They’re fairly memorable ads. Those Washington Mutual ones. “Bank Another Way” they claimed. They generally have a bank rep talking about why it’s so much better to be with Wa-Mu than “one of those other guys”, and a “what are you going to do about that Ed?”
To further demonstrate the extent of Wa-Mu’s ad network, I also enjoy this lovely sign on top of a SOMA (San Francisco) Building. It’s placed for traffic heading West on Hwy 80 as you decent off the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. This freeway section is one of the hairiest, tightest, crash-magnets in the Bay Area (Caltrans is completing a major Bay Bridge reconstruction and drivers are left with just being patient while the necessity proceeds) where the relief of finally coming off the bridge is met by a winding, swirl of “am I on the right road” syndrome. Where everyone is just making damn sure you get thru safe, get off the freeway, or make the lane you need to continue in the desired direction. If you can’t read it, the sign says “Online sign-ups. Faster than a bike messenger with bad brakes.” It’s very SF if you’ve seen those bike people whipping their way thru downtown, but only mildly funny. And, I guarantee you 99.9% of those that blow thru that freeway roller coaster section, don’t even know that it’s there. And, even if you see it, it’s so poorly positioned that you may not even be able to pick up the words.
Unfortunately, Wa-Mu’s problems were festering long before this obnoxious, poorly selected advertisement. Additionally, the US is facing a financial crisis across those specializing in lending (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac bailouts), Wall Street investment banks – MerrillLynch, Lehman, and regular banks all-around. But, I’m picking on Wa-Mu for the one reason…they’ve spent millions in marketing dollars articulating a marketing message that they are different. Better than a bank, more service-oriented that a bank. And why, it gives the perception of longevity, someone that will be there in good times and bad. Someone that knows how to run a bank. But, is it real? What’s going to happen?
The Wa-Mu stock is reaching junk bond status having gone from $42.95/share to closing at $3.20 today in just 24 months. It has gone as low as $2.01. Kerry Killinger, who in 2001 was named American Banker of the Year, was ousted as CEO this year and replaced by Rick Wagoner. In 2005, Kerry earned over $15M, and from 2001-2006 earned in excess of $63M. In the first half of 2008, Wa-Mu reported losses of over $4.4Billion. This is just pure shameful of epic proportions. And, is it really the fault of home-owners for getting mortgages they can’t afford, or the bank’s fault for administrating a loan they knew damn-well the home buyer wouldn’t be able to afford?
But, the real irony here is that they are being auctioned off by GoldmanSachs and likely will be purchased by the very bank that mimicked as if it was a disgraceful waste. Now, look at themselves. I bet they’re 1,000s of investors and 10 of 1,000s of customers, who are biting fingernails in anticipation of being bought by a bank that knows how to operate. Rumored buy-outs include Toronto Dominion Bank, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, and Grupo Santanger.
Wa-Mu will likely be saved by one of their nemeses and a few years from now, after all the re-branding of their banks, loans, and credit cards and check books, it will all be forgotten. We might start thinking about MerrillLynch’s famously branded slogan — “a breed apart”. Yup, a breed apart from those who actually know how to profitably & legally operate a large financial institution. Woo-hoo!