face it: Nobody is more hated than Wall Street and the banks associated with the financial crisis and TARP. These emotions are based in reality: People feel they are paying for the mistakes of the banks, the banks have escaped punishment, get preferential treatment from the Federal government, and continue to reap benefits/pay bonuses.

Pre-Lehman, all banks tried to build emotional trust by showing smiling employees, happy customers and surround their communications with happy music, inviting colors, babies and dogs. The warm-and-fuzzy path. This might have somehow worked pre-Lehman when we considered banks as partners and service providers.

From partners to enemies

When banks transformed from partners to enemies, people started to look closer at bonuses, at their own bills and the fees they are forced to pay. Each new scandal (can you say Foreclosuregate?) reinforces the negative perception and opinion of banks. And, what do banks do? They continue to travel down the warm-and-fuzzy-path. Instead, they need to walk a mile in the shoes of their customers and understand the daily struggle of private customers and small businesses. They need to stop pretending the financial crisis was nothing more than a little bump on the road to economic recovery. For many people, it was and is the Mt. Everest of financial difficulties.

Stop smiling. Start helping.

It’s time for banks to stop smiling and understand the severity of the situation for many people and businesses. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about the path many people and businesses have to travel right now. Banks need to develop programs and services that help build trust. Stop squeezing your customers with hidden fees and unnecessary penalties. Consider your cusomters as kings and not servants of your marble-filled empire.

In summary, stop talking about how great you are. Rather, let the people talk about the good experiences they had with your brand. Good experiences in the banking system are so rare right now, any shared success story by people could have an enormous impact. Stop advertising a false reality. Start producing a valuable experience for experience.

The biggest opportunity: Credit Unions

Is it the decentralized nature of Credit Unions or the non-flashy nature of Credit Unions that made them not take advantage of the financial crisis and the negative perception of banks? Sure, we have brilliant initiatives but we don’t really experience a unified effort from Credit Unions. They are perfectly positioned for the current mindset of people: local, community-focused and human. Their biggest disadvantage remains that people believe Credit Unions are for specific professions only and have a limited network. Credit Unions need to fight these misperceptions aggressively and continue to tap into their biggest strength: the community of like-minded people.

Financial institutions have to find ways to disrupt the current way of doing business. Clearly, people are not happy with the status quo and starve for disruptive products and services. They have to focus less on delivering profits and focus more on delivering a delightful experience and service. Marketing is much more effective when you have a remarkable product or service. Too many financial institutions continue to focus on their above the line campaigns or the bottom line and not enough on what really counts: the needs of their customers.