Moynihan Defends Bank of America Debit Fees

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Saying that he has "an inherent duty as a CEO of a publicly held company to get a return for my shareholders," Bank of America's ( BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan on Wednesday night made the case for the nation's largest bank's attempt to recapture lost fee income through its coming $5 monthly fee for customers using debit cards to make purchases.

With the nation's largest bank facing a perfect storm of risk in the wake of its disastrous purchase of Countrywide, ever-mounting mortgage putback demands and declining revenues resulting from regulation curtailing bank fees, Moynihan needs all the help he can get.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan

In an interview with Lawrence Kudlow at the Washington Ideas Forum and later broadcast on CNBC, Moynihan said that most of customers of the nation's largest banks who use multiple services "will probably get out of this fee," adding that the fee will apply to "those customers that don't have their total relationship with us."

"This fee doesn't start until next year for new customers, doesn't start until halfway through next year for current customers," the CEO said.

When asked about recent negative comments by President Obama and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about Bank of America's plans for the new fees, Moynihan steered clear of the political debate, repeatedly emphasizing that the new fees were fully disclosed. Disclosure was a key part of the philosophy of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection created under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Obama in July of last year.

"What's important is being clear to the customers, providing the great service we provide and making a profit that we can return to our shareholders," he said.

In response to Kudlow's question "is the government still waging war against banks?" Moynihan replied "with Dodd-Frank we have a lot of work to do to implement those rules to make sure they allow us to support our customers."

The CEO also said that "when people talk about Dodd-Frank, they're worried that it will swing too far and actually impact our ability to help companies grow, employ more people, and things like that."

When Kudlow belabored his point by saying "I don't believe I have ever heard a U.S. president directly attack profits in this manner," Moynihan said "we believe that transparency and fairness and clarity are the right things."

When Kudlow asked if "Bank of America would survive a real systemic contagion in Europe," Moynihan said that "the reality is the exposure in the U.S. is far different," and that "we do feel confident."


-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.