Belial Bank Hires Gonzo Public Relations Firm!

After taking one on the chin, compliments of Federal Judge Michael Simon in James II, the bank we love to hate has decided it needs to polish its tarnished image.  B.L. Zebub, Belial Bank’s CEO and President for Life, has it in his head that a quick little reputational makeover will work wonders as he gears up for Oregon’s mandatory mediation law this coming July.  B.L. – never the shrinking violet – believes that he can, over the course of a couple of months, restore Belial to its reputation of yesteryear, when bank stocks were considered a good long term investment, and mothers actually wanted their daughters to marry bankers.  B. L. believes that by the time mandatory mediation become law, his Big Bank will have attained the reputational equivalent of Mother Teresa in the eyes of the press and public.  This time B.L. has convened an in-person meeting of his covert coterie of conspirators to introduce his newest hire from the firm of ‘Spit Shine Public Relations,’ whose motto “We Polish Your Image” caught B.L.’s attention on a late night commercial during women’s roller derby.

In attendance, are B.L.’s eclectic group of dysfunctional participants, including his honest but naïve legal intern, Les Guile; title industry hand-wringer Liz Pendens, who has tried heroically to distance herself from the banking interests following Judge Simon’s recent ruling that  skewered the pro-MERS decisions of his fellow federal judges; Dee Faulting, of the default servicing industry, who still can’t understand why she isn’t on the short list at the Big Banks’ evening soirees.  She actually believes that default servicing is “a noble profession.”  Also in attendance is the always popular, Kenneth Y. Slick III (aka “KY”), who views himself in these meetings with the same narcissism as Joe Biden at a political rally.  And, of course, in attendance is B.L.’s loyal acolyte, Lucy Furr, who dutifully transcribes, scrubs, and prints up these sterling examples of “Bank Think.”   As before, I cannot reveal how this transcript fell into my hands. – PCQ

B.L. Zebub:  “OK everyone, let’s get down to business.  I’ve convened this meeting to introduce Betty Blather, of the well-respected PR Firm, Spit Shine Public Relations.  Betty comes to us from a long line of P.R. stars, dating back to her father, Bob Blather, whose many successes are legendary.  Betty’s CV includes some additional credentials uniquely qualifying her to work for us:  She has a degree in accounting from The Sleight of Hand School of Accountancy and Magic.  It was a Bernie Madoff funded non-profit but – due to that unfortunate misunderstanding he had with the New York criminal justice system – has had to close down.  She also authored an article entitled “Sophistry With Numbers” that has become the “Bible” for Big Bank accountants and financial advisors everywhere. So, after having to listen to our accountants drone on about why we have to take further write-downs for “Goodwill Impairment” – whatever that means – I’ve decided it’s time we take aggressive action.  Our brand value…well, it sucks; market perception about our industry…well, that sucks too. So being a man of action, I immediately got on the phone, called Betty, and we’ve hired her for a six month turnaround project.  By the time she’s through, we’ll look better than Joan Rivers on Botox.  So, Betty, can you tell our group a little about yourself?”

Betty Blather: “I’d be delighted.  As B.L. said, my father was in the public relations business most of his professional life. He struggled for years before hitting the big time. His break came when he represented a small regional bank in the Southwest, Banco de la Piñata. They needed a public relations makeover as bad as Bank of America needs a dividend.  Like Belial Bank, its reputation was neck and neck with Charles Manson, and drastic measures were in order. People were always taking swipes at Banco de la Piñata – just like their name invited them to do.  Well, my father, ever the genius, suggested renaming it “Banco de los Pastos Verdes.” And that was all it took!  From piñatas to green pastures!  It became so successful that they opened a sister bank, “Banco de las Aguas Tranquilas.”  Banks with names like “Green Pastures” and “Still Waters” just can’t miss.  B.L., it may be that your reputational problem is just in your name.  I mean, “Belial Bank”?  Depending on whom you ask, the word “Belial” can refer to wickedness, evil, or the devil himself.  Who came up with that awful name anyway!?”

B.L. Zebub:  “I did, Betty. The name stays. Try something else.”

Betty Blather: “Oh…. Well. Anyway…I kinda like the alliteration. It sorta grows on you.  Don’t you worry B.L.; I’ve got a lot more ideas.  The way we look at it, part of your goodwill impairment problem is from within your own bank – the investors!  When your stockholders look at the value of their shares, it’s like a death watch.  Your stock price is trading at below cash.  Good grief!  This means your shares are worth less than your cash on hand after paying debt. Some folks might say that Belial is worth more dead than alive.”

B.L. Zebub: “Thanks for the obit, Betty.  Can we move on? I feel like I just got caught in last week’s Wells Fargo Annual Stockholders’ Meeting, and can’t get out.”

Les Guile:  “Ms. Blather, it’s a pleasure to meet you – I’m just an intern here; I study law, and B.L. has invited me to participate in these meeting so I can learn more about the banking industry – particularly the underbelly.  With your accounting background, I wonder what ideas you have so Belial can improve its financial picture?”

