Two years after many of Wall Street’s biggest banks nearly collapsed in the subprime crisis, half or more of individual investors do not trust financial services firms and brokerages, according to a report released Wednesday. And yet, brokers and financial advisors topped a ranking of individuals considered the “most credible source of information.”
The report, “Trust in U.S. Financial Services,” released Wednesday by public relations giant Edelman, indicates that 49 percent of investors trust financial institutions, while a lesser 43 percent trust brokerages. Community or regional banks were ranked as the most trusted institutions among investors, at 67 percent, followed by mutual fund companies, at 55 percent. Large national banks clocked in at 45 percent.
Meanwhile, 37 percent of investors said they believe their broker or advisor is their most credible source of information. Granted, 37 percent is just a hair over one-third—not high—but it is higher than any other category ranked in the survey. Portfolio managers, friends and family, and news media trailed behind while CEO or other senior executives of a financial services firm came in last, with only 5 percent calling them the most credible source.
“People trust advisors, but they don’t trust institutions,” said Mark Matson, founder and CEO of Matson Money, a network of financial advisors and investment coaches that manages $3 billion in client assets.
Investors are more familiar with client-facing individuals; they know them and understand their financial goals, said Laura Lutton, editorial director for Morningstar’s fund research group. “They have a personal relationship with that broker,” she said. “Even if they carry a card from Morgan Stanley, you still know the advisor and meet with them a couple times a year.”
Considering the big banks and brokerage firms failed to manage their own risks, investors are reluctant to trust them to manage theirs, said Matson. Investors are also still reeling from blown up portfolios, as mutual fund managers, stock pickers and market timers failed to provide the kind of returns so many of them expected, he added. Many investors were never educated about how much risk they held in their portfolios.
In fact, investors ranked honest communication and open and transparent business practices as the two most important factors to a financial company’s reputation. Despite their lack of trust in financial firms, investors seemed to think the firms did OK on these two metrics: 67 percent said financial services firms delivered on honest communication, while 63 percent said they delivered on transparency.
When asked about regulation aimed at financial services firms, 56 percent of investors said they feel more regulation is needed, while 67 percent believe there are problems not addressed by Dodd-Frank.
The perception that there’s a problem could be an indicator that the government hasn’t done a good job of explaining what’s in Dodd-Frank, said Julie Crothers, senior vice president of Edelman’s financial communications group. But many of the rules are still being discussed and drafted, said Aite analyst Sophie Schmitt. This might explain investors’ perceptions. “Dodd-Frank is still an abstract concept,” she said.