The financial sector has a responsibility to earn trust

As an industry, we failed the American people. Not every company of course, and certainly not a majority of our employees. As an industry, however, we made some really poor decisions.

As an industry, we failed the American people. Not every company of course, and certainly not a majority of our employees. As an industry, however, we made some really poor decisions.

It's not something I'm proud of. And it's obviously not something I'm happy about. But as head of a trade association representing 100 of the largest financial institutions in America, it's a fact that I and everyone else in the financial services industry must accept.

Our number-one priority - and challenge - is to win back Americans' trust and faith in our country's financial institutions, and we are already working hard to do just that. This is essential to our success as individual companies and as an industry. And considering the key role our institutions play in creating jobs and driving economic growth, it is also essential to helping the economy rebound fully. We are all inextricably linked.

Because actions speak louder than words, the admittedly long, difficult process of earning back people's trust begins with what we do, not just what we say. Our actions and words will reflect that commitment. It begins with how we act moving forward to make sure we have learned - and applied - the lessons of the recent past. And it begins with our returning as quickly as possible to being an engine that helps drive the recovery and prosperity of our economy, not an anchor that drags it down.

If I had to pick one overriding principle, one concept, one word that needs to underlie what those of us in the financial services industry most need to exhibit right now, it would be this: responsibility.

Responsibility in how we act. Responsibility in how we speak with customers, shareholders, legislators, and the American public. Responsibility in everything we do. I've personally taken responsibility over the past year, as have many industry leaders.

There is plenty of blame to go around - from reckless brokers and lenders to uninformed borrowers and complacent investors to the regulations and regulators that failed us. But the fact that others bear some responsibility in no way shields us from accepting our share and acknowledging the painful truth that we could have done a whole lot better.

We need to do something that doesn't seem very popular in this age of TARP and taxpayer assistance. We must say thank you. We faced an economic crisis. The good news was that our country and government responded. By lending the financial industry much needed capital, the American people staved off a far greater disaster for all of us.

We recognize the incredible value of the TARP investment and recognize, too, the value in returning that capital quickly and with interest. To date, the banks which were capitalized by TARP have repaid two-thirds of that investment, according to a recent Treasury Department report. And we are committed to repaying the balance in short order.

Most concretely, we must take responsibility for being more than just part of the problem. We're aggressively advocating for a solution.

To the extent the current financial regulatory system contributed to the financial crisis, we are working to promote responsible safeguards such as solving the problem of "too big to fail." To the extent that our internal practices have contributed to a loss of trust, we are making changes, like aligning employee compensation with the long-term good of our shareholders and customers and we have eliminated the unsound mortgage practices that were largely responsible for getting us into this mess.

Additionally, we are doing everything within our power to protect consumers from ever again falling victim to financial gambles masquerading as responsible investments by strengthening consumer protection at the existing regulatory agencies. The crisis of the past year has taught us how our complex global system is deeply integrated and, for that reason, is fundamentally fragile. For these reasons and more, it is our mission to get this right.

That is what we are working on with President Barack Obama and Congress - to modernize and strengthen US oversight of our own industry to prevent this from recurring.

As Abraham Lincoln said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew."

Steve Bartlett has served as president and CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable since June 1999. Previously, he was Mayor of Dallas (1991-95), a Republican member of the US Congress (1983-91), and on the Dallas City Council (1977-81).

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in