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A Banking Carol

It was almost December 25, Christmas, and Jimmy Diamond was a happy man for a change. Just this week his bank had opened 100,000 new customer accounts (even though only 25,000 people had visited the bank); they had managed to sneak an extra 1% onto credit card holders balances (without informing most cardholders explicitly of the change); and had exceeded targets on mortgage foreclosure (even though 1 in 10 mortgagees were good for the money).

Ah, life is good. As he sipped his bedtime glass of 50-year old Balvenie ($35,000 a bottle), he reflected on an excellent year. Not only had he bankrolled a celebrity into the highest role in government, he also owned him. Yes, life is good.

With that, Jimmy tipped the final $500 of his whisky down his throat and retired to his golden four poster bed.

Later that night a strange figure appeared in his door. Strangely, this figure looked eerily like James Stewart, the old actor.

“Mwaaaaaah”, moaned the actor. Jimmy continued to snore. “Mwaaaaah”, James groaned. Jimmy turned over but was still snoring. “MWAAAAAH!” shouted the figure. Jimmy woke with a start.

“Who the frig are you”, he asked, “and what are you doing in my bedroom at this time of night?”

“I am the ghost of banking past”, said James, “and I have come to show you what you have lost.”

With that a mist clouded the room and Jimmy couldn’t see anything, apart from the actor’s wrinkled face.

Then, suddenly, he was back in his old bank branch where he had his first job in banking.  A young Jimmy sat behind the bars of the teller station, busily counting notes, whilst people queued patiently, until he finished and looked up.

“I remember this”, says old Jimmy.  “That was me in my early apprenticeship at TJ Mangan back in the day.”

“Yes”, says James.  “You had a heart then.  Watch.”

Sure enough, he vaguely remembered the conversation.  The little old white haired lady at the teller station was explaining why she had not made the repayment on the loan that week.

“… you see, my daughter is sick and in hospital, so I had to use all of my pension to pay for her care.  That was what the loan was for, if you remember.”

“Ah yes Mrs Dalrymple.   Don’t worry.  I can just waive this month’s payments and add it on to the term.”

“Oh thank you Mr. Diamond.  You really are a diamond.”

Jimmy smiled at the exchange.  Mrs Dalrymple had only lasted another couple of months after that conversation, and the bank had taken its loan repayment plus interest from the sale of the house to pay for her daughters and her funeral.  They were buried together on the same day.  So sad.

“I see you have a tear in your eye Jimmy, so you’re still a little bit human”, says James.

“What do you mean by that”, asked Jimmy but, before he could get an answer, the old man was gone and he was in his bed again at home.  Looking at the gold around him, he smiled and thought ah, it was just a dream.  With that, he closed his eyes and fell asleep once more.

However, he was awoken a short time later, this time by a man who looked awfully like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

“Why hello Jimmy”, says Kevin.  “How is your sleep?”

“Well it’s normally very good, thanks to the Balvenie, but it doesn’t seem to be working tonight.  Are you Kevin Spacey?” asks Jimmy.

“No Jimmy.  I am the ghost of banking present.  Come with me.”

With that the mist descended once more, and he found himself lifted and then descending into the top floor of a high rise building in the centre of New York.

“This is my building”, said Jimmy.

“Yes”, replied Kevin.

“But what’s it doing open at this time of night?” asked the CEO.

“It’s not”, Kevin explains, “this is a scene you need to see from earlier today.”

With that they both find themselves in the boardroom, where the head of the investment bank, Richie Richer, is briefing his staff that morning.

“Guys, we need to lift the yield, increase profits and get this banks’ mojo back”, says Richie.  “To do this, we’re going to screw everyone.”

A cheer goes around the room.

“Just make up any stories you need to, to get business”, says Richie.

Another cheer.

“Forget customer focus, just get their money.”

Yay!

“If you need to, deal with your counterparts at the other banks to fix the rates.”

“We already do”, shouted everyone in the room.

“And don’t worry about what Jimmy thinks.  He’s just a token pawn in the machine”, purrs Richie.

And the room breaks into a riot.

Jimmy is horrified.  “What?” he shouts.  “I never authorised any of this??? What’s going on???”

Kevin smiles and lifts him from the room, over the top of the building, and into a room where today’s Jimmy was sitting, talking to Richie on the phone.

“Richie”, says Jimmy in the scene from yesterday.  “Our shareholders are putting pressure on us to increase the dividend.  If we can’t lift our numbers by at least 5%, I’m worried we’re going to let them down.”

“Don’t worry”, says Richie.  “I’ll handle it.”

The Jimmy with Kevin says, “but that doesn’t authorise screwing the customers and ignoring my authority?”

Kevin says “it does Jimmy, because that’s the culture you’ve built at this bank.  Over the years, you’ve focused purely on bonuses, dividends, shareholder returns and the needs of the bank.  You’ve ignored regulators, bribed and lobbied politicians and made customers so dependent upon the bank, due to giving them loans and credit, that you’ve got them all with their arms behind their backs and held there by you.”

Jimmy looks at Kevin incredulously.  Kevin continues …

“It all started after you left that branch in 1983 and moved into management.  Without realising it, you’ve let the managerial methods seep under your skin, so much that you now embody them.  Get rid of 1 in 10 staff every year; increase the size of bonuses and returns every year; grow the bank by hook or by crook or, in your case, by merger or acquisition; do whatever it takes to protect the interest of the bank and its stakeholders, even if that means doing dirty underhanded deeds that are not in the interests of the customer or society.”

