Another possible consequence of the foreclosure crises: a lack of trust of financial institutions

In recent decades, a number of sociologists have written about a necessary feature of human interaction: trust between the individuals or groups involved. Two sociologists discuss this in the Huffington Post:

While also feeling shame and embarrassment, even personal failure, for having allowed themselves to be taken in, these families are also aware of the exploitation they have experienced at the hands of their “trusted” financial advisors. That mistrust threatens the recovery some believe has begun in recent months.

As the British sociologist Anthony Giddens has noted, in complex societies where each individual cannot become expert in all the institutional contexts in which they must operate, trust is essential for people to negotiate the various realms, including financial institutions, in which they operate. People must feel secure in the trust networks they establish in order to survive and prosper, and for society itself to advance.

In a series of in-depth interviews nationwide with 22 adults who are at risk of foreclosure (they were either behind in their mortgage payments at some point in the past two years or, in two instances, had already lost their homes due to foreclosure) all respondents expressed both anger and personal responsibility. The interviews lasted between 30 and 90 minutes. In no question with any respondent was the word “trust” used. But in every case but one, the respondents explicitly referred to the mistrust they now have for anyone associated with the mortgage lending industry in particular or financial services generally.

From this short excerpt, it is hard to get an idea of how representative these 22 respondents are and how we can know whether their opinions reflect those of Americans at large. But if this is generalizable information, it suggests it could take a long for customers to approach the mortgage industry in the same way. At the same time, many Americans don’t really have many other options when shopping for a home: a mortgage is a necessity. So how could the mortgage industry once again gain the trust of consumers – special programs, special efforts, more government regulation?

According to the postscript at the end of the article, a longer argument from these two sociologists will be published soon in Social Science Quarterly.

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