Eye Contact: Moynihan and the CEO’s job

Brian Moynihan is the new CEO of Bank of America. At least for the next few months, eyes will be on him to see what moves he makes as he puts on Ken Lewis’ big shoes.

Moynihan is 50. With a good decade or so in the job, assuming he can keep it that long, he will have an enormous impact. It’s as if 2008-2009 were banking’s “ground zero,” and he has the opportunity539wa to steer not just BofA, but the financial services industry into the post-crisis future. At the moment, it seems like the only way he can go is up.

He comes to the top job after having been President of Global Banking and Wealth Management, and before that President of Global Wealth and Investment Management. I personally think that’s a good sign. Why? Because private banking – banking for the wealthy – is still a face-to face, eye-to eye business.

Coming home from the airport last night, I saw a big ad for Hyatt on the side of a bus that said “Face to Face is the only way to see Eye to Eye.” And I pondered the fact that we have lost a lot of “eye to eye” and “face to face” in financial services over the past 10 or 15 years. Most transactions are electronic. When was the last time you sat across from a banker? How many tellers’ names do you know? In business banking, relationship managers turn over so quickly that it is hard to know who to call, even if they have money to lend. Even mortgage refis are done electronically.

Except in private banking. There, in private banking, it’s still a gentleman’s business. The sums are large enough that it’s still profitable for the banks to dedicate solid, experienced individuals to specific client relationships. Experts have indicated that “periodic face to face contact strengthens the trust level.” And money is about trust, and intimacy. People get together, meet across the table, talk about their lives, their children, their dreams, their fears. As we have seen so clearly in the past two years, money is emotional – whether you are rich or poor, or in between.

So while we don’t know Moynihan very well, we think his background bodes well. (And not just because he went to Brown University.) It seems that he might understand that people care about what banks do with their hard-earned cash. It seems that he might be willing to look people in the eye when he makes the tough decisions he will have to make in the next 24 months.

It even seems like he might attend a meeting when called by the leader of the Free World, and not – literally — phone it in, like his CEO counterparts at Citi, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Is Moynihan the best man for the job? One wise observer thinks Bank of America “settled.” But whatever you think, there are a lot of eyes on him. For a bank that boasts 53 million consumer and small business relationships, we hope that he keeps his eyes on them.

(photo by lanbui)

To reach Abby:

Phone: 212.840.0088
Email: abby@blisspr.com
Twitter: @abbycarr
LinkedIn: Abby Carr