Home / Industry / Banking /  Banks still struggling with trust deficit

Seven years after the global financial crisis, the perception of large global banks continues to remain low and, in fact, deteriorated in 2015 after a brief reprieve in previous years, according to a report released just ahead of the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos.

The report, titled the Trust Meltdown, has, over the past seven years, looked at the image of banks as projected across the media. The first edition of the report was published at the time of the Davos meeting in 2009, months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers threw the global financial markets, and eventually, the global economy, into disarray. At that time, the Trust Meltdown report had found the image of the financial sector to be “worse than the tobacco industry".

The seventh edition of the report shows that not much has changed since then.

“..in 2015, the news was even worse than directly after the finance meltdown of 2008, because of the long history of low trust," wrote Racheline Maltese and Matthias Vollbracht, editors of the latest edition of the Trust Meltdown report.

“To underline the challenge at hand, journalists see no hope for the future of the sector. Usually, negativity stems from a large bulk of reports that still refer to the mistakes made in the past. But in 2015, this was less the problem and the concerns shared with media audiences referred to the future," Maltese and Vollbracht wrote, adding that such a negative narrative for seven years in a row would have put any other industry out of business.

In 2015, news around the global financial sector continued to be dominated by malpractices which are slowly coming to light and being highlighted by prosectors. According to a 30 October report on CNBC, US banks have paid more than $200 billion in fines since the global financial crisis. Last May, five banks were asked to pay $5.6 billion in penalties for alleged manipulation of the foreign exchange markets and the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), which is used as a pricing benchmark for lending rates across geographies.

At the same time, global lenders, particularly European and UK-based, have continued to trim operations and staff to try and improve profitability.

Such instances meant the image of banks, as portrayed in opinion-leading business media, was the most negative in 2015, found the analysis.

“...the increase in negativity may less reflect increased wrongdoing by banks and more the business media getting fed up with these events as the status quo," said the authors of the report, adding that even business media is increasingly recognizing that banks may be at risk of losing their licence to operate.

Not surprisingly, some of the largest global lenders were among the most visible across media coverage. Most, however, were portrayed in negative light.

“Drivers of negativity for the most visible banks and many of their less visible peers include both Main Street and Wall Street concerns. The Libor scandal continued to generate negativity, along with legacy issues related to the housing bubble and consumer concerns such as cybersecurity risks and data thefts, product quality and customer service issues, and bias in the availability of loans and credit," said the report.

Outgoing and, in some cases, current executives at global financial institutions faced the heat for decisions of the past and the present.

Former executives of Deutsche Bank AG, including Josef Ackermann (former chief executive officer), Juergen Fitschen (former co-chief executive) and Anshu Jain (also former co-chief executive) got the most negative coverage among top bankers.

In June, Germany’s financial watchdog had heavily criticized Deutsche Bank for its role in the alleged manipulation of the Libor markets, according to media reports at the time.

Deutsche Bank should face “special banking supervisory measures" as a result, the Financial Times had reported on 26 June 2015.

While the lack of trust in private financial sector institutions may come as no surprise, trust in the leading central bankers also declined, said the Trust Meltdown report.

“Janet Yellen has suffered the most significant decline in her image, but this is related less to a lack of trust in her than it is to inflated expectations because of the historic nature of her appointment," said the report, adding that Yellen received the most visibility on interest rates and monetary policy.

In December, the US Federal Reserve raised rates for the first time since the financial crisis—a move the markets absorbed reasonably well at least in the early days.

Mario Draghi, chief of the European Central Bank (ECB), also faced a decline in his image and the media was strongly critical of his policies, the report said.

Apart from the US Fed and the ECB, the People’s Bank of China caught the attention of Western media. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not feature in the top tracked list of central banks across US media but did receive attention in the UK.

RBI, led by former IMF chief economist Raghuram Rajan, has been calling on developed central banks to be more mindful of the impact of their policies on other economies of the world.

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