”Well I’m mad, pissed off
about this whole affair
I’m mad, I can’t believe that we don’t care
I’m mad, how can you say just do it
We completely and totally blew it”
—“I’m Mad”, Presidents of the United States of America
The regrettable headlines above represent mere drops in the bucket compared to the sheer scale of our economic problems. More regrettable still, some among us are saying that the big boys are getting lambasted because they are doing things that “just look bad.” Just looking bad is no crime, and just looking bad suggests being naïve, distracted, or simply misunderstood – but nothing really damaging or sinister, right? We should be mature and visioned enough to separate Really Bad from Just Looks Bad, right?
Nyet. All of these Just Looks Bad moments are the exclamation point at the end of a profane run-on sentence. These big bank Just Looks Bad moments on the heels of their arrogant plundering of our economy are combining to erode the very element that the banking industry has mined and refined for hundreds of years – the Trust of the public. As I’ve said before, Trust is the fine line that separates banks from pawn shops, payday lenders and cash-stuffed mattresses. Trust fuels our industry, and Mistrust threatens to bring down centuries of hard work.
Say what you want about the relative insignificance of bonuses, jets and junkets. What should really have us fired up is the way the big banks are so nonchalantly fluffing their Too Big To Fail Feathers in the face of the American public, potentially causing permanent tarnish on our brassy Trust finish. If that alone doesn’t infuriate us as an industry, then shame on us – we deserve what we get.
The problem was well summed up by Barney Frank, who recently told big bankers, “Here’s this problem: People really hate you, and they’re starting to hate us because we’re hanging out with you.” A handful of big banks have effectively destroyed the public’s Trust in the entire banking system, and these same banks are spitting in our faces as they cash billions in relief checks.
Now that the smoke’s gone
And the air is all clear
Those who were right there
Got a new kind of fear
—“Hey Man Nice Shot”, Filter
Given this hosing of a lifetime, we’ve all been way too quiet. We haven’t been silent, but our outwardly polite criticism of the feds and big banks has paled in comparison to the damage they’ve done to our industry and our reputation. For some reason the outrage we express amongst ourselves is not the outrage we express outside of our close circles. The big banks muddled our precious Trust, now they’re getting paid for it, and we’re being cautiously optimistic in our response.No more, GonzoBankers. This is a call for a gnashing of teeth and pounding of fists. Join up in red-faced protest of what we’re seeing today. We need it. Our industry needs it. And we’re not delivering.
I’ll put myself at the top of the list of The Quietly Pissed Off, but I’m not alone. We’ve been hung out to dry and we’ve been shaking our heads in resigned disbelief. We simply can’t afford passionless nihilism now. The punks tried that, and they were defeated by hair metal!
No, what we need now is to actively feed and act on our outrage – loudly, visibly and with utmost vulgarity when necessary. Our market is being ignored not only due to the size of our balance sheets, but because of the lack of vocal fire in our bellies. The sad truth is that regulators only really listen to Congress, and Congress listens to big money. But Congress also avoids embarrassment like it avoids gossipy hookers. Congress hates to be called out by the little guy, especially if the little guy is in the right, shrill and unafraid to raise hell and telling the world about it.
Rally round tha family, pockets full of shells
Rally round tha family
With pockets full of shells
—“Bulls on Parade”, Rage Against The Machine
Now is the time to get our asses on planes and in the faces of our big-money-pandering elected officials.
Now is the time to throw a brick through a Citibank window.Now is the time to inundate national and local newspapers, magazines and trade rags to highlight the screwing of Main Street banking. A great economic voice of my generation, Def Leppard, once said, “Gimme Action, Action, Action, not words!” We do need action in a dramatic way, but hell, even some well placed, steam-shooting-out-your-ears invective would be a step in the right direction.
Now is the time for bankers to hold red-faced, spit-flying press conferences and town hall meetings. We need negative selling and earsplitting, public finger pointing.
Now is the time to march on Washington, on Wall Street, on Chicago, on Charlotte (!) to draw attention to the pillaging of community banking by the greed of big banks and the ridiculously misdirected response by our government.
Now is the time to issue the one-fingered salute every time we drive by a Bank of America branch. The villains need public vilifying.
Now is the time for “St. Anger,” not “Kumbaya.” Forget the pen; this is the stuff of swords.
%$#&* you, I wont do what you tell me
%$#&* you, I wont do what you tell me!
—“Killing in the Name”, Rage Against The Machine
GonzoBankers, we’ve been gentle about this for too long. Like the cross-country motorcycle trip we never took or the great American novel we never wrote, let’s not look back and regret being too cordial, too accommodating, or too resigned to inertia while at the seeming precipice of our industry’s survival.Happy Valentine’s Day.
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