The cover of Bloomberg Business Week this week is a red-filtered, haunted photo of Bank of America’s embattled CEO Brian Moynihan, accompanied by the headline: “Can this man save Bank of America?” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/can-brian-moynihan-save-bank-of-america-09082011.html).
While preserving the appearance of modern journalism’s objectivity, the article describes him as a largely incompetent leader who got the CEO job because he was one of the few who actually wanted it, somehow surviving because B of A is protected from its own ineptitude by being too big to fail.
I actually like Bank of America and its CEO, and I’ve decided to help them. I do not know my man Bryan or anybody senior at B of A, nor do I have any special relationship with the bank. I’m a regular customer of the local branch (I have a small business and a personal account with them), and I like the idea that they still have a physical building right across the street from my office in Concord, Massachusetts, even though I hardly ever set foot in it. I’m also tired of seeing America bash itself, starting with its President and everybody down the line. The President of the United States has appeared uninterested in grass roots community support outside election periods, so I might as well start with a large bank CEO whom I imagine to be a friendly Irish type from New England . I’ll let you know otherwise if I ever meet him.
I sought refuge in America thirty-six years ago because the French annoyed me with their nasty habit of describing from the side of the pool why everybody in it is drowning from swimming incompetence. I came here because I liked America’s sense of collective purpose, compassion, even naiveté, and God darn it, I’ll do what I can to bring this back. It’ll be (sort of) like America sending healthy vines from California after phylloxera had depleted French vineyards, after originally importing the vines from France in the first place. I now have a mission: I will save Bank of America and its CEO.
So here is what I’ll do. On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, I will leave my office in Concord, Massachusetts, march into the Bank of America branch across the street and ask to see the branch manager (or whomever they let me see). I will offer to become the first customer activist of their branch and propose to mobilize a local community of like-minded customers to help them make their bank better. I’ll do it partly out of self-interest (they’re annoying on so many dimensions, where do I begin?), and partly out of altruism (because I want my branch to be around for many years to come and my man Bryan to be able to feed his wife and three children).
Mostly, I’m curious to know the people inside. I go into the bank two or three times a year, usually when my controller is on vacation and I throw myself at the mercy of the teller employee because I can’t even remember the business account number or locate the business debit card I’m supposed to use. There was even that time when some Brazilian client dumped loads of cash in our mail box for a speaking engagement I had done several weeks earlier, and I had to explain this was not drug money, but a bona fide fee for service. I remember the teller employee having something like a Russian name and accent, and I wanted to know more about her (how did you end up in Concord?; do you have any advice on where to stay?, I’m on my way to a Moscow conference), but we were both too busy figuring out how to deposit the cash on my account without raising unnecessary flags with Homeland Security, or depositing the cash on someone else’s account.
I have lots of ideas on how to get customers back inside the branch and co-create a new relationship with the bank. Why can’t they have a coin changer like TD Bank? I have about thirty pounds of coins I would like to change into real money some time before the universe stops expanding. I hereby pledge I will bring my grandchildren to the branch as soon as I get them and they’re able to count. I could use an extra conference room every now and then for my client meetings, and I’d love to be able to borrow or rent one of their rooms. I’m looking for a CPA in town, and I imagine they might have some CPA customers they could introduce me to (and generate new business for). My kid is a freshman in a business college nearby, and he’ll probably need an internship or a job someday. My wife is heavily involved with a bunch of local associations who also need a place to meet in the evening and have banking needs. The most effective network in town is made of former professional women volunteering their talent for various causes, never engaging with local banks in any way, because nobody at the bank ever reaches out to them.
“This is all fine and dandy”, the branch manager will say (assuming there is one; for all I know, the Russian lady runs the place), “but how are we going to make money from all this community and social stuff?” I will then flash one of my legendary smiles and tell him how to really make money with guys like me. “I know you’ve been trying to CRM me for years. I know your strategy is to identify individuals with some assets to manage, ideally with small (or larger) businesses. Your strategy is to ‘cross-sell’ me. But you don’t even seem to be able to read my account balance and call me when I accumulate some cash to invest. ” We will agree that having me tell them where I keep my money is a more efficient way to find out than have their CRM program try to connect my business account with me as a person. “I’ll help you make money for your branch because I want you to be promoted and Brian to remain your CEO”, I’ll say. “And by the way, I can bring you lots of people like me if you let us shape the branch with you.”
I’ll let you know how I do on Wednesday. Stay tuned. Brian’s survival is at stake.