LONDON: Financial services providers must enhance their brand reputations and improve the customer experience to counteract declining trust among consumers, a multimarket study has found.

Business services group Ernst & Young polled 20,556 people around the world, including panels from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the UK and US.

"Globally, retail banks are entering a new era," its report said.

"With the power of the brand also emerging as a key factor when customers choose their main bank, it is clear that institutions need to invest in restoring their reputations and repairing their brand images."

Overall, 44% of contributors suggested confidence in the banking industry had fallen during the last 12 months, hitting 55% across the US, but peaking at 63% in the UK, 61% for Germany and 58% in Spain.

By contrast, totals slipped to 32% for Japanese respondents, 25% regarding Canada and 18% in Brazil, while 75% of Indians registered a positive shift.

Despite negative figures on this metric, 51% of Americans source all their financial products from one bank, although 73% of the Chinese sample utilise three or more, as do 68% of their Japanese peers.

Worldwide, 41% of shoppers entrusted their business to a single firm, as Europeans, Canadians and South Africans also recorded above-average numbers.

Moreover, only 36% of consumers had ever switched between operators - housing 39% of Europeans, up 15% year-on-year - and a further 7% intended to follow such a course in the future.

Poor service quality was referenced by 48% of people hoping to change bank, 43% spoke about price, 31% cited sub-optimal products and 22% emphasised a lack of trust.

However, 63% of participants were satisfied with their main bank, reaching 77% in the US, and logging 73% in Canada and Poland, 68% for Brazil and 67% relating to China.

"Across the world, respondents rated brand strength and low cost as the most important characteristics of their main bank," Ernst & Young stated.

The first of these areas posted 39% and the second secured 36%, with two-thirds of Brazilians and a majority of Indian, Chinese and South African interviewees praising the brand credentials of the bank they used.

Elsewhere, 45% of the UK cohort and 44% of its Spanish equivalent agreed this played a central role, indicative of the recession's impact in both nations.

According to Ernst & Young, better customer service, marketing messages showing a bank's unique ethos, personalisation and adopting a coherent social media approach will all help build loyalty and advocacy.

Sustainability was mentioned as a subject of focus by 62% of Japanese consumers, measured against China's 51%, India's 46%, Canada's 32% and America's 31%.

Meanwhile, 43% of adults had received little individual attention from their bank, although 81% of Indians, 67% of Americans and 66% of Canadians assumed the opposite stance.

Only 11% of Japanese account holders benefited from such considerations, easily the lowest score.

A separate survey of banking executives revealed 52% would seek to augment brand equity and reputation levels in the next two years, the same amount wanted to become more "agile", and 51% prioritised innovation.

For 69% of "high performers" delivering results ahead of the industry, new product development will be essential, compared with 55% pushing brand and reputation, and organisational flexibility.

Data sourced from Ernst & Young; additional content by Warc staff