Everyone’s entitled to my opinion about Northern Trust February 25

I told you this one would blow up. When Cafferty has an opinion about something, you know it’s the height of dumb-hunting season. So as I line up all the outraged opinion peddlers (come on, what’s to be outraged about? This is like Britney Spears — it gives something for these people to write about), I’m going to break tradition and tell you what I think. But after these red-faced apoplectics have their day:

  • Northern Trust is a “cancer on American society.” Wow. Not a pimple, mind you, or even heartburn. Cancer. We’re not talking Barry Blogger from Boston. This from the New York Times.
  • The executives don’t realize that “the ground has shifted.” If that’s what we’re calling the financial earthquake that’s toppling banks left and right, so be it.
  • Congress thinks Northern Trust acted “irresponsibly and arrogantly” and wants its money back. Well, if Northern Trust didn’t want the money in the first place . . .
  • Hey, taxpayers are willing to forgive and forget if Northern Trust throws some of that seared salmon and Sheryl Crow our way. Or at least springs from some Phil Mickelson tickets.

    Well, cancer is a bit strong, but I can get behind the Phil Mickelson idea. My take after the break.

    Putting all outrage and schadenfreude aside, Northern Trust is one of the most successful banks in this recession. It is primarily a bank by, about, and for very, very wealthy people, folks who throw millions and tens of millions of dollars their way. So while you and I might get a toaster or a ballpoint pen as a token of our bank’s appreciation, Northern Trust gives them Los Angeles bacchanals and sweetheart deals on million dollar mortgages. If you don’t like it, well, go out and make millions of dollars and then tell me you’d rather have a toaster rather than a golf tournament.

    Northern Trust is a successful, profitable bank and has a right to do whatever it wants with its profits, particularly if million dollar parties generate million dollar profits.

    On the other hand, the ground has shifted, as some wise person said immediately after the San Francisco earthquake. Even if the bank never took TARP funds, an enormous amount of taxpayer money (well, future taxpayer money) is going into the banking system. Americans widely — and correctly — believe that they are somehow paying for the banks’ failures but are not participating in the banks’ successes (so-called “free market socialism”: privatize the upside and socialize the downside). So, TARP funds or no TARP funds, the Northern Trust million-dollar client appreciation week stunningly brings home this fact.

    Many moons ago, when I worked in a marketing communications firm, I ended up spending much time and many brain cells on the death care industry (you know, cemeteries, funeral homes, casket makers). One of our clients was a major B2B death-care business and we partnered with an ad agency that was southern California’s number one death care ad agency. Imagine that.

    As a result, I went to many death care industry conventions. And they were a riot, I mean, party down, get-out-the-Tiffany’s-and-the-Gucci spendathon good times. You see, most people who own or manage cemeteries or funeral homes are filthy, stinking rich. But it’s money that has a price: they can’t show it off. They can’t let the rest of the community know how filthy, stinking rich they are because, well, they’re making all that money off of the deaths of loved ones. So they don’t buy big mansions or one hundred thousand dollar cars. They don’t bedeck themselves with jewelry or Hugo Boss because, well, that would be tacky. “Hey, is your dad dead yet? Tell him to hurry because I’d like a new BMW!” So, when convention time comes around, these folks break out their wallets, their Guccis, and their limos and party big time.

    This is where the banks are at. Whether they take TARP money or not, banks as a business cannot afford to show off the money they do have. We, as taxpayers, are underwriting the banking and financial system, both the losers and the winners, so banks as a business have to start acting like funeral homes and being a part of the community, rather than above it.

    Any marketer worth half a grain of salt would have understood this.

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