Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Blue-Collar Bank: Led by CEO William Cooper, TCF Financial Profits Handsomely from Its Focus on Everyday Folks Who Don't Have a Lot of Time for Banking

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Blue-Collar Bank: Led by CEO William Cooper, TCF Financial Profits Handsomely from Its Focus on Everyday Folks Who Don't Have a Lot of Time for Banking

Article excerpt

Head west from well-scrubbed Minneapolis, a city of skyways and trash free sidewalks, and you pass, inevitably, through a suburban ring overpopulated with strip malls and convenience stores. But then the winding secondary roads leading off Route 101 take you into leafy, Wayzata, Minn., home to $11.3 billion-asset TCF Financial Corp., bank to the non-upscale.

Wayzata is especially pretty in the autumnal glow of late October. Along its curving byways you see those houses that are little architectural gems--with good dark woods and moody glass. You also see subdued neocolonial commercial buildings, good cars, upscale stores that manage to sell without the flashy signs that plague less prosperous neighborhoods.

It is here that TCF Financial makes its corporate headquarters in a building that resembles some corporate architect's vision of a castle. The building is just minutes away from the home of William Cooper, the bank's chief executive.

Cooper came from humble beginnings in Detroit. By his own admission Cooper has "done everything" including a stint in a factory and another as a Detroit cop as a very young man, before settling into banking, where he's built a career for nearly 30 years (the last 18 of them at the helm of TCF).

By the looks of his lair, banking has done marvels for the gruff but endearing Cooper. His office resembles the great room in Tony Soprano's house, without all the gaudy blond wood furniture favored by HBO's mob character and his wife Carmella.

Instead, Cooper's office has tasteful dark wood furniture and a relaxed, but focused, atmosphere of business. A collection of quirky and spirited family photos lines the walls surrounding his paper-laden desk.

Across from a conference table and out a set of double glass doors, Lake Minnetonka looms like the prettiest of perks. If the CEO should get restless, he could grab some air--and a latte--out on the deck.

But one cannot suggest that success and its trappings have gone to this man's head. If anything, as he discusses the bank's mission and tactics, Cooper seems utterly grounded in his quest to lead an organization that provides courteous service to all, and condescension to none.

Although Cooper has clearly earned enough to leave his blue-collar roots forever and be a total snob, his demeanor suggests none of this.

Instead, he's chosen to remember what it's like to struggle with money.

It's with that world view and in that niche, that he places the highly successful TCF Financial.

TCF--originally Twin City Federal, which converted to a national bank in 1997--banks to blue-collar people. It banks to what used to be poetically referred to as "the great unwashed." It tries to lure in the previously unbanked, the under banked, those unappreciated by their previous banks who were "under-whelmed" by poor checking habits and paltry balances.

The bank's principal activities are community banking, mortgage banking, and equipment leasing. TCF also provides annuities and money market funds, although this is a much smaller aspect of the company's business. It accounted for just 2% of its 2002 revenue, according to CBS's Marketwatch.

As Cooper tells it, investments are a service mostly taken advantage of by older clients or those in mid-life who are trying to catch-up for retirement in an era when pensions are becoming non-existent. TCF does offer counseling to this community, a service, he says, they are in desperate need of receiving.

So it's the plain business of community banking in which TCF excels. And you see that this is the case when you look directly into Cooper's eyes, rather than getting distracted by his well-appointed office.

You see that he succeeds with the working class simply because he recognizes his customers, if not as individuals then as a distinct group. He actually sees them in terms of their lifestyle, preferences, and habits--and markets accordingly. …

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