How Top Finance Companies Are Emphasizing Trust and Credibility to Get Ahead

March 28, 2017, 11:00 AM UTC
Drew NeerdaelsKris Maz LAUNCHFILM 2015
Courtesy of Acuity

As a recent report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers showed, risk management culture, ethics, and trust continue to dominate headlines about the financial services industry. With the public finely attuned to these issues, finance companies that demonstrate their commitment to doing right by their clients and employees by leading with integrity are seeing big financial rewards in the marketplace.

The 2017 Best Workplaces in Financial Services & Insurance, announced by Great Place to Work and Fortune, is proof of this. Companies on this year’s list significantly outpaced competitors on measures of trust within the workplace and saw higher revenue growth: Winners had average one-year revenue growth of 26% while peer companies averaged 18%.

“The financial system only works when people genuinely believe that financial service organizations are committed to safeguarding deposits and generating a fair, risk-adjusted rate of return on client investments,” said Chinwe Onyeagoro, president of Great Place to Work. “And yet, many consumers, including employees of financial services organizations, still distrust this sector nearly a decade after the recession. There is no better time for these organizations to strengthen their credibility by listening and acting on what co-workers say about their clients, their leaders, and each other. Financial institutions that do this well will outperform the market by developing iconic brands that clients trust and sustaining a great place to work that employees love.”

Winners on this year’s list are following suit by emphasizing credibility from top to bottom. American Fidelity Assurance, for instance, convenes “accountability groups” monthly where executives discuss their strengths and weaknesses in the context of the company’s leadership values. The discussion focuses on improvement and holding each other accountable for living the values espoused by the organization.

Authentic efforts like these to improve leadership can make a real difference. Among employees surveyed at the Best Workplaces, 93% said their managers are honest and ethical. That level of trust reflects consistent messages from the C-suite, backed up by the day-to-day actions of managers and an emphasis on individual integrity from the first time an applicant arrives for an interview.

USAA, the no. 1 financial services employer, offers a great example of what that looks like. “This company does an awesome job of living their values, with integrity ranking at the top of the list. I never feel like I am encouraged to lie or ‘stretch the truth,’” said one team member at this military-focused insurer. “I am very impressed with the caliber of managers employed here, and I don’t hear about drama and complaints expressed in break rooms about managers. On the contrary, most employees speak highly of their managers.”

Leaders at the Best Workplaces are also more transparent. Employees at organizations on the list were more likely than those at peer companies to say their management keeps them consistently informed and involved in decision-making.

The CEO of Quicken Loans, for instance, regularly hosts 20 employees over a three-hour lunch where no topic is off limits and the company comes away with ideas to improve. Credit Acceptance, an auto lender, also lets employees know their trust and feedback are valued by placing a “Red Tape Remover” button on the front page of the company intranet. It sends an email directly to the chief executive, who considers their concerns and ensures they get a response.

At another Best Workplace, Baird, an employee said the investment and private equity firm discovered the “secret sauce” that combines ethical expectations, ambition and collegiality: “While everyone must be courteous and professional, that doesn’t stifle open dialogue and disagreement. That can’t happen without building an environment of trust where people know their views are respected without fear of reprisal.”

To set these expectations, Baird proudly enforces a “no asshole rule” across its organization. We found this high level of respect for colleagues to be common across the winning employers. Despite the finance sector’s hyper-competitive reputation, 87% of people at the Best Workplaces in Financial Services & Insurance described their organizations as emotionally healthy. At the same time, 96% said they’re friendly places to do business.

Tony Bond, EVP, chief innovation officer at Great Place to Work, points out the power that this level of camaraderie has to shape how a business is viewed both inside and outside its walls.

“People at these high-trust companies aren’t just happy with where they spend their workday. They’re confident in their organizations and the people around them,” said Bond. “That type of culture drives employee advocacy and how they talk about their companies to others. The quality of these relationships is a key driver of organizational performance in finance. It instills the confidence clients expect when entrusting their money to a professional.”

Kim Peters and Tabitha Russell are vice president and certification program manager, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists, including the Best Workplaces in Financial Services & Insurance.