Bankers should work to rebuild the industry’s public image and its self image, and should also take steps to maintain industry best practices, new ABA Chairman Steve Wilson said in his inaugural address during ABA’s Annual Convention in Boston.
“Our banks are the traditional, regulated banks that run the engines that drive the economy,” said Wilson. “And don’t let the naysayers and the professional critics tell you otherwise.”
“I am proud of what we do,” said Wilson. “I am proud of our industry and the two million men and women who work in our banks. I am proud of what we do for our customers, and what we give back to the communities we serve.”
Wilson, chairman and CEO, LCNB National Bank, spoke of his frustrations over the way the industry has come to be seen by many members of the public.
“We have been made the villain in the name of regulatory reform,” said Wilson. And, he said, “the national media have not taken the time to understand who we are and what we really do for our community.” Wilson reflected that opinion polls show that the public’s confidence in bankers has fallen to a modern-day low.
“My goal as your chairman is to restore pride throughout the banking industry—and to restore our damaged reputation,” said Wilson.
A special request from Steve Wilson:
Impact of bad publicity on employees
A long-simmering concern for Wilson has been the impact of hammering bad publicity on bank employees’ morale. Informally, he has referred to his sadness at seeing them “looking at their shoes,” indicating a downcast attitude brought about by waves of negative publicity.
“Are you proud of your profession? I know you are,” said Wilson, the son of a career community banker, to the CEO audience. “Are your employees proud of what they do? As their leaders, we must make certain that they are. If they have confidence in themselves and their bank, they will be better employees.”
Wilson said it was time for the industry to retake the image high ground, “where a healthy sense of worth in who we are and what we do will strengthen our industry and our economy.”
The stakes are high. In the wake of the battering the industry took in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act, the importance of perceptions has never been so underscored.
Said Wilson: “The biggest risk we face today is neither credit risk nor interest-rate risk. It is political risk. And we must manage it every way we can. The stronger our reputation at home, the more effective we will be in Washington, and in your state capitals. And then we can convert goodwill into favorable action.”
A plan and a call to action
Wilson outlined a two-tier approach involving the association, on a national level, and every bank leader, at the local level.
At the national level, ABA is establishing an industry image committee. The new group will be co-chaired by two bankers, ABA Vice-Chairman Matthew Williams, chairman and president, Gothenburg (Neb.) State Bank and Trust Co., and Bick Weissenrieder, chairman and CEO of The Hocking Valley Bank, Athens, Ohio. The committee will work with bankers and ABA staff to help bankers “rebuild our image community by community,” said Wilson, by providing local bankers with assistance in reaching out to the public directly and through media.
Further, Wilson plans to take action on his own.
“For my part, I will personally write or call the CEO of any bank running negative ads against other banks and ask them to stop,” said Wilson.
Wilson also announced that he will ask every ABA committee and council to “identify bad actors and bad practices and to establish best practices for serving our customers.”
Wilson acknowledged that some see industry image as ABA’s job. “Some of it is,” he said. “But we’re the CEOs. We’re the ones who have to talk to our employees, spend time with the local media, and talk to Rotary. Employee relations, media relations, community relations must join political activity as part of our job.”
At the local level, Wilson called on his listeners—indeed, all bankers, by extension—to take action. “We have to win the battle at the community level,” he said. He asked attendees to do three things when they returned from the Annual Convention:
* Employees. “Make plans to meet with every employee, talk to them about your bank, about the community and their role in helping make things better.”
* Local media. “Set up meetings with the reporters for the newspapers, radio, and TV stations that cover your area. Talk to them about your traditional banks. Get to know them and let them get to know that you are their go-to person when banking news breaks. Make certain they know how to reach you day and night.”
* Community outreach. “Reach out to the service and business groups in your town and volunteer to speak to their members about what needs to be done to create jobs in your community, and the role your bank can play.”
|New ABA Chairman Steve Wilson called on bankers to work to restore the industry’s image, taking the effort to the community level. He donned a special button proclaiming “Proud to be a banker,” and pledged to personally contact any bank that runs negative advertisements about other banks. On the right, a closeup of the new association button.|