RALEIGH — Brian Moynihan on Monday used his first public address as CEO of Bank of America Corp. to call for changes in how the banking industry does business and for more lending.
Speaking to a near-capacity crowd at the North Carolina Bankers Association's annual economic forecast luncheon, Moynihan outlined several challenges facing the banking industry and portrayed B of A as being on the forefront of confronting them. He touted so-called "clarity commitments" for the company's credit card, mortgage and deposit products as a way of better describing terms and fees to customers.
In capital markets, Moynihan called for reforms in areas such as derivatives trading, securitizations, compensation and ratings agencies. Though he offered no specific plans, he emphasized a need to "balance safety and soundness with innovation." Finally he said the banking industry must accept higher capital and liquidity requirements.
"The key lesson here is 'never again,'" he said, referring to the near meltdown in 2008 that led the government to infuse billions of dollars into Bank of America and other financial companies. (B of A repaid its $45 billion in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program last month.) "We can never again get our company or our industry in this position."
Yet he argued big banks should be kept intact. "The ability to combine a commercial banking business with global investment banking and capital markets capabilities is important to us for one specific reason: It's important to our clients," he said. "The more capital-raising options we bring to the table for clients, the better solutions we can provide to help them grow."
Moynihan, who succeeded Ken Lewis on Friday, briefly discussed industrywide declines in lending, calling reports placing the blame squarely on the banking industry "upsetting." He touted B of A's commitment to increase lending to small businesses by $5 billion this year as an important move for the company and the economy. "We will have to take more risk to do this, but it is the right thing to do," he said.
Federal Reserve Board Gov. Elizabeth Duke also addressed the luncheon, and said that recent conversations with bankers are giving her optimism that lending will rise later this year. "Nearly all the bankers with whom I have talked report that their business plans for 2010 are based on achieving increases in loan volumes," Duke said.
"Most are expecting that loan losses will peak later this year, as the bottoming of the housing market becomes clearer and the economic recovery takes firmer hold," she added. "And a few bankers are beginning to report renewed competition for new loans."
Moynihan's appearance came less than three weeks after he was tapped to replace Lewis, who in late September unexpectedly announced plans to retire at the end of 2009. There had been some doubt about whether Moynihan would get the nod, after several high-profile outsiders were mentioned as possible contenders. Once named, some wondered if the Bostonian would entertain the notion of moving B of A's headquarters to the Northeast.
The new CEO attempted to squash such speculation on Monday, telling attendees that he shared the same vision for the $2.3 trillion-asset Charlotte company as his predecessors. "Our bank has thrived as a North Carolina company for 135 years and will continue to do so," he said, later adding that he plans "to build on the heritage that got us here."
Meanwhile, on the economic front, he said he is seeing some signs of a recovery, albeit one that will challenge bankers and their customers for some time to come. "We continue to be worried about the fragility of the economy," he said, particularly with internal projections that national unemployment will average 9.8% this year.
"This leads us to forecast a long, slow recovery," he added. "The economic hole we're climbing out of is very deep, with greater household leverage, and more aggressive speculation, than we'd seen in decades. Getting out will not be easy, and it will take time."