financial services

Bank Of America Remains Flexible In Crisis

Anne Finucane, CMO of Bank of America, was supposed to be on hand to give a presentation Friday at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference. It is a telling circumstance that she had to deliver her address by video. The company is in the midst of acquiring hobbled mortgage firm Countrywide and crippled investment bank Merrill Lynch.

Brand and advertising officers Anne Saunders and Claire Wong were there in Finucane's stead to talk some turkey about how the company is dealing with the crisis both in financial markets, and in consumer perception of banking overall.

"We are talking more about FDIC insurance," said Saunders. "We are talking about the stability the bank can bring and confidence people can have in us; we are talking a lot more about savings options, about putting your money in a place where you can watch it grow. And we are also talking about our ability to be nimble and flexible, as well."

Wong added that the company is also "cognizant of the fact that people want safety and security, so we are also pushing the idea of 'guaranteed,' and telling people we can give them help." She said the company has organized a "war room" so that when a headline comes up that raises flags among consumers, the bank can respond to customers."

Saunders said the company has not arrived at marketing spend for next year, but she said it probably won't drop. "We are not done planning '09--and obviously, events of the last few weeks will have an impact," she says. "The competitive set we have now is different from a month ago--so we aren't concluding that we will necessarily cut spend, but we are still in the midst of a dynamic market and are trying to be as flexible as we can."

Saunders added that the acquisition of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide means more marketing communications tasks. "And on both the short and long term, you need to continue to tend your brand and building it," she said. "The acquisition of Countrywide is about long-term growth. After the acquisition we didn't advertise. We instead met with non-profits, and we used testimony to articulate the role we were committed to playing in the mortgage industry. We will be marketing heavily in months to come."

Finucane spoke via a pre-produced video about how, when she had initially planned the trip to the ANA meeting months ago, "nothing short of a global economic crisis could have kept me away." A video followed that reviewed just how that crisis happened, complete with newsreels of the obligatory weeping stock trader, hands grasping forehead in disbelief (do they use the same actor for this shot? I want that job) and house "for sale" signs sagging forlornly on front lawns.

Bank of America is actually weathering the storm pretty well, she said. "We recently reported quarterly earnings over a billion dollars, when many financial services are trying to survive. In this environment--as one of those banks with broad shoulders--Bank of America has been able to take advantage of critical growth opportunities."

Finucane said Bank of America, as the No. 1 consumer bank, has the flexibility, because of size and market capitalization, "to make bold, opportunistic acquisitions like Countrywide and Merrill Lynch." She allowed that the former would present some branding challenges in the short term.

She also talked about how the company is furthering its "Bank of Opportunity" branding, current market conditions notwithstanding. "Opportunity resonates as one of most compelling ideas in America. The promise inherent in the Bank of Opportunity platform is straightforward, and instead of messages alone, we focus on action. Consumers--at all times--are looking for simple and relevant brand promises.

An example: the "Keep the change" program by which consumers who use Bank of America credit or debit cards earn money toward savings when purchases via BoA cards are rounded up.

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