Banks Need Actions Over Image

I winced when I saw this flow by on Twitter this morning:

Banks and insurance companies to launch ‘image-improvement campaign’

Those quote marks say it all. It’s going to take a lot more than an image campaign when the level of trust of these institutions have is equivalent to a Bentley running on fumes in the middle of Death Valley.

These guys don’t need an image campaign, they need a trust transplant. They’re eligible for that only if their words are linked to concrete actions.  I hope the three agencies behind this effort will supply that advice.

The financial services industry is planning their comeback to win the hearts and minds of… Congress, for the simple fact that they’re dead set against any kind of regulatory structure that will inhibit growth, profits and multi-million dollar year-end bonuses, even in one the country’s worst financial crisis and billions of taxpayer TARP money that helped fuel their ledgers back to black.

From the Bloomberg story that PR Daily referenced, I learned this not so startling fact: “Since the beginning of 2009, large banks and financial firms have spent more than $500 million on lobbying and campaign contributions, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business lobby, spent $144 million last year to influence federal officials, according to Senate records.”

The people who think banks and insurance companies only need an “image” campaign” are the people who work for banks and insurance companies.  Many of the rest of us know that the flagrant abuses leveled at smaller businesses and consumers won’t be forgotten or forgiven until the industry makes substantial changes in how it makes its money, or the federal government forces the issue through regulation.  If banks choose the former, no amount of money spent on a severly damaged reputation will make a difference.

As Matt Taibbi wrote earlier this month in Rolling Stone, “Instituting a bailout policy that stressed recapitalizing bad banks was like the addict coming back to the con man to get his lost money back. Ask yourself how well that ever works out.”

How Might Kids Perceive Toyota Now?

The repairs at Toyota dealerships continue as the news of the recall and the sheer number of Toyotas on the road are an ever present reminder that the company has a problem.  Talk about a Catch-22.

When Toyota eventually gets to the downward slope of it’s Everest-sized speed bump, what will it do to repair its broken reputation, not only for consumers of driving age, but those who are simply passengers in their cars? Considering a conversation I had with my daughter this weekend, Toyota better start planning its long march back now.

Kate, who’s getting close to 10, was sitting in the back seat of our 12-year-old Subaru Outback, returning with me from a trip to the movies when she said this:

“Why does Toyota lie?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, wanting to present a balanced picture of Toyota’s response to the crisis; the incidents and number of recalls that occur with all car makers; and intricacies involved in replicating engineering and mechanical failures, “Toyota didn’t necessarily lie.  The problem with its cars is a bit complicated.”

“Why is it complicated?” she pressed.  “If Toyota knew its cars had a problem why didn’t they try to fix it sooner?”

Wow.  Kate is no news junkie by any stretch, but she is an avid reader.  Maybe I should re-up my subscription to the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s like those commercials,” she continued.  “Some offer deals to get people to buy their cars, but the other commercials where people are talking about how happy they are with their cars seem fake.”

‘Well, honey, I think Toyota will be fine,” I responded.  “People will continue to buy their cars.”

To that, Kate said flatly:  “Those people are chumps.”