In some ways responsibility has always been part of the visual architecture of the financial services industry. Images of acorns, bridges and lifetime milestones were used to represent the notion of ‘planning for the future’ and ‘investing into personal security’.

Economists talked of consumer and industry irresponsibility during the bubble years. But as the immediate shock of the credit crunch recedes, it seems consumers and financial services companies are addressing the theme of responsibility in a different way, moving on from purely taking responsibility for one’s own future through savvy investments to showing responsibility for the collective good.

“Welcome to The Responsibility Project, a place to think about – and discuss – what it means to do the right thing” – this strap line tackles a big issue, one that is traditionally the remit of people such as priests or philosophers. But The Responsibility Project actually comes from US insurance provider Liberty Mutual.

Taking responsibility is a big issue in our current culture and Liberty Mutual lock it directly onto their core business, pitching the idea of buying insurance as an issue of acting responsibly. The website features a variety of articles, photographs and films talking about personal responsibility. The stories highlight anything from Mongolian Archers training for the Olympics and the responsibility that weighs on them, to Detroit entrepreneur Austin Black. He sees his real estate business as more than selling property or “a job to make money… it’s more about having a job to do something good for the community, like a collective effort.”

The Liberty Mutual Responsibility Project is a well-rounded exploration of the idea of responsibility, which has been thoroughly thought through from front-to-back – from how it ties into selling insurance to the storytelling on the website.

Why is ‘Responsibility’ such a buzzword? It is partly do with post-credit crunch mood, a different relationship consumers have to money. It’s a swing back from the material aspirations of the boom years. Responsibility is linked to the question of “trust”. recently reported a survey showing that the US public’s level of trust in banks had fallen to its lowest level since 2009. But what’s also interesting is that the public’s trust in small banks has grown (see also our feature on Triodos Bank). “Even as confidence in big banks has been falling,” wrote Janet Novack in Forbes, “the public’s trust in small ones has been climbing.

In June, while just 23% of those surveyed said they trusted ‘national banks,’ 55% expressed trust in local banks and 63% in credit unions.” No surprise to see campaigns such as that by Danske Bank announcing the “New Normal” with a need for “New Standards”. Underneath an image of an Oscar Pistorius-type ‘Blade Runner’ the intro copy reads. “In the course of a few years, the world around us has changed irreversibly. The fragility of, the financial markets, further globalisation, energy and sustainability have all become permanent issues, that no one can ignore. At the same time, technology has united the world in a digital network that places finance at the tips of our fingers. This is not just a temporary transition. This is the new normal in which we live.”

Their use of images is didactic, which may be the tone of the new normal. So the transparency and financial strength category shows an image of an Occupy protestor with a dollar taped across his mouth. The headline reads, “We Need To Regain Trust”.  The Responsibility section shows an image of a young woman in her bedroom staring at a financially unhealthy number of shoes (see also the Charles Schwab ad in the introduction). The copy underneath showcases the work the bank is doing with children around financial literacy, locking on to the fact that consumers are aware that responsibility is not a one-way-street.

A more visual approach is taken by Morgan Stanley whose Martin Agency hired award-winning photographer Nadav Kander to shoot their ‘What If” campaign. Kander shot portraits of a series of employees, which are blended with landscapes, factories, cities and people, alluding to the history of the company, and the individuals who comprise it. Each ad targeting a different idea around financial advice (from philanthropy to legacy) ran in The Wall Street Journal. The individual ad promoting responsible capitalism ran the following copy, “What if there was someone who made progress instead of promises? Someone who helped clients follow their own path, not the crowd? Someone who listened rather than lectured? Someone who gave more than just money? Someone who believed in capitalism and worked to make it responsible? What if this someone had stayed true to the same values since 1935? What if there were 58,627 others just like them around the globe. And what if they all shared the same name.”

It’s visually impressive, firstly just because this is premium photography and it shows. But the digital design expresses a dreamy weightlessness echoing the principle of “What if”. For such heavily digitally enhanced images they have an airy and graceful beauty. Most of all this ‘weightlessness’, this visual merging of past and present communicates the timelessness of an institution without the conventional visual baggage with which the general public clearly regard major, global, financial institutions.

The Morgan Stanley campaign demonstrates above all else that while responsibility may be a trending concept in financial services, it can be delivered visually in more oblique, supple fashions.

Browse a selection of images relating to the concept of responsibility from our collection