We'd like to officially welcome bankers into the Fraternity of Despised Professionals.
Our motto: "It's not you. It's the other (insert your profession here) they hate."
It's been a rough stretch for bankers, who've slid past attorneys and, perhaps, journalists in public scorn. These money experts have, in the past year, been battered for extravagant bonuses, plus loose lending, plus packaging that loose lending into profitable but ultimately ruinous securities.
This week, they were thrashed on Capitol Hill for taking bailout money, then locking the door on customers who come for loans or help with a late credit card payment.
Our perception of bankers once teetered between George Bailey and Milburn Drysdale, between "pillars of the community" and "greedy moneymaker." Now it's so bad that even Barney Frank (unpopular D-Mass.) gets to slap them around publicly.
“People really hate you," Frank said to banking execs last November, "and they’re starting to hate us because we’re hanging out with you. And you have to help us deal with that.”
Who's the angriest at bankers? It might be other bankers.
Says Squeeze reader Rebecca, a Bank of America employee: "To be honest, the number of bankers making the kinds of (bonuses) you hear about is so small … we hate them, too!"
Rebecca says there's a culture clash within banks between the aggressive trading floor types and those who analyze the risk of those trades. "Most bankers by nature are cautious, rule-bound folks," she said. "Contrary to popular belief, BofA has always been pretty diligent about the kinds of investments we make, and has always used sound business principles in my opinion. We just got burned by the (Merrill Lynch) deal."
And those bonuses? "I know my bonus was a third of what was promised," she says, "and it was very small to begin with … Most rank-and-file folks never get raises, and the little tiny bonus we get is used to pay expenses, not buy airplanes."
Most of us in Charlotte know this. We have bankers in our neighborhoods and bankers in our grocery aisles. They drive cars like our cars. They're mediocre at golf like we are.
And they, like us, benefited from the banks being here. Without BofA and Wachovia, Charlotte doesn't get the commerce that flowed through our city, the people that came for a piece of it, or perhaps the Panthers, the splashy downtown, the real estate boom that followed.
Now one of those banks is gone, and the other is wounded, as is our civic pride. More job cuts are coming, perhaps significant, to BofA and Wells Fargo. Some will be tempted to say the bankers had it coming, and perhaps Charlotte, too.
Here's what Rebecca says:
"Most of the people I work with are 'company men' who truly have a sense of dedication to the bank. So when they see the bank being trashed, and folks being laid off to pay for the excesses of a few, they get just as mad as non-bankers.
"We feel like they sullied the family name, so to speak, and we are all paying for it."