CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bank of America's annual meeting served as a reminder of what the nation's second-largest bank is willing to say — and not say — about its future.
Executives at the $2.2 trillion-asset company outlined their vision for consumer banking, including technology enhancements, 250 new branches in markets where it has a smaller presence and the renovation of another 1,500 branches.
However, B of A declined to give guidance on estimated financial results for the next year or two despite repeated efforts by analyst Michael Mayo to coax something out of Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Moynihan.
Moynihan, who hosted his seventh annual meeting since becoming CEO in early 2010, showed more poise and control compared with his earliest appearances. It was also the first annual meeting since shareholders last fall approved the company's decision to give Moynihan the added role of chairman.
There were no protestors outside the venue this year unlike in some previous years. All directors were approved with at least 94% of voting shares, and the lone shareholder proposal — tied to clawbacks — only received 6% support. In comparison there were seven shareholder proposals during Moynihan's first annual meeting in 2010.
"If you question whether I work hard enough, I think the people here will tell you that I do," Moynihan responded after a shareholder criticized his long-ago decision to live in Boston instead of the bank's headquarters city of Charlotte. "My entire net worth is invested in this company," he said after another investor implored him to "speak from the heart."
Moynihan's resolve was tested the most by Mayo, who has built a reputation for singling out banks that he believes are underperforming. The analyst, for instance, is part of a group of investors trying to pressure Comerica into selling itself.
Mayo, for instance, pressed Moynihan to provide guidance on where B of A's return on assets might be next year, while at the same time chiding the company's independent directors for what he considered insufficient oversight of management.
"Nobody gives that kind of guidance," Moynihan shot back. "We are moving as fast as possible for 12% [return on average tangible common equity] and 1% ROA."
B of A reported a return on average tangible common equity of 5.4%, and an ROA of 0.50%, at March 31. Moynihan was reiterating goals Bank of America has stated before, but it has not said how quickly it expects to reach them.
The consumer presentation sought to reassure investors about Bank of America's efforts to improve performance in an environment where interest rates are continuing to hammer margins. Executives said that they are not waiting for rate increases, even though a 100-basis-point rise in rates would add $6 billion in annual profit.
Bank of America has eliminated more than 1,400 branches since 2009, said Dean Athanasia, the company's co-head of consumer banking. It has also cut headcount by nearly 40,000 jobs over that time and reduced the number of consumer products to 67 compared with more than 1,500.
Bank of America's loan portfolio is evenly split between commercial and consumer loans. In 2009 nearly two-thirds of the company's loans involved consumers.
The company offered investors a chance to tour a technology expo at the meeting site where it displayed contactless ATMs and fingerprint technology, while noting that two-thirds of its transactions are automated today. The number of mobile users has quintupled since 2009 and mobile deposits are up tenfold since the product's 2012 introduction, said Thong Nguyen, B of A's other co-head of consumer banking.
"We are driving what we can control," Moynihan said, noting that B of A's biggest efficiency challenges rest in costs tied to legacy assets and servicing, along with low asset yields caused by low rates.
"We are dealing with the final stages of what has plagued us for years in a way that is sensitive to America," Moynihan added.
Jack Bovender Jr., who has been the company's lead independent director for about a year, played a prominent role at the meeting, largely as a result of Mayo's questioning of corporate governance. Bovender noted during prepared remarks that independent directors had spent the last year meeting with investors that hold about a third of the company's shares.
Bank of America could easily ramp up revenue, Bovender said, but it is "avoiding the temptation to go rogue" by targeting borrowers with lower FICO scores or investing in less stable countries or commodities such as oil and metals.
"We took a serious amount of hits that we won't repeat," Moynihan said, referring to the financial crisis. "We have to grow in a sustainable manner."