Friday, 4 November 2011

Bank boss incensed about getting 2 cents from public

When Loren Snyder's debit card was damaged recently, Bank of America wanted $5 to issue a new one.

That struck Snyder, a bank customer for many years, as penny-wise and pound-foolish.

"I know the CEO has to have his summer cottage and his yacht," the 63-year-old Medford man said. "But would it hurt them to give me a new card?"

Brian T. Moynihan doesn't like that kind of talk.

Moynihan, Bank of America's chief executive officer, said the other day he is "incensed" by people criticizing the banking giant.

He used the strong word — it's from the Latin for fire and means "very angry" — speaking to bank employees at the bank's Charlotte, N.C., headquarters, saying he gets "a little incensed when you think about how much good all of you do, whether it's volunteer hours, charitable giving we do, serving clients and customers well."

He went on to say to the bank's critics, "You ought to think a little about that before you start yelling at us."

If you think a little about that, you'll quickly see it's completely irrelevant. All those charitable, volunteering employees have nothing to do with what people are yelling about. If banking had an Academy Award for disingenuousness, Moynihan would be the industry's Meryl Streep.

Yes, Bank of America branches have employees who are really nice people. But the analysts, regulators, investors, customers and others who are "yelling" at the bank aren't yelling at its employees, they're yelling about the bank's behavior.

Does Moynihan think people didn't notice that the second-largest American non-oil company (after only Walmart) took $45 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout money and then announced they would charge people $5 a month to use their debit cards to access their own money? Netflix is now facing a customer revolt for the same kind of thinking.

The bank repaid the TARP money. It's still planning on taking the $5 a month from customers who don't have mortgages with it or maintain a $5,000 minimum balance.

Moynihan said the "place to win the battle" over the banks battered image is at the state and local level, referring to the bank's practice of supporting some worthwhile causes and putting its name on them, a common form of cheap advertising. But even out here, far from Wall Street, we hicks aren't so easily distracted.

Asked how he felt about the prospect of paying B of A $5 a month to use his own money after paying another $5 for the card to do it with, Snyder, who owns a local dental supply business, said, "Can I use profanity?"

Does Moynihan think people at the local level don't remember the bank's $50 billion "deal from hell" to buy bankruptcy-bound Merrill Lynch, and the $3.6 billion it handed out in bonuses to Merrill Lynch executives even as Merrill was reporting a loss of $27 billion for the year, and B of A was seeking more TARP money?

Maybe if people didn't look past the local level they wouldn't have noticed that when two of B of A's top executives, both reporting to Moynihan, were shown the door last month, their severance pay was more than $11 million.

To put this in a local perspective, it would take Snyder 2.2 million months to pay off those two. That $14 billion legal fund (which some analysts say is insufficient) B of A has set aside for lawsuits stemming from its role in the mortgage mess? Snyder can cover that in 2.8 billion months.

Moynihan has an attitude that gets you described as "beleaguered." That's understandable. In a J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction survey this month, B of A came in 24th out of 24 banks (see Jason Linkins on the Huffington Post).

Meanwhile, named the bank the nation's second-worst American company of any kind. B of A missed the gold only because of the presence of Darth Vader-ish BP on the list. But since the "it's-not-our-fault" oil spillers are a British company, B of A could probably claim the all-American double: last in customer satisfaction and first as worst American company.

Maybe some of the people yelling want to know why, if Moynihan gets so incensed on behalf of the bank's charitable employees, he is planning to cut 30,000 of them from the payroll, as the bank announced last month.

Maybe they notice that B of A is facing skepticism from the market, anger from investors, lawsuits from its role in the mortgage debacle and a government investigation into its foreclosure practices, which have included such quirks as trying to foreclose on the wrong home. For a funny (although probably not if it's your home) take on this, see John Oliver "foreclosing" on B of A on for Aug. 8.

Or that the bank has been selling off assets. Or that its common stock has been dipping under $7 in recent days, about half its 52-week high. Or that it's being sued by the Feds for allegedly misrepresenting the quality of mortgages it sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Some have even noticed that the bank claims a book value (assets minus liabilities) of more than $200 billion, although the market doesn't agree, and its actual market cap is only about $72 billion. Some people think that spells trouble, nationally and locally.