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Catfish and Cod
Monday, October 27, 2003
 
Corporate assimilation.
(Link path: Boston Globe/Reuters)

Maybe this deal makes financial sense. Bank of America gets a New England presence, and Fleet gets a bunch of moolah and national prominence. The $47 billion buyout of Fleet by BoA creates the nation's second largest bank, and in a dog-eat-dog world, you're a heavyweight or a chump.

But why must we lose even a semblance of regional allegiance?

Apparently all our Fleet signs and banners will be torn down to make way for the broad pennant of Bank of America. Why must we lose our last major New England bank? Why must we be assimilated into a national chain that cares nothing for our character or our passions?

When Fleet advertises, it shows the backroads of New Hampshire and the skyscrapers of Boston. It puts on promotions to "Reverse the Curse." (And if you don't know what that means, shame on you.) Our hockey/basketball stadium is sometimes called New Boston Garden, but its official name is the FleetCenter. There's a FleetBoston Pavilion out in the Seaport District as well. Fleet sponsors cultural and community efforts all over New England, including a favorite of mine, the summer performances of Shakespeare on the Common.

Now, maybe Bank of America will keep funding these events, and maybe they'll keep the Fleet name on some of the buildings. But I don't have the confidence that a national company, with interests everywhere, will care for their host cities in quite the way a regional company would. There's a tendency in these sorts of deals for the larger company to feel it must 'assure loyalty' or 'exert centralized control' or some such, and to gut the absorbed company's personnel by shipping them off to other locations and destroying any semblance of local character. I hope that doesn't happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

I believe that decentralization and adaptation to local concerns is the wave of the future. In the Information Age, there is simply no need for the kind of centralized control that the technology of the Industrial Age required. An organization can be both flexible and united if communications are good enough, and now they are. There's no need to make all our bank branches, for instance, be cookie-cutter outlets of a giant national collective.

I'll happily bank at 'Fleet, by Bank of America'. But I'll hate being forced to become a Bank of America drone.

UPDATE: Mayah Menino shares my concerns.