Information Technology Risk Management

Bank of Asia Experience Teaches us: Get Ahead of the News

As I left my house this morning, the President was addressing us about the plan and why we should embrace it.

By the time I got midway to work, Citigroup had acquired most of Wachovia's assets.

Take a page from Bank of Asia. Get ahead of the bad news if you see it coming. 

Bank failures. Big takeovers. Government rescues. There's simply more news than any of us can keep up with these days, and when all of the prominent news is about banking - that's not necessarily a good thing.

Case in point: Did you see last Saturday's New York Times? Amidst a bunch of very good news and analysis pieces making sense of the current crisis, there was an interesting article about Bank of Asia.

Last Tuesday, it seems, the bank was rumored to be in trouble. On Wednesday, these rumors triggered a classic "run on the bank" - depositors wanted their money. But disaster was averted thanks to the efforts of the bank, its regulators and a major Chinese tycoon. By Thursday, the lines outside the bank had dissipated, and Bank of Asia's stock value showed signs of recovery.

In part, you can say that the bank was saved because its principals reacted quickly to bad news.

I prefer to think their reaction was so swift and successful because they anticipated the bad news.

There's a lesson to be learned here by U.S. banking institutions. It's the lesson the Boy Scouts have been preaching for years: Be prepared.

While many of us were taken aback by the fall of Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., WaMu, etc., it's fair to say that company executives, regulators and other interested parties weren't ambushed. They saw the train wrecks coming, but instead of getting ahead of the bad news - preparing customers and partners for the impact - too many of them stood in front of the cameras and microphones and said "What train?"

Be upfront with customers, and they're more apt to work with you. Ambush them, and they're likely to form an unfriendly line outside your door.

I used to work for a boss who always told me "If you have good news, I want it fast. If you have bad news, I want it faster." Those words have always stuck with me.

On one hand, I'd like to think the worst of the bad news is over for banking institutions. I don't see any more AIGs or Wachovias out there waiting for imminent collapse.

But at the same time, now that regulators can turn some attention away from Wall Street, they're going to be looking closer and harder at community banking institutions - which continue to fail at a brisk pace this year.

It's to these institutions that I speak when I say: Take a page from Bank of Asia. Get ahead of the bad news if you see it coming. Talk to your customers - set their expectations. And if the news is good, share that, too. Reassure your customers that their financial and informational assets are safe.

Bear in mind, given the "What train?" message customers are accustomed to, they'll greet your reassurances with skepticism. You'll need to share hard facts that show your institution is in a healthy condition. No information simply means that your customers will get it from some other source. Typically, information from 'other sources' isn't favorable.

The bottom line is: A "run on the bank" is in no one's best interest. These days, it just might give your institution a run for its life, and we've had quite enough of that kind of news, thank you.



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