The perception gap between banks and their customers remains wide and deep. That much is clear from a recent American Bankers Association/Gallup Organization survey of consumer attitudes toward the industry.

At the ABA annual conference this fall in San Francisco, bankers wrestled with who or what was responsible. Some cited the media, others consumer advocacy groups, and still others the banking industry itself.

But the numbers also can be read to point in another direction. The survey found that 36% of Americans believe mutual funds are federally insured, most don t know how interest rates are set, and more said they valued a friendly smile over better interest rates.

Is it possible uninformed customers are to blame? Bankers won t touch that one with a 10-foot pole. Thomas G. Strohm, a Meridian Bancorp executive vice president and chairman of the ABA s communications council, would only say, It s clear that consumers still don t understand our industry. And I find that to be very disappointing.

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