The Importance of Trust in Banking

by Shaun Heuerman
Morton Community Bank

In our industry, there’s one thing you cannot do: break trust.

The classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life tells a great story about the importance of trust. In the town of Bedford Falls during the 1930s and ‘40s, George grows up to take over the local Building and Loan. George was a humble man who truly cared about his customers and his community. He went out of his way to do what he could to help in their times of need. Even when things were not going well in the community, he reached into his own pocket to make sure his customers’ needs came first.

Since the beginning of the financial industry, community banks have provided a place to protect your hard-earned cash, a place where you could confidently go in the event you need to discuss private financial information, and an honest place you could visit to get a loan. Central to the relationship between the bank and the customer is trust. You trust your bank to do the right thing, day in and day out. When you walk in the bank, you trust that your banker will greet you with a smile, and when you are not there, you trust the bank to keep your personal information safe. Ultimately, you trust your bank to be there to help.

As the film progresses, George is taken advantage of by the untrustworthy Mr. Potter—pushed to the point of desperation after Potter’s theft of a building and loan deposit. This leads George to wish he was never born. That wish is granted by Clarence, his guardian angel, who shows George what Bedford Falls, now known as Potterville, looks like without him. Potterville is a very sad place; the Building and Loan collapsed and his uncle is institutionalized. His wife never married, and his brother passed away because George wasn’t there to save him from drowning. Subsequently, all the soldiers in a military transport died because his brother was never there to save them. George realizes the impact he has had on the community—and that the trust and friendships he has built in the community are what matter most.

Trusting your bank seems like a logical concept, right? Unfortunately, according to the most recent Financial Trust Index survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the percentage of trust in financial institutions is just 27.13 percent, down from 28.76 percent in 2015.

Lately, we pull up our favorite news source and see the headline: Big Bank XYZ found to have taken advantage of its customers. With news like that, who wouldn’t understand the skepticism that some people have regarding banks? As community bankers, we cringe when we hear of these situations. Why? Because someone in our industry did the one thing you cannot do as a bank: they broke trust.

The movie concludes with Clarence granting George his life back. When George arrives home, he finds that his customers and the community have all come together to provide him with the help he needs to save the Building and Loan. Most banks, especially community banks, are comprised of people in whom you can trust. A 2014 cross-generational survey by the Independent Community Bankers Association found that 57 percent of respondents would prefer to work with a locally-owned and operated community bank. These are the people you meet at the local diner every week, who have kids in your schools, who you see at the local festival or run into at Chamber events. Community bankers are your friends, your neighbors and your business partners.

Trust isn’t something given; it is earned. Trust isn’t made; it is built. If It’s a Wonderful Life teaches us anything, it’s that when you build trust, the community will always make time for you. And we believe that through trust, we build communities. iBi

Shaun Heuerman is business development advisor for Morton Community Bank.

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