To many financial marketers, Bank of Scotland PLC stumbled on a great idea when it decided to start a highly automated consumer bank with services aimed at the millions of enthusiastic supporters of Pat Robertson, the Christian evangelist and former presidential candidate.
Now it appears the proposed telephone and mail bank will never materialize, the result of misguided marketing that saw only the positive in using the Robertson name.
"The bank is considering its position," said a spokesman in Edinburgh for Bank of Scotland, the organizer of the proposed U.S. bank. Bank of Scotland was to put up the money and the marketing and banking expertise, and Marshall & Ilsley Corp. of Milwaukee was to run the proposed bank's back office.
What the organizers failed to take into account was that Mr. Robertson, who to many represents the radical right in the United States, has foes who dislike him as much as his followers admire him. And that negative sentiment exists in Scotland as well. Several large organizations and wealthy people in Scotland threatened to withdraw their accounts if Bank of Scotland went through with the Robertson deal.
The charismatic evangelist didn't help matters. In a May 18 broadcast of his television show, "The 700 Club," Mr. Robertson lashed out, accusing Scotland and Europe of being too tolerant, especially of homosexuals. "Scotland could go right back to the darkness very easily," he said.
His words, reported on the front page of a Scottish newspaper, aggravated the problems. A spokesman for Mr. Robertson was unavailable for comment.
"They needed to consider the other side of the equation," said Allan Adamson, a managing director with Landor Associates, a New York-based brand consulting firm. "They should have considered how much risk they were prepared to take on before they did the deal."
"It could have been a smart decision had they not put their own brand on the table. They should have done it in a private-label way," Mr. Adamson said.
The Bank of Scotland spokesman confirmed that officials of the bank and Mr. Robertson are scheduled to meet in Boston on Friday to review the bank plan, which was originally proposed by William Hendry, an executive vice president with Bank of Scotland in New York.
On Thursday the Bank of Scotland spokesman said the proposed bank remains a sensible business venture despite the controversy surrounding Mr. Robertson.
"The fact is that Mr. Robertson is a successful businessman in his own right, and this is a solid business proposition," the spokesman said.
"Of course we were aware of some of the views he expressed, but those views are sometimes taken out of context, and we can't have personal views or preferences dictate whether or not we get involved in a business deal."
He added that though Mr. Robertson's latest remarks were "unfortunate," the bank continued to believe that direct banking services remained a good proposition.
Bank of Scotland is not the same as Royal Bank of Scotland, parent company of Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Financial Group. Confusion about the two banks triggered numerous calls to Royal Bank of Scotland from customers concerned about an agreement with Mr. Robertson.
Bank of Scotland teamed up with Mr. Robertson in the hope of replicating its successful entry into the English banking market through a joint venture with J. Sainsbury PLC, the British supermarket chain.
But analysts said the bank failed to understand potential negative reaction to Mr. Robertson's often controversial views.