economy notwithstanding monetary and fiscal policy. Our economy reflects the results of this survey. Where is the leadership? Has noble purpose and pride been totally replaced by executive comp? The only impact this comment may have is on a bank director that really wants to represent the shareholders, customers, employees, and community.
Posted by FrankRauscher | Thursday, June 27 2013 at 5:12PM ET
At this stage of the game, "reputational risk" in the banking industry is akin to the concern for fire safety in Chicago circa late 1871. In some alternate universe, the "great fire" of 2008 may lead to the kind of rebuilding that led Chicago to become a great American city. In ours, however, it will likely lead to another pointless conflaguration.

Maybe there's a hint in The Financier by Theodore Drieser, but then again, maybe not. In any case, billing for "market research" could be easy money for some time (Borges would have smiled at a confidence game played out for confidence men).
Posted by teknoscribe | Tuesday, July 02 2013 at 10:10PM ET
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