Corporate Social Responsibility

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With Americans’ confidence in banks persistently low since the 2008 financial crisis, the American Bankers Association Community Engagement Foundation launched an interactive map to raise public awareness of the good deeds that banks perform in the communities they serve. 

Titled “Banks in Their Communities” and housed on the association’s website at www.aba.com/communityengagement, the map allows users to search and view banks’ corporate social responsibility programs in six categories: affordable housing; community and economic development; financial education; nontraditional borrower and underbanked; protecting older Americans; and volunteerism. Users can search for the programs by state, category and bank asset size. 

“This map was designed not only to acknowledge the great work banks have done but to act as a resource for those looking to do more and to alert consumers of the programs available to them,”  said Corey Carlisle, ABA’s senior vice president for Bank Community Engagement. 

The map’s CSR profiles are based on information from entry forms submitted for the foundation’s annual Community Commitment Awards, a national program that recognizes innovative and high-impact ways in which banks contribute to economic growth, community development and quality-of-life enhancement for their customers. A click on New York state, for example, brings up 25 records from the 2012 — 2014 award years. The records show the 11 awardee banks by name, the categories in which they won an award, and the names of their winning programs in those categories. You can then click on the winning program for further details. In 2013, Goldman Sachs Bank USA in New York City won a Community and Economic Development Award for its 10,000 Small Business Initiative that helps U.S. small businesses create jobs and economic growth by providing entrepreneurs with a practical business education, access to capital and business support services. 

The American Bankers Association bills itself as “the voice” of the nation’s $15 trillion banking industry. Whether its foundation’s new tool will soften the distrust more than a quarter of the American population harbors for banks remains to be seen. A June 2014 Gallup Poll shows Americans’ confidence in banks well below the pre-recession level of 41 percent measured in June 2007. In that poll, 28 percent of Americans said they had “very little” confidence, and 2 percent volunteered that they had no confidence. The figures were consistent with the results of Gallup’s 2013 survey. The poll was conducted by telephone nationwide from June 5 to June 8, 2014, with a random sample of 1,027 adults 18 years and older, with a 4 percentage-point margin of error. 

Americans’ confidence in banks was relatively high at 49 percent in 2005 and 2006. It dropped 8 percentage points to 41 percent in 2007, fell a combined 19 points in 2008 and 2009, and bottomed out at 21 percent in 2012. Gallup attributes the drop from 2006 to the emergence of the subprime mortgage crisis, the Great Recession that ensued, the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank, and the subsequent government intervention to save several other lending institutions.  

Four months after the Gallup Poll, a PwC survey found a general distrust of the financial services industry as a whole, with only 32 percent of people saying they trust their retail banks. Bank CSR programs aside, the industry clearly has an image problem that won’t be easy to fix, industry executives concede.

“The lack of trust in the financial services sector partly reflects a failure of providers to articulate the value they are offering, leading to suspicions that their overwhelming priority is to make short-term profits. Providers must find new ways to explain the services they are providing, encourage consumers to voice their goals, priorities and expectations, and to respond to these,” says George Stylianides, PwC’s financial services risk and regulation leader.