Community Bankers Unite!

Community bankers need to get off their duffs and take some action in response to misguided, idiotic populist attacks in the press and blogosphere.

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When I first read Matt Yglesia’s Slate article on America’s Microbank Problem, which argued that there are too many banks in the US and that many of them should be acquired by regional banks, I thought “oh man, I can’t wait to blog about this and tear this argument to shreds.”

But Rob Blackwell at American Banker and Sean Davis at The Federalist both beat me to the punch, each writing excellent pieces picking apart Slate’s poorly-argued article.

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In no way do I mean to disparage American Banker’s and The Federalist’s articles, but tearing apart the Yglesia article was too easy. There was no data supporting his claims, the assertions weren’t supported by any facts.

As a piece of journalism, it was a total piece of shit.

I’ll give Yglesias and Slate the benefit of the doubt here, and assume they’re not total idiots. So, in effect, they knew this was a piece of shit article.

Then why publish it?

To generate buzz and traffic on the Slate site.

When you’re in Slate’s business, that’s all that matters. How many hits does the site get, which drives advertising revenue. It doesn’t the least bit whether or not what’s published meets any journalistic standards.

Because it isn’t journalism — it’s entertainment. Entertaining people with a certain, predisposed political bent, who are looking for confirmation of those political views.

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As a result, the American Banker and The Federalist articles, while well-written and expertly argued, will do little to impact the small-minded pimple of a people who read, and are influenced by, what Slate publishes. 

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Community banks need to take stronger action to counter this attack, and others like it.

As a marketing guy, for me it comes down to community banks doing a better job of marketing themselves — not individually, but collectively. It’s great to be “right,” but not if no one believes it (are you listening Republicans?).

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So what should community banks do?

At first, I thought: Boycott advertisers of Slate. Teach them that advertising in crap buckets like Slate has consequences.

But I went back to the Slate article and found two advertisements (which were likely targeted to me, so who knows what anyone else might see).

The first ad was from Hermes.

They sell expensive silk scarves, right?

As a fat, aging Deadhead, who wears pretty much just flannel shirts and jeans (but who, thankfully, has a wife and three daughters who don’t let me go out in public wearing that, and instead buys me stuff from Nordstrom’s and Tommy Bahama to wear in public), I thought “you got to be kidding me, when would I ever wear a Hermes scarf?”

Then, of course, I realized they’re trying to get me to buy them for my wife and daughters for Christmas.

Anyway, boycotting a company whose primary market is the 1% isn’t likely to get the message across.

The second ad was from management consultancy Cap Gemini.

OK, so much for an advertiser boycott.

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My second thought might have some legs, though:

Close out Slate’s business bank account.

If Slate thinks banks are all evil (having argued last year for the dissolution of large banks, and now for the eradication of smaller ones), then banks should flip the magazine the bird and say “no bank for you!”

It’s really easy to do. Just ask HSBC, who closed out Brett King’s business account last week. You send a letter with a check, and say “we’re no longer doing business together.”

If banks collaborate on this, and refuse to give Slate a bank account, maybe — just maybe — that would make the magazine think about what it publishes.

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I’m all for free speech — but you have to assume some responsibility for what you say.

A while back, an analyst firm I worked for started a magazine and said some unkind things about Ford Motor Company’s involvement with Nazis in World War II. Ford canceled it’s contract for accessing my firm’s research. Big money lost. Taught the analyst firm that free speech is great, but can have economic consequences. Was it worth losing all that revenue to say bad things about Ford in a magazine? I have my thoughts on the answer to that question.

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Bottom line: Refusing to give Slate a bank account means some bank (or banks) would be giving up the opportunity to generate revenue and profits from the relationship.

But that’s what it’s all about folks — showing the public that principles and ethics are more important than profits. 

That’s a start in rebuilding the trust in the financial system, and countering these populist attacks which aren’t based on any facts, logic, or rationale. 

So, c’mon, community bankers, stand up and DO SOMETHING to fight back!

Understand who the real enemy is. It isn’t the mega-banks. It’s Slate and entities like it. 

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To read the American Banker and The Federalist articles, click on the following links:

Slate Writer Is Dead Wrong to Root Against Community Banks

No, America Doesn’t Have Too Many Banks 

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2 thoughts on “Community Bankers Unite!

  1. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

    Your idea of unity sounds very “credit uniony”.

    “As a marketing guy, for me it comes down to community banks doing a better job of marketing themselves — not individually, but collectively.”

    I have to agree with you here. How much time is spent and energy wasted from both sides bashing banks, bashing credit unions, etc. The world already has enough negative crap in it. Why? Because for some weird reason we humans like to take in the negative shit that surrounds us.

    Just turn on the nightly news (better yet… save yourself and don’t). We all know the headline stories are negative for the same reason Slate ran the article. Because negativity draws eyeballs and eyeballs sell ads.

    It’s not 1980, 1990 or 2002 anymore. The enemy for community banks and credit unions has evolved and so must both parties.

    And at the end of the day, communities united grow together.

  2. When I first saw the Slate article, that’s immediately what I thought: “This is the kind of ridiculous ‘controversial’ thing someone publishes purely to whore up pageviews.” It’s like saying we should abandon democracy and go back to a monarchy.

    See also: “Internet Troll” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

    This is also the kind of lame, lousy “journalism” that often haunts the financial industry. Journalists like to think that because they have a checking account, that makes them experts qualified to comment on banking. Just like people who watch TV think they are qualified experts on advertising (e.g., “Advertising doesn’t work,” and “Funny commercials are the best”).

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