5 Principles to Restore Trust in Banking


In today's America, bankers are often seen as uncaring, and media portrayals reflect a view that banks put hardworking people on the streets. Our industry, which should be a key part of helping people achieve their economic and financial goals, has lost consumer trust and has done very little to earn it back.

Amalgamated Bank has taken certain steps to try to change this. We recently became the first bank to offer an across-the-board minimum wage of $15 an hour for all employees. We've worked hard to make checking accounts available to people using the New York City municipal ID, so everyone can bank responsibly regardless of immigration status. And we've partnered with charitable organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Jobs with Justice to raise funds for their programs through our Donate the Change initiative.

Recently, looking at these programs, we realized that there are five basic principles that underpin everything we do - and that should form a foundation for banks across the country. I've written to the CEOs of major financial institutions, calling on them to join Amalgamated Bank in adopting these five principles of responsible banking. That letter, reproduced below, will go a long way towards instilling consumer confidence, creating financial opportunity for all, and restoring trust through transparency and corporate governance standards that allow for true accountability.

The letter we sent to banks across the country, which includes the five principles themselves, says:

To: My Fellow Banking Industry Executives

Bankers today are often seen as singularly focused on the bottom line. Although we know this is not true, the reality is that the industry has lost consumer trust and has done very little to earn it back. At Amalgamated Bank, we're trying to change that - and we need your help.

Like most of you, we believe earning customer trust starts by committing to corporate principles and following through. At Amalgamated, we believe in sensible regulation that builds consumer confidence. We believe in being forceful advocates for creating financial opportunity, and we welcome transparency and corporate governance standards that allow for true accountability. We have outlined our core beliefs in what we are calling the Five Principles of Responsible Banking. We hope other banks and financial institutions agree with these basic principles and share our focus on creating opportunity for all Americans, regardless of the size of their bank account.

Our bank is adopting the following five guiding principles to help steer us into the future and to help rebuild our industry on the trust of our customers. I hope you will join me in adopting these principles - or in creating your own set of ideals designed to drive your bank's efforts to expand access to financial opportunity up and down the economic ladder.

Keith Mestrich
CEO and President, Amalgamated Bank

The 5 Principles of Responsible Banking

Resurrect Our Industry's Mission: Empowering People. Banks can be a tremendous power for good. When banks act as stewards of a family's financial security, no other industry's role is more vital to widening access to the American Dream. The banking industry must return to its founding mission of creating financial opportunity for everyone, not just for our executives or shareholders. Our economy thrives when financial empowerment is shared. Through affordable and accessible products and services, banks can reclaim our role in making sure that the mission of financial empowerment becomes a reality.

Customer Trust Must Come First. Banking relies on trust. A robust system of lending, saving and investing is central to a strong economy. Customers must trust their banks are never drifting from their fiduciary responsibility to maximize our customers' financial opportunities. Breeding an internal corporate culture founded on an unwavering commitment to protecting customer trust is at the core of maximizing financial opportunity and preventing systemic financial failure.

Regulation is Not the Enemy. Banks have been given an extraordinary responsibility. With that opportunity, along with the government's insurance of deposits, come regulations designed to protect consumers. Rather than challenge sensible regulation, responsible banks should embrace such measures as tools designed not only to safeguard consumer confidence, but to protect the solvency of an industry with inherent risks, and to preserve the integrity of our overall financial infrastructure.

Find Value in Economic Justice. Banks' interest in broad-based economic empowerment should include advocacy on policy beyond our customers' banking needs. And we should not reserve the benefits of banking for the few, while the rest of America incurs its risk. Whether it is wage fairness, equitable housing programs, or better access to financial services for the unbanked or underbanked, banks should be forceful advocates for public policy that allows for the creation of financial opportunity up and down the economic ladder.

Embrace Transparency. Banking can be a complicated business. But too often that is by design, rather than necessity. Banks must embrace transparency and corporate governance standards that bolster consumer confidence and allow for real public accountability. An opaque banking system will always undermine banks' legitimacy by its inability to inspire trust or empower those who need our services most. We must take an active role in educating consumers on personal finance and in improving financial literacy in our most economically vulnerable communities.

It is our sincere hope that other banks and financial institutions sign on to these principles to show the skeptical public that they are serious about focusing on opportunity for all Americans, regardless of the size of their bank account.