Financial companies have taken it on the chin when it comes to trust. Recent scandals and crises that eat clients’ money erode trust. But not all financial institutions are in the same bucket. Who, then, are the most trusted financial companies that “do the right thing” repeatedly?
Investor’s Business Daily set out to find out the most important attributes of trust, and then asked people to rate their trust in specific financial companies.
The result of this consumer survey is IBD’s 2021 list of the 25 Most Trusted Financial Companies. We surveyed for trust in eight categories of companies: banks, brokerages, wealth managers, auto and home insurers, life insurers, fund companies and credit card companies. The IBD survey was conducted with polling partner TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence.
Overall, out of 74 financial companies that qualified, the Most Trusted Financial Company is USAA. It earned the top two slots with trust ratings of 91.1 in auto insurance and 90.1 in home insurance, the highest ratings in those categories.
Overall Leaders Among Financial Companies
Vanguard was third overall based on its No. 1 ranking in the online brokerage category, with a trust rating of 89.8. Vanguard also won top honors for its ETF and mutual fund division.
Based on 343 people who participated in the first phase of the research, the study identified the five most important trust attributes and weighted them by importance to compute the overall Trust Index. The five trust traits are the quality of products and services, commitment to protecting privacy and security, ethical practices and values, fair pricing and fees, and customer service and treatment.
Commitment to protecting personal data privacy and security received the highest weight in our study. Quality of products and services came in second.
Then, in phase two, 6,578 consumers participated in July and August 2021 to rate financial companies they do business with on the five trust attributes. See our story on the methodology behind this survey.
For Some, Locale And People Build Trust
Chuck Hoch, an octogenarian from Charlotte, N.C., is typical of the kind of financial company client where trust is essential. Hoch places people and location as important to gaining his trust. Rather than sticking with one firm for financial services, he spreads his finances across several firms.
“I use Charles Schwab (SCHW) for my broker, mostly because they opened an office near my home, and I like the people there. I use USAA for auto and home insurance. They are very accommodating and my experience has been very positive over the years. They do what they say.”
The retired CEO of a medical office uses Vanguard for his retirement and brokerage accounts. “I like their low fees and straightforward approach.”
Hoch uses Northwestern Mutual for life insurance. Northwestern Mutual garnered first place in IBD’s survey among life insurers. The Army veteran, originally from Wisconsin, opened a whole life policy years ago through Milwaukee-based Northwestern and never saw any reason to change.
For Financial Companies, Trust Is Essential
To maintain a high level of trust, USAA continues to innovate. “We always strive to listen to members’ needs and respond accordingly so their level of trust never wavers,” said Randy Termeer, senior vice president of auto insurance at San Antonio, Texas-based USAA. “As an example, our members’ driving habits and behaviors have changed over the course of the pandemic and many have looked for ways to save money.” In response, USAA introduced a behavior-based app that lets policyholders track their driving habits and save on insurance premiums.
Fair Pricing And Fees Are Core For Most Trusted Online Brokers
Among online brokerages, Vanguard was first in all five trust components. Vanguard also ranked first on three of the five trust components for fund companies: fair pricing and fees, quality of its products and services, and privacy.
For Vanguard, building client trust “is more than a goal — it is fundamental to all that we do,” said Matt Benchener, managing director of Vanguard Retail Investor Group. “We seek to earn clients’ trust by giving them a distinct connection to a broader purpose. We help them achieve their investment goals, and provide them with unmatched long-term outcomes.”
Charles Schwab, which placed fourth overall and second among online brokers, echoed that trust is fundamental to the values of the firm.
“We are honored by this recognition,” said Jonathan Craig, managing director, head of investor services and marketing at Schwab. “Schwab was built around a simple idea: Put the client first. Lots of companies say that, but our dedicated teams go above and beyond what’s expected every day to earn and maintain our clients’ trust.” Schwab placed first overall last year in IBD’s first Most Trusted Financial Companies survey.