Betty Blather: “Les, I’m glad you asked.  Before I came to this meeting I took a close look at the bank’s books.  I spoke to your chief accountant – a real nerd if you ask me.   I think this guy still uses an abacus, if you catch my drift.  B.L. you need someone who is a forward thinker.  Willing to ‘push the financial envelope,’ if you will.  I have just the person.  Over the years I’ve worked closely with one of my colleagues, Finessen Gaap.  She’s phenomenal!  She thinks the FASB are a bunch of pencil-pushing bean counters living by yesterday’s accounting rules. They don’t intimidate her!  She can turn bad numbers into good with the speed of a Benihana chef and a sharp knife.”

Les Guile: “Hmmmm.  I’m getting a queasy feeling here Ms. Blather.  I studied a little accounting myself before law school.  I don’t think ‘turning bad numbers into good’ is as easy as slicing shrimp.  Can you be a little more specific about what Finessen Gaap will be doing here?” And by the way – is that her real name?

Betty Blather:  “Yes, it is Less.  Her parents were comedians before they became financial consultants.  Well, I can’t be too specific about her techniques.  You see, she’s in the last stages of getting a copyright on her book, a patent on her formulas, and has just registered the name of her program.  It’s very hush-hush.  But I can tell you that it’s designed specifically for the banking industry.  She guarantees that it will ‘Improve the Sagging Bottom Line,’ which seems to be a Big Problem for Big Banks.”

K.Y. Slick: “Well Betty, don’t hold us in suspense, tell us more!  I don’t have the same reticence as Les.  I subscribe to the Big Bank Mantra ‘It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.’ And even when we do get caught, the worst that happens is we lose 20%-30% of our total profits.  So, we’re still coming out on top!  Whoever said ‘Crime Doesn’t Pay’ had never met an executive at a Big Bank!  Ha!”

Betty Blather: “Well, K.Y. like I said… is K.Y. your real name?! – Anyway, like I said, I can’t reveal too much.  But I can tell you the name of her program, since she’s going public with it tomorrow.  It’s called, ‘Spanx for Banks.” And the tag line is ‘We firm up your bottom line!’”  Pretty clever, huh?!”


Liz Pendens: “I can’t believe I’m hearing this!  Drivel from Blather. With a name like that I shouldn’t be surprised. Finessen Gaap!  What’s next?  B.L., the next time a commercial comes on while you’re watching roller derby at 3:00 AM, remain seated.  Ignore the commercial!  I suppose tomorrow you’ll be bringing us the lead jammer for the Detroit Pistoffs women’s roller derby team, so she can head up our collections department.”

B.L. Zebub: “Betty, I gotta agree with Liz, handwringer that she is.  I don’t want to see myself doing a “Perp Walk” on the cover of American Banker Magazine.  If I’m counting correctly Betty, this is ‘Strike Two’ and you’re still at bat.  What’s next?”

Betty Blather: “Wow, I’m stunned.  All the other Big Banks thought my ideas were great.  I can’t name names, but they’ve all signed up the ‘Spanx for Banks’ accounting program.  It’s done wonders for their figures, if you’ll pardon the pun. Well, let’s go back to Belial’s horrible public persona.  We all know why that is – the bank is viewed as morally vacuous.  It has all the right platitudes, like “We’re here to help” but you know they don’t mean it.  If they actually cared, they’d stop playing games with borrowers’ lives.  The decision makers, the real policy makers – they are so far removed from what’s happening on the ground, they might as well be on the Moon.  And the people on the ground that deal with families struggling with their distressed housing problems  – they’re clueless!  They’re the  ‘Useful Idiots’ Lenin was referring to. They have no training and no skills.  You put them in a boiler room called “The Loan Modification Facility,” give them enough Xanax, a 1-800 number, a fax machine with no paper, and a script using mono-syllabic words, and let them play shell games with distressed homeowners.  To these zombies, loan modification is performance art: Take in paperwork; lose paperwork; demand new paperwork; complain information outdated; start over again…. These people have the collective IQ of a turnip crop.  They think the “Buffet Rule” refers to the number of margaritas they can drink.   So, I’ve been thinking: How can we make people believe Belial Bank really cares? Mind you, it’s not necessary to actually care – it’s good enough if people  believe you care. They’re not mind readers.  They don’t know that your employees are more concerned with their next date than helping a family avoid foreclosure.  So I’ve created a new bumper sticker that all employees in Belial Bank’s foreclosure department can put on their cars. And this includes you, Dee!  I’ve ordered five thousand of them – but don’t worry – I didn’t get them at the same place you buy your force-placed insurance!  These stickers are actually very affordable.  Since we can’t stick our borrowers and investors with the tab, we have to be frugal so our stockholders don’t start focusing on executive bonuses again this year.  So Lucy, why don’t you hand them out; and everyone tell me what you think!”

[Drivel dutifully distributed.]

Betty Blather [resuming]: Folks, these will be a guaranteed hit – your reputations will go through the roof!  You’ll have the more respect and adoration than Kim Jong Un at a North Korean rally.  This bumper stick message just screams, ‘We Care!  We Really Care!’”

Dee Faulting: “&^$#%$#!!! Do you think for a minute I’m going to put a tacky bumper sticker on my shiny new 5-Series BMW that says How’s My Foreclosing? Call 1-800-613-6743’? Why, this is the phone number for the Consumer Complaint hotline at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency! You gotta be out of your mind!  Why don’t you just issue whips to all of us so we can flog ourselves?!”

B.L. Zebub: “That’s Strike Three, Betty.”