The financial crisis is taking its toll on consumer confidence in their banks, but institutions can do something about it, according to a recent study conducted by Lightspeed for WPP’s Cohn & Wolfe, a strategic public relations firm. When asked about their level of trust in financial institutions 18 months ago, 67.8 percent of those participating rated their trust at 6-10 on a scale of one to 10. Today, 41.1 percent of the customers say their trust had weakened. While 60.8 percent believe their bank looks after their best interests, 39.2 percent do not; and 64.7 percent say their financial providers haven’t contacted consumers with assistance or financial planning advice during the recession.

“As much as there’s a lot of bad taste in their mouths, consumers are desperate for guidance,” says Matt Wolfrom head of corporate practice at Cohn & Wolfe. “Bank executives aren’t engaging, taking pains to explain. People need to understand how you run your business. They don’t have context. Tell them why you’re raising the interest rate on your credit cards: to stay in business.” Instead, customers find themselves “bombarded by buzzwords, without explanation,” Wolfrom notes.

He urges executives to be transparent, and to take the initiative in communicating what banks are doing with TARP money, for example. “Use tellers to get your message out,” he says “They’re trusted, they have day-to-day contact with customers, they’re part of the community.” Banks should also use digital outlets such as merger blogs or even YouTube to explain the issues and educate the public.

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