I am not sorry to see Ken Lewis leave his cushy Bank of America post. This has nothing to do with understanding what’s really going on at BofA, or the economy, or finance in general. It has to do with the frustrations of middle America, to which I belong. Especially aging middle America.
When my father died in 1987, leaving small amounts of his hard-earned estate to his daughters, I put a little of my small amount into a small-town bank stock. Eventually that bank was bought by a bank that was bought by BofA. Nice. My stock increased from very tiny number of shares to very small number of shares — but still enough to give me a couple hundred dollars every quarter and pay off my church pledge with the shares of which I now have more than my extensive portfolio should have. (I don’t understand any of this either, but am fortunate to have an in-house economic advisor.)
Yesterday I received my dividend check, in the amount of slightly over $4. Lord only knows what my shares are worth, if anything. I am very lucky to be healthy and still in the workforce more or less, and not reliant on my personal investment portfolio.
Not long ago there was a story in the New York Times about a woman my age, widowed a few years ago, now having to move in with her son because she and her husband had done exactly the same thing: invested in their small-town bank in order to have investment income for her to live on. It was bought by a bank that was bought by BofA. With the fall of BofA, she could no longer afford to pay the bills and was about to lose her house. I remember thinking how easily she could be me.
Now we read (New York Times October 1) that Mr. Lewis “is fed up with the criticism” about his buying Merrill Lynch. And that he returned from vacation in Aspen with a full beard to announce his resignation. Well poor, poor Mr. Lewis.
Middle America used to trust its bankers. Mine, earlier, was named Mr. Trivett and he advised me to put $10 into savings for every $100 I was ever able to accumulate. Another, earlier, was named Mr. Harris and he once wrote a personal letter to my daughter advising her to keep her college grades up because she needed to justify the loans he had backed for her.
Somehow I missed out on that sort of a relationship with Ken Lewis. Somehow the banking industry has lost that connection — any connection at all — with its consumers. And its everyday shareholders. And other things like accountability and consideration and good, honest business practices.
I wish Ken Lewis could know what it feels like to be unable to pay the bills.