A few years ago the banking profession was riding high. People respected banks, and banking was a career that was well regarded.
How quickly things have changed. Though Washington has created government programs that are aimed at "rescuing" the financial system, it has seemed to take immense satisfaction in chastising the recipients of such largess.
What should bankers do to address the negative message?
Communicate with compassion regarding all hard decisions. Bankers typically have to make difficult decisions. Foreclosures, bankruptcies and layoffs are unfortunate side effects of the bursting of an economic bubble. Bankers need to recognize that their customers, employees and other stakeholders are suffering. The decisions should be the same, but staff members should be instructed to use the utmost diplomacy.
Bankers need to get out and present in their communities. Ask for and accept invitations to the Rotary Club, business roundtables and any other forum to tell people how your bank is "Main Street." Communicate the message that your bank never [fill in what it is you never did]. Then turn the conversation over to what you have done and intend to do to help with the current environment.
Focus charitable giving on achieving recognition of your important role in the community. Identify the resources available for nonprofit giving, and obtain staff buy-in for the causes to support. Rally the troops to provide assistance to those organizations, and be aggressive in obtaining news coverage of your efforts.
Engage with a broader group of stakeholders in your community, including any critics. It is important to see how others frame the discussion in order to develop your own arguments to rebuff such statements.
Reaffirm your commitment to integrity and strong ethical values. Decision-making can be framed by the "six o'clock news test." If you would not want to see this story on the six o'clock news, then you should not proceed in that direction.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, embrace your shareholders as partners. Consider communicating your business challenges to them, and identify how they can help you overcome them. Many bankers have been successful with offerings to shareholders and local investors. Bankers need to cultivate their shareholder base in case they need to tap it for further capital.