The Lesson Banking Should Learn From the Trump Election

I’m going to break a promise I made some time ago. I vowed to never publish a “what banks could learn from ___” article after seeing so many horrible posts trying to capitalize on some recent event.

Here’s the ironic — and, it turns out, important — thing about that. You don’t really care that I’m breaking a promise, do you? After all, you probably figure “Hey, if I can get some value out of what he’s saying, what do I care if he breaks some stupid promise?”

Ironically, that’s actually the point of this post, and the lesson bankers should take away from the election.

As much as it shouldn’t be this way, the personal integrity of the candidate didn’t matter. The fact that Trump said what he said during the campaign, and did what he did over the past 20 years, ended up not mattering to more than 60 million people in the U.S.

What mattered is that many people believe Trump can get the “job” done.

Not necessarily the “job” of the presidency, but the “job” of fixing the economy, the “job” of making America great again, or any other number of “jobs” that people want done.

You might not like the results of the election, but the reality of the situation is that “make America great again” was a “job” that resonated with a lot of people in a lot states.  The other side’s slogan — “I’m with her” — didn’t resonate as strongly in those states.

What Does this Have to Do with Banking?

This isn’t some political screed. The lesson for banks — and credit unions, for sure — is that the integrity, trustworthiness, likability of banks doesn’t really matter to a lot of consumers.

I know that you don’t want it to be that way, but that’s the way it is.

Survey after survey shows that “consumers distrust big banks” or that “consumers don’t like banks” or whatever. And survey after survey shows that consumers like or trust credit unions more than banks.

But the reality — the reality, folks — is that, despite the gain in market share that credit unions have achieved, big banks have gained even more share. And overall, traditional banks have not been displaced by neo-banks, despite the fact that some of the latter have been around for five or more years now.

Why Are Lying, Cheating, Stealing Banks Thriving?

The answer to this question is maddeningly simple: Consumers perceive the big banks to be better at getting the “jobs” they want done, done.

For many younger consumers, that “job” is convenience through technology. For others, it’s having a branch on every corner.

For consumers whose “job to be done” is “doing business with a financial institution who has my interests in mind,” taking their business to a credit union may very be a smart choice.

But the problem for credit unions — much like it was the problem of HRC — is that there aren’t enough consumers who define their “job to be done” in this way.

The Lesson Bank and Credit Union Marketers Should Learn

American consumers will do business with the devil if they believe the devil will get the job they want done better than saints will.

Following the financial crisis, many credit unions, and to certain extent, community banks, took the “big bank bashing” approach, and while it succeeded to a certain extent, it did not succeed to a great extent.

I know, I know: It shouldn’t be that way. But it is.

When it comes to banking, consumers will say they care about trustworthiness and integrity, because hey, who’s going to admit to not caring about those things?

But when it comes to how consumers act, they will overlook or rationalize transgressions in trustworthiness and integrity to get what they want done done.

Sorry if you don’t like that.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Check out more of his ideas and research on Cornerstone's Insight Vault. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

This article was originally published on November 21, 2016. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Nice post. (1) Going by the fact that HRC won more popular votes than DT, wonder what’s the equivalent of electoral college in banking that has led to the situation where market share growth of credit unions lags that of big banks:) (2) What’s the job that customers want to get done that would make them choose neobanks (over big banks or credit unions)?

  2. Interesting post, Ron.

    To Ketharaman’s question on neobanks above, I would suggest one possible “job” is: getting paid some interest on my deposits.

  3. @Bonnie: LOL:) I didn’t know the interest rate situation was that bad with traditional banks in USA!

  4. Oh, look — another article in search of a pretext for attacking the guy who won.

    Ron Shevlin, if you really wanted to glean some useful insights from the campaign (and you don’t), you might emphasize the importance of financial institutions really listening to their meat-and-potato customers, using new media to engage with customers 24/7 and actually staking out a strong market positioning instead of falling back on complacent, bank-centric platitudes.

    But words like “lying,” “cheating,” “stealing,” and “devil” make it obvious where your sympathies are. And obvious that I don’t need this site.

  5. Dave–

    Did you read the post? The words lying,” “cheating,” and “stealing” were used in reference to banks, and specifically referring to how many people use those terms when talking about banks.

    I never used those terms in reference to Trump, and in fact, the only reference to him was that “that many people believe Trump can get the job done.”

    Where was the “attack” on the guy who won, Dave?

    Answer: There is none. Read more carefully next time. On whatever website you still read.

  6. I agree with Ron.

    To be clear: If I had felt the article was political and/or and attack on Mr. Trump, I certainly wouldn’t have included it in The Financial Brand’s weekly newsletter (which would have been pretty foolish, since it gets distributed to bankers, who are arguably one of the most right-leaning constituencies in the U.S.). Or I would have pulled the article down entirely.


    Jeffry Pilcher
    The Financial Brand

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