Top Bankers ‘Accept’ Pay Cuts. Will the Public Forgive and Forget?

You don’t have to be a public relations expert to know how the public feels about the banking industry. We hate it–like “record low” opinion polls hate it. In fact, we hate all of it—from hidden banking fees to that one time when banks almost destroyed everything good on the planet with their greed, obfuscation and wildly irresponsible practices.

And then there are those financial industry executives and their astronomical multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses. (There’s an app for that, by the way. It claims to compare bonuses for execs at the world’s biggest banks, and it can be yours for the appropriately inflated price of $11.99.)

The public doesn’t have a problem with people acquiring wealth through diligence, intelligence and sweat equity, but we loathe watching the economy sink into a financial abyss while those in charge shop for their own private islands.

Ever since the early days of the recession, the public never fully understood how people doing such a terrible job could be paid so handsomely. There appeared to be rules at play that don’t apply to the rest of us. Finally, however, the situation is changing. That’s right. Jamie Dimon, chief executive for JP Morgan Chase, had his salary cut in half, to a mere $11.5 million. Good to know he avoided that potential PR disaster.

How will this “pay cut” campaign go over?

In fact, despite very strong earnings to close 2012, financial juggernauts Goldman Sachs and Stanley Morgan, in addition to JP Morgan, are slashing or deferring salaries and bonuses for their top-earning employees. Though this change may not have a direct impact on anyone in the general public, it does have important symbolic value: it represents a return, or partial return, to sanity.

The financial industry poses a compelling case study for PR experts. The intricacies of purchasing and selling bundled millions along algorithms and across continents are beyond the general public’s understanding, so public opinion is largely based on perception. And perception, as we all know, is reality.

For the big, bad banks and their top executives, that reality just got a little better. But will the public buy what they’re selling this time?