In Bankers We Trust? Not Exactly

When counting their blessings (instead of their cash), executives at big financial institutions should be thankful they needn’t rely on the public to reelect them to their jobs. Polling makes it evident that consumer opinion remains hostile to that sector and its leaders, and that big banks and other financial companies will have a tough time winning back people’s trust.

The latest round of the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted earlier this month, suggests that advertisers in this sector would risk rubbing consumers the wrong way by adopting a message that says, in effect, “You can rely on us.” The survey’s respondents are much more inclined to rely on themselves and their family circle when figuring out “the best way to manage the financial risks you face in your life.”

The survey asked respondents to say how much they trust various people and institutions to help them determine the best way to manage the financial risks they face. Nearly all said they trust themselves either “a lot” (74 percent) or “some” (21 percent). A similarly large proportion said they trust their spouse or other close family members (64 percent “a lot,” 23 percent “some”). As for “national banks,” the “trust a lot” vote was a derisory 8 percent (with another 43 percent expressing “some” trust). The figures were even worse for “major corporations” (6 percent “a lot,” 35 percent “some”).

In another part of the poll, respondents were given a list of actions that “large financial corporations” might take and asked if each “would increase the trust you have in them a lot, some or not at all.” The highest “increase a lot” vote (59 percent) went to “paying back bailout money they received from the federal government as soon as possible.” Nearly half the respondents (48 percent) said “acknowledging the mistakes they made that contributed to the financial crisis” would do a lot to restore their trust in these companies.

And then there’s the touchy matter of bonuses: 31 percent of those polled said their trust in large financial companies would be enhanced a lot by such institutions “not paying out bonuses to employees.” Note that this question didn’t confine itself to companies that got bailouts. Polls related to the automotive sector have found people aware of which car companies were or were not bailed out by the feds. When it comes to the financial sector, consumers may be less discriminating and more inclined to regard everyone as guilty until proven innocent.

A CBS News poll, meanwhile, shows how rankled consumers are by the latest bonuses. Asked specifically about such payouts at “large banks and financial companies that received bailout money from the government [and] have paid the money back,” 37 percent said they’re “angry” about it; 33 percent said they’re “bothered” by it. And it is not just a matter of feeling resentful about payouts they regard as spectacularly undeserved: 45 percent regard the payment of such bonuses as “a major economic problem.”

Lurking behind the anger about bonuses is a continuing belief that the financial sector is largely to blame for getting the country into its economic mess. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll, also fielded this month, 58 percent of respondents said they assign “a great deal of blame” to banks and other financial institutions “for taking unnecessary risks.” Another 21 percent give those companies “a good amount” of blame.