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Consumers' perception of Banking culture


Since the financial crash and the breaking of the PPI scandal in in 2007/8 there has been a major shift in consumers’ perception of banks, with a lack of trust being a significant characteristic.

For the past few years Which? has tracked consumers’ self-reported trust in various sectors, regarding whether they trust them to work in their (i.e. consumers’) best interests.  It was found that for day-today banking initially people were equally split as to whether they trusted the sector or not. With percentages around the low 30s for those who trusted banks, for these services, in the years 2013 and 2014. However mid-2015 there began a slight increase in the percentage of people saying they trusted the sector and a corresponding decrease in those that said they didn’t. The latest data published by Which? (July 2017) showed that 40% of people rusted banks for day-to-day banking compared to 27% who didn’t.

For long-term products the level of trust is lower than for day-to-day banking, with around a fifth of consumers saying that they trust banks for this service in the years 2013 and 2014. However, in line with day-to-day banking, since mid-2015 there has been an increase in those saying they trust banks for these longer term products, and a decrease in those reporting that they don’t. The last published data (July 2017) shows that a quarter (23%) of people said that they trusted banks for long-term products and a third (35%) did not.

In May 2015, when it can be seen from the tracking data that trust was slightly increasing ComRes, on behalf of Which?, conducted two focus groups in Bristol and Manchester with members of the general public to explore their perception of banks. Participants were current account holders and the sample included a spread across the following: age, gender, SEG, financial literacy, banking habits, switching, banks and use of paid-for/ free bank accounts.

The findings showed:

  • Perception of organisational culture is still not positive,
  • However local banks’ service is seen positively
  • And banks are trusted with satisfactorily running the practical day-to-day aspects of banking.


This appears to reinforce the quantitative finding that, whilst trust may be increasing for some aspects of banking, the percentage of people trusting that banks act in in consumers’ best interests is still low. In addition it demonstrates that the negative perception of the organisational culture of banks still remains present 10 years on from the start of the recession and PPI scandal.

Perception of organisational culture is still not positive

Our qualitative research reinforced how the PPI scandal was seminal in undermining consumers’ trust in banks. It appeared to demonstrate to them that banks were not acting in the best interest of consumers, but of themselves.  And that, in general, organisational culture was focused on making a profit, rather than working in the best interests of the customer. This perception was attributed to all banks; amalgamating them into a homogenous sector where are all as bad as each other. For the consumers in our group this perception was still current nearly 10 years on.

A few participants had noticed that many banks seemed to be trying to portray themselves in a softer, more friendly light in recent months, making an effort to appeal to more customers. However a number of participants still expressed suspicion of the motives of banks, perceiving them as attempting to make money at every opportunity.

Local banks are seen positively for their customer service

Whilst the organisational culture of banks are seen to be negative and self-serving. It seems that customers have a different perception of their local bank branch, with many noting the positive service at branch level. Local banks were believed by consumers to be putting effort into achieving good customer service and customers themselves felt that the staff were helpful and wanted to make the customer experience pleasant. However, some people were still cautious about whether this good service meant that the organisational bank culture was any different; that banks were still about serving their own interests first.

Consumers’ perception of the good service in banks may reflect a strategy by some of the banks to consciously improve customer service following the financial crash in 2008 (and the impact it had on consumers’ perception of their sector). In separate research1 with business leaders several finance sector respondents reported how some banks are moving away from sales targets for staff, instead rewarding those who have high customer service ratings. According to them, this achieves two aims; first, keeping customers happy, and second, allowing staff the freedom to do their job in a way that suits them. In Which? research2 that surveyed front-line bank staff we found that, of those sampled, half said they have a personal or team target which relates to customer service. Of those who have customer service targets over half say they receive a financial incentive for meeting customer service targets.

Banks are trusted with the practical elements of day-to-day banking

In general the consumers we spoke to were confident in the ability of the bank’s ability to do the practical tasks, for example security of money, correctly doing transfers etc. They were also trusted to keep personal details secure and a number of people were positive about banks response to fraud.


Which? research has found that nearly 10 years on from the financial crash consumers still have a negative perception of banking as an industry. Whilst our tracking data show that the percentage of people who say that they trust banks to work in the best interest of the consumer has increased, our qualitative research indicated that the sector is still suffering from trust issues, with consumers believing that organisational culture of banks is still one that is predominantly self-serving.


1. ComRes, on behalf of Which?, conducted telephone depth interviews with 20 business leaders across finance, retail, energy and manufacturing sectors, between 10th March and 22nd April 2016.

2. ComRes, on behalf of Which?, interviewed 100 people who work for one of the five main banks (HSBC, Lloyds banking group, RBS, Santander and Barclays) in a customer facing role (daily interaction with customers) and who were no higher than middle level management. Interviews were conducted by phone in May 2015.  Data was not weighted to market share but is broadly reflective of it.

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