COLUMN: Consumers still don’t trust financial services – and they’re right not to

Lucian Camp

Brand & Marketing Consultant

Lucian Camp Consulting

Lucian Camp is a financial services brand consultant, copywriter, author and blogger. He co-presents the On The Other Hand podcast.

Don’t trust me.  I mean it.  Really, don’t. I may have an agenda.  I may have simply made a mistake.  I may be getting paid to say something that I know isn’t true.  I may just be having a laugh.

Actually, in this blog at least, it’s none of the above.  For what it’s worth, I’m saying what I’m saying as honestly and truthfully as I can.  But of course you can’t be sure of that.  And in this day and age, you’re absolutely right to be suspicious.  Which is why I see the red mist rising before my eyes on all the many, many occasions when I see and hear things said by people in and around financial services on the subject of increasing consumer trust.

The latest is a consumer research study published very recently by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).  Their key conclusion from 2,000  interviews is that consumers  trust financial services more when they know they’ll be compensated if their provider goes bust.

This strikes me as a rather odd idea – after all, if you really trust your provider, you won’t be thinking compensation is likely to be necessary.  But that’s not really my point.  My point, which is completely obvious to me but seems completely un-obvious to everyone else, is that consumers are absolutely right not to trust financial services, and it’s absolutely wrong to try to change their minds.

It’s distrust that keeps you safe when that nice man from your bank calls and tells you to switch all your money into a new account to stop scammers getting their hands on it.  It’s distrust that saves you when you read about the staggering returns you can make on that unregulated crypto investment.  It was distrust that saved me a few years ago when I did the maths and calculated that I’d be paying far more in premiums for that helpful Payment Protection Insurance than I could ever hope to get back in claims.  It’s distrust that tells me to shop around for my motor insurance every year if I don’t want to be treated like an idiot.  And when I need to speak to someone urgently and that endlessly-repetitive IVR voice keeps telling me that they’re experiencing an extremely high level of demand at the moment but he wants me to know my call is important to them, it’s distrust that means I know he’s lying.

I could go on, but you get my point.  It’s smart – in fact it’s not even smart, it’s just basic common sense – to be distrustful.  And most of the time, most of us are smart, or sensible, enough to distrust more or less everything and everybody.  Tell me,  seriously, apart from our nearest and dearest (and maybe not even them….) who the hell do we trust these days?  I have a pretty high opinion of the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, but I can’t think of anyone much else.


There is one exception.  Well, actually, it’s one kind of exception.  Even within the most thoroughly untrustworthy and untrusted categories, there will be a few people, and even a few whole organisations and companies, who have earned the trust of the people they deal with.  Somehow, they’ve persuaded them that unlike all those others, their word can be believed, and they really do have those people’s interests at heart, and people can engage with them in the confident certainty that nothing will go wrong.

How have they managed to persuade people of this?  Not by generic ad campaigns, or compensation schemes, or social media activity, or by telling us obvious lies when we can’t get through on the phone – but, in short, by behaving in a totally, utterly, 110% trustworthy fashion at every single point of contact that anyone ever has with them.

That’s pretty hard to do, especially when you have a tough next-quarter target to meet and you won’t get there unless you keep the savings rates you offer down for another month or two.

But unless you and every single other person in your organisation is willing to take on the challenge, please stop wittering on about restoring trust.  It won’t happen.  And, what’s more, it shouldn’t.

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