Community banks operate against the tide of bad behavior

If you don’t believe we live in an angry, cynical world, wade on over to Twitter for a half an hour and drill down on the discourse. Yikes. A person who shares an innocuous opinion can, within minutes, find dozens have hacked their ideas into bloody chunks. It’s enough to make this thick-skinned journalist queasy — and I grew up watching All Star Wrestling.

Saturday morning wrestling always started with a squash match, a one-sided set-up designed to get a wrestler (my favorite was Mad Dog Vachon) to the mic quickly so he could tout an upcoming “show.” The body slams, the rough commentary, none of it was real and faithful viewers knew it.

Meanwhile, “social” media (designed to connect us) has devolved into a tragic reality show, a platform for bloodsport. At its worst, it feeds society’s basest desires to shame and bully, and can destroy reputations. It can injure far more than any pro-wrestler move ever could. 

Anecdotally, we see fewer banks on Twitter than, say, Facebook. But many bankers are active on Twitter, sharing generally-accepted opinions or clever observations. Harmless, except in times like these when disinformation campaigns are roiling the national dialogue. If you engage on Twitter, it’s likely some troll may attack your well-reasoned argument. And even when the hit is illogical or unreasonable, it burns.

Faith in institutions in the United States is at an all-time low. If someone wants to denigrate the banking industry on social media, all they need to do is mention Wells Fargo and its account opening scandal, which has been granted eternal life on Twitter. When they do, your reputation suffers too. Unfairly.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that a key element in shaping Americans’ perceptions of whether an industry is ethical is by how those who hold power take responsibility or hold themselves accountable for their mistakes. The survey found that “the more confident people are that members of a group behave unethically, the less likely they are to have confidence in other aspects of that group’s performance.” 

On Saturday mornings when I was a kid, there was choreography at play when Mad Dog Vachon or the Crusher leapt from the ropes to flatten an opponent; the sound of the collision played a key part in the illusion. These days, it is increasingly difficult to believe the evidence of your eyes and ears, and that’s making people fearful and angry, and it’s driving the discourse.

According to another Pew study, roughly half of Americans connect the decline in interpersonal trust to a belief that people are not as reliable as they used to be. Worse, almost three-quarters of Americans under age 30 believe others are “out for themselves” or will “take advantage of you if they can.” Sixty percent of people under 30 say “most people cannot be trusted.” 

You can turn this around by telling the story of how community banks are different, how they operate ethically and in the best interests of economic growth, and how positive life is inside the banking family. Noah Wilcox, who graced our cover in March, is poised to take this very message to bankers across the country in 2020. We wish him well.

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