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Wall Street Efforts to Improve Its Image Fail to Sway Americans

Despite efforts by Wall Street firms to regain trust since the 2008 financial crisis, fewer than a third of Americans view the industry positively -- unchanged from 2009.

By Tom Metcalf and John McCormick

(Bloomberg) --Bad news for financial titans like JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Lloyd Blankfein: Most Americans hold unfavorable views of Wall Street banks and corporate executives, and distrust billionaires more than they admire them.

Despite efforts by Wall Street firms to regain trust since the 2008 financial crisis, fewer than a third of Americans view the industry positively -- unchanged from 2009, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll.

Dimon, 61, and Blankfein, 62, each chief executive officers for more than a decade, have sought to influence the public policy debate on issues including infrastructure investment, regulation, education, immigration and corporate tax reform. Both were revealed as billionaires in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Yet the poll shows that Americans are much more likely to distrust billionaires than admire them, 53 percent to 31 percent. And just 31 percent look favorably on corporate executives and Wall Street.

Big banks “are still pushing for deregulation and they are going to get us right back to where we were with the financial crisis,” said poll participant Chad Boyd, 36, an independent voter and information technology worker who lives in Louisville, Colorado, about 10 miles east of Boulder.

Bankers, for their part, have been expressing their sympathy for Americans’ frustrations. Dimon unleashed a diatribe last week about the nation’s failure to address the opioid epidemic, economic growth and education, blaming dysfunctional politics and the media. Blankfein recently took to Twitter, calling for unity in Washington and for the U.S. to emulate China’s infrastructure programs.

The CEOs have sought to rehabilitate their banks’ brands in the wake of a crisis that left more than 8 million Americans out of work and cost shareholders tens of billions of dollars in fines and legal settlements. Blankfein, for example, created a business standards committee and responded to public outrage over Goldman Sachs’s compensation practices by taking $500 million from bonuses to provide money and advice to budding entrepreneurs through the firm’s 10,000 Small Businesses program.

But two major events last year -- Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s surprise election -- show the limits of the bankers’ sway over the public. Both Dimon and Blankfein opposed Brexit and indicated their support for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Spokesmen for JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

Republicans are much more likely to admire billionaires than Democrats, 53 percent to 17 percent. For some poll participants, the popularity of billionaires depends on the billionaire.

“Sometimes they do stuff against the little guy” and don’t always give back to help society, said Leigh Lamon, 36, a preschool teacher from Bothell, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. However, Lamon said she admires billionaires like Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates: “He has done a lot of good.”

Still, a distrust of billionaires didn’t stop Americans from electing one as their president, or discourage him from hiring more of them to serve the public. President Donald Trump, the first  billionaire to hold the office, has appointed two billionaires and at least a dozen millionaires with a combined net worth of about $6 billion to his cabinet. They include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon.

The world’s 500 richest people control $5 trillion in wealth, more than the assets on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, and 161 of them are Americans. The poorest half of the world -- about 3.75 billion people -- collectively are worth less than 10 percent of that, according to the charity Oxfam. Even as elaborate tax structures help the world’s richest avoid taxes, the well-endowed foundations of billionaire philanthropists are directing money to the pet projects of their owners.

The Fed, meanwhile, improved its standing as the economy strengthened in recent years. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed view the central bank favorably, its highest score since the poll began tracking it in September 2009. Fed Chair Janet Yellen continues to toil in relative obscurity. More than half of respondents said they don’t know enough about her to form an opinion, while 28 percent view her favorably and 15 percent unfavorably.

The telephone poll of 1,001 American adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, higher among subgroups. It was conducted July 8-12 by Iowa-based Selzer & Co.

--With assistance from Brendan Coffey.To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Metcalf in New York at [email protected] ;John McCormick in Chicago at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robert LaFranco at [email protected] Peter Eichenbaum, Dan Reichl

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