Lots of bankers have lost their focus on customers, lending and costs. Instead they tune in on distractions, such as politics and regulatory policy. I don't think that's good, but let's use it to shape a strategy that gets results.
In the coming year the single event that will most affect future bank earnings and value is the 2012 elections. How can the Republican candidate, less bad for all banks, win?
The broad themes of the campaign are clear. The Republicans will run against the depressed economy, which Obama didn't fix. The Democrats will run against the 1%, Wall Street and deregulation — implying that it was the Republicans who wrecked the economy.
Let's turn the playbook inside out, and attack the Democrats as the 1%, as Wall Street and as favoring irresponsible deregulation and dismantling of consumer protections. Spotlight some unappealing 1%'ers on Obama's team.
How about a TV ad with a split screen. The 1% will be represented by the ever-smiling face of Jon Corzine, a Democrat who reportedly spent $100 million of his own money to be elected senator and governor. He made that money mostly at Goldman.
On the other side of the screen are the 99%. A montage of 99, or at least lots of people whose money and income disappeared courtesy of Corzine. Let them speak. For instance: "I was just hedging my wheat crop. Now I may lose my farm." Former MF employees, dismissed without notice. "I worked there 20 years. Now we have to get food stamps because of Corzine." Let's have lots of women, young people, aged, and minorities.
A second ad can feature Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, representing the 1%. List the various offices to which Democrats appointed him—and provide data on his Goldman years and his wealth. The 99% can include people who lost their jobs or savings because of AIG and Enron.
How about: "Corzine told Gensler — a friend since they both ran Goldman — to DEREGULATE and to ELIMINATE CONSUMER PROTECTIONS. Then the customers' money disappeared." And, "Gensler was a prime mover in EXEMPTING FROM REGULATION the enormous gambles which helped AIG and Enron go broke. Then the Government made the 99%, the rest of us, pay off his old company, Goldman (the 1%), with over $10 billion Goldman had lost betting on AIG." Add: "The CFPB is a sham. It has no power to protect consumers from all this happening again. Democrats never wanted to protect consumers, and they're not protecting them now."
There are lots of other 1%'ers to choose from. Robert Rubin, Democrat. Something like: "He pushed to DEREGULATE BANKS. Results: the subprime mortgage bubble, record foreclosures and unemployment. Then Rubin went to work for Citi and told them to take more risk. It's estimated he was paid over $125 million for that sage advice. Does this put him in the 1%?
"Meanwhile the 99% pay the taxes that bailed out Citi — while shareholders lost more than 2/3 of their money." For the 99%, let's hear from some of the people Citi laid off, and others who lost the savings they had invested in the stock and in mortgage securities Citi marketed.
Next, Steve Rattner, another Wall Street Democrat, also appointed by Obama — definitely in the 1% wealth bracket. His wife is a former finance chair of the Democratic Party. Rattner was charged with corrupting public pension fund officials. Is that a way to protect the 99%? The 99% spokesmen in the Rattner TV spot might include humble employees of the auto dealerships he pushed towards oblivion and auto industry supplier companies who failed. Not to mention beneficiaries of the New York State pension fund, to which Rattner paid $10 million in partial restitution.
Are these campaign messages unfair? More fair than Democrats identifying the Republicans as the party of the 1%. Over 50% of voters have favored Republican candidates in recent elections. The vast majority of these voters must belong to the legendary 99%. It's simple arithmetic. The 1%, whether by votes or by campaign contributions, obviously don't have a heavy hand on the election scales.
But the 1% win a different way. Former Wall Street people serve with both parties in powerful Washington offices. They don't discriminate in favor of the Republicans! Typically, these 1%'ers strongly favor Wall Street interests, including irresponsible deregulation. To do that most effectively, they need to and they do join both parties — roughly in equal numbers. Obama's contrary campaign message is a Big Lie.
Andrew Kahr is a principal in Credit Builders LLC, a financial product development company, and was the founding chief executive of First Deposit, later known as Providian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.