BofA Meeting Attracts Large Protest
Protestors blocked the intersection of 5th and College Streets. Photo: Julie Rose Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police estimate 500 protesters shut down the intersection in front of Bank of America's annual meeting uptown Wednesday morning. But the protests were largely peaceful and WFAE's Julie Rose reports the meeting offered no surprises. Shareholders began lining up around 7 a.m. to get into Bank of America's annual meeting. By 9 a.m., protesters had blocked the intersection of 5th and College Street, in front of One Bank of America Center. Police redirecting traffic and created a cordon around the group. Protesters kept up with their chants, pounding on makeshift drums, for another hour or so. Police say they made only six arrests for minor infractions. Upstairs, some 400 shareholders and bank employees sat in hushed silence, as if they were a congregation waiting for church to begin. Classical music played overhead; chill air blasted from the vents. "We need to get through a good orderly meeting where everybody gets their chance to be heard," said Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, introducing a few new rules to keep the meeting from overheating. He stressed the two-minute limit for comments and pointed out the addition of giant countdown clocks. When two minutes were up, the microphone would be cut off. The next two hours played out in the predictable way these shareholder meetings have since the financial crisis. Shareholders mobilized by various activist groups took the microphone to vent their frustration at the bank. Many of them purchased a few bank shares just so they could get into the meeting and confront Moynihan. Roger Davis pleaded for help reducing the size of his mortgage. "I'm underwater," says Davis. "I want to keep my home and my wife and I lived in this home for about five years and we've never missed a payment. But Mr. Moynihan, principal reduction can help me keep my home." To these personal pleas, Moynihan asked shareholders to leave their name and number with a BofA staff member after the meeting and promised, "I'll personally make sure we get someone to work on your account." Bank of America shareholders edged past the protestors on their way to the meeting. Photo: Tanner Latham Much of the shareholder criticism centered on the bank's mortgage servicing process which many homeowners and activist groups say is not working. Whitney Yaks wasn't satisfied with Moynihan's personal promise to make sure shareholders get help with their mortgages. "Is that the solution, then? To become Bank of America shareholders, come to this annual meeting, stand outside for two hours and then come in and give someone their name and phone number?" asked Yaks. "Or can we figure out what the problem is with the mortgage servicing and get it resolved?" After the applause died down, Moynihan responded, "M'am you can call us and we will figure it out the same way. We have a group of people that does this. We have modified a million mortgages." And he said that's proof the system is working. A number of shareholders slammed Bank of America's investment in payday lenders and coal companies that do mountaintop removal. Even the increased security at the meeting got some criticism from Dawn Dannenbring. "Did you ever think that perhaps if you were a better corporate neighbor, you wouldn't need to be so scared?" asked Dannenbring. "Ma'm, the rules and security are here to protect all the shareholders," said Moynihan. "I don't feel threatened at all. I'm here to answer your questions and we'll do it all afternoon if that's what it takes." That may have been Moynihan's plan, but after two hours, the comments were getting repetitive and he'd had enough, so the meeting was adjourned. It was his third as Bank of America CEO and he seemed more comfortable on stage. For much of the question and answer period he stood to the side of the podium, looking relaxed with one hand in his pocket. He probably knew not to expect many ardent fans. Happy Bank of America shareholders seem less and less inclined to show up for these meetings, unless they've got a lot of time on their hands. Like 78-year old Robert Williams who drove from St. Louis with his wife. "We come sometimes just to see what's going on and everything," said Williams. He's owned Bank of America stock for decades. Is he happy with how Bank of America is handling itself right now? "They're doing their best, I think," said Williams. But, he adds, it'd sure be nice if the stock price would go back up and started paying a dividend again.