“Look now”, says Jimmy. “I think you’re being a bit over the top.  After all, we only do what all bankers do.”

“That’s what the guards said at Auschwitz”, replied Kevin.

That was like a slap to the face and, with that, Kevin disappeared.

Jimmy was now a bit nervous.  He wasn’t sleeping well.  He poured himself another large glass of Balvenie ($2,000 worth anyway) and drank it quickly.  Seeing that his hand was shaking as he drank the shot, he decided to have one more before putting his head down.  It felt better and, after all, this is just a dream isn’t it?

He closed his eyes but, before he could get to sleep, he heard a noise.  Oh no, what now?

As he opened his eyes, he saw that there was a small child in the room.  A young girl of about ten years old was staring at him.  She was dressed in a princess outfit from Frozen, and had a wand in her hand.  She kind of looked like a fairy.

“Hello”, said the fairy.

“Hello little girl”, said Jimmy.  “What’s your name?”

“Oh, I don’t have a name Jimmy.  I’m just a ghost”, she was very sweet and looked nothing like a ghost.

“A ghost?” said Jimmy.

“Yes, I am the ghost of banking future.  Let me show you”, and the mist descended once more.

When it lifted, Jimmy found himself standing with the ghost fairy in a hospital wing, where an old man was being unhooked from a machine.

“That’s you”, said the fairy ghost.

“What?” said Jimmy.

“That’s you.  You’ve just died.”

Jimmy can’t believe what he’s seeing.  Just as he’s about to speak, the pair disappear again into the mist and land back in the headquarters of TJ Mangan.  A young man, who Jimmy recognises as his new hire as Chief Digital Officer Johnny B Good, is speaking.

“Friends, colleagues and associates, I have some very sad news for you.  I’ve just learned that the former head of this bank, Jimmy Diamond has passed away.”

Everyone cheered!

“He was a fearless leader of this bank for many years but, as you know, had his priorities in the wrong place.  Rather than doing good for the country and for the world he, along with his counterparts, almost destroyed everything.”

Jimmy can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“You may remember the last financial crisis of 2022 when he was jailed.  That led to his terminal illness which he finally succumbed to today.”

Jimmy was jailed?  For what?

“We wish his family well, and can share a glass or two of champagne to celebrate his passing.”

Jimmy can’t understand what’s going on, but is pretty sure that Johnny ain’t good.  The mist descends once more and when it rises, it’s 2022.  He is in a newsroom, watching the live news broadcast.

“Breaking news.  We have just heard that the CEO of TJ Mangan Bank has been arrested on charges of bribing government officials, taking assets from clients that were not rightfully owned by the bank and falsefully charging customers interest on credit that was not properly explained when the customers took out these products”, read the newsreader.

“As you know, TJ Mangan is just one of several large banks that failed to adapt to the new era of digitally transparent banking practices”, they continued.  “Whilst other banks and new start-up banks in the past decade have made all of their charges, fees, products and services completely and easily comparable and transparent, TJ Mangan continued to try to hide and conceal their charges and practices …”

The newsreader carried on, but the mist descended once more.

Jimmy was now back in his bedroom again but, unlike last time, the ghost was still there.

“I’ve done nothing wrong”, said Jimmy.

“But you’ve also done nothing right”, said the ghost.

“So what should I do?”, asked Jimmy.

“The right thing”, said the ghost and, with that, she disappeared.

Jimmy had given up on sleep.  He was shaking with nerves and worried he couldn’t turn things around in time.  He quickly went to the bathroom, shaved and showered and put on his best suit.  Rather than calling for his driver, he walked to the office. He couldn’t drive after half a bottle of whisky, and the office was only four blocks away.

“Morning”, he said cheerily to the security guard as he walked in.  It was 05:30 am.  Rising to the 70th floor office penthouse, he sat and booted up his desktop.  Jimmy then started writing.  Here is what he wrote:

TJ Mangan Bank’s New Year’s Resolution

Dear colleagues,

I have been reflecting on the banks’ practices and those of our brethren and believe we need to set new standards in ethics and integrity in 2017.  Therefore, I am empowering every member of this bank to do whatever they think is right for the customer.  You can waive fees, return charges and explain everything in depth to a customer in the future.  If a customer cannot afford a loan or the credit product you are trying to give to them, don’t give it to them.  You are not sales people but financial advisors, which means that you must not give customers products, even if that means you will miss your targets or bonuses.  It doesn’t matter, as I am scrapping all existing targets and bonuses.  From now on, everyone must do what is right.  That is going to be our game changing role in the future.  We are going to be the bank that everyone envies and loves.  Think about it.  How can we do this?  Anyone can make a suggestion.  I am open to all.  There will be some tough decisions to make – after all, we still need to close branches and move to digital structures – but I want all of you to be part of those decisions.  That is why I am installing a new role in the bank: Chief Listening Officer (CLO).  The first CLO is a new hire, Johnny B Good.  The CLO reports to me and is charged with walking the banks’ offices and talking to all of you.  They will travel the country and visit every branch, every office and every nook and cranny of this bank, and will listen to your ideas.  You can also email the CLO: johnnybgood@tjmanganbank.com.  I look forward to hearing your ideas, as does Johnny, and just remember: DO WHAT IS RIGHT.

Yours

Jimmy Diamond

Your colleague and associate”

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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