There is huge pressure on Barack Obama to restore confidence in the banking system and stabilize the American economy. Despite the fact that governments have stepped in around the world to help ease the situation, thereis still growing concern around the safety of our savings, with trust and accountability in the entire financial system continuing to suffer severe erosion. America is at the forefront of those worries.

Many of us are owners by default through our retirementfunds of large swathes of corporate America, where the credit crunch was born.The effects are being keenly felt in the US, with retirement funds being one ofthe biggest casualties of the credit crunch, having had billions of dollarswiped of their value literally overnight.

Most of us are still oblivious to the fact that ourretirement schemes are invested in companies that are taking unacceptable riskson our behalf and paying executives excessive and unjustifiable bonuses - allthings we can do very little about because of our limited rights as shareholders in US companies.

However there may be hope in sight as Washington will be powerfully motivated to protect hard-hit retirement funds.

During Obama's presidency we can expect to see the rights of shareholders strengthened. He understands the need for change to the economiclandscape to prevent a recurrence of the greed and overtrading which have driven the current crisis. Obama needs owners to shoulder their responsibilities so that the regulators can focus where they can best add value.

New rights might include access to the proxy (the ability topropose directors to the board) and there may also be legislation that willgive new life to defined benefit retirement plans over contribution schemes.

This will spur institutional investors such as retirementfund trustees (the guardians of our retirement income) to take up theirresponsibilities as owners and will give them important new tools to do thejob. Given the already more open view of the Obama administration, I expectthis to become a two-way exchange internationally, with the U.S. providingimportant leadership in addition to borrowing practices from abroad.

These initiatives will lead to more meaningful directorelections and more accountable boards, to the long-term benefit of us all ascorporate owners through our retirement funds and investments.

If retirement fund trustees had obtained the right advice toquestion the dubious business practices that started the credit crunch, theworst excesses of the crisis might have been avoided. But instead, investmentbanks and other players in the financial markets were left largely unchallengedby their shareholders.

Even today, millions of people who pay into retirementschemes are completely oblivious to the fact that their retirement savings arestill being invested in shares with no real discussion with those companiesabout how they do business.

Retirement funds are long-term savings vehicles, but they supporta short-term approach that is entirely concentrated on the next quarter'searnings and other short-term financial measures. If this myopic approachcontinues, we will fuel further extraordinary profits for the financialservices industry and ultimately create another credit crunch in thenot-too-distant future, seeded by public money.

To make matters worse, we are not just picking up the billfor the credit crisis through our retirement funds once but several times-inwhat could be described as the triple whammy effect of the crisis. Astaxpayers, we are providing the funding for bank bailout packages; as retireeswe are watching the value of our retirement funds diminishing as the stock markets tank; and as employees we are suffering as companies shed jobs andfreeze salaries.

I believe the time is right for the short-term dance to endand a real conversation to begin with the large companies we collectively own.Hermes has been working alongside many of the largest retirement funds in theU.S. and around the world to help them understand and engage with the companiesthey invest in and begin a dialogue on issues such as transparency,accountability and long term strategy.

So what can ordinary people do to promote the long-termvalue of their retirement funds? Well they too need to start a dialogue withtheir retirement fund trustees and encourage them to take action. The firstquestion they should ask is, "Do our trustees have the expertise andsupport to promote our interests as long-term investors in companies'shares?"

I firmly believe that if millions of people like you and Iactively get involved in protecting and promoting the value of our hard-earnedretirement funds, will we make a significant change in the performance of ourlargest companies. Those trustees who have become more empowered through thehelp that Hermes has given them to start this dialogue are beginning to have apositive impact. Institutional investors are starting to see the value ofadopting long-term investment strategies and holding the companies they areinvesting in to account.

Boards of directors are benefiting from being challenged bylong-term shareholders on a range of issues. And retirement fund beneficiariesand savers are starting to realise the benefits of exercising their power asowners.

I believe the time is right forthe short-term dance to end and a good conversation to begin with the manylarge companies that we collectively own.

It is not only in America's interest that Obama issuccessful but it is also in the interests of all American people that he succeeds so that a better future can be created for us.

Colin Melvin isCEO of Hermes Equity Ownership Services. The firm is one of the world's largest stewards of retirement fund assets,representing shareholdings worth over $100 billion, and is helping retirementfunds to be engaged as active owners of companies and promote the long-term valueof their equity investments.