Edelman's annual trust barometer study suggests that the financial industry has a long road to travel before it can rebuild the trust it requires to operate. It also suggests that intelligent media relations might provide much of the solution that will once again win the industry the support of the public and regulators.
First a few grim statistics from the study:
- While trust in all industries in the U.S. declined last year, banking suffered the most, with a 35% decline in the trust metric. Banks and insurance companies are among the three least trusted industries in the U.S.
- Only 49% of Americans think the free market function is sufficient to prevent future financial crises
- 61% of Americans think that government should impose stricter regulations on business and people were evenly split on whether the government or business should be most responsible for ending the credit crisis
- CEOs were the least trusted of all expert spokespeople and people cited excessive compensation as the number one reason they had less trust in corporations (When President Obama spoke about demanding new accountability from CEOs, the MSNBC audience reaction meter went into the stratosphere of approval ratings... even higher than it did than when he outlined a new commitment to cure cancer!)
What's a bank or hedge fund or private equity firm to do? Ramp up the public relations. The study shows that using media to win back third party validation of a company's mission and merit is the best way to rebuild trust. Importantly, old media remains a key component of influencing opinion and creating trust. According to the study, traditional media (analyst reports, articles in business magazines, newspaper articles, and radio and TV news) are the most credible information sources, even for young people (age 25 - 34). In fact 55% of those age 25 - 34 and 43% of those age 35 - 64 find business magazines the most credible of all media. After media, people find conversations with company employees highly credible, meaning that employee communications need to also be a priority.
Ok, no problem, right? Not so fast. Part of the challenge is that people need to get information from multiple sources, multiple times to believe it. The study says that 60% of people need to hear or see something (positive or negative) about a company between three and five times before they believe it to be true.
This means that there are no shortcuts on the long road back to trust. The journey is worth it, though, as trusted corporations have greater license to operate and receive the benefit of the doubt when things inevitably do go wrong in the future. Heidi Moore, DealJournal columnist at the Wall Street Journal says, "You can call on trust when you need it."