Most Trusted Financial Companies Must ‘Do The Right Thing’
This year’s Most Trusted Financial Companies survey added two new categories: life insurance and fund firms.
“Trustworthiness must be earned over time by consistently living up to your commitments,” said John Schlifske, chairman, president and CEO of Northwestern Mutual. “We’ve all heard from companies imploring their customers to trust them, turning the notion into more of a buzzword than a business imperative. But at Northwestern Mutual, we have a different philosophy, one focused on demonstrating trustworthiness to build lasting relationships.”
Schlifske says Northwestern is built around three aspects of trust: intention of “doing the right thing,” having the ability to do the right thing, and actually doing the right thing.
As in life insurance, loyalty and trust go a long way to cementing relations in auto and home policies. Founded in 1922 by military officers, USAA provides insurance and other financial services to more than 13 million U.S. military members, their spouses and their children.
David Long, a real estate agent in Plano, Texas, typifies the kind of loyalty that USAA breeds. Soon after Long joined ROTC in college in 1970, he purchased auto insurance from USAA. He subsequently got a USAA homeowner policy when he bought his first house. “Even though I was only in the Air Force for four years, USAA (employees) sometimes still refer to me as Captain Long,” he said with a laugh. “I like that.”
Banks And Wealth Managers
In the wealth management category, trust tends to be more about the relationship between the advisor and client.
“It’s because of (my financial advisor) that I gave Ameriprise a high rating in your survey,” said Hank Donigan, based in San Diego, Calif. “He’s taken great care of me and represents Ameriprise very well. Even on a busy market day, he’ll get right back to me.”
Marcy Keckler, senior vice president of financial advice strategy and marketing at Ameriprise Financial, said the company is continuously investing in technology to help clients work with their advisor.
But she acknowledged the importance of developing “deep, meaningful relationships that often span decades with our clients. Our advisors know our clients’ parents, their kids, what they hope to achieve in life, and even what keeps them up at night.”
Credit Cards Build Trust With New Features, Customer Service
Credit cards, on the other hand, are less about people and more about being able to access a customer service representative easily. Earning rewards that customers deem valuable also helps, as does tapping useful features such as mobile payment services or credit score updates.
Bill Cole has had a Discover card in his wallet for the past 20 years. “Awhile back I had a minor snafu and I had to call them,” he said. “It resulted in a fee that they wiped out right away. I didn’t have to fight them over it. They were very easy to deal with.”
Banks were the lowest category overall in trust ratings, with none of the banks making it to the top 25 overall. But TD Bank, Citibank and PNC Bank were just outside the top 25. And among banks, they were in a tight race for first place, with trust ratings of 79.3, 79.0, and 78.5, respectively.
How Important Is Trust?
Life insurers also earned lower scores, with the top companies ranging from 79.4 to 70.8.
Some financial companies depend more on their people and building relationships, like wealth managers, brokers and even banks. Others like credit cards and fund companies depend more on the quality of their products and online tools and sales. Still others, like insurance companies, depend on a combination of trust attributes.
A whopping 98% of consumers in the survey said trust is important to their relationship with financial companies.
When they need customer service, customers want a company that is not going to be dismissive and put them on hold. They want to be treated like a human being, with respect, ethical fairness and privacy.
Customers shouldn’t have to worry about scams like recent ones involving synthetic identity theft or offers to buy worthless cryptocurrencies, or the data breaches that have affected individuals and companies such as in the Equifax incident in 2017 and JPMorgan Chase cyberattack in 2014. Trust also may be tainted by financial scandals like the Wells Fargo fake account controversy and insurance companies’ bungled payouts after natural disasters.
Morey Stettner contributed to this article.
This article was originally published on September 20, 2021, and was updated on November 12, 2021.
The Most Trusted Financial Companies logo and accolades are available for licensing by contacting Investor’s Business Daily’s partner, The YGS Group, by email at [email protected] or at 800-290-5460.
Follow Michael Molinski on Twitter @IMmolinski
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