Bank of America Retreats, Tail Fully Tucked

Bank of America made it official today by shelving plans to charge a $5 debit card fee to their customers (which I am, gladly, not one of).

Their statement is a great example of how business “jargon” replacing honest and authentic speech only serves to alienate customers who have developed a sophisticated internal bullshit meter. Here’s what BofA said:

“In response to customer feedback and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.

“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” said David Darnell, co-chief operating officer. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”"

Let’s break it down and rewrite the statement in a more honest voice.

They Said: “In response to customer feedback”

What They Mean: “In response to our increasingly angry customers”

They Said: “and the changing competitive marketplace,”

What They Mean: “We were isolated when other banks didn’t announce the same fee structure, and worse, started competing with us on the basis of not having a debit card fee.”

They Said: “Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.”

What They Mean: “It was a dumb idea, in retrospect.”

They Said: “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,”

What They Mean: “Our customers were very angry and it was only getting worse.”

They Said: “Our customers’ voices are most important to us.”

What They Mean: “When we can’t get the rest of the industry to pile on and risk our competitive position, we have to react.”

They Said: “As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”

What They Mean: “It was a dumb idea and someone should be fired for getting us into this mess but we’re not going to hold our executive accountable for the debacle”

Here’s the problem with BofA’s handling of this mess, an adult in the room should have stepped in when CEO Moynihan firmly planted his foot in his mouth about the “right to make a profit”. First of all, he doesn’t have a right to make a profit, he has to earn that by serving his customers and achieving a competitive position on that basis rather than being too big to fail. I’m always amazed when really smart executives says things that only make them sound like complete idiots.

The banking industry likes to think their customers are stupid, that we don’t realize they make money off the transaction fees that merchants pay when we use a credit or debit card. Acknowledging that you think your customers are stupid is never a good strategy and the debit card fee plan ranks right up there with New Coke and Qwikster in the pantheon of dumb business ideas.

Here’s how they should have written the statement they put out today, which would not only make them sound more authentic but also would be more honest.

Our customers have overwhelmingly let us know how angry they are at us for our proposed debit card fee, and our competitors have responded not by adopting a similar fee structure making us uncompetitive as a result.

We have listened and recognize that this plan was not putting our customers first so we’re going to abandon the idea before we make the bigger mistake of actually implementing it. We apologize to our customers for our statements in recent weeks and hope that we can earn goodwill back by focusing on providing competitive services that are fairly priced in the weeks, months, and years ahead.