Sept. 15 marked the 10-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ filing for bankruptcy protection, signaling the beginning of the U.S. economy’s worst crisis since the Great Depression. Today, many people are analyzing how far America’s financial system has come — and how far it has yet to go.
The regulation and politics that followed the crisis have shaped both Washington and Wall Street over the past decade. The passage of the Dodd-Frank Act gave birth to a new matrix of federal regulations consisting of higher capital, liquidity requirements, stress test rules and systemic risk oversight. It also added new regulatory bodies, including the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The crisis redefined Wall Street and the economy, but many did not foresee how much it would also shape the political landscape. It is now more important than ever for companies to focus their messaging and brand perception efforts on Washington.
Here are a few takeaways for corporate leaders reflecting on the decade since the crisis:
On Sept. 29, 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 778 points, finishing the day at 10,365, the lowest point for the market during the financial crisis. Today, the Dow averages around 26,000. The job market is prospering, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest point in more than a decade. However, trends from the crisis still linger. Fewer American families are buying houses. Young adults are taking longer to move out of their parents’ homes, marry, and have children. Some of this reflects existing demographic trends before the crisis, but increased regulatory demands have also raised the threshold to homeownership, and Millennials view it as a risky commitment. The mortgage collapse in 2008 forced 9 million homeowners in America from their homes and caused the government to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship, where they still remain. Today, financial companies are finding it important to address these apprehensions and regain Americans’ trust in homeownership and the broader economy.
Navigating the Regulatory Space
Today, the financial industry has increasingly heightened regulatory requirements thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act. Before the crisis, banking was largely boring. Now, regulating the financial industry has never been more politicized. Even common-sense financial deregulations are met with opposition from either side of the aisle. At a recent New York Times DealBook event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) remarked that if the economy was to enter a crisis tomorrow, we aren’t prepared.
However, since the crisis, banks have higher capital and liquidity standards, higher equity, highly liquid assets, and increased loss-absorbing debt. The financial industry is not a source of instability but strength for capital and lending. Yet that message still needs to be reinforced for policymakers.
Many companies are beefing up their presence in Washington by expanding government relations teams and joining the conversation. The Bank Policy Institute – created by the merger of Clearing House and Financial Services Roundtable – represents 48 of the largest banks and will be a key player in influencing financial regulation under the Trump administration. To achieve their regulatory goals, financial institutions need to maintain a strong presence inside the Beltway to ensure that their strengths and benefits to the American economy are recognized by policymakers and that their voice is heard in further regulatory efforts.
Corporate Messaging to Consumers
The financial crisis strained the trust between financial institutions, the government, and the American public and has led to new political movements. Democrats and Republicans have moved further apart ideologically, creating new affinities for populist policy. “The depth of financial despair during the Great Recession and the invariably slow recovery have unleashed a sense of bitterness that dominates the political landscape, culminating in Mr. Trump’s electoral victory,” noted Andrew Ross Sorkin, editor-at-large of DealBook.
Nearly seven in 10 respondents in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer said that building trust is job #1 for CEOs. And increasingly, CEOs are showing their thought leadership by speaking up on issues such as the #MeToo movement, immigration and gun violence. The public is increasingly turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges rather than solely increasing profits. Companies need to show that helping to advance society is core to their role in serving customers, and their messages to consumers should accurately reflect these efforts.
Ten years after the Great Recession, consumer expectations have evolved. And while financial services are uniquely scrutinized today, the industry has been given an opportunity to overcome these reputational issues through innovation and a renewed sense of purpose. Today, they can be more than just product providers – they can be positive contributors to society.
One day, there will be another crisis. The question is: How will Washington and Wall Street respond the next time around?
Emily Johnson is an assistant account executive, Financial Services sector, Washington, D.C.
Emily Kuchman is an assistant account executive, Financial Services sector, Washington, D.C.