Social media backlash spurs BoA to reverse course on debit card fee


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watch A furious social media backlash helped convince Bank of America to reverse its unpopular decision to charge customers a monthly fee for using their debit cards.

The anti-Big Bank sentiment that is driving the Occupy Wall Street protests accentuated the consumer hue and cry, and BoA CEO’s tone-deaf comments provided plenty of opportunity for derision.

“We have a right to make a profit,” CEO Brian Moynihan, said infamously. While a perfectly reasonable statement in normal times, these are hardly normal times and the comment struck a discordant note with those hurt by the Great Recession. BoA received a taxpayer bailout to the tune of $45 billion, plus a “loan-loss back-stop” of $97 billion, according to CNN. Home-owners with upside-down mortgages and unemployed/underemployed workers haven’t been as fortunate and quite predictably were put off by Moynihan’s line. As reported by the Chicago Tribune‘s Phil Rosenthal:

“The ‘right to make a profit’ comment triggered a great deal of negative sentiment,” wrote James Purchase of Attensity (a company selling social media analytic software). On-line comments mimicked Moynihan, “‘I have the right to bank elsewhere,’ and ‘Yes, but no more than I have the right to a job.’ The most negative sentiment was around ‘excessive profits,’ ‘high fees’ and ‘bailout.’”

BoA’s experience is a cautionary tale for business failing to keep abreast of consumer sentiment being expressed in social media. You can learn a lot by listening. And if what you’re hearing sounds severely at odds with a climate conducive to a business decision you’re about to make, it’s time to revisit the decision.

BTW – BoA’s stock dropped when it announced the new debit card fees (investors apparently being more in tune with public sentiment than Moynihan and company), it fell again when Moynihan dug in his heals, and it further sank yesterday when the company rescinded the decision (losing more than the overall market on a very down day). The BoA incident is in line to receive serious consideration for Force for Good’s 2011 PR Disaster of the Year.

- Jon Harmon

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