NEW YORK (Reuters) - The CEOs of two major bailed-out U.S. banks plan to go to the World Economic Forum’s schmoozefest at a glitzy ski resort in Davos, Switzerland.
Citigroup Inc’s (C.N) Vikram Pandit and Bank of America Co’s (BAC.N) Brian Moynihan are set to attend the annual gathering of business and political elites from January 27 to January 31, according to WEF official Kevin Steinberg.
Last year, all but one major U.S. bank CEO — JPMorgan Chase & Co’s (JPM.N) Jamie Dimon — skipped the forum amid criticism from politicians over the role of the banks in the financial crisis and excesses at the top, including the size of bankers’ bonuses and the use of private jets.
This year, a number of CEOs of major U.S. banks will be “no shows.” Some communications experts say that being seen supping on kirsch and fondue in the Alps with other businessmen and the occasional Hollywood star is not the best image to project in a harsh economic climate.
Banks are facing another lashing from politicians and the public over super-sized compensation only a year since massive amounts of government money helped rescue the banking system.
On Thursday, in a response to still simmering public anger over the financial crisis, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed what may be the biggest overhaul of Wall Street since the 1930s — including restrictions on the activities and size of the biggest banks.
In these times, it might look better for bank chiefs to have other plans than attending the daily apres ski in Davos.
“The last thing you want is to be seen doing anything other than working at your desk, growing your company,” said Michael Robinson, a crisis communications consultant with Levick Strategic Communications.
“You don’t want to be seen hanging out with Bono,” he said, referring to the investor, activist and frontman of rock band U2, who has attended the Davos event in previous years.
Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri said Moynihan’s trip to Davos is a small part of a larger European visit, to introduce himself to the company’s European arm, since replacing retired Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis on January 1.
“This is his first chance to see associates, clients, regulators and policy makers in an important market for the bank since taking over as CEO,” said Silvestri.
A Citigroup spokesman confirmed Pandit would attend, but did not respond to requests for further details.
In the past, banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers LEHMQ.PK might have held lavish parties. And there would have been lots of debating, networking, dealmaking — and skiing.
Davos is the place where the top men of Wall Street, such as former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain and former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld, could rub shoulders with the likes of rock stars, actress Sharon Stone or supermodel Naomi Campbell.
In these more austere days, entertainment heavyweights are mostly gone and so, too, are many bank CEOs.
Most of the big banks will be represented, but by less prominent executives.
Morgan Stanley (MS.N) is sending John Mack, but he is chairman after recently passing the CEO reins to James Gorman. Gorman will not attend, a Morgan Stanley spokesman said.
Steinberg, chief operating officer of the U.S. arm of the forum, said most big U.S. banks plan to send senior delegates.
“We have been closely in touch with a lot of the banks and they have been actively working with us to contribute to the program and actively participate,” Steinberg said.
Representatives for the banks were not eager to discuss their plans for Davos.
Originally on the list of prospective guests was JP Morgan’s Dimon, but he backed out.
Dimon is not attending because commitments before and after the forum, a spokeswoman said. JPMorgan investment banking head Jes Staley will be part of a group of executives attending.
Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein will not attend, but Gary Cohn, the firm’s president and chief operating officer, will be there. A Goldman spokesman declined to comment.
Sallie Krawcheck, president of Bank of America’s global wealth and investment management unit, will show up, a spokeswoman said.
Bank of America has planned a party for clients and constituents, a holdover from Merrill Lynch’s participation in the forum.
No one from Wells Fargo plans to attend and the bank historically has not sent representatives, a spokeswoman said.
Jesse Derris, a crisis communications consultant with Sunshine, Sachs & Associates, said Davos might be burdened with the imagery of a lavish gathering, but “in reality it is a place where CEOs go and do a lot of work.” He does not see much downside image risk for banking chiefs attending.
“I think it is much ado about nothing,” Derris said.
Reporting by Steve Eder, Martin Howell, Elinor Comlay, Dan Wilchins, and Joe Rauch. Editing by Jim Impoco and Robert MacMillan