WASHINGTON — Given the low level of public trust in the banking industry, banks should focus on meeting customer needs rather than on marketing themselves, PNC Chief Executive James Rohr says.
"We're not going to regain public trust by having an ad campaign," Rohr said in a speech at American Banker's Regulatory Symposium. "Not sure we're going to win it in the media. But we need to do it just by our actions over time."
While Rohr acknowledged the industry's low poll ratings — citing a recent poll showing just over 20% of Americans trust banks — and that banks were responsible for excesses that contributed to the financial crisis, he offered a strong defense of the industry against what he described as negative misperceptions.
He touted data showing that small business lending hit a four-year high in March. "How often have you heard that banks don't lend to small businesses anymore? It's just not true," he said.
Rohr also urged bankers not to worry too much about factors they cannot control, which includes the regulatory climate.
"The regulations will be improved. They're taking some of the risks out of the system," he said. "But at the end of the day, you have to run your business. And that's what our industry has done forever."
Rohr said that one key aspect of rebuilding public trust in banks involves delivering for customers.
He emphasized the importance of mobile banking, saying it is an area at PNC that is growing by 20% every month and is allowing the bank to cut certain costs.
While growth in mobile banking will lead to fewer branches, it would be a mistake to conclude that branches will become obsolete, Rohr argued. Customers want to see branches even if they do not use them as frequently, he said.
"We're going to have fewer branches in the future, but they're not going away," Rohr said. "We've got to figure out how to use them."
Rohr also argued that it is important for banks to be good citizens in the communities in which they operate.
Referring to PNC's expanding footprint, he said: "We do give away more money in every community we go in than the predecessor bank. That's something that's been a real plus for us for a longtime."
Rohr cited data stating that banks nationwide raised and contributed more than $440 million for non-profit institutions in 2011. But he said the actual figure is higher, since some banks do not report their contributions.
"I would argue vociferously that nobody does what we do in the community," he said, referring to the banking industry as a whole.