Banks’ Consumer Misdeeds May Spell Concern For Small Merchants

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Google “Wells Fargo scandal” and you get a choice of three: 2016, 2015, 2013, all of which may effect how SMBs view banks.

The public didn’t hold banks in high esteem to say the least after the high risk mortgage crisis of 2008 led to government bailouts, but the blatant practice and prolific number of fake accounts created between 2011 and 2015 shocked even the most jaded and cynical observers. Coincidentally, or not, Wells Fargo’s stock doubled in the same time period. Wells Fargo of course is just the latest big bank to run afoul of regulators; HSBC drew charges of foreign exchange trade violations a week before the Wells Fargo scandal broke.

At Wells Fargo, heads are rolling, punishments will happen ($185 million in fines, $5 million in restitution), some fortunes have been dented (Warren Buffett reportedly has lost more than $1 billion due to Wells Fargo stock crashing) and trust in banks remains low. But, most important to our audience, can consumer-centric shenanigans and the resulting outrage and mistrust affect commercial partners’ perception of banks and even willingness to work with blemished banks?

We know that credit unions benefit each time banks earn bad publicity, with national membership having risen, and much of that increase is millennials with 2008’s troubles, Occupy Wall Street, and Bank of America’s 2011 bid to charge $5 for debit card use fresh in their minds. Credit union membership rose more than 3 percent in 2015 and another 3 percent through June 30 in 2016.

So it’s clear that mistrust in banks can have concrete behavioral effects. Here’s a thought: because much of who payment facilitators do business with are small merchants who are very much run by humans to whom each cent counts daily, it’s not a stretch to say when private citizen consumers are suspicious of banks, small merchants wanting to offer card payments could be wary too.

Remember, amid all the audacity of the opening of millions of fake accounts of deposit and bogus credit card accounts, and the millions of dollars fined and billions lost in the stock market, 5,300 people lost their Wells Fargo jobs over the last few years because of the fake account scam, most likely many who were innocent players or at the least desperate to save their jobs. Small merchants identify with regular Joes, who they count on for transactions, and huge layoffs are nominally bad for the economy.

Tiffani Montez, a senior analyst with Aite Group, says if banks handle scandal well, damage can be minimized.

“A consumer-centric scandal would be a signal to commercial interest/partners that the banks may have cracks in their operational processes or even in their technology, depending on the scandal,” she says. “Their perception of how risky the interest/partnership is may change, as a result of that. To minimize risk, the commercial interest/partners, may ask for the bank or credit union to put measures in place to ensure their brand is not exposed as part of the scandal or even confirm a contract has not been broken.

“That being said, if the leadership team of the bank communicates the incident as quickly as possible, takes responsibility for what happened and making it right for their customers, demonstrates the issue is being addressed, puts measures in place to keep it from happening again and performs root cause analysis to determine how it happened and confirms no other business process or technology can be exploited in the same way, that can help preserve some confidence.”

There’s only one ‘if’ in her comment, but it’s a big one.

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