CHARLOTTE Jesse Jackson made an appearance. An investor told the chief executive "I love you." And a young girl asked why her dad was laid off.
But it was Bank of America's (BAC) huge capital-plan gaffe that stole the show at its annual meeting Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.
This was supposed to be the year that Chief Executive Brian Moynihan told the story of how Bank of America was turning the corner after an upbeat fourth-quarter report in January. He did spend some time discussing how his executive team has shrunk the company, improved credit and added new business.
But a first-quarter loss tied to an unexpected legal reserve and a $4 billion accounting error revealed last week proved to be insurmountable distractions.
Bank of America executives and directors spent most of the meeting apologizing for the "disappointing" mistake that derailed the company's capital plan with the Federal Reserve Board. When Michael Mayo, an analyst at CLSA, asked about internal consequences for the error, Moynihan and Chairman Charles Holliday promised to hold the right people responsible once all the facts are known.
"We will take accountability once we find out what happened," Moynihan said in response to one of many questions about the stress-test error that forced Bank of America to scrap plans to raise its quarterly dividend for the first time in years and to buy back stock.
"We don't want to act prematurely," Holliday added.
The meeting was Moynihan's first public forum since the Fed instructed Bank of America last week to resubmit its capital plan. The Fed said the company provided incorrect data used to calculate its regulatory capital ratios under the central bank's recent stress test.
Bank of America executives said the company discovered the error a week after it reported first-quarter earnings. The mistake was unearthed by its financial group as it was putting together B of A's quarterly filing for the Securities and Exchange Commission, Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said. "The board was informed in 24ish hours," he said, adding that the bank then alerted the Fed.
A third-party firm is reviewing the situation, Thompson said. The company will then prepare new capital templates that it must provide to the Fed by May 27; regulators will have 75 days after receiving those templates to respond.
"We are very anxious to understand what happened," Frank Bramble, a B of A director who heads the enterprise risk committee, told attendees when certain board members were asked about the capital miscue.
B of A officials made it clear that the error did not impact financials. One area that is hurting the bottom line is the company's ongoing legal costs and investors frequently pressed management to project when the legal issues would pass.
A large settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to resolve issues over securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac along with a surprising $2.4 billion reserve for future legal expenses led to the company last month to report its first quarterly loss since 2011.
B of A was in talks with the Justice Department over a possible "multibillion-dollar settlement" of an investigation of residential mortgage-backed securities that went bad, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
Moynihan has spent the past four years tackling massive mortgage-repurchase claims and settling regulatory disputes tied to crisis-era woes. Legal expenses "are tough on investors but we are knocking them down," he said, adding that the key obstacle to optimal profitability is lingering mortgage problems. Moynihan said remaining legal issues are "definable," though he declined to forecast when such troubles will settle down.
Outside the meeting, the climate was tame compared with prior years. Less than two dozen protestors gathered. Last year it was closer to 50 protesters, and 600 demonstrators showed up in 2012. There was still plenty of dissent inside, including the civil rights activist Jackson pressing the company to do more for low-income households and several environmentalists who remain upset about the banking industry's financing of certain energy projects.
A 13-year-old girl also pressed Moynihan about layoffs, noting that her father recently lost his job at the company. "I have to mirror the interests of employees with those of shareholders," Moynihan responded, calling layoffs the "toughest thing I have to do."
Moynihan and the company's board also faced intense pressure from Mayo, who stood up seven times to ask questions on topics ranging from corporate responsibility and the accounting error, while questioning if B of A is still too big to manage.
Mayo said he was "frustrated" that management failed to address all of his concerns. "Brian Moynihan was dealt a bad hand and he has done the best that he could over the last four years," but questions remain whether Moynihan and the board are capable of managing the company, or shrinking it to an appropriate size, Mayo said in an interview after the meeting.
"We have to ask ourselves if the current configuration is the one most needed for the next four years," he said. "The jury is still out on that one."
Moynihan, in one of the meeting's lighter moments, seemed to acknowledge that fans are hard to find these days.
When a shareholder shouted out "I love you, Mr. Moynihan," he told her:
"Between you and my mother, thats two of you."