Since the financial crisis ended more than six years ago, the banking industry has certainly rebounded, with most U.S. banks producing massive profits once again. However, many American consumers see the banks and the people who run them as nothing more than a bunch of crooks.
How can banks change that perception? We asked this question to three Motley Fool contributors, and here's what they had to say.
Matt Frankel: One way U.S. banks could win back the public's trust would be to go above and beyond when it comes to providing convenience and customer service. Have you ever called your bank's customer service number only to hang up more frustrated than when the call started? Have you ever had to plan your day around getting to the bank before it closes? If so, you know there's a reason the term "bankers' hours" is often used in a derogatory manner.
One bank that's getting customer service right is Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), and other banks should employ some of its strategies. Known as "America's Most Convenient Bank," TD branches are known to stay open later at night than peers and on weekends (even Sundays). For example, a quick search shows that the TD branch closest to me is open until 8 p.m. on certain nights, and 11-3 on Sundays. Customers are welcome to do their banking when it's convenient for them -- they can even bring their dogs.
While it's true that virtually all large U.S. banks are in far better shape than they were just a few years ago, many consumers still view them as greedy corporations that almost destroyed our country's financial system. And despite the tremendous technological advances in mobile and online banking, branches are still the public face of banking to the general public. Going the extra mile to provide a top-notch experience could go a long way toward changing the public's perception.
Dan Caplinger: There's a simple way big banks can regain the trust of American consumers: by putting their money where their mouths are. The American public has been furious for years at the fact that big banks took taxpayer bailout money and yet still, in many cases, offer uncompetitive rates on many personal banking products.
For instance, looking at rates on savings accounts and certificates of deposit, what the big banks offer their customers is an embarrassment. Instead, credit unions and smaller banks typically top the list of high-yielding bank products, despite the fact that those institutions never took a dime of federal money and had to weather the financial crisis on their own.
Similarly, many customers are irate with big banks that have failed to loosen their lending standards sufficiently since the crisis. Although the mortgage market sees rates stay relatively competitive because of the existence of a secondary market for mortgages, personal loan rates are often much higher at big banks -- if you can get a personal loan at all.
In the end, American taxpayers feel like they didn't get their money's worth from the bailouts. Big banks could go a long way toward softening that stance if they took steps to use their market-leadership positions to share their success with customers rather than profiting at their expense.
Jason Hall: Banks and Congress have two things in common: As a group, people think they're rotten cheats that only care about themselves and the big money -- of course, except their rep or bank. And while both the banking industry and our elected representatives may be at all-time low approval levels, it's not like most people trusted either group very much before, either.
Yes -- the repercussions of the financial disaster and the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds that propped up the U.S. banking industry exacerbated things and further reduced the average consumer's trust. But historically low interest rates -- a product of the Federal Reserve, not banks directly -- is the real cause of consumer dissatisfaction and mistrust.
By and large, many of the biggest banks have moved through the harm done to them and have been producing huge, multibillion-dollar profits. And while this is a good sign for the health of the banking sector, it doesn't sit well with bank customers who don't get enough interest on their savings each month to super-size a value meal.
Yes -- millions of consumers have benefited from cheap (and even zero) interest rates from their banks and other lenders, but until rates begin to rebound, and banks start paying higher interest yields on savings, CDs, and other accounts, the divergence between huge profits and low payouts to account holders will weigh on consumer trust.