The financial industry's image problem goes deep. Five years out of the financial crisis, even people actively involved in the industry don't trust it.
Just 53% or respondents said they trust banks to do what is right,
According to a June survey of 2,104 investors in the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada that was conducted by the CFA Institute and public relations firm Edelman. The financial services industry is deemed similarly unreliable, winning the trust of 52% of investors. The two industries ranked last among eight included in the survey. The others included were technology, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, consumer packaged goods, autos and telecom.
Banking and financial service professionals have much to lose as public confidence dwindles, according to the CFA Institute's Robert Dannhauser.
"Roughly a quarter of investors feel that they lack a fair opportunity for profit in capital markets," Dannhauser said at a panel hosted by the CFA Institute in New York on Tuesday. "Investors who don't see signals for confidence will drift away," opting to pour their money into real estate and other alternative investments, he added.
For members of the financial industry looking to win back trust, the survey offers several takeaways.
Individuals working in finance have considerable power to restore customer confidence, according to the survey. More than half of investors said that investment managers were most effective at building their trust in capital markets, ranking them ahead of investment firms and national and global regulators.
"People count for a great deal," Dannhauser said. "For banks, that means everyone from the loan officer to the branch manager to the teller. They are the ones who cement brand image."
Bank analyst Mike Mayo agrees. "The tone at the top of the banks makes a huge difference for long-term success," he said at the panel. As proof, Mayo pointed to Citigroup's [NYSE: C] recent turnaround under chief executive Mike Corbat and chairman Michael O'Neill. Both men assumed their current roles in 2012.
"Driving Citi's past horrific performance was the tone at the top," Mayo said. Corbat and O'Neill "have introduced new financial targets and compensation plans." As Citi's tone has improved so has the bank's reputation, he said.
Transparent and open business practices also go a long way toward fostering trust, the survey found. Fifty-three percent of investors cited transparency as the top trust-building attribute. For banks that means providing user-friendly disclosures. "What matters is being very clear about fees and costs," Dannhauser said. "Try to steer the relationship so the bank doesn't only give good news. That might also mean saying, 'Here's why I can't extend that line of credit right now' and explaining the pricing dynamics."
A majority of investors believe that regulation has a crucial role to play in restoring faith in the financial industry. National and global regulators have the greatest opportunity to affect change and enhance trust, according to 52% of respondents.
New capital guidelines are a step in that direction, Mayo said. But regulators remain bogged down by overly complex rules and infighting, he said. "We need to have simpler regulations," he said. "The Ten Commandments fit on one page. The Volcker Rule was originally intended to be one or two."
Powerful bank lobbyists in Washington may also throw a wrench into reform efforts, according to Mayo.
"Economies of clout, that is, the ability of large banks to run roughshod over politicians, analysts, regulators, and the press, haven't gone away," he said.