Self-involved Jerks, or, Sleeping With the Elephants

By Wally Hourback | August 24, 2001

What’s really going on with the Royal Bank’s makeover of its public face? At a glance it seems to be little more than another instance of corporate public relations dorks shuffling the deck to bring the corporation into synch with current corporate buzzings. Renaming itself RBC and dropping emphasis on “Royal” and “Canada” is as much window dressing as the transformation of Colonel Sanders and his boys into KFC: it’s the same watery chicken, flour and a lot of MSG and grease trying to make itself look gourmet and exotic.

Certainly the explanation of the changes offered by the Bank’s spokesperson Sara Best reveals no conscious insights into the alterations in the corporation’s essential nature when she says that while the Bank is “very proud of {its}Canadian roots and {its} Canadian presence”, the RBC moniker will be “more palatable”, presumably to Americans and other offshore customers. And we only flinch a little bit when she says, “I mean, Royal Bank of Canada sounds like some little Canadian Bank…It’s really a move forward for as far as becoming more of a global player” because we’ve heard little other than this sort of nonsense for the last decade.

But maybe there’s some fire behind all this smoke. The Royal has purchased a billion dollars worth of American financial sector assets in the last year, supposedly in anticipation of the Federal government’s revisions to the bank act, passed in June. As expected, the changes have effectively prevented the five major Canadian chartered banks from merging with one another, so what they’re doing is concentrating their activities into specialties that will achieve the same thing. The Royal (whoops, RBC) has acquired the largest independent U.S. mortgage broker, Prism Financial corporation, and several other major properties. Sounds to me like they’re serious about leaving home.

What I can’t figure out is whether the growth they’re pursuing is truly a corporate necessity as claimed, or whether its just a bunch of self-involved fiscal jerks obsessing over the size of their corporate dicks. As a recent NY Times report points out, the relative size of Canada’s chartered banks has shriveled since the 1980s, when they comprised three of the ten biggest banks in North America (Royal was 3rd). Today only one of the Canadian Chartered is in the top 10, The Royal, at number 7. That same report offers a shrivel-up item of even greater impact: the combined assets of the five Canadian chartereds, at 907 billion U.S., are smaller than American Citibank Group. Hard to imagine new Royal CEO Gord Nixon living with the shame, ain’t it?

What got me started on this was a sentence a little further along in the NY Times story: “One senior banking official worries that without the extra heft that size brings, Canada’s banks could turn out to be like those, say, in Denmark—stable and well-regarded, but without significant profile beyond their borders.” I wonder how many Canadian jobs puffing up Nixon’s wiener will end up costing—or how many hours we’ll waste standing in banking lineups, whether in the real world, or on the blower, or on the Internet before he and the other banks feel adequately engorged and potent enough in their globalism?

560 w. /August 24, 2001


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