A couple of weeks ago I heard the news that you are going to cut thousands of jobs. Almost ten thousand! That’s as much as a quarter of your total number of jobs. That is quite a lot.
On the radio, I heard that the heading of the press release in which you made this announcement, used the words ‘Excellent customer service’ plus something that I don’t remember. Nothing about cutting jobs. This news was hidden in the press release. I love the ‘excellent customer service’ thing, you know. It prompted me to write this letter. I want you to know something, even though I already left you.
You were there when I gathered the courage to exchange my home office for a real office here on the outskirts of the city. I was prepared for growth. Remember how exciting that was? You listened eagerly to my ambitious plans, I shared my business plan with you and you were also enthusiastic. I can still see your surprised look when I told you that I was not sharing my plans with you because I wanted to ask you for money. I just wanted you to know about it. I was going to do all my investments myself, with my own money. You liked that. Me too.
Sure, there were risks. Those risks are part of entrepreneurship. Those risks were mine, not yours. I invested in the furnishing of my office, in an ICT infrastructure that was prepared for growth. I invested in corporate identity, website, marketing, and as soon as it was feasible, in more people. One by one. We got some nice customers. Those customers granted us more work. We worked with good people and we developed work that worked. Our business grew and you were there. It didn’t cost you anything and yet you were able to take advantage of our growth. Great, wasn’t it? I gave it to you wholeheartedly. Who knows, there might come a day that you could help me.
Dear Bank, you called me regularly and you always showed excellent knowledge of my financial affairs. You asked me regularly if you could help me with something. Business liability insurance? Continuity insurance? Saving accounts for my staff? A term deposit? Most of the time I said ‘yes’ and you got more business from me. You also asked me about my plans for the future, my growth ambitions, my investment plans. You even came to my home to take a look at my private insurances, retirement plans, and what have you. You paid attention to me and listened to me. I didn’t ask much from you. I remained faithful to you and did not do so because I was eager for your money, I didn’t borrow a penny from you. We were a good match. We were good together.
My staff and I worked hard. Unbelievably hard. We labored to serve our customers. Extremely long working hours were the rule rather than the exception. On average I had one day off during the weekend. I’m not complaining about it, because it was the result of the choices I myself had made. The work had to be done and the customers had to be kept happy. I didn’t spend enough time with my wife or my children and I knew that. Yet there was no alternative, it was part of the phase my company was in. Later, I realized I didn’t pay enough attention to myself. A good lesson I learned.
I do not need to tell you what happened in 2008. The financial markets collapsed and the economy almost came to a standstill. Incredibly, this was something we had not experienced before. As if they had agreed with each other, our customers reduced their spending on customer acquisition, retention, and development to a minimum. However painful, I did understand it: they had other priorities. They were busy surviving.
Dear Bank, I’ve never blamed you for this financial crisis. I’m not a bank basher. Furthermore, if there was one thing that I kept faith in, it was you. For you, I dared to stab my hand in the fire. Your cheating with the Libor rates was quite a shock for me (“You too, Brutus?”), but I saw it as an incident and well hey, let him who is without sin cast the first stone, right? I still believed that I was better off with you than with most others.
What is it that made me cheat you with another bank, last year? What made me decide to leave you, recently? You did not ask me, so you probably have no idea. I’ll tell you. You can take advantage of it.
After the crisis in 2008 erupted in full force, my staff and I struggled for two years to keep our business afloat. That was difficult because we hardly had any reserves. What I earned with the company, I had invested in growth, remember? The crisis continued, it went on and on and in June 2010, we were finished. When it became apparent that we were no longer able to meet our payment obligations, there was little choice other than to apply for bankruptcy.
I do not blame you.
Ever since you were remarkably quiet. You no longer called nor showed interest in me. You didn’t ask me how I was doing or how you could help me. And you didn’t give me unsolicited tips anymore. Nothing. Nada. Niente. Suddenly, I did not exist anymore. I had become a pariah for you and you were acting like a gold digger who had already found another love. Now that I was no longer flourishing, our love was over. At least from your side. I waited for you, but you did not come. Apparently, I had nothing to offer anymore.
I worked for over 20 years as an entrepreneur, so it was in your interest as well to get me up and running again. But you remained deafeningly silent.
What did you have to offer me? A lot, I think. Attention and support. No, no pity. Contact with other entrepreneurs who had gone under too. That could easily have done since I was not the only one at that time who could not continue his business. One after another bankruptcy record was broken. Your advice and help could have been helpful to me, I guess. To help me get back on my feet again. Along with all those other entrepreneurs who owned companies that collapsed.
Dear Bank, where were you when I needed you most? Believe me, the last five years were not easy. Did you know I divorced in 2010? Did you know that my monthly alimony obligation is based on my income before the bankruptcy? Of course, I could have asked my ex-wife (or court, perhaps) to reduce the alimony to my new income (which was basically zero), but I decided not to. I didn’t want my ex and our children to bleed for the downfall of my business. Did you know that after the bankruptcy I had no company, no job, and no income? A lot of experience, an extensive network, a good reputation, prestige, and recognition, but little or no work. No one understood, and neither did I. My employees luckily got unemployment benefits, but I got nothing, and I fell to an income of zero. Did you know that during the last five years there have been moments I thought of the worst…?
No, you did not know. And why not? Because you never called me. Because you never asked me how I was doing. I still was your client. I remained faithful to you. But you kept yourself deaf and dumb, apart from some routine contacts in the bank-customer relationship. But real attention, no.
Today I’m doing pretty well. I’m very busy. I love my clients, I love my work and I can pay off some debts and perhaps start thinking about saving again. I already expected your phone call, haha! Just kidding.
Dear Bank, on the radio, I hear your new commercials about “participating in each other.” On TV, I see your new commercials with a story about “personal contact” and how beautiful that is. That’s right. It is painful and revealing that the letter in which you confirm the end of our relationship was sent to my old address while you were perfectly aware of my move to a new address, now already more than half a year ago. In the opening lines of your letter, you write to ‘Dear Sir/Madam.’ As if you want to rub it in that you do not know or want to know me anymore. Sweetheart, after all these years you still know that I’m a boy, don’t you? I already was when I was a little kid and brought you my savings.
I have never loved any bank as much as I loved you. In my heart, there will always remain a soft spot for you, because old love never dies. But love cannot come from only one side. Loyalty from the customer also requires loyalty to the customer. Dear Bank, be loyal to your customers and listen to them, in both good as well as bad times.
Lots of love,