NEW YORK (
) -- When you spend your time tracking the every move of
Bank of America
, trying to get an edge over all the other reporters, analysts and investors doing the same thing, it's easy to miss some of the stuff that might be going on with a bank in, say, Cleveland.
It's even easier to miss what's going on with a Cleveland-based bank that communicates with investors so rarely its CEO has to issue a disclaimer right off the bat.
"This meeting today may be a little clunky compared to what some of you are used to since this is our first investor call of this kind," said Marc Stefanski, President, Chairman and CEO of
TFS Financial Corp.
, kicking off a highly unusual Aug. 9 conference call that appears to have gone unremarked-upon by the media.
Though TFS was founded by Stefanski's parents in 1938 and went public in 2007, bank management had apparently never felt the need to hold the kind of conference call that most public companies consider routine. But after a friendly visit from regulators at the newly-vigilant Office of Thrift Supervision that would eventually lead to a formal sanction called a memorandum of understanding, TFS suspended its dividend and halted share repurchases. The stock fell some 20% on the news.
"We are hopeful that we can eliminate or calm the fears of some of you," was how Stefanski explained the rationale for the call according to the transcript, noting the decision had left the bank's management team "a little excited, nervous and very hopeful."
Shareholders, too, seemed excited, though a couple of them scolded Stefanski for taking so long to open up.
"If you keep to yourself, you don't have the chance of learning. I would suggest that you reconsider how you have been running your investor relations business and how you deal with the Street," said an investor named Richard Lovin, according to a transcript of the call. Lovin could not be reached, and calls and an e-mail to Stefanski went unreturned.
Stefanski also heard from a man named George Tarbuck, who, as a depositor in the bank, is also theoretically a shareholder. That is because TFS is what's known as a mutual holding company (MHC)--an unusual ownership structure in which less than half a company's shares are publicly listed. Some investors see great potential benefits to
mutual holding companies
Hudson City Bancorp
, which was a mutual holding company until 2005, provides a great example of the bull case.
However, shareholders in MHCs have fewer rights than those in most publicly-traded companies, a fact that may have been lost on Tarbuck, who admitted on the call that he is "not I guess someone with a massive amount of a business knowledge (sic)." Tarbuck could not be reached.
But Tarbuck, who "began my association with Ben Stefanski (Marc's father) in the late 50s down on Fleet Avenue with my first savings account," was distressed by the drop in the stock and the dividend halt.
"How am I being impacted on this if I have sizeable CDs with you and own stock with you? What does this whole mess mean to me?" Tarbuck wanted to know.
After investor relations chief Paul Huml apparently failed to satisfy Tarbuck by saying "we are not in the money business, we are in the people business," Tarbuck asked Stefanski, "Marc, what would your dad, Ben, say about this?"
Stefanski noted that his father was "a survivor of the Depression," and went on for a bit before sharing the following wisdom with investors: "This morning I stopped at my parents' gravesite, which I do periodically for insightful wisdom and spirituality. And I felt pretty good about the discussion I had this morning until I was walking away from the gravesite, and I thought I heard a voice that said, you are on your own, my son."
Investors did not appear to be soothed by the call as Stefanski had hoped. Since that Aug. 9 call, TFS stock is down more than 10% while
SPDR KBW Regional Banking
, an exchange traded fund that tracks regional bank stocks, is up nearly 13%. That was enough to get Stefanski included on
's list of
Written by Dan Freed in New York
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.