Hawaii has a wild-looking plant called the silversword. It grows near the summit of Haleakala, a 10,000-foot mountain on Maui. It really is silver and its leaves are shaped like swords. The silversword has evolved silvery hairs that protect it from harsh sunlight at high altitudes. It has a natural anti-freeze that protects it from the cold high on the mountain.
In years past, visitors used to pick these remarkable plants for souvenirs. Wandering goats and cattle would eat silverswords for lunch. Thus, despite its evolutionary survival tricks, the silversword was threatened with extinction. With human help, it is fighting back against these threats and is recovering.
Banking, too, has had to evolve new survival skills over the years. Like the silversword, we've been picked at by the competition. And some really have tried to eat us for lunch. One of the more serious threats to banking is that, like the silversword of the past, banks don't get much respect. As a banker I'm tired of that. One of my goals as ABA president is to re-build banking's image.
All over America, bankers contribute to their communities. Banks make loans to help people start a business or buy their first new home. Bankers run community boards and organize charity fund drives. What do we get in return? Often it's legislation to limit ATM fees. Or a reader telling Business Week that "banks are just sucking us dry." We get a Gallup survey showing that half of consumers say banks shouldn't charge fees. Clearly, we haven't convinced one-in-two Americans that what we provide is valuable enough to charge for it.
It's time for us, as an industry, to make our case. I hope to get the ball rolling in the next year on a campaign to change America's perception of banks. Why? Because our image hurts us. Even the ABA Government Relations Council has concluded that it is blocking our industry's goals on Capitol Hill.
Take a look at the firestorm on ATM fees. A business with more support or less animosity wouldn't be so easy a target.
Do I expect that banks will be loved like puppy dogs or McDonald's? No. But it is a realistic goal to give Americans a better appreciation of the role banks play in their lives and our nation's economy.
A national campaign can make a difference. I started out in banking as a marketer and I've seen it happen in politics and in business. After all, who would believe that you could actually run a successful campaign saying that "Beef is good for you"?
I'm not talking about cosmetics, but about telling our story. We have a good story to tell about how banks create jobs and help our economy run. …