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Consumer confidence in banking on the decline, study finds

Consumers continue to lack confidence in the U.S. banking industry, a study from American Banker and Reputation Institute found.

From 2017 to 2018, many industries saw a steep decline in reputation — so steep that experts refer to this time period as a "reputation recession." But from 2018 to 2019, most industries saw a partial recovery. Banking was not among them, said Sven Klingemann, research director at Reputation Institute.

"It really continued on that downward trajectory, which was pretty unique among most industries," Klingemann said in an interview.

The only other industry that did not see an upward rebound was the automotive industry, according to Klingemann. He said it is a story not only of consumers' trust in those industries continuing to worsen, but also of a missed opportunity for recovery.

"They missed the boat," Klingemann said. "Everyone else has started doing the right thing and responding to that crisis of trust."

All main measures of trust in banking declined from 2018 to 2019, the study said. The biggest driver of reputation decline in the banking industry is corporate governance, especially in relation to governance and citizenship, Klingemann said.

"What are you doing for me? What are you doing for my community?" he said, explaining what consumers ask in evaluating banks. "It’s not your products and services, it’s really how ethical you are."

The survey asked 13,000 customers and non-customers to give their perspectives on 40 commercial banks. Respondents were required to be familiar with the bank they were rating. United Services Automobile Association's USAA Federal Savings Bank ranked highest in reputation by bank customers, followed by Huntington Bancshares Inc. and Citizens Financial Group Inc. Wells Fargo & Co. ranked last.

The study provided five "keys to recovery" for the banking industry: corporate responsibility, broad appeal across the political spectrum, risk preparedness, understanding the importance of market influencers and leveraging the bank's CEO.