Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan reiterated the importance of Charlotte to the company and urged a resolution to the upcoming fiscal cliff in an interview with the Observer on Wednesday.
From his 58th-floor office in the Bank of America Corporate Center, Moynihan said he expects a resolution to the fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts because lawmakers realize finding a solution is whats best for the country.
He also said he considers Charlotte his primary office and pointed to a number of top lieutenants in the city. When Moynihan took the CEO post in 2010, talk swirled around whether Charlotte was a headquarters in name only, since Moynihan came to the bank through its acquisition of FleetBoston Financial and has continued to live in Boston.
Moynihan said employees at every level have felt the pain of job cuts, but they are necessary to keep the bank strong in the long term.
Questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Q. What does Charlotte mean to you and to this company?
Its our headquarters city. Its a major market for us. We employ a lot of people. We help this economy in a lot of ways, not only in what we do in a business context but what we do in a general context; in terms of contributions and (market president) Charles Bowmans role, and David (Darnell, co-chief operating officer) and Cathy (Bessant, global technology and operations executive) and all the teams that work here.
Q. How often are you personally in Charlotte, and what do you do when youre here?
This is my office. We travel, but this is the home office. David, Cathy, Andrea (Smith, human resources executive) and the consumer teams, the wealth group, the CFO, chief risk officer, etc. Then in New York, we have the more market-based businesses, (co-chief operating officer) Tom Montag and the teams up there.
Q. So you tend to meet with heads of lines of business here?
Yeah, but I do my emails and everything else you do in your office. This is my office, like your office.
Q. What is the business case for keeping the headquarters here?
This is a great community to do business in. Between buildings and people and everything, this is where we are. The business case is, its here, and they provide great support for us in town, and its a great place to live. My teammates are happy here.
This is where we are. This is where we plan to be.
Q. Do you see a change in Charlottes headcount (currently about 15,000)?
As we keep shaping the company, there are reductions in headcount that go on. This community will be no different than any other community. If its a unit were consolidating or moving, it will happen or not. But theres no specific goals. It just happens quite a bit by just sort of natural movement in the footprint.
As weve been reducing headcount, remember we have 270,000 employees, and use an attrition rate of 10 percent. By not filling jobs, we can actually reduce our headcount, and thats what weve been largely doing.
With Project New BAC (Moynihans ongoing efficiency initiative), we took the time to do it right, to take the headcount down while making investments at the same time in areas of growth.
Charlotte will fare basically the way everybody else will. Theres been a slight leakage down, but its no one unit.
Q. Is the fiscal cliff overhyped or a serious threat?
Its a serious issue. It has been for a long time issues about Americas fiscal health and its ability to get its budget in line with more of a historical practice.
If we cant live within an effective budget management process, which everybody agrees with, long term youre going to have real issues in the country.
Is it overhyped? Ill let you use those words. But Ill tell you, its a serious matter to get this right.
When we talk to our clients, it is having an impact on them, slowing them down from doing things. Its just one more thing they have to try to figure out.
Those are the impacts we have. In the near term, uncertainty and (lack of) confidence. Longer term, like me and my household or you and your household, the budget has to be constructed in a way that it can be sustained.
Q. How optimistic are you about a break in the political stalemate?
I read the same news articles you do. Im optimistic because I think, at the end of the day, everybody realizes the right thing to do is to get it done. Ive been optimistic even through the ebbs and flows of the dialogue.
But its time to get it done.
Q. What is the most important component of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law still to be written into regulations? What would you say to regulators?
There are still a lot of pieces. The key is to make sure that the fixes are about things that we had to fix, and to make sure it doesnt have unintended consequences.
Its the law of the land. Were working with it; everybody in the industry is working with it. The question is how to keep a balance.
Is it all rational? Is it pointing in the right direction? Does it work? Does it have unintended consequences? Thats the work weve got to go through in the next two to three years.
Q. Why do you think BofA seems to have a bigger target on its back in the public than other banks? How does it affect the business?
If there are 10 stories written about banking, we and three of our large peers are going to have a lot of them just because were bigger than everybody else. Thats just the reality.
The real question in terms of your reputation and the business, in the broad consumer business, is how do you get the balance right between providing great service and then also doing it in a way that you have the financial ability to continue to provide. If we dont achieve a profit, we cant do it.
Our consumer scores have come up, we have more checking accounts, more deposits and a higher quality relationship with the customers we have.
Q. You are in the middle of closing hundreds of branches across the country to streamline expenses. As you close branches, how do you make sure that doesnt have an effect on communities? Right now, a Rock Hill branch is closing on Main Street.
The phenomenon thats going on in banking is no different from some of the phenomena thats gone on in other retail organizations that have had massive shifts. Online behavior. Its the reality. We will have less bank branches in this country over time.
But the nature of the bank branches is also changing. Theyre bigger. They have more specialists.
Instead of saying, Lets keep shrinking it back with the teller line and shrink it down, were saying, Lets have a bigger place. When Im going in there, its more of a destination shop.
We take into account how it affects communities, but to have a big robust branch as opposed to two little ones with a few people in them. Its much better service for customers.
Q. Youre now well into the cost-cutting Project New BAC. Weve seen employee headcount fall, the expense base fall, sales of business lines. Do you think the continual cost-cutting has hurt employee morale?
This is nothing any of us like to do, but it is necessary to get our company where we can be positioned to drive returns to our shareholders and continue to invest in the product.
Remember, were bringing the costs down at the same time were making investments. Four years ago, we spent $2.2 billion on technology; this year, we spent $3.6 billion. Thats what employees like to see: Are you going to invest in the businesses we need to?
Is it tough on people as we continue to reshape the company? Absolutely. Is it tough on me? Absolutely. Is it tough on the management team? Absolutely. Is it tough on everybody? Absolutely.
But that transition is required so that we have the company that we need to have to produce the customer benefits, the team member benefits and the shareholder benefits in the future. If we dont, it just wont work.