The Chicago offices of both Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) saw picketers and protesters on Monday morning, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The protest was part of a larger multi-day protest that focused on the American Bankers Association (ABA) annual meeting. Individuals carried signs and chanted slogans voicing their concern at bank executives for profiting from the mortgage crisis and directing their anger at what they perceive as predatory lending practices.
Protesters included members of the National People’s Action community action group and the Service Employees International Union and was timed to occur with the meeting of the annual convention of the ABA in Chicago. The protests began in the morning outside the offices of Goldman Sachs, where protesters demanded to see CEO Lloyd Blankfein, but instead settled for delivering a letter to a representative of the company when they were prevented from entering the building by security personnel and police officers.
The next stop was the offices of Wells Fargo, where again organizers attempted to deliver a letter to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, but were thwarted from gaining entry by security and local law enforcement. The message of the marchers was decidedly anti-big bank and pro consumer rights. A press release from the Service Employees International Union stated their demands were for banks to stop “their over-reliance on greed and profits and commit to using their taxpayer bailouts and backstops to help America’s economy recover”. After visiting the offices of both banks, the protesters hopped on buses at midday and visited the American Bankers Association meeting.
Neither banks’ CEO, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, had any official comment about the protest, but officials at the ABA meeting acknowledged the protests in various comments throughout their speeches. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair also briefly met with the group and listened to individuals voice their concerns over their perception of the banking industry.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, there were only about 250 protesters, mostly from the Midwest and included many union members. The group was well organized and was brought into downtown Chicago on yellow school buses.
This event demonstrates that not only is there still a popular sentiment in the general public against the current banking system, but that well organized groups can still create noisy protests. It’s also a prescient demonstration that the biggest battle the large banks need to fight is in the court of public opinion. The likes of Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs will still be battling against the perception by the public of the practices of their industry until the current economic downturn reverses itself, or significant legislation forces changes on the industry.