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If Only Alex Trebek Had Chosen Banking...

They say a good picture can be worth a thousand words. Well, it's just as true that a bad stock chart always tells a sad tale. As we prepare to gratefully leave 2020 behind, while always remembering the unfathomable suffering that marked a year of global pandemic alongside continued social and geopolitical disruption, we look ahead to 2021. It brings the promise of vaccines, and the enduring hope for global peace, economic progress, social justice, and environmental healing.

Inevitably, a passing year motivates a look forward. In the global banking industry, the march of time often conspires with the glare of boards of directors, investors, regulators and spectators to send high-profile CEOs on to their next opportunity. Sometimes with an expression of gratitude, often with the scent of relief and regret.

These are old banks, with new faces. Wells Fargo. Lloyds Banking Group. UniCredit. Credit Suisse. And perhaps most significantly, Citigroup. And throw in an insurance company like AIG, just for good measure. Some of the change is elegant (AIG, even Lloyds?), more often it looks and sounds more than a little clumsy (UniCredit, Citi, and Credit Suisse). Wells Fargo, of course, moves in a class all by itself, and that's no compliment.

But change can be good. Cathartic. Refreshing. Or, it can be no more than sound & fury signifying nothing. Reading the early reporting on some of the latest bank leadership changes got us thinking about Alex Trebek, who passed away after an unusually open battle with cancer for someone so much in the public eye for so long. There was something appealingly kind and genuine about this man who entered our homes as entertainer & celebrity, then departed our world showing us how a gentle, graceful, peaceful life can be lived and left with complete fulfilment. Even if there is great sorrow in those final months, weeks, days and moments.

Which, in a round about way, brings us back to the new class of global financial services CEOs. We were reading through the usual articles and interviews and we were gobsmacked by an emphasis on style, resumes, anecdotes, testimonials, personalities, hobbies, dinner meetings and all of the fluff that gathers "likes," emojis, shares and other media impressions that are today's coins of the realm.

Then we went to the stocks charts. Here's the thing about stock charts: in the short-term, they can be quite confusing. But in the long-term, they rarely mislead. All of these charts tell us the problems are miles deep for these banks, scarred as they are by wrong-footed execution, antics, capers, and worse.

The lights come up to reveal a scene from "Jeopardy!"

Alex Trebek: "Answer: Daily Double"

Investor Contestant: "I will make it a true daily double, Alex"

Alex Trebek: "And the answer is...Citigroup!."

Investor Contestant: "What is...the new CEOs plan?"

Alex Trebek: "Ohhhh. I'm sooo sorrry (Canadian-American accent). We were looking for, 'what the heck is truly wrong with this company that no one can seem to fix?' Unfortunately, you jumped ahead to the SECOND question and that drops you back to last place. We will be back after this commercial break."

The world could use more Alex Trebeks. Thankfully, we had the one and only. He taught us that someone always has an answer. The real fun comes from knowing what question to ask first.

Many people drive cars. Very few can fix them.


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