“What have you done to me lately?” For banks around the world, the answer to that question seems to be the determining factor in whether banks are largely trusted. In countries whose financial systems did not blow up during the worldwide recession, trust has remained high. But in some European countries where the banks were generally viewed as having caused the crisis, trust plunged and has not recovered.
Online surveys of “informed publics” in 26 countries were conducted by people hired by Edelman, a public relations firm. Respondents were asked how much they trusted banks “to do the right thing,” on a scale of one — “do not trust them at all” — to nine — “trust them a great deal.” In the 2013 survey, conducted in October and November and released this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, more than two-thirds of the respondents in seven areas — all but one of them in Asia — thought the banks were worthy of trust. They were Indonesia, India, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico.
At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than a third of the respondents in six countries — all in Europe — thought bankers could be trusted. They were Ireland, Spain, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.
Those questioned were limited to well-educated successful people; they had to be college graduates age 25 to 64 with income in the top quartile of their age group who said they followed the news regularly.
In the United States, trust in banks plunged after it became clear that bad lending practices played a major role in the housing boom that led to a bust. In the 2008 survey, taken in the fall of 2007 just before the U.S. recession began, banks had the trust of 71 percent of the people polled. By the 2011 survey, taken in 2010, that figure was down to 25 percent. But in the current survey, it was back up to 50 percent, and the United States had the largest recovery in trust for bankers among the countries surveyed.
The U.S. economy has been slowly recovering, though, unlike those in many European countries, and that may have helped.
But the fact that half of those questioned now have at least some trust in banks does not mean people think the banks are doing a good job. Asked how banks were performing in six areas, more than half of the U.S. respondents said they were doing a good or excellent job in only one of them, ensuring privacy and security of customers’ personal information. In each of the other areas — small-business lending, mortgage lending, credit cards, trading and investing in government bonds and overseeing initial public offerings for companies — less than 40 percent thought performance was good or excellent.