Thursday, October 6, 2011

Corporate entitlement

Entitlement seems to start at the top.
Bank of America's CEO defended his bank's new $5 fee on debit cards on Wednesday, saying that customers and shareholders understand the bank has a "right to make a profit."

...Moynihan (BofA's CEO) said that the bank will talk to its customers, teammates and shareholders and "they'll understand what we're doing -- understand we have a right to make a profit."
I'm sure that BofA's CEO and some of its shareholders sincerely believe that their company has this right, but they should not expect any such understanding from their customers or "teammates" (especially the 30,000 "teammates" who are about to be kicked to the curb).

BofA has a limited right to pursue success and to pursue profits; it can't, for instance, pursue profits through restraints of trade or collusion. But even these rights are different from any rights "to make a profit."

BofA's entitlement attitude in this $5 debit card fee debacle has been clear from the beginning. The new regulations that cap debit card interchange fees leave plenty of room for reasonable profits from BofA and other large banks, while protecting merchants from the excessive fees that these banks had been able to charge because of their size and market power. Indeed, banks in other countries have remained profitable despite facing much lower caps on interchange fees.

These reasonable profits weren't enough, and BofA is now trying to reach into its poorer customers' pockets (the richer customers are, of course, "entitled" to free debit-card use) for an extra $5 a month.

BofA has every right to ask this sum from its customers. It also has a right to bad-mouth the government and to deflect attention.

Customers, however, have the right to change their behavior to avoid the fee. Given BofA's behavior, the safest route would seem to choose a less-entitled financial institution. Just avoiding debit-card purchases with your BofA card (paying cash) is another.

Changes in customer behavior might not be enough to cure BofA of its entitlement mentality (the entitlement force is strong with this one). Changes in customer behavior would though send an appropriate signal.